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US ambassador Herro Mustafa, cleaning hate speech off a wall in Sofia, Source: City of Sofia

Sofia started a campaign to remove hate symbols graffiti

Sofia started a campaign to remove hate symbols graffiti

Mayor Yordanka Fandakova personally participated in their removal

On Sunday, the Mayor of Sofia, Yordanka Fandakova held a press conference with US Ambassador to Bulgaria Herro Mustafa, Romanian Ambassador Brandusa Predescu, as well as the Jewish organization in Bulgaria, ‘Shalom’. The conference gave the start to a campaign to clean the city from visual representations of hate speech.

As the Bulgarian capital prepared to celebrate 24 May – the National Day of Slavic Culture and Script, local leaders took part in cleaning graffiti promoting hate crimes and ethnic violence. As Mayor Fandakova put it, Sofia stands for tolerance.

Almost two millennia of ‘toleration’

The city of Sophia is named after the St. Sofia church from the 4th century, where the Roman Emperor Galerius signed The Edict of Serdica, also known as the Edict of Toleration. This edict officially ended the Diocletian persecution of Christians in the Eastern Roman Empire.

Now, the square that holds St Sophia is also home to a plaque commemorating the event. And this is where the group led by Mayor Fandakova and US Herro Mustafa started their run by removing swastikas, painted on nearby buildings.

The event kicked off a joint declaration about removing hate speech graffiti in the city. According to a statement by the city, in recent years, authorities have removed 7,000 square meters of hateful graffiti. At the same time, the city has also said that it will ramp up control for removal actions near schools.

The Square of religious tolerance

Sofia is a unique city in terms of religious tolerance. The Bulgarian capital is proud to be the home of the so-called ‘square of tolerance’. The square consists of a synagogue, a mosque, an orthodox church and a catholic cathedral, all within a five-minute walk from each other.

The mosque, Banya Bashi, was part of a bigger complex that featured a public bath with mineral water. However, the bath was rebuilt and separated from the mosque. Though the structure is still standing, today it hosts a museum of the history of Sofia, while local activist groups have waged a decades-long campaign to reinstate the facility as a thermal bath. The synagogue, right across from the mosque, on the other hand, is the biggest Sephardic temple in Europe.

A short walk from there, people can find the Sveti Yosif (St Joseph) Catholic Cathedral. The façade of the building is quite modern and this is because the original cathedral was completely destroyed by the Americans in a bombing run on Sofia during WW2. The new foundation stone of St Joseph was laid in person by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

The last corner of the square is occupied by the orthodox Sveta Nedelya (St Sunday) Cathedral. It was blown up during an assassination attempt in 1925 by Communist activists and was later restored.

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