A deputy minister in the new Bulgarian government resigned after a photo emerged of him giving a Nazi salute. Pressure is building on his boss, the leader of a nationalist party and the deputy prime minister in Boyko Borissov’s cabinet, to resign as well.
Pavel Tenev, deputy minister for regional development, resigned on 17 May, after media discovered on his Facebook account a photo taken in 2008 in which he raises his right arm in a Nazi salute in front of a wax German World War II officer in the Musée Grévin in Paris.
Tenev said he didn’t share the Nazi ideology and regretted his deed, but admitted he had created an embarrassment for the government, which was the reason for his resignation.
But the scandal unfolded when Valeri Simeonov, the leader of the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria, downplayed the deed of his deputy minister, saying that he had probably made similar “joke photos” in the Buchenwald concentration camp.
“When I think about it, who knows what joke photos we made there”, he told the Bulgarian daily Sega. Later he denied having made the comment and threatened to sue the newspaper.
The National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria is one of the three nationalist parties which prop up Borissov’s government.
Borissov himself downplayed Tenev’s deed.
“I’m really sorry this is happening because of such stupidity from him. This is a blow for his career. I’m sure that even you, when you have been travelling somewhere, have joked and made similar things. It’s human,” Borissov said, speaking to Darik Radio.
The reporter asked Borissov to comment on Simeonov’s statement about his “joke photos” in Buchenwald. The Prime Minister answered he was not aware and advised journalists to clarify the issue with Simeonov himself.
Bulgarian media comment that the strategy of Borissov’s GERB party is to condemn Tenev, but to defend Simeonov, who is one of the pillars of the coalition cabinet.
Three opposition parties and civil society organisations are calling for the resignation of Simeonov. The Bulgarian Socialist party (BSP), the mainly ethnic-Turkish Movement of Rights and Freedoms (DPS) and Volya, the force of maverick businessman Vesselin Mareshki consider that following his statements, Simeonov has no place in the government.
“I wonder how Valeri Simeonov will receive his European guests during the Bulgarian EU presidency, with what jokes he will entertain them”, said Alexandar Simov, an MP from BSP.
Bulgaria will take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU from 1 January 2018.
Bulgarian socialist MEP Perer Kourombashev twitted with an appeal for Simeonov to resign over his “outagueous comments”..
Bulgarian Deputy PM Valeri Simeonov should resign following his outrageous comments over the 'Nazi salute' scandal
— Peter Kouroumbashev (@PKouroumbashev) May 19, 2017
Two Bulgarian Jewish organisations, Shalom and the Central Israeli Spiritual Council, issued the following statement: “We have witnessed an ugly manifestation of disrespect for the memory of the millions of innocent victims killed in concentration camps during the Second World War, a similar behavior demonstrating a low political culture and insensitivity with regard to the greatest tragedy in human history. It is regrettable and alarming that such people take leadership positions in the country,” the two organisations stated.
— cydhi (@cydhi) May 18, 2017
Many posts on Facebook attest of the public outrage against Simeonov, but also against Borissov.