UMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN begins two days of protests in Strasbourg

14 September, 2009

Protests in Strasbourg The United Macedonian Organisation "Ilinden" PIRIN, a political party defending the rights of the Macedonian minority of Bulgaria, will today begin two days of protests in Strasbourg. Today's demonstration will begin at 2:00pm in front of the European Parliament and will resume on Tuesday 15 September 2009 at 9:00am at the Council of Europe.

The aims of the protests are to raise awareness in the European Parliament of the plight of the unrecognised Macedonian minority of Bulgaria and to oppose the proposed closing of the monitoring of the execution of the 2005 judgement of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the case of UMO Ilinden PIRIN vs Bulgaria.

It has been mooted that during the upcoming Human Rights Meeting of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on Tuesday 15 September 2009 and Wednesday 16 September 2009, the Committee will close the monitoring of the execution of the case. UMO "Ilinden" PIRIN strongly opposes the closure given the fact that UMO "Ilinden" PIRIN has not yet been re-registered and in light of the fact that there are currently two pending applications before the ECtHR in relation to recent refusals to re-register the party.

UMO Ilinden PIRIN demands that it be re-registered as a political party by the Bulgarian authorities and calls for the immediate recognition of the Macedonian minority of Bulgaria. The party also calls upon the Council of Europe and the European Union use all the mechanisms at its disposal to ensure that Bulgaria upholds its obligations regarding freedom of assembly and minority rights.

Background information

The United Macedonian Organisation "Ilinden" PIRIN is a political party initially registered in 1999 in Bulgaria. The party operates mainly in the south-western region of the country and is a democratic party striving to protect the rights of minorities.

On February 29, 2000, the Constitutional Court in Bulgaria declared OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN unconstitutional. However in 2005 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the ban on the party was a violation of Article 11 (Freedom of Assembly) of the European Convention on Human Rights. See UMO Ilinden - PIRIN and others v. Bulgaria, judgment of 20 October 2005.

Following the judgment, the party took steps to have their rights to freedom of association fully restored and have their party re-registered. However three applications for re-registration have been rejected by the Bulgarian courts in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

UMO "Ilinden" PIRIN is the only party in Bulgaria which openly defends the rights of the ethnic Macedonians in the country. The Macedonian minority of Bulgaria is largely concentrated in the south-west of the country, in the District of Blagoevgrad. The exact size of the Macedonian minority of Bulgaria is unknown due to the manipulation of census figures by Bulgarian authorities. At the most recent census in 2001, there were widespread reports of manipulation in the District of Blagoevgrad. Two typical examples of manipulation included persons declaring their ethnicity to be 'Macedonian' however the census official would note 'Bulgarian' on the census forms, while others were not even asked to declare their ethnicity, as the census official "assumed" that the person had Bulgarian ethnicity. According to Bulgarian authorities, at the 2001 census there were 5,071 persons which declared Macedonian ethnicity.

Macedonians are the only unrecognised ethnic minority in Bulgaria. Other ethnic groups enjoy recognition and protection under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, to which Bulgaria is a party. Bulgaria has limited the scope of the Convention to exclude the Macedonian minority, claiming that although 5,071 persons declared an ethnic Macedonian identity at the 2001 census, such persons to do meet "subjective criteria" required for recognition as a distinct minority (i.e. they are not culturally different to ethnic Bulgarians).
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