Wed, 03/27/2019 - 18:54

Christchurch mass shooting spawns issues government fails to address

Though his name has been circulated thousands of times on the Internet, this journal has decided – out of respect for the victims and their families in what will go down in history as the deadliest act of terror in New Zealand – to desist using it. As Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand prime minister, has stated, the main purpose of the self-proclaimed white suprematist who shot at and killed people, including children, praying in a temple was to gain notoriety. This journal will not give him that privilege.

As events unfolded in Christchurch (13-hour time difference with Bulgaria), it became apparent that the man apprehended by New Zealand police and charged with multiple murders, had compiled a soi-disant "manifesto" where he listed some of the "inspirations" for the formidable act. It is material difficult to read through because of its vagueness, inconsequentiality and references to obscure people and events. Probably Spyro the Dragon 3 (a Sony PlayStation console game for children 10 and up), the PewDiePie meme, US President Donald Trump, the "great replacement," North Korea and a host of other often self-contradictory entities referred to by the killer as "inspirations" may make sense to disturbed minds roaming the darker corners of the Internet, but ordinary people may find them difficult to fathom.

Interestingly, southeastern Europe in general and Bulgaria in particular were also on the criminal's mind. In the months preceding the Christchurch massacre, the perpetrator travelled to various sites associated with some of European history's lesser known battlegrounds where Christians and Muslims fought.

On his weapons, the murderer had inscribed a variety of sometimes cryptic names many of them somehow related to European history in general and the Balkan conflicts between Christians and Muslims in particular. Some of those were in Cyrillic, and several referred directly to people and events that unfolded in Bulgaria hundreds of years ago.

Fruzhin, for example, refers to Ivan Shishman Fruzhin, the son of Ivan Shishman who was king in 1371-1395, the last Bulgarian sovereign before the Ottomans conquered. While King Ivan Shishman has been celebrated in Bulgaria and most Bulgarian towns, including Sofia, have at least a street named after him, Fruzhin remains relatively obscure. Around 1408-1413 he was joined by his cousin, Konstanin II Asen, and led a failed revolt against the Ottomans.

The Battle at Bulair was also mentioned, in Bulgarian. This was a battle fought on 8 February 1913 as part of the First Balkan War. The Bulgarians, though heavily outnumbered by the Ottomans, won a decisive victory at the eponymous Turkish village near Gallipoli.

Shipka Pass gets an "honourable" mention as well. This was the site of a fierce battle between Russian Imperial forces and Bulgarian volunteers against the Ottomans, in 1877, which largely predetermined the outcome of the 1877-1878 war, spelling out the independence of Bulgaria.

To gain a better insight into the mind of the murderer, the mentions of these Bulgarian historical events must be seen as part of the larger European history where many others, notably in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia – but also spanning all the way to Austria and France – got a reference.

After the Christchurch attacks the Bulgarian government acted quickly. Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who is usually eager to be televised on matters related to international police cooperation, was joined by Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov and other top brass security officials. They stated they would seek to determine whether the killer had met with anyone in Bulgaria. A few days later the Council of Ministers' security board announced he had not met with any Bulgarian citizens, nor had he been in contact with any Bulgarian organisations. The Bulgarians ruled the mass killing must have been an "individual" act.

Of course, knowing what happened at Shipka in 1877 is not a crime – even in case that knowledge belongs to a deranged individual born in Australia who commits a crime in New Zealand – literally, on the other side of the globe. Mentioning Bulair is also not a crime, though it would be rather imaginative to suppose that someone of little education would know in detail the war theatre actions in Gallipoli.

However, the name of Fruzhin is a real surprise. The medieval nobleman is little known except in academic circles specialising in Bulgarian history. The revolt he led was not very substantive. Few streets in Bulgaria are named after him. Schoolchildren get taught about him only in passing. His father, King Ivan Shishman, by far outshines him. It would be sensible to bill the man "obscure." How would an Australian with no record of academic achievement and/or proficiency in Slavonic languages be able to inscribe Фружин on a weapon, in Bulgarian, without at least some local coaching is at least puzzling.

The real trouble for Bulgaria, however, is elsewhere. For the past two years Boyko Borisov has ruled in coalition with three extreme nationalist political parties: the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation and Ataka collectively calling themselves Patriots. In their own way, they hold a warped kind of history as the main tenet of their ideology. Sometimes fringe elements voice revisionist calls for "compensation" for past injustices, some of which date back to at least the First World War. The police usually do nothing to counter such extremisms because they are put out by... members of the government and their stooges.

The anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Bulgarian nationalists currently in government often dwarfs the language used by Farage and Le Pen. Their policies spell out – directly or by implication – Bulgaria for the Bulgarians. Boyko Borisov has comfortably operated with them during his third term as prime minister. In the past he has encouraged self-styled militias operating along Bulgaria's borders "intercepting" asylum-seekers. According to recent research, Bulgaria is at present one of the least tolerant countries in Europe – not only to immigrants but to anyone, including gays, who dares to be different.

Following the Christchurch massacre, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that governments across the world should act resolutely and fast "to weed out rightwing extremism where it exists, and make sure we never create an environment where it can flourish."

No Bulgarian politician has made a similar statement. Instead, the public debate, if any, was quickly Balkanised. Some analysts identifying themselves as being anti-Communist pro-Europeans cherishing "Euro-Atlantic values" were quick to "explain" that the Australian-born murderer was in fact a leftist. Europe's "liberal" policies were again vilified.

Unless you are a qualified criminal psychologist, it is probably impossible to make sense of the ramblings of the disturbed mind of a person who identified himself as first a Communist, then an anarchist, then a libertarian, and then an eco-extremist – and one who holds the ideas of Oswald Mosley dear to his heart. It all comes down to the fact that 50 people were ruthlessly assassinated. They were assassinated for no other reason than the fact they did not belong to the majority.

Rightwing extremism, just like its leftwing counterpart – just like any kind of extremism for that matter – cannot be explained with common sense arguments. To say that "liberal immigration policies" feed it would be like asserting medieval battles in the Balkans inspire it. Rightwing extremism is a matter for the police to crack – and for the politicians to fight. No sign of the latter has become evident in GERB's Bulgaria.

Instead, the Bulgarian-language Facebook gets quickly filled with the usual mixture of "news" that have, in different proportions, truths, half-truths and obvious lies – and all the run-of-the-mill manipulations. Putting on a 19th-century peasant costume and pinning up a portrait of an Ottoman-era revolutionary behind your desk is usually seen as an absolution for all the less-than-pleasant events like Lukov March, the xenophobia, the refusal to adopt the Istanbul Convention on the Prevention of Violence Against Women, and the "gender threat" that the vile, liberal West wants to "force" Bulgaria into.

Issue 150

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