ANNUAL REPORT ON THE HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION OF THE MACEDONIANS IN BULGARIA 2014
15 March, 2015
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In 2014 the fundamental problems relating to the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria remained the same as they had been in previous years; namely:
- Refusal to acknowledge the existence of a Macedonian minority.
- The failure to grant to Macedonians those rights specified in the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
- The refusal of the authorities to enter into dialogue with the Macedonian minority.
- The refusal to register Macedonian organizations.
- Hate speech directed against Macedonians.
Refusal to Acknowledge the Existence of the Macedonian Nation and a Macedonian Minority
Even though there were no new official statements of denial of the existence of Macedonians in Bulgaria, the insistence of Bulgaria for there to be a clause in the proposed Agreement on Good Neighborliness with Macedonia which prohibits Macedonia from making representations regarding the right of Bulgarian citizens with a non-Bulgarian consciousness ( it is noteworthy that an explicit effort has been made to avoid the mention of a Macedonian minority in the agreement), together with the absence of any kind of statement acknowledging the existence of such a minority, confirm that the policy of denial continued to form part of Bulgaria's official policy this year as well. Additional proof of this is the fact that this year as well there is no Macedonian representative on the National Committee for Cooperation on Ethnic Affairs and Social Integration within the Ministerial Committee. This same denial often occurs in the media and is not understood to be something which needs to be censured or declared to be hate speech, but rather a perfectly normal defence of the historical truth and a display of patriotism. No state institution has reacted or made any sort of statement of condemnation in relation to similar denials and negations.
Absence of Positive Measures by the State to Improve the Situation of the Macedonian Minority
During 2014 the state did not take any measures to improve the situation of the Macedonians in Bulgaria, nor did it make any effort to stop or sanction hate speech and discrimination (see below). The state has not taken adequate action to implement the decisions of the European Court for Human Rights which led to it being subjected to criticism at the meeting of the Committee of Ministers held on 2-4 December 2014 (in the Committee's decisions on this matter, that was diplomatically referred to as "not being sufficient"). The reason as to why such measures have not been implemented is not due to the lack of time and resources on the part of the state, but to a lack of desire to do so. Proof of that is the fact that all initiatives emanating from Macedonian parties and organizations have been rejected.
Even when changes have occurred, which in some way appear to be positive for the Macedonian minority, Macedonians have neither been the direct objects of such changes, nor has any improvement in the situation regarding their rights been one of the major goals of such action, but has rather come about as a by-product. For example, this year as a result of strong outside pressure the discriminatory ban which did not permit those Bulgarian citizens who hold a second non-European citizenship from standing as candidates in elections was revoked. Until now, such persons did not have the right to stand as candidates or occupy elected positions ranging from that of municipal councillor to president. The victims of such a ban were persons belonging to the Turkish and Macedonian minorities. Even though such a reform was positive, it unfortunately is not evidence of a change in state policy towards the Macedonian minority. No other concrete positive developments relating to the rights of persons with a Macedonian consciousness, even as a by-product, were noted during the year.
Refusal to Engage in Dialogue
During 2014 OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN submitted requests for meetings to a number of Bulgarian offices and institutions: those of the Prime Minister, the Ministries of Justice and Education, the Secretariat of the National Committee for Cooperation on Ethnic Affairs and Social Integration within the Committee of Ministers and the Commission for the Fight against Discrimination.
Replies were received from three of these institutions: on 25 September 2014 (No 1737/13) from the Cabinet of the Prime Minister, advising that the request had been received and a letter from the Ministry of Education (94-13321 of 03/11/2014) in which it was stated that a wide-ranging public debate regarding educational policies would take place in the future. The last reply avoided addressing the matter of a request for a meeting, but informed the party about the measures which had been taken by the state to implement the decisions brought down by ECHR regarding the registration of Macedonian organizations. Namely, it indicated that at that time three such organizations had submitted applications for registration at the Blagoevgrad Regional Court. In fact two of the organizations in question had already received rejections, while the third one received it on the day that the letter was written. The common denominator in the answers received was that the requests for meetings and discussions were avoided. No answers were received at all from the Commission for Minorities and the Commission for the Fight against Discrimination, which in and of itself represents a tacit refusal. This shows that state institutions continue to ignore Macedonian organizations in Bulgaria and refuse to engage in any dialogue with them.
Violation of the Right to Freedom of Assembly
Despite the fact that Bulgaria has been convicted five times due to its refusal to register Macedonian organizations and parties, this practice also remained unchanged in 2014. On 14 January 2014 the Secretariat of the Committee of Ministers prepared a revised plan concerning the continuing practice of not registering Macedonian organizations in Bulgaria which was sent to Bulgaria with the aim of "preventing of further refusals of registration of the applicant association or other similar associations". This year (2014) six organizations applied for registration, three of which were refused, while the remaining are still waiting for a response. The following organizations have been refused registration: OMO "Ilinden", the Association of Repressed Macedonians in Bulgaria, victims of communist terror, and the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights "Tolerance". The first organization was refused registration, even though Bulgaria had already been found guilty twice in this same matter. The second organization was already making a second unsuccessful attempt to be registered.
In their decisions refusing registration the courts employed arguments which had already been rejected several times by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and the Committee of Ministers, namely:
- Accusations of separatism;
- Interpreting the mention of a Macedonian minority as a threat to national security and the unity of the nation;
- Speculating on the use the concept "political aims";
- The use of general claims unsupported by any evidence;
- The inordinate dragging out of cases and seeking out formal reasons for refusal of registration and the like.
Often one of the motives for refusing registration is the claim that the organizations have "political aims" which according to the law can only be expressed by political parties. In this case there has been an abuse of the fact that the term "political aims" is not defined in Bulgarian legislation, which allows a court significant room to speculate on the meaning of this term to the detriment of Macedonians.
Activities Directed against the Unity of the Nation
The claim that Macedonian organizations have goals which are directed against the unity of the Bulgarian nation is often used as a ground for refusal of registration. In this instance the unity of the nation is interpreted as ethnic and racial unity, as a result of which the claim that a Macedonian minority exists is viewed as an attempt to divide the nation. Such an interpretation of constitutional norms lacks a legal basis and is contrary to a series of interpretations issued by the Constitutional Court. Despite all this, similar nationalistic interpretations of the Constitution are regularly used to deny the registration of Macedonian organizations, while the civil interpretations issued by the Constitutional Court are employed solely in order to justify the respective provisions of the law to outside observers.
Quotes from court decisions which highlight this type of interpretatio:
The Court, aside from the formal grounds adduced, finds that the name of the organization may be confused with the name of the party OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN which the Court had refused to register a several years before and determines that there is a danger that "society may be misled and deceived by the registration of an organization with political aims or an organization directed against the unity of the nation under the Law on Legal Entities with Non-Profit Goals".
It considers that the aims are directed against the unity of the nation by citing a series of provisions in the statute which clearly show that according to its authors there is a separate ethnic category of Macedonians in Bulgaria which has its own history and culture and who are subjected to discrimination. The application of OMO "Ilinden" in which it is stated that it will defend the Macedonian people against such discrimination is interpreted as seeking to inflame ethnic hostility.
Court decision No 4022 of 26.09.2014 by Judge Nadia Uzunova, Regional Court-Blagoevgrad
"According to the Court the goals of the association indicate involvement in activities directed against the unity of the nation". This conclusion is arrived at as the association has proclaimed as a goal the promotion of Macedonian culture and the historical truth, plans to erect monuments, defend the rights of the Macedonians, deliver lectures, write reports, organize rallies and meetings, celebrate historical dates and promote and preserve folklore. All of that "comprises activities, which the court determines are directed against the unity of the Bulgarian nation".
Deliberate Dragging Out of Cases
All Macedonian organizations which have submitted applications for registration face an inevitable dragging out of the case by the court which far exceeds the legal deadline of one month. A good example of this is the case of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights "Tolerance" (CDHR), which had not received an answer from the court for nine months and only did so after it stated that it would submit a complaint against the judge, upon which it received a reply containing requests for certain corrections to be made. After these had been made, there was a further delay of two months and they were again forced to intervene in order to finally receive a decision.
At the time of the completion of this report several other Macedonian organizations were waiting for a response of their requests for registration at Blagoevgrad Regional Court-in all such cases the legal deadline for a response from the Court has been exceeded.
General Assertions Contained in Decisions Rather Than a Precise Indication of Reasons and Arguments
The courts openly seek ways to deny the registration of Macedonian organizations rather than satisfying legal requirements. Even in those cases when corrections to applications have been sought from Macedonian organizations, the aim is not to assist in their registration-the corrections sought are of a general nature and imprecise and even after such corrections are made the application is inevitably refused without any comment on those same corrections. (CDHR).
The refusals contain general assertions which lack specific details and justifications. For example in the decision regarding the CDHR, it is asserted in general terms that the requirements of the law have not been met (wherein reference is made to an article which contains all the requirements) and that the constitution of the organization does not meet the relevant legal requirements (without specifying exactly which requirements have not been met). In this concrete case the constitution was an adaptation of that of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee-a registered and respected human rights organization-the only difference, apart from the name of the organization, being that Macedonians and a Macedonian minority are mentioned in it.
The refusals were accompanied by a suggestion that the whole procedure be started all over again, which on the basis of the unlawfully taken decisions, the lack of any sort of concrete formulations and a failure to point out weaknesses in the application which need to be removed, can only be interpreted as a continuation of tactics designed to drag out cases relating to registration; the goal being to prevent them from being appealed at the European Court of Human Rights so that they continue to be examined within Bulgaria ( as if in a magic circle) without any real prospect of this process leading to registration.
The decisions rejecting the registration of Macedonian organizations were the subject of discussions within the Committee of Ministers, which on 2-4 December 2014 decided to strengthen its monitoring of Bulgaria relating to this matter.
In reality in Bulgaria in 2014 as well there continued to be a tacit ban on the registration of Macedonian organizations.
Denial of Justice
Due to the lack of trust in Bulgarian institutions which has built up over the years, Macedonians rarely resort to a defence of their rights through the courts or commissions tasked with tackling discrimination. All attempts made in the past had led to one and the same result - denial of justice. In 2014 we were faced with a concrete case of denial of justice by the Commission for the Fight against Discrimination. The matter in question related to a complaint lodged at the Commission by the OMO "Ilinden" activist, Darinka Tapanska, in April 2013. The reason for the complaint was that the State-owned Radio Blagoevgrad had refused to broadcast a paid advertisement for a Macedonian festival which had been permitted by the authorities under the pretext that the organization was not registered and anti-Constitutional. The Commission dragged out consideration of the case for a year and five months before it made a final decision, however in the intervening period it made several attempts to put an end to the case. From the massive amount of correspondence exchanged at the time that the case was being considered, it became clear that the Commission was more concerned about putting an end to the case rather than the discrimination which had occurred. On 11 September 2014 the Commission, which consisted of a five member panel, made its decision and declared Tapanska's complaint to be invalid. In its decision the Commission stated that it considered that the broadcasting of OMO "Ilinden"'s announcement "would have misled a large number of listeners regarding the legitimacy of OMO "Ilinden" independently of the fact such a legal entity was not registered in accordance with the Constitution and the laws of the country."
Denial of Justice on the Grounds of Discrimination in the Work Place
In April 2013 a notice was placed next to the coffee machine in the MIA (Ministry of internal affairs) in Blagoevgrad which read: "Coffee is 100 Macedonian dinars for spies, enemies of the people and people of another nationality". This notice was intended for Yanka Stoyanova Tapanska, an officer in the same section of the MIA who openly manifested her Macedonian consciousness,had completed her higher education in the Republic of Macedonia and had subsequently become unpopular among some of her colleagues because of her uncompromising fight against breaches of the law and the rules of this same institution which resulted in several policemen being punished. It became apparent from several additional uncensored words which had been written on the notice that it was intended for her; her name had even been written out on it. Even though she took up the matter with her superior, chief police inspector Strahil Antalavichev, he did not order that the notice be removed. When Tapanska herself removed the notice, he insisted that she hand it over which she refused to do. On 24. 04.2013 she lodged a complaint with the Inspectorate of MIA regarding breaches of the code of ethics by an official of the MIA.
The Inspectorate sent the complaint to the Directorate of the MIA in Blagoevgrad (e.g. to the institution being complained against) so that an investigation could take place. As a result on 27 May 2013, a response was received which indicated that the notice was not a serious matter and "that no offence or slander which harmed her honor and dignity was established to have taken place". Moreover, it was found that there was no violation of the Code of Ethics and the compliant was dismissed. The mother of the victim, Darinka Gavrilova Tapanska. submitted a complaint regarding this matter to the Prosecutor's Office (513/2014), however on 17.3.2014 the Regional Prosecutor's office in Blagoevgrad refused to initiate criminal proceedings without the gathering of additional evidence. It then delivered the same verdict as had the MIA in May 2013 and moreover did so without specifying its reasons for doing so; namely, that there was no breach in the Code of Ethics. Yanka Tapanska then submitted a complaint to the Commission for the Fight against Discrimination.The Commission invalidly allowed the case to proceed and set a date for a first hearing on 24.11.2014, without collating all the evidence submitted by the complainant and additionally ignored the request for the withdrawal of the Prosecutor on the grounds that he is related to the policemen who were defendants in the case Yanka Tapanska requested that all documentation relevant to the case be provided to her and furthermore observed that not only had there been no action taken regarding her request for the withdrawal of the Prosecutor, but that only two of the five pieces of evidence submitted by her had been tendered, which would have most certainly facilitated the taking of a negative decision by the Commission. Yanka Tapanska submitted an objection requesting that all evidence be tendered and considered and that the Prosecutor be withdrawn. To date the Commission has not brought down its decision on this case. Meanwhile Tapanska was unlawfully dismissed from the MIA Blagoevgrad, without there being regard for the fact that she is protected under law due to being considered an invalid. She is currently involved in court proceedings regarding this matter as well.
Despite their lack of involvement in anti-state and anti-social activities, the very existence of Macedonian organizations is treated as an activity directed against the Bulgarian nation and as a form of separatism. The absence of involvement in separatist activities does not prevent Macedonian organizations from regularly being labeled anti-Bulgarian and separatist in the media. The registration of a Macedonian organization is compared to being as unacceptable as the registration of a fascist or extremist left organization and even one which strives to make Bulgaria become part of the Islamic state.
Hate speech against Macedonians is found particularly on Internet forums. Individual participants in the forums are the objects of such attacks, as well as all people with a Macedonian consciousness in general. Negative opinions, ideas and insults abound on such forums.Macedonians are regularly called Serb-lovers, FYROMians and traitors and are subjected to all kinds of insults and threats. Such speech regularly remains unpunished by the moderators.
Hate speech continues to be expressed with impunity in the media and is disseminated by influential persons in society and representatives of academic circles. For example Bozhidar Dimitrov in an article for the Bulgarian newspaper "Politics" entitled "A Macedonian Nation Does Not Exist" stated as follows: "I consider that due to the policy of Macedonianism which was imposed by force, we need to take corresponding measures in Strasbourg and the Hague in order for it to be recognized as a crime against humanity. Because in reality it has been imposed with the repression of over 150, 000 Bulgarians in Macedonia. This is why an investigation is needed as to whether this is genocide." In Bulgaria the terms Macedonist and Macedonianism are used to signify Macedonian consciousness and self-determination which are treated in this case as crimes against humanity. The only critical remarks in relation to this statement by this famous Bulgarian politician and program broadcaster appeared in the satirical newspaper "Starshel (Hornet)" and consisted of two sentences. No one else thought it necessary to react or condemn such a statement. In an interview under the characteristically familiar title "A Macedonian Nation Does Not Exist", Dimitrov speaks of the "ultimate victory over Macedonianism and characterizes it as one of the most grotesque social phenomena of the 20th century and last remaining features of the Comintern as it was precisely this body which posited the existence of a Macedonian nation in 1934." It is evident that "Macedonianism" is taken to be an enemy which has to be defeated and the Macedonian nation a grotesque phenomenon. Bozhidar Dimitrov is not the only one engaged in such activities. Professor Plamen Pavlov openly treats Macedonian consciousness as being equivalent to ignorance, brainwashing, lack of literacy and a lack of desire to be sufficiently intelligent. Neither the Prosecutor's office, nor the Commission for the Fight against Discrimination concern themselves with these or other similar cases. In this regard 2014 continued the tradition of not penalizing hate speech against Macedonians.
Lack of Representation in the Media
Although the Macedonian question was a frequent topic in the Bulgarian media in the past year, no media organization sought out or expressed the opinion of persons with a Macedonian consciousness, even in cases when discussion of matters which directly concerned them arose. Their opinion is also not sought out in connection with the frequent disputes which arise with Republic of Macedonia. The right of reply has also been violated. When in September 2014 Dr Stoyko Stoykov wrote a response to the latest series of provocations by Bozhidar Dimitrov against the Macedonians and sent it to the Bulgarian media, none of them published it, nor was it referred to at all, even by those who disseminated Dimitrov's text.
Macedonian activists in Bulgaria often find themselves subjected to threats of murder or violence. In the past, such threats have been received by the newspaper "Narodna Volya" (People's Will) and its editor (public threats in the media, followed up by telephone threats). Up until 2010, members of OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN were threatened in the media by politicians, parliamentarians and mayors with imprisonment, exile and calls for them to be shot in the streets. Until 2006, activists from the party OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN, such as co-chair Stoyko Stoykov (2005) and others, received such threats.
During 2014, a particularly serious case involving a song which was composed in 2011 (and which continued to be disseminated thereafter) and which glorified murder came to light. The "victim" in this song is the famous Macedonian activist in Bulgaria, Professor Stefan Vlahov Micov, whose university career was ruined because of his public pro-Macedonian stance. The song was composed by the group "Vojvoda (Guerilla Commander)", and in it the following words are sung about him: "He was Stefan the Vlach's son, he was an evil man and I waited a long time before I killed him". As was to be expected, the institutions of the state did not show any interest in investigating this matter and no investigation has been conducted to date.
During 2014 the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria continued to be denied, organizations of persons possessing a Macedonian consciousness were refused registration, the authorities refused to engage in dialogue with representatives of the minority and Macedonians continued to be the subjects of hate speech, threats and discrimination. Stereotypes which paint them as traitors, apostates, enemies of Bulgaria and separatists continued to abound. The authorities did nothing to bring about an improvement in this situation and the institutions of the state did not concern themselves with instances of discrimination and rejected the attempts made by individual Macedonians to seek their protection.
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