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MHRMC 2001 Annual Report – The Macedonian Minority in Bulgaria

January 21, 2002


Focus: Freedom of expression and the media; freedom of association and peaceful assembly

Introduction:
The Bulgarian government has and continues to place unlawful restrictions on a number of fundamental rights of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. Whether it be through outright discrimination, the uneven application of laws which on their surface do not seem to discriminate against the Macedonian minority, or through unlawful conduct of officials, the effect is the same: Macedonians in Bulgaria who choose to openly identify as Macedonians repeatedly suffer abuses of their human rights.

One positive development occurred in 2001 with the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Boris Stankov and the United Macedonian Organization (OMO Ilinden) vs. Bulgaria on Oct.2, 2001. ECHR ruled that there had been a violation of Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association) of the European Convention on Human Rights. OMO Ilinden was founded in 1990 to unite Macedonians in Bulgaria on a regional and cultural basis and to achieve recognition of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. In 1991 the association was refused registration as the courts ruled that its aims were directed against the unity of the nation, that it advocated ethnic hatred and was dangerous for the territorial integrity of Bulgaria. (ECHR Press Release – Oct.2, 2001) It is hoped that the ruling in favour of OMO Ilinden will pave the way for immediate registration of the organization and a positive effect on human rights developments in Bulgaria in 2002.

As regards freedom of expression and the media, and freedom of association and peaceful assembly during the year 2001, the Macedonian human and minority rights organization OMO Ilinden, and the human rights organization and political party OMO Ilinden PIRIN and their supporters have recently suffered the following human rights violations at the hands of the Bulgarian authorities.

Freedom of Expression and the Media:

March 2001 - Census

Other than the Turkish and Roma minority groups, the 2001 census in Bulgaria did not provide other minorities the opportunity to declare their ethnic identity. The state refuses to recognize its sizeable Macedonian minority and uses the census to promote its official stance that this group is ethnically Bulgarian. Various radio and TV stations promoted the notion that Bulgaria is largely a homogenous country and that people should identify themselves as Bulgarian. OMO Ilinden PIRIN was unable to counter this view because their access to the media was denied on several occasions. Instead, they printed roughly 80,000 flyers that were distributed throughout the region of Pirin Macedonia stating that the people have every right to declare themselves as ethnic Macedonians and should not fear persecution. Several Bulgarian lawyers were consulted and even though they said that the flyers were legal, the police and Bulgarian media started a campaign to frighten the population by claiming that the leaders of OMO Ilinden PIRIN would be charged and jailed. The following people were called in to the local police station and questioned, intimidated and had charges laid against them: Ivan Singartiski, Ivan Gargavelov, Kostadin Frangov, Krsto Mangusev, Petar Ivanov, Slave Milkov, Angel Radonov, Vladimir Kocarov and others. The Bulgarian police claimed that they were being charged because it was against Bulgarian law to distribute flyers “anonymously”. However, the flyers clearly displayed that they were written and distributed by OMO Ilinden PIRIN.

April 2001 - Rozhen Monastery

On April 22, members and supporters of OMO Ilinden gathered at the Rozhen Monastery in the city of Sandanski to commemorate the anniversary of the death of the Macedonian hero Yane Sandanski. The next day several newspapers (“Trud”, “24 Chasa” and others) published slanderous articles misinforming the public about the events of the gathering. They claimed that members of the group were shouting “Death to Bulgarians” and “We want to see all Bulgarians dead”. (Trud, April 23) They urged authorities to take action against members of the organization. They also claim that members of OMO Ilinden are “scoundrels with limited intellect”. (Trud, April 23)

Several instances of freedom of association violations occurred during this gathering (more information in the section titled Freedom of Association and the Right of Peaceful Assembly)

Macedonian Newspaper - Narodna Volya

The only Macedonian newspaper in Bulgaria, Narodna Volya, is published in Blagoevgrad, in both the Bulgarian and Macedonian languages. No newspapers were confiscated in 2001 by the Bulgarian authorities (as had occurred in previous years), however, no subscribers in the Republic of Macedonia had received their copies since August 2001. The Editor-in-Chief, Georgi Hristov, suspected that the problem lay with the Bulgarian postal system so he brought some newspapers across the border into the city of Delchevo, the Republic of Macedonia in January 2002 and mailed them from there. All subscribers received their newspapers within days. Mr. Hristov subsequently filed complaints with the post office and police in Blagoevgrad but has yet to receive a response.

Freedom of Assocation and the Right of Peaceful Assembly:

February 2 - Blagoevgrad

Members and supporters of OMO Ilinden PIRIN were prevented from reaching Gotse Delchev’s monument in the city of Blagoevgrad, in order to place flowers in honour of the Macedonian revolutionary’s birthday. The monument was surrounded by armed and civilian police officers who threatened and intimidated the crowd. The police claimed that they had a decree from the Public Prosecutor of Blagoevgrad that was aimed at stopping members of OMO Ilinden PIRIN from approaching the monument. The leadership of the party, in accordance with the Law on Public Information, requested a written statement from the Public Prosecutor explaining the events of Feb.2. A response is yet to be received.

April 22 - Sandanski

Every year, OMO Ilinden members and supporters commemorate the anniversary of Yane Sandanski’s death at his grave near the Rozhen Monastery. On April 4, they submitted a notice to the mayor of Sandanski requesting permission to hold this gathering on April 22 at 10:30am, as required by the Law on Meetings and Manifestations. The notice also indicated several events scheduled to take place, namely: mourning rites and placing flowers on the grave; reading two essays about Yane Sandanski; and Macedonian music and dances.

The party did not receive an answer which, according to the law, means that the celebration was not prohibited. On April 22, several violations of the citizen’s rights of peaceful assembly occurred:
  • Two Orthodox priests, Father Liuben Katsarski and Father Atanas Petrov, were invited to assist in the mourning rites at the grave of Yane Sandanski at 11:00am. They were, however, prohibited from doing this by the Archimandrite Jovan, the Father Superior of the Rozhen Monastery who in the past had hindered a number of events held by Macedonians at the monastery. The prohibition of the mourning rites took place in front of the police, including the Chief of Police in Sandanski, and the Archimandrite actually threatened the two priests with violence. The police did not interfere, which suggests that the conflict was coordinated in advance. After the priests had left, the several hundred citizens that had gathered were able to approach the grave, lay flowers and light candles.
  • Two members of OMO Ilinden, Liliana Kirianova and Angel Trenev, attempted to lay a wreath on the grave that contained a band with the word “Ilinden.” Four policemen surrounded them and demanded that the band be removed. The two activists refused so the police forcefully removed it. Angel Trenev was then arrested and brought to the nearby village of Rozhen (1 km from the grave). He was later released and warned that he would be fined 500 leva (US$240) if he returned to the ceremony.
  • Two Bulgarian flags had been placed at the grave before the arrival of the participants. The OMO Ilinden members were warned that they would be punished if they placed flowers on the flags so they had to place the flowers around the grave. Placing flags on graves is not a custom in Bulgaria and no parties or organizations do this in ceremonies of a similar nature. Furthermore, the fact that Bulgarian flags were placed at the grave of Yane Sandanski seems to be an act of deliberate provocation on the part of Bulgarian authorities, who are no doubt conscious that, in the view of most ethnic Macedonians, Sandanski was killed by Bulgarian terrorists who acted on an order of the government in 1915.
  • A portrait of Yane Sandanski was to be placed on the podium along with a poster with an inscription of one of his sayings: “The slave fights for liberation and the liberated fights for improvement”. This poster, along with several other objects, were removed by a plainclothes police officer while on the grounds.
  • In their attempts to inconvenience the more than 600 participants, the police cut off the electrical supply, did not allow OMO Ilinden to use their loudspeakers, refused to allow the musicians to play, cut off the water supply to the fountain near Yane Sandanski’s grave, and they prohibited anyone from selling food or drinks. Consequently, OMO Ilinden sent a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg regarding the above restrictions and the state-instigated press propaganda the following day (see Freedom of Expression and the Media: April 2001 - Rozhen Monastery). The ECHR has acknowledged receipt of the complaint.
  • The presence of more than 50 police officers near the grave imposed psychological pressure on the participants. According to observers, the situation resembled a military operation against citizens who simply came to commemorate a Macedonian hero.
May 4 - Blagoevgrad On this date every year, OMO Ilinden commemorates the anniversary of the killing of the Macedonian hero Gotse Delchev in front of his monument in Blagoevgrad. On April 27, OMO Ilinden member Atanas Urdev sent a notice to the mayor of the municipality (as required by the Law on Meetings and Manifestations) notifying him of the planned event. No reply was received which indicates, by law, that the event was not prohibited.

On May 4, at 5:00pm, a group of OMO Ilinden members brought a wreath and flowers to the monument of Gotse Delchev on Macedonia Square in Blagoevgrad. The wreath had a band with an inscription “98 years since the killing of Gotse Delchev – OMO Ilinden” Eight police officers stopped the group about ten metres from the monument and ordered them to remove the band. The police claimed that the District Prosecutor, Snezhana Katsarska, had given them orders to do this but failed to produce a warrant when asked. Furthermore, the activists said that they would not continue with the commemoration if it indeed was prohibited but they wanted to see the warrant (which was never produced). At this point 7-8 people who claimed to be ordinary civilians approached (all of whom were known to local members of OMO Ilinden as law enforcement officers). Among them was the Chief of the Regional Security Service in Blagoevgrad, Mr. Aliosha Kaptchin. OMO Ilinden decided to leave and they went in the direction of the church “St. Bogoroditsa” which is about 1km from Macedonia Square. The “civilians” followed them and tried to provoke an incident by insulting them. Two of them jumped on Mr. Kiril Tilev and tried to take his camera under the pretense that he took pictures of the police officers.

The OMO Ilinden members decided to hold their commemoration in the churchyard of “St. Bogoroditsa”, where there is a monument of several members of Gotse Delchev’s family. They read a short essay and laid the wreath and flowers there. The plainclothes police officers were waiting for them outside the church door and followed them after they left, again provoking and threatening them with the use of physical force. One of the members was told that he would be beaten up again as many of the OMO Ilinden members were at the Rozhen Monastery in 1992. The OMO Ilinden members asked two people to monitor whether the flowers and wreath would remain at the church. The next day they were told that three people took the flowers and wreath and confiscated them.

May 4 - Macedonian/Bulgarian border

About 70 members and sympathizers of OMO Ilinden PIRIN from the Gotse Delchev and Razlog areas went to Skopje, the Republic of Macedonia to place flowers at the grave of Gotse Delchev in the church grounds of “St. Spas”. At the Zlatarevo border crossing on the way back, the Bulgarian authorities detained their buses for four hours. During that time, the members were intimidated and harassed by the police sent from Blagoevgrad under the leadership of the Chief of Police, Mr. Kaptchin. Only after the leaders of the group threatened that they would return to the Republic of Macedonia and publicize the incident were they allowed entry into Bulgaria.

The same day at 5:00pm, OMO Ilinden PIRIN had announced a flower laying ceremony to be held at Gotse Delchev’s monument in the city of Gotse Delchev. The police were guarding the monument the whole day so that the Macedonians could not honour the revolutionary. The Chief of Police, Mr. Kalinkov, claimed that he had a decree from the Public Prosecutor banning them from the monument. The leadership of the party, following the Law on Public Information, requested a copy of the decree from the Public Prosecutor. Nothing was ever received.

July 29 - Petrich

OMO Ilinden applied for permission from the city of Petrich to celebrate the Ilinden uprising of August 2, 1903 and to commemorate the blinding of King Samuel’s 14,000 Macedonian soldiers by the Byzantine King Vasilious II in 914AD. The mayor of Petrich did not respond which means, under Bulgarian law, that the event was not prohibited.

While the activists were travelling towards Samuel’s fortress, uniformed police officers stopped them at the village of Strumeshnitsa and forced the people to retreat. The activists and other Macedonians went back to Petrich and tried to place flowers at the monument of Anton Panov, who along with Nikola Vaptsarov was executed by the Bulgarian police in 1942. Uniformed police officers again tried to prevent them from reaching the monument but a few people succeeded in placing flowers at the foot of the monument. Afterwards, the activists and supporters went to OMO Ilinden’s office and continued the ceremony with speeches and music.

While the activists were approaching the fortress, gathering at the monument in Petrich, and conducting the ceremony at the office, plainclothes police officers used video cameras to identify and intimidate the activists and their supporters.

September 12 - Blagoevgrad

This date signifies Vartolomey Night (massacre of Macedonians in Bulgaria) when Vancho Mihailov’s pro-Bulgarian VMRO killed over 380 Macedonian patriots in 1924. OMO Ilinden activists and supporters placed flowers at Gotse Delchev’s monument in Blagoevgrad to commemorate the dead Macedonian patriots. Although the police did not interfere in the event, plainclothes police officers again used video cameras to identify and intimidate the activists and their supporters.

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Bill Nicholov
Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada
Address: P.O. Box 44532, 2376 Eglinton Ave. East, Toronto, Canada M1K 5K3
Tel: 416-493-9555 Fax: 416-412-3385
E-mail: info@mhrmi.org Website: www.mhrmi.org

     
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