April, 2018

Authors: Committee for the Defence of Human Rights "Tolerantnost" with the support of OMO "Ilinden"-PIRIN and the newspaper "Narodna Volya"


- Introduction
- Denial of the Existence of a Macedonian Minority, Nation and Identity
- Hate Speech
- Violation of the Right of Association
- Organized Harassment
- Absence of Legal Protection
- Refusal of the Authorities to Engage in Dialogue
- Conclusion and Recommendations

Introduction: Ten Years in the European Union

The year 2017 marked a period of ten years since Bulgaria became a member of the European Union. During 2017 the situation of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria was the same as the year before and in some respects worse. The denial of the existence of that very minority, as well as of Macedonian identity, language, culture, and history in general remained official state policy. There were no Macedonian representatives on the Commission for Minorities. When ethnic groups in Bulgaria are officially spoken and written about, the Macedonians in Bulgaria are not mentioned, and Macedonian culture, language and history are not represented in any government publication or official site. Macedonians are not included in any programs concerning ethnic communities and do not receive any type of assistance from the state for the conservation and development of their culture and identity.

Not one of the rights stipulated in the Framework Convention on National Minorities has been granted to the Macedonians. In schools children do not only learn nothing about the Macedonian minority and nation, but on the contrary are imparted knowledge in such a way that omits any mention of the Macedonian nation and minority. The Macedonian literary language continues not to be learnt and the Macedonian language and dialects are the object of ridicule and are treated as deformed and uncultured forms of the Bulgarian language. While during the time of the communist regime, those who listened to and sang Macedonian songs were punished, nowadays the same songs are presented on Bulgarian television as Bulgarian songs. On the media there is a continuous and varied presentation of the view that there is no Macedonian nation and that everything Macedonian is Bulgarian. The Macedonian point of view is not represented in lectures and discussions on history. Macedonian consciousness itself ("Macedonianism" as it is labelled in Bulgaria) is looked upon as an artificial anti-Bulgarian ideology. Macedonian consciousness in Bulgaria (and quite often the Macedonian nation as a whole) are considered to be a product of a Communist experiment or the result of foreign propaganda. Activists in Macedonian organizations are labelled as traitors to the nation, enemies, national apostates, foreign agents, primitives, intellectually and morally degenerate persons, alcoholics and people with psychologically deviant tendencies. A climate of intolerance reigns in society against Macedonians and they are the object of ridicule, denigration and hate speech, which are often given wide exposure through the media without being sanctioned by the institutions of the state and without encountering any serious opposition in the wider society. Macedonians are not able to defend themselves against discrimination and hate speech, as the relevant institutions either ignore them or actively side against them.

Not one Macedonian organization and party is officially registered. The courts refuse registration precisely on the basis of a denial of Macedonian identity, even though they often use euphemisms to express this. Not one of the registered parties in Bulgaria defends the rights of the Macedonians in Bulgaria. The non-registration of Macedonian parties and organizations does not only isolate the Macedonian minority from social life and delegitimize it, but also frees the state of the need to include its organizations on the Commission for Minorities.

There is not one person in public life, who express a Macedonian identity, nor is there one person holding a state office or a politician whose goals include a defense of the Macedonian minority. That is a clear indicator of existing intolerance and discrimination on the basis of ethnic self-identification and indicates that such persons cannot make their way up through the hierarchy. If they succeed in doing so, the current atmosphere of fear and the pressure applied on displays of Macedonian identity force them to hide their self-identification.

In spite of the large number of recommendations of international bodies, the Bulgarian authorities continue to refuse to begin a dialogue with the Macedonian minority.

There is no difference between left-wingers and right-wingers, liberals and nationalists in relation to their opinions about the Macedonians in Bulgaria. Representatives of a broad spectrum of society, with the exception of a small section of the civil society sector , consider Macedonians to be Bulgarians and Macedonians to be something non-existent and insignificant.

All the above mentioned basic phenomena were present in full force throughout 2017 as well.

This year as well the Commission Against Discrimination did not adopt a position regarding the situation of the Macedonians in Bulgaria, despite the fact that at the end of 2017 the number of verdicts against Bulgaria at the European Court of Human Rights had risen to 11. The non-adoption of a position by the Commission makes it an accomplice to the policy of the state in relation to the Macedonian minority. By hiding the discrimination which has taken place, the Commission also deprives the European Commission of the opportunity to intervene in the matter.

In addition, in 2017 the state did not undertake any measures to improve the situation and rights of the Macedonian minority.

Denial of the Existence of a Macedonian Minority, Nation and Identity

There continues to be no representative of the Macedonian minority on the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Matters within the Ministerial Council. On the web page of this commission there continues to be no information about the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. It is not mentioned there amongst the list of "ethnic groups" which were identified at the census in 2001, (as the data collected at the census in 2011 in relation to minorities is not considered to be valid and up to date). At the census of 2001, 5071 persons who self-identified as Macedonians were registered as such, which is more than those groups which have been listed on the web page of the Council; namely, Tatars, Jews, Greeks, Karakachans, Serbs, Circassians, Albanians, Ukrainians, Arabs, Poles, Vietnamese, Germans, and Czechs. Despite that Macedonians are not mentioned in any one of the categories.

In 2017 Macedonians were also not mentioned in any document or official publication of any institution in Bulgaria.

Characteristic of the attitude of the Bulgarian state authorities in relation to the issue of minorities was the appointment as President of the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Affairs of an ultra-nationalist, namely Valeri Simeonov, Deputy-Premier for Economic and Demographic Policy and President of the nationalist "People's Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria" who is well known for his anti-minority rhetoric. This person is also known for having defended a video which included a Nazi salute by a deputy minister of his party and stating that he had produced "humorous videos" in the Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald.

The denial of the Macedonian minority continues on as an important state policy which enjoys broad social support. On 21 January in his farewell speech as President Rosen Plevneliev stated that "Macedonian must enter the EU, but not Macedonianism". According to Plevneliev "Macedonianism .... is an ideology which creates tensions for the coming generations.... it does not work in the interests of peace".

On 7 February the Press Centre of the National History Museum disseminated a statement by its director which was widely circulated in the media. The statement contained the claim that "Macedonia must be rebulgarianised" and it was also stated that "Macedonianism a one hundred per cent lie. A Nation and state cannot be built of a hundred per cent false basis." The suggestion was made that "Macedonia should remain with a rebulgarianised national consciousness of its Slavic population".

Influential persons in Bulgaria do not conceal their joy and hope that the Agreement on Good Neighborliness between Bulgaria and Macedonia will signal the beginning of the end of "Macdonianism". On 20 June the political scientist and historian, Simeon Popov, who is an expert within the political office of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and also a former president of the Young Conservatives" Club stated as follows: "the problem emanates from the Soviet Union and the Comintern" Macedonianism is a myth which changed history and falsified the education of several generations in the country which studied certain types of falsifications. There is no way that this balloon cannot be burst" all of this has already collapsed". On 10 May 2017 Bozhidar Dimitrov would write the following in the national daily "Trud": "the end is coming for the biggest museum of the Comintern - Macedonianism". In this article it was clearly claimed that Macedonia must rid itself of "the lie" that a Macedonian nation exists and that that together with its integration into European structures "would solve a problem which has existed for decades in the Balkans"

On 7 July former president Plevneliev once again brought up this topic when he stated on national television that "the ideology of Macedonianism is totally anti-Bulgarian, and makes us Bulgarians "fascists". That is an ideology created by Tito and Stalin and by the biggest traitor to the Bulgarian national interest Georgi Dimitrov" Bulgaria must do everything possible to pave the way for Macedonia to enter the EU, but must not allow the communist ideology of Macedonianism to enter as well" In Macedonia they must understand that Macedonianism must be left behind in time."

The wide dissemination of similar views and the lack of any reaction against them show that they are widely accepted in Bulgarian society.

When one considers that the very Macedonian nation is "a 100% lie", an offspring of a totalitarian ideology created by the biggest enemies of and traitors to Bulgaria and that it therefore should not exist or enter into the EU as such, it then becomes clear what Bulgaria's stance might be towards that part of the same people which is found within Bulgaria, namely, towards the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria.

In 2017 the Macedonian minority was directly affected by the public debate taking place on the issue of Macedonia. On the eve of the signing of the Agreement on Good Neighborliness between Bulgaria and Macedonia - an agreement which is unequal and obtained through blackmail l- the Bulgarian political elite was severely worried that the agreement would lead to the recognition of the Macedonian minority. The Foreign Minister Nadezhda Zaharieva was required to calm such fears and to even give an assurance to the deputies of the National Parliament that: "with such an Agreement on Good Neighborliness the matter of a Macedonian minority in Bulgaria disappears from view". Nevertheless such concerns were present in the wider society and deputy premier Krassimir Karakachanov was compelled to appear on national radio and allay the public's fears: namely, "that there is no text referring to a Macedonian minority in Bulgaria in the Agreement on Good Neighborliness with Macedonia which is due to be signed by the premiers Boyko Borissov and Zoran Zaev in Skopie on 2 August." In the same interview he repeated the invalid but nevertheless popular argument employed in Bulgaria against granting rights to the minorities, namely that the Bulgarian Constitution grants only individual rights, in which case the rights of the minorities are considered completely erroneously to be collective rights and therefore unconstitutional.

Even though the Agreement on Good Neighborliness only stipulates the rights of either state to represent the interests of their citizens, for the Bulgarian state it is taken to mean putting an end to whatever pretensions Macedonia may have to make representations on behalf the Macedonian minority, but also to claim that such a minority even exists. Zaharieva furthermore stated that "the Agreement on Good Neighborliness with Macedonian settles the issue of whether there is a Macedonian minority on Bulgarian territory". by signing the agreement Macedonia is obliged to not express any pretensions to the existence of a Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. "She specified that in the last few years certain circles in Skopie have spoken more assertively about the existence of such a minority. However, with the signing of the agreement, it will have become clear that our western neighbor wishes to change its attitude towards Bulgaria"

That shows that the denial of the Macedonian minority continues to represent an important state policy and to dominate social and political predispositions in Bulgarian society and particularly those of the political elite. Indicative of that is the way in which the minority is spoken about in all of the above cases, as such denial avoids the fact that thousands of Bulgarian citizens have a Macedonian consciousness and additionally labels the very claim that such a minority exists as a crime and an anti-state policy.

On 28 August textual interpretations of an interview given by the former President of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Stefan Vodenicharov, to the Macedonian television station "Sitel" appeared in the Bulgarian media. The headline was "There is no Macedonian minority in Bulgaria". After this the following was written: "He adds that he cannot say that there is a Macedonian minority in Bulgaria, but that there are people whose origins are Macedonian". The interpretation was designed to be manipulative. The academician obviously believed that there is no Macedonian minority in Bulgaria, however in the interview he carefully avoided this question. Nevertheless, it is indicative that certain media in Bulgaria decided that it was necessary to "clarify" the position of the academician in relation to this question. Vodenicharov did not find it necessary to refute or correct such clarifications.

In articles published in Bulgaria after the signing of the agreement with Macedonia which dealt with future talks in the historical and cultural commission between the two states, the dominant notion was that future negotiations must result, most importantly, in the denial that historically the Macedonian minority has ever existed in Bulgaria. If one takes into account that this commission will report to the political leaderships of both states and that the lack of progress (i.e. agreement on the Macedonian side) may lead to Bulgaria imposing its veto during the process of European integration, there is no doubt that the renunciation of the Macedonian minority, not only in the present day, but also historically, will be turned by Bulgaria into a condition which must be fulfilled in order to advance Macedonia's membership of European institutions.

Therefore the denial of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria continues to create serious problems and is one of the fundamental sources of totalitarian ideas, demands and policies in the country. In the past, the denial of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria (which was officially recognized from 1945 to 1963) had as a consequence the sending of hundreds of Macedonians to Bulgarian jails during Communist rule, while thousands were resettled and repressed in various other ways. After the fall of Communism the denial of Macedonians became a fundamental issue which prevented the granting of rights to people with a Macedonian consciousness in Bulgaria and gave rise to various discriminatory practices, such as deprivation of the right to assembly and association, - refusal of just judicial treatment and similar acts which led to the European Court of Human Rights bringing down 11 verdicts against Bulgaria. At present the same policy creates tensions with neighboring states and leads to a desire and intention to abuse one's position as a member of the EU in order to impose demands which attack the identity of millions of people, violate freedom of academic research and impose the falsification of history.

The denial of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria remains the last totalitarian policy, a relic of communism in the EU.

Hate Speech

Macedonians in Bulgaria are regularly subjected to hate speech in Bulgaria. The very act of denying the existence of the nation and treating it as anti-Bulgarian propaganda inevitably places people with a Macedonian consciousness in Bulgaria in a position of being considered enemies and traitors. The institutions of the state have not once taken action against instances of hate speech, nor has anyone ever been sanctioned for engaging in such speech. Society in general does not at all consider this to be a problem and neither is anyone sanctioned for it. On the contrary, it is accepted as something normal and even praised. This situation remained the same this year in this respect as well.

The denial of the existence of a Macedonian nation and minority in and of itself represents hate speech, as apart from the fact that it denies fundamental rights such as the right to self-determination, it at the same time "explains away" the consciousness of the Macedonians as something resulting from moral and personal immaturity and degradation and is expressed through negative stereotypes such as "traitors to the nation", "national apostates", "sell-outs", "enemies of Bulgaria", "illiterates", "monsters" and similar expressions. The use of expressions and concepts such as "Macedonianism" and "Macedonists" are of the same nature and contain within them the denial of the existence of Macedonians as a nation and minority. They are used despite the categorical opposition of Macedonians to be described in terms which they consider to be offensive. Those that use such expressions always imbue such terms with a negative content, denigrate people's dignity and interpret "Macedonianism" (that is, Macedonian self-identification) as an anti-Bulgarian phenomenon.

Apart from the already cited texts which deny the Macedonian nation and minority, there are many others. On 9 March Bozhidar Dimitrov issued a press release in which he justified his decision at the last moment to refuse to participate in a debate on a Macedonian television station in which he would have appeared together with Bulgarian, Macedonian and Serbian academics. In his press release debate he, inter alia, called Stefan Vlahov, who was born in Bulgaria and is a member of the Macedonian minority "a little Bulgarian from Gabrovo" who has chosen the profession of 'Macedonian' . In addition, he applied degrading stereotypes to the Macedonians in Bulgaria, stating that they did not have their own self-consciousness, were insincere and that they were paid by some enemy of Bulgaria which is the reason why their self-determination was not a matter of their membership of an ethnic group, but rather a profession.

Violation of the Right of Association

In all likelihood due to the changes made to the Law on the Registration of Non-Government Organisations in 2016, which entered into force on 1 January 2018, it is not known whether new applications for the registration of Macedonian organisations were lodged in 2017. In any case, the Bulgarian courts continued to act in a discriminatory fashion vis-a-vis Macedonian organisations. The Appellate Court set a new record in delaying the consideration of appeals lodged with it. The "Macedonian Club for Ethnic Tolerance and the Conservation of Macedonian Folklore, Traditions and Customs" and "Makedon Suringrad" continued this year as well to wait for a reply from this court in relation to the refusal of the Blagoevgrad District Court to grant them registration in 2015. The delays at the Appellate Court correspond entirely to the more than one year's delay at the District Court and represent an established practice in relation to Macedonian organisations - instead of receiving a reply within the one month legally prescribed time frame, they wait years to receive an opinion. Such delays not only create obstacles for Macedonian organisations wishing to be granted registration, but also in lodging appeals with the ECHR, as well as discouraging Macedonians from making any attempts to register their organisations in Bulgaria.

Harassment of Activists of Macedonian Organizations

During 2016 and 2017 Kiril Tilev, a judo trainer at the Sports College in Sandanski who had achieved remarkable results in that sport and was also a long-standing activist of OMO-"Ilinden" was subjected to systematic harassment by Metodi Hristov, a member of VMRO-BND ( part of the governing coalition in the country) and his colleague in the college. Hristov swore at his "Macedonian mother" used phrases such as "inferior Macedonians", offended him by saying that the Macedonia nation is invented, and that Macedonians do not exist and that he and those who pretend that they are Macedonians are "paid agents of Macedonianism". He made various slanderous claims about Tilev, saying that he had been dismissed from his job for disciplinary reasons and that he had attempted to rape a female student. He publicly threatened that he would destroy and kill him. He threatened him over the phone and harassed and tormented him on social media. This harassment continued for months despite the fact that the principal had been informed of what was happening on several occasions.

On 11 October 2016 Tilev lodged a complaint to the principal as the previous day he had been insulted and threatened with death by Hristov. On 14 October 2016 Tilev lodged a complaint to the ethics commission of the college on account of slanderous claims that he was a rapist and the threats received via phone and Facebook. The commission unanimously found that Hristov was guilty of all accusations and determined that Hristov had "exceeded all bounds".. and had severely violated generally accepted human and ethical norms". The dissemination of lies about the alleged attempted rape led to the female pupil leaving the school.

The principal of the school invited Tilev to lodge a complaint in the courts in order to be able to dismiss Hristov who had also been complained about by other colleagues. Given the continuing harassment, Tilev lodged a complaint with the Prosecutor's Office. The Prosecutor's Office established that he had been subjected to slander, insults and threats, but refused to begin legal proceedings, as crimes of a private nature come within the jurisdiction of the courts. Finally Tilev lodged a complaint with the court. Subsequently he was subjected to strong pressure and threats to withdraw the complaint. The principal of the school also joined in telling Tilev that he himself would be dismissed from his job because of this matter and threatened that Tilev would be dismissed if he did not withdraw his complaint against Hristov. After not succeeding in getting him to do so, the principal formally lodged a charge of violating discipline and the code of ethics against Tilev. In the meantime the principal refused to act as a witness for Tilev using the justification that he was an official, however subsequently he agreed to be a witness for Hristov. Pressure began to be applied to the witnesses, including two children, to withdraw their affidavits against Hristov.

On 5 March 2017 while working in his vineyard outside the city, shots from a rifle were fired at Tilev and one bullet passed within centimetres of his ear. The firing continued for several minutes. Tilev's wife and her sister were present at the vineyard at the time. This occurred 7 days before the first hearing of the suit brought by Tilev against Hristov, at a time when hunting was prohibited and in an area not suitable for hunting. From Tilev's automobile it could be seen that there were people close by. The shooters remained unidentified. Tilev began to fear for his life.

After the initial postponement, the suit against Hristov was proceeded with. . Initially at the insistence of his lawyer, Tilev did not indicate that a large part of the slanders and insults directed against him were made on an ethnic basis and that the reason for the hostile conduct and harassment was his ethnic self-determination. The lawyer's reasoning was that "the judges would view the case differently and that that would prevent us from convicting him". Subsequently, Tilev thought the matter over and submitted to the court additional information relating to the case. The court however refused to accept the information in the affidavits that the harassment had occurred on the basis of his ethnic origin, despite the fact that at one of the hearings one member of the court exclaimed "and that is why the conflict has occurred between you, for reasons of the Macedonian question". The law suit is still continuing as the majority of witnesses have refused to give evidence in favour of Tilev despite indicating initially that they would. Using an old method often employed against Macedonians seeking justice through the courts, Hristov also brought a suit against Tilev for injuring his reputation. The respective suits continue to be heard at the time of writing.

Absence of Legal Ptoection

The attempts by several Macedonian organisations to refer to the Commission for the Defence Against Discrimination the systematic discrimination against the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria and to request it to include in its annual reports an opinion on the matter of the discrimination against people with a Macedonian consciousness in Bulgaria did not receive any response. On 20 November 2015 these Macedonian organizations submitted an official complaint to the Commission regarding this matter. Three months of tortuous correspondence with the Commission (see our report for 2015) resulted in it doing everything possible to avoid providing a response and to reduce the issues to a matter of separate instances of individual discrimination (see our report for 2016). These requests have to date not received any response. The Commission has remained silent about this matter since March 2016. That represents a tacit refusal to adopt a position in relation to the issue of discrimination of Bulgarian citizens with a Macedonians consciousness, irrespective of the fact that there have been 11 verdicts brought down against Bulgaria regarding this matter. In this way, the Commission, apart from refusing to defend citizens subjected to discrimination (despite the fact that individual Macedonians have made various efforts to seek its protection, the Commission has never brought down a decision in their favour and has not offered them protection), has also created obstacles to the attempts of Macedonians to turn the attention of the European Commission to this systemic problem in Bulgaria.

The Commission once again did not reply to the requests made by OMO "Ilinden" PIRIN in October 2017 to meet with its president and also refused to meet in October 2017 with a delegation of the European Free Alliance in October which had wanted to talk about the problems encountered by the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria.

The refusal of the Commission to adopt a position on this matter is but one of a whole series of refusals by Bulgarian institutions such as the police, the Prosecutor's Office, the Commission for the Defence Against Discrimination, the Ombudsman and the courts to defend Macedonians against discrimination. These institutions never consider a matter on their own initiative, nor do they readily accept that such matters be brought to their attention. Even when they do consider them, it is only in order to decide that no rights have been violated. For that reason to date in Bulgaria not one Macedonian or Macedonian organization has succeeded in defending itself against discrimination via Bulgarian institutions. Accordingly, despite a series of judgements against Bulgaria in the ECHR and the violations which have been noted in a great number of reports by international human rights organizations and institutions, during the last 27 years in Bulgaria not one institution has even mentioned or taken any action against discrimination of Bulgarian citizens with a Macedonian ethnic consciousness.

Refusal of the Authorities to Engage in Dialogue

Reports of international organizations and institutions regularly recommend that a dialogue begin between the Bulgarian authorities and organizations representing the Macedonian minority. Unfortunately, the authorities categorically refuse to begin such a dialogue. This year was no exception. The attempts made by OMO "Ilinden" PIRIN to arrange meetings with the Commission Against Discrimination, the Commission for Minority Affairs, the Ministry of Education, the Premier and President were unsuccessful. A new issue this year was that all these institutions did not even deign to reply to the requests for meetings and talks.

It is not only the attempts of Macedonian organisations to engage in dialogue that are ignored by the Bulgarian authorities. During October and November 2017 the European Free Alliance made several attempts to arrange meetings with various Bulgarian institutions and to talk about the situation of the Macedonian minority. The meetings were sought in relation to the tenth anniversary of Bulgaria's membership of European institutions and the upcoming Bulgarian presidency of the EU, however no reply at all was received from the Premier, President, Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Education, the Commission Against Discrimination and the National Council on Minorities.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Given the existing situation in the country it does not appear probable that the situation of the Macedonians in Bulgaria can be improved without serious external intervention.

In order for the current problems of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria to be solved the following changes should occur:
1. The decision of the Constitutional Court of 29 February 2000 and the Declaration of the Bulgarian Parliament of 6 March 1990, which officially postulate that in Bulgaria there is no concrete Macedonian ethnic group, must be rescinded. These decisions serve as an ideological and legal basis for discrimination. The government should officially declare that the Macedonian minority will no longer be denied or discriminated against.
2. The state should officially recognise the existence of national minorities in the country and the concept "national minorities" should be included in the constitution. The state should take the necessary legal measures so that the principle of the unity of the nation cannot be interpreted to mean that ethnic and national minorities do not exist.
3. The law on the registration of non-government organizations should be changed and articles included in it which would make it impossible to interpret the self-determination of minority groups as an anti-constitutional, anti-state act which threatens territorial integrity and justifies denial of registration.
4. Measures should be taken so that the prohibition on forming organizations on an ethnic basis is not interpreted as being contrary to the right of minorities to form their own organizations.
5. The Census documents should contain a separate column for 'Macedonian' and during the conduct of the Census it is to be publicly and officially announced that everyone who self-identifies as a Macedonian can freely do so.
6. An active dialogue must be initiated between the state and the representatives of the Macedonian minority in order to solve current problems. Macedonian organisations are to be registered and there must be a Macedonian representative on the Commission on Minorities.
7. Measures should be taken for the promotion of tolerance vis-a-vis the Macedonian minority and for its protection against hate speech and institutional discrimination.
8. The study of the Macedonian literary language, culture and history should be included in curricula for children belonging to the Macedonian minority. At the same time primary school curricula should be modified so as not to exclude references to the Macedonian nation and its history, culture and language (things which have been done in the past).

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