Days after at least nine people were killed in Germany in a far-right attack, neo-Nazis from across Europe were stopped from marching in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, as they had done every year since 2003.
Hundreds of far-right activists from across the continent had started arriving in Sofia in advance of the weekend for Saturday’s planned Lukov March to honour a Nazi collaborator, expecting to take part in a torchlit rally.
But on Friday, a higher court ruling upheld Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandakova’s ban; in previous years, her attempts to halt the march were overturned.
While anti-fascist activists and observers welcomed the development, they warned that Bulgaria’s far-right problem goes far beyond a single February march.
In the wake of Wednesday’s massacre in Hanau, which saw white supremacist gunman Tobias Rathjen kill nine people – all of whom had migrant backgrounds – at two shisha lounges, before turning the gun on his mother and himself, German authorities did manage to prevent at least nine people from boarding a plane to Bulgaria to attend the event. Some were subsequently allowed to travel.
But hundreds of others came to participate in the Lukov March, which commemorates a pro-Nazi Bulgarian general and head of a wartime fascist movement.
Hristo Lukov, who had close ties to Nazi German leadership, was assassinated by communist partisans in February 1943.
The march is organised by the Bulgarian National Union (BNS), a fringe far-right organisation that consider themselves heirs of Lukov’s fascists.
But on Friday, the eve of the march, BNS announced it had been informed of the higher court ruling.
The Lukov March has emerged as a key gathering for Europe’s far-right and neo-Nazi fringes.
“This march is a recruitment activity,” Radoslav Stoyanov, an activist with the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee rights group, told Al Jazeera.
“Right-wing radicals try to recruit young people into ultra-nationalist ideology through it.”
Because of the court order this year, neo-Nazis were only permitted to gather on Saturday in front of Lukov’s former house in central Sofia to lay wreaths.
Late on Friday, a number of them gathered at a Sofia bar for a concert featuring German neo-Nazi musician Philipp Neumann.
Meanwhile, the only people demonstrating through the capital’s central streets, protected by dozens of police officers, were about 300 activists opposed to the far right, chanting “Sofia is not a Nazi city” under the banner, “No Nazis in our streets!”.