“THE WORD IS NOT AN ARROW BUT STICKS INTO THE HEART”
OR ABOUT THE FINE LINE BETWEEN THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND THE LANGUAGE OF HATRED
A research done by Mission Salvation Foundation.
The research is part of the project “Transition by art and knowledge”, financed within the frame work of the Program for support of NGOs in Bulgaria, according to the financial mechanism of the European economical space 2009-2014. The whole responsibility for the content belongs to Mission Salvation Foundation and at no circumstances one should not accept that it reflects the official stand of the Financial Mechanism of the European economical space and the Operator of the Program for support of NGOs in Bulgaria.
Words… the highest possession of the human being and makes him distinct from the other creations; they are means of communication, self-expression and even amusement. Perhaps these are the first associations that our mind connects with the term WORD. However, have you ever given a thought what power does it contain? ! Power to build, to unite, to inspire and to heal. But it also has the power to destroy, to divide, to humiliate and to hurt. If we turn to the wisest book of all – the Bible, even on its very first page we read about the creative might of God’s Word:
“God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3)
Or the first lines of the Gospel of John:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. It was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him was not made anything made that has been made.”
The power of the word has not remained hidden for the wise saw and it found expression in sayings and tales. There is hardly anyone who hasn’t read as a child the folk-tale “Bad word can’t be forgotten” and doesn’t know the story about the friendship between the woodman and the bear. Friendship that has overcame the fear of the different and unknown: “At first the man was afraid of the bear but little by little he started getting used to it and they became good friends.”; however, stumbled in the poorly weighed and rushed words:
— “Well, my good friend, you are a very good friend; everything is good about you but only one thing has no worth: your soul smells bad!
The man didn’t even think well what he has said and it didn’t come to his mind that this word could offend the bear. The bear nodded. Heavy like a stone the human word sunk into the bear’s heart and it hurt it really bad. The bear told him nothing and only stretched it neck and asked him
— Hey fellow, hit me with the ax on the head as strong as you can or I will eat you up!…”
The moral of this story is well known to us, since, to our great regret, different life situations are often reminding us about it: “deep wound heal but bad word is never forgotten.” There is a lot of wise saw also in the saying: “The word is not and arrow sticks into the heart.” Even more painful is when purposefully and intentionally we turn the words into weapon which hurts human souls. In our days this ill-willed usage of the tongue often is a result of xenophobia (Gr. ξένος – ‘unknown person, stranger’ and φόβος – ‘fear, dread’). In the dictionaries it is defined as negative mindset, irrational fear and hatred, hostility towards unknown and strange things, usually people.
“Words can be weapons! Let’s use them for peaceful purposes… Because… we need to learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” These words belong to Martin Luther King Jr who became a symbol of the fight for justice and equal right by peaceful means.
Where are we, the Bulgarians? Do we give way to the hatred and intolerance?
We, the Bulgarians, have always been taking pride in our hospitality and stressed on it as a distinctive national trait. Sure enough, our homes, poor or rich, have been opened to receive expected and unexpected casual guest. Being part of the Slavic people’s group, following the old tradition we meet the stranger, the outlander with bread and salt as a highest display of hospitality. Our country has turned into homeland for more than one foreign ethnos. “It is well enough to mention the tolerant attitude not only towards the Turks who remained after the Liberation in 1878 but also towards the great number of Macedonian refugees who flooded the country after the crushing of the Illinden-Preobrazhensko insurrection. Or the refugee’s streams of Armenians, Kurds, Bulgarians for South Doubrudzha, after the signing of the unprecedented peace treaty at the Krayova agreement in 1940, during the heat of the greatest world crisis ever caused by the bloodiest war in human history.”, writes Bogomil Kolev in an article for the “Duma” newspaper . There is no single contemporary politician who hasn’t emphasized our ethnical model of government at which Bulgarians and Muslims peacefully coexist, helping and respecting each other. Our country is being compared to an island of stability on the Balkans, not only by ours but also foreign statesmen.
Xenophobia and statistic
In the last several years the Bulgarian scene has changed. Being number one for tolerance in the past, Bulgaria has moved closer to the top of the leading charts for xenophobic acts and intolerance, as it is shown in a report from 2013 of the EU Agency for basic human rights . The negative attitude of society towards the immigrants is increasing. This conclusion is also found in the report of the State Agency for National Security /SANS/ . It’s confirmed also by a number surveys on the public opinion. For instance, a survey included in the annual report of Open Society Institute shows that the language of hatred is a widespread occurrence in the Bulgarian public life and nearly half of the surveyed /at the end of 2013/ claim to have heard statements in the last year that express disapproval, hate or aggression against representatives of ethnical, religious or sexual minorities .
The hatred towards the Roma people is almost twice as much compared to the hatred towards the other two groups of concern – Turks and homosexuals. The national research also established as a fact that between one quarter and one third of the Bulgarian citizens don’t know that the language of hatred and acts provoked by hatred are crimes. At hand is a very weak tendency in people to report to police and prosecution such activities. A research of Mediana Agency also ascertains a sharp increase of xenophobia amongst Bulgarians . Disturbing is the fact that 15% of our fellow countrymen approve the resort to violence against foreigners. The Sociologist Kolyo Kolev, CEO of Mediana Agency defines this statistic as extremely dangerous and portends collisions between Bulgarians and foreigners.
Nearly 1/3 of the country’s population recons that immigrants must be kicked out and 42% state that the refugee’s centers need to shut down. 20% want closing of the border. Bulgaria, though, is far from being the black ship of Europe. It needs to be recognized that the hatred based crimes and the ultra right extremist forces are increasing on the territory of the whole European Union, in spite of the introduced ban for discrimination in the juristic systems of the members countries, shows a report of the EU Agency of the basic rights. In the last few years the European Council and the European Commission have also published some disturbing reports for the uprising racial and xenophobic tide in Europe . For the clearest sign for their existence is indicated the language of hatred. According to an online survey conducted by the Council of Europe in 2012, 78% of the surveyed seem to encounter daily speech of hatred in the cyber space . The online edition of the EU Euobserver, quoted by the Bulgarian website news.bg, published the annual report of the based in Great Britain NGO Amnesty International .
It has been stated in it that „some of the EU countries are violating the rights of the immigrants and of the ethnical minorities, while others are not doing enough to fight against xenophobia. In the report the organization included 24 countries from the EU. The systematical problems in Europe include: rude handling of the refugees from Africa and Asia, enforcing strict anti-terrorist’s laws against Muslims and notorious racism against Roma population. Despite the promises of the European Commission, during the first quarter of 2012 France expelled 9040 Roma people. Germany refused to guarantee the rights of refugees from Tunisia and Iraq. Italy continues to oppress the Roma people at ethnical segregation camps and to put them out of their homes into the streets. Italy, Germany and Great Britain are being criticized for the carried out by them anti-terrorist’s laws, allowing detention and deportation of suspect Muslims. There are similar problems in Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Latvia, Malta, The Nederland, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Sweeden.”
Why is all that fear from refugees?
When we don’t know the “other”, stereotypes and prejudice fill the lack of knowledge about him and make it difficult to build bridges between us. The negativism and xenophobia of the Bulgarian society towards immigrants have increased after the start of the war in Syria and the constantly increasing refugee’s stream to us. Bulgaria is amongst the countries that are outside borders of the EU and are subjected to a very high extent to the negative effects of the all increasing migration pressure. Since the beginning of 2013 the number of illegal immigrants in our country is growing strongly. Considerable number of the detained foreigners are applying to get protection /around 70-80%/, as it is stated in a report of SANS, prepared for a meeting of the Consulting Council for National security. In an interview for Deutsche Welle, the social anthropologist Haralan Alexandrov claims, that Bulgarians in general are well intended towards the refugees, the country, however, doesn’t have the capacity to take the influx from the Southeast. “We’ve got a system with enough problems of our own and that’s why challenges like the refugees’ influx makes it to close and become aggressive.”, he is explaining. The problem is also found in the fact that Bulgarian institutions not only are failing to control the borders but there is a lack of communication with the local communities where the refugees are to be accommodated. In his comments for the same media, the publicist Valery Naydenov and the chairman of the Council for Electronic Media /CEM/ George Lozanov, are also stating as a basic reason for inadequate reaction of many Bulgarian towards to increasing influx of refugees, the inability of state to provide order and security. According to Naydenov, the vast inequality is also causing suspicion towards the “others” . According to a sociological research  our own fears turn us into xenophobic – people believe that since we are poor and the state cannot provide food and warm shelter for the immigrants, this will push them to steal and commit other crimes. 83% of the Bulgarians are seeing in the Syrian refugees a threat for the national security. A research of Alpha Research Agency from 2013 also shows that 79% of the surveyed are afraid that refugees are going to absorb way too much financial means . Over 60% are apprehensive of risks for their health and an increase of crime in the areas where refugees live.
The ground where xenophobia thrives best
The populism of the parties from the nationalistic spectrum and media are the environment which feeds xenophobia and gives it room to grow. The commission against racism and intolerance at the Council of Europe is criticizing our country for the way it handles minorities, refugees and people with different sexual orientation. “In media and on the Internet the manifestations of racism and xenophobia against foreigners, Turks and Muslims are frequent occurrences; the same is applicable about the offensive language, when talked about Roma’s. In Bulgaria more and more ultra-nationalistic /fascist’s groups and political parties/ are functioning”, states the report . According the research of “Open Society” politicians and journalists are recognized as the main carriers of the language of hatred in the country. 68 % of the people have heard it most often from politicians and 32% – from journalists. “The trouble is that the speech of hatred often comes from live broadcasts with participating politicians. According to the law for radio and television, responsibility is to be assumed only from the electronic media. That is why Bulgaria needs a law that would regulate the political speaking. One can’t make politics in all cost!”, comments George Lozanov for Deutsche Welle. . In his opinion the present polemics against refugees and illegal immigrants has awaken a general populist tendency under the slogan “All together against the new threat”. Haralan Alexandrov believes that the supercharged situation is taken advantage of by irresponsible people from the nationalistic sector. “The reason of doing that is the lost of legitimacy which irritates the politicians of that spectrum and makes them to hold fast to everything possible with the sole purpose of staying on the political arena.”, states the social anthropologist .
The role of media
The main instrument for spreading the speech of hatred is television. Nearly 75% of the surveyed who have had an encounter with it, said it has happened through the TV screen, further shows the sociological data. Internet is the second significant media, through which the speech of hatred has gained popularity, especially amongst the youth and the educated. Analysis  of over 8400 online publications, done by the Association of the European journalists, has found that a refugee has been presented as a thread, illness, danger. Hardly some 20% of the articles pay attention to the Syrian society and culture.
In the forums, social networks and mostly in comments under news and reports on different news websites, can find the aggressive and hostile language towards the “other”. The arsenal, usually used, is made of qualifications like: “spawns”, “scum”, “mass murderers”… According to D-r Vyara Gancheva, sociologist and professor at the Journalist Faculty of the Sofia University St. Climent Ohridski: „The advantage of the haters in the net space is, that they are anonymous and to a great extent they can’t be punished” . Hater is a slang word and it came into our language from English and it is usually used in regards to a man, whose attitude is negative and hates everybody and everything. A research of the Center “Simon Visental”, (a Jewish organization for protection of human rights), shows that the websites spreading hatred and violence, in 2012, in the whole world have grown to be 8000 . The disturbing fact is that the hostile speaking incites violence and the law of the mob towards the different one, the “other”, and the social networks are used as an environment to create different “hater groups”. As a recent example we can use the newly started Face Book page “We support Anna Vitkova”. Anna Vitkova is a policewoman who is under disciplinary examination, because in the heat of the clash between Bulgarians and Roma in one of the capital’s residence areas – Orlandovci, she posted in her profile of the social network a picture of her and her colleague, with inscription under it: “We want our hands untied”. The policewoman had also openly added a racist statement: “If you are a little more tanned… you burn”. The comments on the face book page in her defense are filled with racist appeals and in defense of her right to stand her personal grounds nevertheless she is on service with the Ministry of Internal Affairs (the Police forces). “The state has abdicated long time ago, in my opinion, but where is the Army and the Police to put this MOB right where they belong”, has commented Peter Dingilov under a piece of reporting of Nova TV about some acute clashes between Bulgarian and Roma people in Plovdiv. Disturbing is the fact that this is one of the “softer” statements of discrimination, which we can find in the social networks. And the number of 14,000 people, who liked the web page with racial content is a strong enough signal to the responsible institutions that in our country the floodgate of a conflict is getting opened, based on xenophobic inclinations.
Strong people don’t tread on the rest, they lift them up
/statement of an unknown Face Book author /
Very thin is the dividing line between the freedom of speech and the language of hatred. Are we going to step over it?! This is a matter of personal responsibility. The right of free expression is a fundamental principle which is as much at the foot of the Bulgarian Constitution as it is of the Convention of the human rights and the Charter of the basic right of EU. Often it is perceived as an absolute right but in reality it is not so. It brings with it limitations, especially when one starts violating the rights of others. Undoubtedly part of this is the language of hatred. The interdiction of its usage has been regulated in a number of Bulgarian and international law acts. For instance it is stated to be a crime in article 162 of the present Penalty code in effect. It states the following:
“Whoever by words, press, or any other means of mass information, through electronic informational systems or any other way, appeals or instigates discrimination, violence or hatred, based on racial belonging, is to be punished to serve one to four years imprisonment and pay a fine of 5,000 up to 10,000 levs and public reprobation.”
The revised European social charter prohibits whatever form of discrimination on the base of race, skin color, religion and also excluding of people of certain nationalities from the opportunity to use certain rights. In spite of the great number of law regulations, resolutions and recommendations we witness every day hostile and intolerant speech. Therefore extremely great is the responsibility of the politicians and people, representing the government of the country, the jurisdiction and journalists. However this doesn’t exclude the responsibility of the individual and of the different civil organizations.
The prejudices and manifestations of intolerant inclinations towards the “different ones” are possible to overcome through education, upbringing, social politics, equal access to quality education, health care and social assistance, believe the experts. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world!”, are words spoken by the inspirer of millins of people around the world, Nelson Mandela.
The effective integration of the refugees and the hospitable attitude of society towards them are the main goals of the project “Transition trough art and knowledge” of Mission Salvation Foundation. The accomplished so far good results can be viewed as a good example of now-how for effective resistance to the language of hatred, for a working strategy which foundation is the language of tolerance and love.
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