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Last month, Claudia Roth (center) became the first senior German official to attend the annual memorial for the victims of the Nazi massacre in the central Serbian city of Kragujevac.

Germany should not forget the crimes committed by the Nazis in occupied Serbia during World War II, the vice president of the Bundestag said following a visit to the Balkan country for a commemoration.

Claudia Roth, a top Greens party member, last month became the first senior German official to attend the annual memorial for the victims of the Nazi massacre in the central Serbian city of Kragujevac.

The Nazi army killed an estimated 2,800 people in Kragujevac on October 21, 1941, in a retaliatory massacre of civilians in response to Serbian resistance attacks on the Wehrmacht.

The date is marked annually as the Day of Remembrance of the Serbian victims of World War II.

Roth told RFE/RL that the Balkans and Serbia are often too far on the fringes of the German people’s remembrance of WWII, having been overshadowed by other atrocities committed under Nazi rule.

The massacres in Kragujevac and Kraljevo, another town in central Serbia where Nazi troops killed some 2,000 people, “left deep scars for those who survived and lost loved ones, as well as in the collective memory.”

“My intention in attending was to underline that we will not let the crimes of the Nazis and the Wehrmacht be forgotten and that, building on that remembrance, we want to foster good and friendly relations with our Serbian friends and partners," Roth said.

Full reconciliation can only be achieved through an honest reckoning with and acceptance of historical events, Roth said.

“My impression is that the desire for reconciliation is incredibly strong in Serbian society, as elsewhere. I am, therefore, glad that, guided by the idea of ‘remembrance into the future,’ we can continue the pursuit of properly working through black spots in our history and our remembrance activities together with our Serbian partners,” she said.

"[Rasate] stopped in front of me, and that scared me because he had already hit me once...," recalled Gloriya Filipova. "I told him they had done their job and could leave. He said, 'No, I still have one more job,' and pulled out a knife."

SOFIA -- Furniture, some of it smashed and streaked with black spray paint, lays scattered about the Rainbow Hub in Sofia, a chilling reminder of the violent attack on the LGBT center last weekend.

Located in an apartment block in the Bulgarian capital, the Rainbow Hub was hosting a gathering on October 30 when a group of about 10 men barged in and proceeded to smash and destroy anything in their way.

The mob was allegedly led by Boyan Rasate, a notorious ultraright figure in Bulgaria who is also running in the country's presidential election on November 14.

Rasate is also accused of punching one of the women inside the center at the time of the attack, as well as brandishing a knife.

"I started shouting, 'No!' to stop them from coming in," explained Gloriya Filipova, the group's project coordinator. "He (Rasate) hit me and just kept coming. Everyone else followed him in," Filipova told RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service.

While Rasate has so far declined to say publicly whether he was among the attackers, Bulgaria's Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev on November 1 said that enough evidence had been collected to charge him with "acts that grossly violate public order," a crime that carries a prison sentence of up to five years.

Hours later, the Central Election Commission decided to lift the immunity that Rasate enjoyed as a presidential candidate.

The attack on the Rainbow Hub has been condemned not only across the Bulgarian political spectrum but by several embassies in Sofia, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.

On November 1, ambassadors visited the Rainbow Hub -- which is run by the locally based Bilitis Foundation and Gays and Lesbians Accepted in Society (GLAS) -- "to express solidarity with our friends and partners in the face of this senseless attack."

ILGA-Europe, an umbrella NGO representing the interests of LGBT people, condemned the attack and urged Bulgarian authorities "to publicly condemn the attacks, investigate, and sanction the attackers."

The attack on the Rainbow Hub has shined a spotlight on the intolerance the LGBT community faces in Bulgaria, a generally conservative country in the Balkans and a member of the 27-nation EU.

Despite his extremist views, Boyan Rasate often appears on Bulgarian TV to criticize the LGBT community, the presence of migrants and minorities in the country.
Despite his extremist views, Boyan Rasate often appears on Bulgarian TV to criticize the LGBT community, the presence of migrants and minorities in the country.

The Bilitis Foundation said it had recently submitted to the Bulgarian Justice Ministry a petition with more than 8,000 signatures demanding that the country's Criminal Code include hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And on October 27, the Bulgarian Constitutional Court ruled that the word "gender" only applies in the "biological sense," a snub to those who believe the word should have a more fluid definition.

A Ring At The Door

A group of seven people -- and one more taking part online -- had gathered at the Rainbow Hub at 5 p.m. on October 30 for what the Bilitis Foundation later described as a "trans-community gathering."

About a half hour into the discussion, the door buzzer rang, Filipova recounted.

"A girl went to open it. I also went to the door to see who it was. As I was approaching, a group of men was already barging in," Filipova said.

She quickly recognized that Rasate was not only among the mob, but leading it.

The young men quickly began smashing furniture, flipping over desks and chairs, spray-painting objects, as well as breaking the laptop being used to broadcast the event.

"They just started throwing and breaking things, destroying kitchen cabinets, while shouting that we were corrupting children," said Filipova.

The mob smashed furniture, flipped over desks and chairs, spray-painted objects, and broke a laptop computer.
The mob smashed furniture, flipped over desks and chairs, spray-painted objects, and broke a laptop computer.

Some inside the center managed to get out during the mayhem. "But most of us were just stunned and waiting for it to end," recounted Filipova.

After vandalizing the center, the mob headed toward the door, apparently to leave, but according to Filipova's testimony, Rasate wasn't done yet.

"He stopped in front of me, and that scared me because he had already hit me once and I didn't know if he would strike me again," Filipova said. "I told him they had done their job and could leave. He said, 'No, I still have one more job,' and pulled out a knife."

Whether I participated or not...we are currently in an election campaign and I will not give an answer."
-- Boyan Rasate

Brandishing the knife, Filipova said Rasate proceeded to slash the tires of a scooter belonging to one of the discussion participants.

"Luckily, he didn't use it to harm any of us," Filipova said.

By the time police arrived, about 10 minutes after Filipova had called for help, the attackers were long gone.

Details have since emerged indicating that the attack appeared to have been well planned.

Eyewitnesses have come forward to say that a young woman had first rung the bell to the center while the mob of men hovered in the shadows of the stairwell.

"If 10 strong men had been standing at the door, I doubt anyone would have opened the door," explained Lilia Dragoeva of the Bilitis Foundation to RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service. She said she suspects that members of the mob may have scoped out the center as they planned their attack.

"It's an open space and anyone can come in. We assume that in addition to coming in for materials on offer, they had time to look around. That's why we assume they were able to cause so much damage so quickly. They knew where everything was," added Dragoeva.

Rasate: Extremist With A Rap Sheet

Contacted by RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service, Rasate refused to say whether he was involved in the incident at the LGBT center.

"Whether I participated or not, as I told other colleagues of yours, we are currently in an election campaign and I will not give an answer," he said.

Rasate has also had a number of run-ins with the law. Between 2004-15, he was arrested and charged several times, including for disrupting public order and making racist and xenophobic remarks.

Rasate was born Boyan Stankov in 1971 in Sofia and spent part of his childhood in Germany. He changed his name to Rasate, apparently as a tribute to Vladimir Rasate, who ruled Bulgaria between 889-893.

Rasate entered the world of extremist politics in 1991 when he joined the short-lived Bulgarian National Radical Party. Years later, he founded the Bulgarian National Union, an ultranationalist group, which he led from 2000 to 2010.

Despite his extremist views, Rasate often appears on Bulgarian TV to criticize the LGBT community, the presence of migrants and minorities in the country, or to defend a controversial annual march to commemorate Hristo Lukov, a general who sided with Nazi Germany during World War II and was killed by Bulgarian communist partisans in 1943.

Rasate has also had a number of run-ins with the law. Between 2004-15, he was arrested and charged several times, including for disrupting public order and making racist and xenophobic remarks.

On October 25, Rasate took part in a debate on Bulgarian TV between some of the marginal candidates running in the presidential election.

"We'll take back the control of our economy that liberal psychopaths gave away to foreigners and sellouts," he said.

Wake-Up Call For Bulgaria?

The attack on the Rainbow Hub was condemned by politicians and parties across the spectrum in Bulgaria, including former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, whose center-right government in 2018 withdrew Bulgaria from a European treaty designed to combat violence against women over strong opposition expressed by religious and political groups.

"We condemn the attack on the LGBT office and a woman that was carried out by some random presidential contestant," Borisov said.

Center-right European Parliament member Radan Kanev said in a Facebook post that the event, while "outrageous and disturbing," was not unexpected, because "violence based on hatred of different sexualities, specifically gay people, is not a new problem in Bulgaria. On the contrary, it is a deepening problem that has already taken innocent victims."

Filipova expressed hope that the attack will serve as a wake-up call for Bulgaria's political establishment to tackle homophobia and intolerance in Bulgarian society.

"For years, we have been trying to bring about changes in legislation that addresses hate crimes caused by homophobia and transphobia. Unfortunately, these attempts for almost 15 years have so far been unsuccessful," Filipova said. "I hope they realize now that the problem is really serious."

Reported and written by RFE/RL Bulgarian Service correspondent Elitsa Simeonova with contributions from RFE/RL's Tony Wesolowsky in Prague.

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