SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Authorities in Bulgaria on Saturday banned an annual torch-lit march in downtown Sofia in honor of a late general who led the pro-Nazi Union of Bulgarian National Legions during World War II.
Hours before the event, the country’s chief prosecutor called on Sofia’s mayor and the interior minister “to ensure the preservation of public order and protection of the rights of the public ahead of the Lukov March.”
The event has been condemned by human rights groups, political parties, and foreign embassies, which criticized the march organizers for promoting racism, xenophobia, and antisemitism.
Nationalists gathered in front of the prosecutor’s office to protest the restrictive measures.
Meanwhile, dozens of anti-fascist activists staged a rally against the nationalist event, insisting that neo-Nazis should be banned.
A heavy police presence blocked any clashes between the two sides.
Held annually since 2003, the march over the years has attracted nationalist admirers of Gen. Hristo Lukov, who supported Germany during World War II and was killed by an anti-fascist resistance movement.
The general served as war minister from 1935 to 1938 and led the pro-Nazi Germany Union of Bulgarian Legions from 1942 until his death in 1943.
Organizers deny that Lukov was antisemitic or that they are neo-fascists, insisting that the general was a war hero and a true Bulgarian patriot, and claiming that the descendants of the murderers of Lukov are afraid of the event.
On Saturday, police also blocked the streets around the site where Lukov had lived in Sofia to prevent the nationalists from holding a ceremony in memory of Lukov, which in past years was the high point of the event.
Bulgaria, the poorest member of the European Union, has a growing presence of right-wing nationalists, and the Lukov March has been their most important public event.