Ska Keller’s extraordinary Bulgarian experience reverberates in Brussels

Ska Keller in Sofia [Barikada website]

The presidents of the European Commission and Parliament have personally expressed support to Ska Keller, co-president of the GREEN/EFA group in the European Parliament, following her extraordinary and unpleasant experience in Bulgaria, the country that holds the rotating EU Presidency.

Keller paid a two-day visit to Bulgaria last week to campaign for the preservation of Pirin national park, where she was insulted as a “green jihadist” and threatened by nationalists who are part Bulgaria’s ruling coalition.

On Friday (9 February), Valery Simeonov, the leader of the “National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria” (NFSB), one of the three nationalist parties in coalition with the centre-right government of Boyko Borissov, posted a derogatory and insulting statement against Keller on his Facebook page

The statement contains elements which can be interpreted as threats against her life, as well as an outright appeal for the “green Jihadist” Keller to be expelled “in a van” from Bulgaria to the Turkish border. Simeonov added that NFSB could provide the van.

Bulgarian nationalists go ballistic over ‘green Jihadist Ska Keller’

Since her flight touched down in Sofia on 8 February, Ska Keller, co-President of the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament, became the target of Bulgarian nationalists.

At the midday briefing in Brussels on Monday,  the Commission was asked if it had any comment about the deputy prime minister’s statements against Keller.

Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva answered:

“President Juncker personally spoke to MEP Ska Keller on Friday, as well as to the Bulgarian authorities. I think you saw that after that there was a press release by the Bulgarian government. This declaration clarifies things for the Bulgarian side. And that closes the issue for us. “

The Bulgarian government indeed published a position saying that the NFSP’s stand is not the position of the government. The position also said that “in the Bulgarian society, freedom of speech is also well-rooted and guaranteed by the Constitution”.

Case closed?

Asked how this could possibly close the issue, given that there was no apology and no condemnation of Simeonov’s statement, Andreeva repeated that the Bulgarian government’s position “takes a distance” from that statement.

Ska Keller later explained to EURACTIV she had alerted Juncker and European President Antonio Tajani about her Bulgarian experience already on Friday, as soon as she became aware of the ‘messages’ published by Vice President Simeonov.

“I alerted both of them because this is not a random party, but the Vice Prime Minister’s, and I thought it’s up to them to do something about it. This led to the statement by the [Bulgarian] government, in which they said this is not their official position.

“It’s very good that the statement came, but indeed, I don’t how they are dealing with coalition partners – if you look at the text, they are threatening with violence, this is what I’ve been told, obviously I don’t speak Bulgarian, but that’s quite shocking.”

Asked if she had the impression that Juncker, who is generally seen as a strong Borissov supporter, was indeed concerned about the case, she said:

“Juncker has been very quick in defending me so I don’t think he’s trying to defend Borissov, not at all,” Keller said. She added that she had the same impression speaking with Tajani, namely that he took the matter seriously and was not going to downplay the episode in order to help a political friend.

Asked if she was afraid to go back to Bulgaria,  Keller said:

“No, I’m not. I was able to call Juncker and ask for support, but normal people who are in Bulgaria…don’t have that possibility. I’ve been hearing in Bulgaria again and again, during my talks with the local people, that they are afraid to speak up, and this is a very worrying situation and atmosphere, when people are afraid to speak up.”

“I’m privileged to have the status of MEP, but I wish others would also be able to say what their opinion is, and not be afraid of the consequences.”

An earlier version of this article was published by BulgarianPresidency.eu.