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Statement on Bulgaria and Greece at the 2000 OSCE Implementation Meeting

Freedom of Association of Macedonian Minorities

October 20, 2000

Press Release by the Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece

Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group - Greece have for years worked on human rights and in particular on minority rights in Southeast Europe. The concerns below reflect their related work, but also the views of the International Helsinki Federation, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, and the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia.

On 29 February 2000, the Constitutional Court declared a Macedonian-based political party OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN unconstitutional. This decision is in violation of the right to freedom of association and the right to freedom from discrimination and could lead to an effective ban on the party, deprivation of its juridical person status, confiscation of its property and the impossibility to take part in elections.

The Constitutional Court was petitioned a year ago by a group of MPs, mainly from the Bulgarian Socialist Party (former communists) along with several non-communist nationalistic MPs. The petition asked the court to declare the party unconstitutional, alleging a threat to national security in Bulgaria. The cabinet and several government ministries subsequently supported the petition. OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN was registered as a political party in 1999 and took part in the municipal elections in October 1999, when it elected five local officials. It was registered as an all-Bulgarian political party, as the Bulgarian constitution prohibits the formation of political parties along ethnic and religious lines. Nevertheless, it drew its support mainly from ethnic Macedonians (more than 10,800 people according to the 1992 census).

The Bulgarian government has never recognized Macedonian identity and has undertaken a variety of repressive measures to suppress its free expression, both before and after the fall of communism. A number of human rights organizations, both in Bulgaria and abroad, have expressed concerns that the motive of the Constitutional Court in the present case was the fact that it regarded the party as a threat to the national security of Bulgaria because some of its members have made separatist statements in the past. The party itself has never made any separatist statements; it declared in the beginning that it would respect the constitutional and legal system of Bulgaria and carry out its political activities peacefully.

In fact, the decision of the Constitutional Court revives communist-era theories that not only the actions, but also the thoughts and statements of political groups and leaders could be subject to scrutiny and repression. It is also discriminatory as there are a number of monarchist political parties in the Republic of Bulgaria with expressly anti-constitutional views and yet they operate freely and routinely take part in elections.

This case has striking similarities with that of the Greek-based Macedonian association "Home of Macedonian Culture." Greece's past refusal to register it, on grounds similar to those for the OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN ban, led to a ECHR conviction in 1998 for violation of freedom of association. Two years later, the Home had not been able to register as all lawyers of the district of Florina, where the seat of the association is, had refused to process the registration before the courts. And, in Greece, an association cannot register without a local lawyer's services.

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