New Report Criticizes Bulgaria Over Macedonian Minority

February 6, 2004

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

6 February 2004, Volume 8, Number 5

NEW REPORT CRITICIZES BULGARIA OVER MACEDONIAN MINORITY. On 27 January, the Council of Europe's European Committee against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) presented its report on Bulgaria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2004 and http://www.coe.int). The largest section of the study focuses on the plight of Bulgaria's large Romany minority. But it also attracted particular interest in neighboring Macedonia, because the ECRI criticized the Bulgarian state for discriminating against the Macedonian minority, which -- according to the 2001 census -- numbers about 5,000 people.

Such criticism of the Bulgarian government and administration is nothing new. But Skopje's "Utrinski vesnik" hailed the ECRI's appeal to Bulgaria to reconsider a provision in the constitution according to which "there shall be no political parties based on ethnic, racial, or religious lines, nor parties which seek the violent seizure of state power." (official translation provided by
http://www.parliament.bg/).

This constitutional provision was cited by Bulgaria's Constitutional Court in 2000 and by a Sofia city court in 2002 in denying registration to an ethnic Macedonian political party, the United Macedonian Organization Ilinden -- Party for Economic Development and Integration of the Population in Bulgaria (OMO Ilinden-PIRIN) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2001 and 7 April 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 April and 14 December 2001).

Regarding another long-standing issue facing the Macedonian minority, the ECRI notes that "[progress] has been reported from several sources as regards the right of peaceful assembly of Macedonians, although they sometimes encounter harassment" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2002). The report adds that the ECRI "is also concerned about allegations of discrimination and acts of intolerance on the part of the authorities and members of the majority [Bulgarian] population against people who openly declare themselves to be Macedonians."

To resolve these problems, the report calls on the Bulgarian authorities to continue their efforts to improve the situation of the Macedonian minority, and to closely monitor allegations of discrimination and acts of intolerance against this group, "and, if necessary, take steps to punish such acts."

As might be expected, representatives of the Macedonian minority welcomed the report. OMO Ilinden-PIRIN leader Ivan Singartiski told "Utrinski vesnik" of 29 January that Europe has finally taken measures to defend the Macedonians against the Bulgarian state, which does not recognize the existence of a Macedonian minority. Contrary to previous reports, which -- according to Singartiski -- were based mainly on information provided by the Bulgarian side, this time the ECRI has also spoken with minority representatives.

Although the article in "Utrinski vesnik" acknowledges some progress as regards peaceful assembly, it also adds that the "Bulgarian secret services even today harass all those who regard themselves as Macedonians."

For the Bulgarian government, the ECRI's conclusions on the situation of the Macedonian minority are unacceptable. In an official comment attached to the report, it notes that the ECRI did not take into account the developments between June 2003, when the report was drafted, and January 2004, when it was published. Responding in detail to the charges made in the report, the government cites the appropriate constitutional provisions and laws.

The government's most interesting comment regards the charge leveled by the Macedonians that they are not recognized by the Bulgarian state as a national minority. "The existence of Bulgarian citizens, who identify themselves as Macedonians, has been duly reflected in the official results of the 2001 national census," the comment says. At that time, 5,071 persons declared themselves to be Macedonians. For the government, "this obvious fact does not require any further special act of acknowledgement by the Bulgarian state."

Regarding the demand for recognition as a national minority, the comment states: "...the [Bulgarian] Constitution...expressly recognizes the existence of ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity in the country. However, Bulgarian law does not utilize the term 'national minority,' neither does a definition of this term exist in international law." Consequently, the state cannot recognize something that does not exist.

Given the long series of misunderstandings and disputes over the issue between the Bulgarian authorities and the Macedonian minority, as well as between Bulgaria and Macedonia, the ECRI was probably wise in urging Sofia to take the initiative. The report "strongly recommends that the Bulgarian authorities establish a dialogue with the representatives of the Macedonians to find a solution to the tension between this group and the authorities, but also between this group and the majority population, so as to enable them to live together and respect one another in the interests of all concerned." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,
ub@itinerarium.de)

       
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