SOFIA (Reuters) - Fewer than 200 far-right activists gathered in downtown Sofia on Saturday after the country’s top court upheld the city mayor’s ban on their annual torchlight procession honoring a Bulgarian general who led a pro-Nazi organization in the 1930s and 1940s.
Held every February since 2003, the Lukov March - which attracts right-wing extremists from various parts of Europe and Bulgarian youths - has been repeatedly banned by the Sofia municipality in recent years, but until now the prohibition had been overturned by the Supreme Court.
This year the activists were restricted to the laying of wreaths at the house where pro-Nazi General Hristo Lukov, who served as Bulgaria’s minister of war from 1935-1938, was killed.
Lukov was known for fostering close ties with senior Nazi officials in Germany. He pushed through a Bulgarian law modeled on the 1935 Nuremberg Laws in Germany that stripped Jews of their civic rights.
Far-right groups from Germany, Sweden, Hungary, Estonia and other countries have joined the Lukov March in previous years.
On Friday, police in the German city of Dortmund stopped nine far-right activists from boarding a flight to Sofia, where they had intended to take part in the annual parade. The passports of the nine were temporarily confiscated, police said in a statement.
A few hundred people gathered at a counter-protest under the motto “No Nazis on the streets” in central Sofia a few hours before the procession.
The Lukov March has prompted concern in local media about the rise of the far-right in the Balkan state.
Bulgaria’s government, most of its political parties and several Jewish organizations, including the World Jewish Congress, had called for the march to be suspended.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva said that the ideologies of behind the Lukov March and a shooting in the German town of Hanau, where nine people were killed on Wednesday, were little different.
“I also make a connection with the Lukov March, which unfortunately takes place in Bulgaria,” Zaharieva said.
“I call on the young people not to blindly believe in ideologies that are against humanity, because that is not much different from what happened in Hanau. There was nothing democratic and legal about neo-Nazi chants.”
Bulgaria fought in World War Two on Germany’s side, though the government of King Boris III refused Adolf Hitler’s demand to deport the country’s Jews to death camps in Nazi-occupied Poland and elsewhere.
Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Alex Richardson