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Report on the lack of human rights for Macedonians in Bulgaria

October 10, 2000


Macedonians of Bulgaria in Uncertainty

A joint mission of Bulgarian and Macedonian Helsinki Committees finds the human rights of Macedonians of Bulgaria precarious


Vienna, Sofia, Skopje, 10. October 2000. On 1, 2 and 3 October Meto Jovanovski from the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights and Krassimir Kanev from the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee carried out a fact-finding mission to gather information on the situation of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. They visited all the municipalities in the District of Blagoevgrad, spoke with local activists of Macedonian organizations and collected documents. The focus of the mission was the human rights developments since the February 2000 ban of the Macedonian-based political party OMO Ilinden - PIRIN by the Constitutional Court. The mission was carried out in the framework of the Balkan Advocacy Project of the IHF and its South-East European Helsinki Committees. This project is a EU funded part of the Stability Pact Program.

1. The February 2000 Decision of the Constitutional Court and its Effect

On February 28, 2000 the Constitutional Court of Bulgaria declared unconstitutional OMO Ilinden - PIRIN, the political party of the Macedonians of Bulgaria, which was formed in 1999 and ran with some success in the October 1999 municipal elections. Two mayors and three municipal counselors have been elected on the party's ticket despite harassment and lack of funding. Both in its statute and in its election platform OMO Ilinden - PIRIN declared that it will pursue its political objectives in a peaceful way and will abide by international standards of minority protection. Yet, with its February 2000 decision the Constitutional Court surprisingly found it a threat to the national security and declared it unconstitutional. The court's decision is one in the series of repressive acts of the government towards the Macedonians of Bulgaria and is based, as the other acts, on the assumption that they are not a separate ethnic group, distinct from the Bulgarians, and that the very existence of such a group is a threat to the national security of Bulgaria. A number of violations of their human rights have been documented since the beginning of the democratic change in 1989 by both domestic and international human rights monitors. The Constitutional Court's decision was condemned by the President, the Prime Minister and the National Assembly of Macedonia.

The Constitutional Court decision resulted in a serious blow to the party's organizational status and political prospects. A number of members withdrew from the party. While it had more than 1200 members during the elections, its present membership does not exceed 1000. The decision also had a chilling effect and in fact seriously hampered its prospects to recruit members and to formulate political strategies. In addition, it was interpreted as an effective ban on all party activities and resulted in repressive measures by some municipal authorities. This was the case e.g. in Razlog where the local government demanded that OMO Ilinden - PIRIN frees the municipal premises it hired before the decision. Several people were fired from job or were not hired because they were implicated as activists of an "illegal" group.

2. Other Human Rights Developments Not Directly Related to the February 2000 Constitutional Court Decision

Macedonians of Bulgaria continue to face violations of their human rights by Bulgarian authorities. Some of these have resulted into cases in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. At present there are four cases brought to the court by Bulgarian citizens of Macedonian decent. Two of them allege violations of freedom of assembly and two - violations of the right to freedom of association. On 17 October 2000 the European Court of Human Rights will hear the case of Boris Stankov and OMO Ilinden v Bulgaria. This is the oldest application that brought a number of cases of violation of freedom of peaceful assembly by the Bulgarian police, administrative and judicial authorities during attempts at celebration of historical events, which Macedonians of Bulgaria consider important for their Macedonian identity. According to the unanimous opinion of activists from different Macedonian organizations the pending case in Strasbourg influenced this years' more lenient attitudes of the authorities during the attempts of the Macedonians to organize their traditional celebrations. The two main Macedonian groups, the association OMO Ilinden and the political party OMO Ilinden - PIRIN were allowed by the police to celebrate the anniversary of the murder of the Macedonian hero Yane Sandanski on 22 and 23 April at the Rozhen Monastery despite the ban by the Mair of Sandanski. They were also allowed to celebrate the anniversary of the Ilinden uprising on 30 July despite the ban by both the Mair of Petrich and the District Court. OMO Ilinden - PIRIN was allowed twice to put flowers on the monument of Gotse Delchev in the town of Gotse Delchev - on 4 February and on 4 May. At the same time during the April celebrations the police confiscated papers, posters and banners of the activists on both days and filmed them despite their protests. A number of drivers were fined as a way of harassment on their way to the Rozhen Monastery for alleged technical irregularities with their cars.

Despite this generally more lenient attitude of the authorities Blagoevgrad' s District Prosecutor banned a celebration of the day of the "Macedonian Genocide" planned by OMO Ilinden for September 12 to take place on the Macedonia square in Blagoevgrad. Police effectively enforced this ban by stopping the activists on their way to the square.

Other activists from different Macedonian groups faced official harassment in their attempts to demonstrate Macedonian identity. A number of them complained that they have been searched at the border checkpoints during their trips to Macedonia and that some of their belongings might have been copied. One delegate to the World Macedonian Congress was searched at the border on August 7 upon return from Macedonia and some of the materials she carried were confiscated. Then the police threatened her that she will get two years of imprisonment for membership in OMO Ilinden - PIRIN and that she will be fired from her job.

Some Macedonian activists expressed concerns that their phones are tapped and that they are otherwise followed by the secret police. Others were afraid that the secret police was interfering with their business. During the visit in Blagoevgrad local members of OMO Ilinden - PIRIN reported that they saw officers from the local secret police around the place of the first meeting.

For further informations:

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Aaron Rhodes (Executive Director),
Tel. +43-1-408 88 22 or +43-676-635 66 12 (mobile)
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Krassimir Kanev (Chair), Tel. +359-2-943 48 76 or +359-489 716 33 (mobile)
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia, Meto Jovanovski (Chair),
Tel. +389-91-119 073

     
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