Hundreds of far-right extremists marched Saturday through the center of Sofia to honor General Hristo Lukov, a leader of the pro-Nazi Union of Bulgarian Legions in the 1930s and 1940s.
The march, which has raised concern in local media about the rise of the right wing in the Balkan state, went ahead despite international condemnation.
It included a torchlight procession by youths in dark clothing and the laying of wreaths at the former home of Lukov. The marchers were accompanied by a heavy police escort.
The Sofia municipality initially banned the event, but its decision was overturned in court. Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandukova repeatedly said the procession “has no place in our city”.
Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry condemned the march in a statement issued Saturday night, calling it a “demonstration of xenophobia, discrimination and hatred.” The statement deemed anti-Semitic and Nazi ideology "absolutely unacceptable," and stressed that the growing use of hate speech is an attempt to shake democratic values "values that we stand for as a people and as a community.”
The Bulgarian government, political parties and Jewish organizations had called for the march to be cancelled. An international petition against the march received over 178,000 signatures. A protest against the Lukov March was held in central Sofia earlier on Saturday, under the banner: “No Nazis on our Streets!”
The U.S. embassy to Bulgaria said in a statement issued Saturday that it was “saddened and troubled to see the display of intolerance represented by the Lukov March. General Hristo Lukov was a Nazi supporter who promoted hate and injustice, and is not someone deserving of veneration.
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The rally honoring Lukov has been held each year since 2003.