SOFIA (AFP) – Bulgaria’s government sparked an outcry Thursday after it announced that the country’s vice premier, a nationalist notorious for verbal attacks on Roma and migrants, would head a major panel on minorities.
Valery Simeonov will head the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues, which advises on policies to promote the social inclusion of marginalised groups, the government press office announced.
Simeonov, 62, is co-leader of the United Patriots (UP), the junior party in the governing coalition.
He has been sharply criticised in the past for extreme anti-migrant talk and for demands for “a stronger hand” in the treatment of the country’s Roma and Turkish minorities.
In December 2014, Simeonov told parliament that the Roma were scrounging “ferocious humanoids” whose children “play with pigs in the street” and whose women “have the instincts of street dogs”.
The panel that he will head includes government members and about 50 non-governmental organisations.
It notably works on integrating Bulgaria’s 700,000 Roma, which account for about 10 percent of the population. The minority is highly ghettoised and suffers from widespread discrimination.
“This is a grave form of cynicism,” said Mustafa Karadaya, head of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) party, which represents the country’s 800,000-strong Turkish minority.
A former chief of the council, ethnic issues expert Mihail Ivanov called the appointment “an outrage against minorities.”
The government press office did not explain the reason for Simeonov’s appointment, but noted the requirement that the council has to be headed by one of the government’s vice-premiers.
UP came third in the general elections on March 26. It significantly toned down its rhetoric to secure its entry in the government of conservative Prime Minister Boyko Borisov on May 4.
But its members’ past actions have come back to haunt the government.
One of UP’s deputy ministers was forced to quit after a photo of him doing a Nazi salute in a Paris wax museum surfaced on social media.