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United Nations 60th Session of the Commission on Human Rights
15 March – 23 April 2004, Geneva


The Macedonian Minority in Bulgaria
Report by the Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada (MHRMC)

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 was hoped that the ruling in favour of OMO Ilinden would pave the way for immediate registration of the organization and a positive effect on human rights developments in Bulgaria in the future. However, OMO Ilinden has still not been registered. The two Macedonian political parties, OMO Pirin and OMO Ilinden PIRIN (the latter was de-registered in 2000 and has initiated a European Court case against Bulgaria), and Sonce, the organization of Islamic Macedonians, have also not been registered. Following are some of the outrageous reasons used by the Sofia court to refuse OMO Pirin’s application for registration on 12 December 2002:

1. The name PIRIN may be confused with the mountain by the same name
2. The Macedonian sun on OMO Pirin’s flag is the same as the flag of the Republic of Macedonia (this despite the fact that the Republic of Macedonia changed its flag in 1995)
3. The organization wants to change the ethnic consciousness of the Bulgarian population by making them Macedonians
4. The Constitution of OMO Pirin did not cover all aspects of the organizational structure of the organization such as elections, delegates, etc. (in fact, the Constitution was written by a lawyer)

Despite the European Court’s ruling, it is apparent that the Bulgarian government has no intention of registering any Macedonian organization.

The Bulgarian government still refuses to grant its sizeable Macedonian minority the human rights that are protected by international treaties to which Bulgaria is a signatory. In what seemed to be a positive step, Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saksoburgotski stated on April 8, 2003:

“Bulgaria acknowledges the minorities in the country. In 2001 a few thousand citizens declared themselves as Bulgarians with Macedonian origin, and three thousand citizens stated that the Macedonian language is their mother language. These numbers show the fact that we have a very good understanding of that issue."

However, several instances of tampering by Bulgarian authorities occurred during the last census. These will be outlined later in this report. The claims of only a few thousand Macedonians is well below the estimates by Macedonian human rights activists which place the number from several hundred thousand to over one million. Furthermore, Macedonians did not declare themselves as “Bulgarians with Macedonian origin”, but simply as ethnic Macedonians.

Despite Mr. Saksoburgotski’s claim that the Bulgarian government has a “good understanding” of the Macedonian minority issue, human rights violations against Macedonians were prevalent.

As regards freedom of expression and the media, and freedom of association and peaceful assembly, the Macedonian minority has recently suffered the following human rights violations at the hands of Bulgarian authorities.

Freedom of Expression and the Media:

Blagoevgrad - Vartolomey Night

On Sunday, September 12, 2004, OMO Pirin intended to commemorate Vartolomey Night (massacre of Macedonians in Bulgaria in 1924). They had informed the local authorities that the event would take place at the Gotse Dlechev monument in the centre of the city of Blagoevgrad.

Approximately 80 members arrived at the Gotse Delchev monument intending to lay wreaths and flowers but they were surrounded by members of the Bulgarian nationalistic party VMRO and were prevented from reaching the monument. The Bulgarian police, who were present during the incident, refused to intervene. Similar incidents, sometimes with more severe consequences, occur every time a Macedonian organization intends to hold an event in Bulgaria. The following is another example:

On Thursday, September 12, 2002 at approximately 3:00pm, OMO Ilinden intended to commemorate Vartolomey Night (massacre of Macedonians in Bulgaria in 1924). About 45 members and sympathizers gathered in front of the US University in Blagoevgrad and marched to the Gotse Delchev monument in Macedonia Square. They intended to place flowers, a wreath, and a banner that contained the text “OMO Ilinden – Stop the Assimilation: We want Macedonian language and culture, human rights, and the right to work!”

Upon reaching the monument, about 25 civilians (all members of the Bulgarian nationalistic political party VMRO) attacked the OMO Ilinden members and beat several of them with sticks. They demanded that OMO Ilinden give up the banner, wreath and two Macedonian flags. The VMRO members took the banner and one flag before the local police, which were already present, separated the two groups.

OMO Ilinden were successful in placing the wreath and flowers at the back of the monument (VMRO members were blocking the front) and Jordan Konstantinov, past-president of OMO Ilinden, gave a speech. At the end of the ceremony, VMRO members again assaulted the Macedonians and the police eventually stopped them.

The next day, the Bulgarian newspaper, Trud, slandered the Macedonian activists claiming that they attacked the VMRO members. They also claimed that the OMO Ilinden members were “drunk” and that they “cursed Bulgaria, VMRO and the journalists that were present during the ceremony.”

As reported by the BBC, a roundtable was held after September 12 because, according to Bulgarian authorities, “The illegal organization OMO Ilinden held an anti-Bulgarian event in Blagoevgrad”. Bulgarian parliamentarians from Blagoevgrad, as well as representatives of political parties, the state and local institutions demanded the passing of a law for the fight against anti-Bulgarian activity in that region, and in the territory of the country as a whole.

According to the Bulgarian News Agency (BTA), the ceremony of September 12 brought about social protests and tension and was condemned by all political parties. The following quotations were made by Bulgarian members of parliament:

· Stanimir Ilchev – MP of the National Movement Simeon II – “Bulgaria should go to the European court to prevent events like Sept. 12.”
· Rositsa Totkova – MP United Democratic Forces – gathering of OMO Ilinden was “without the respect of the feelings of others and an open threatening act”
· Aleksandar Abadjiev – MP Left Coalition of Bulgaria – “It’s paramount to prepare the mayors and representatives of local administration how to react to these types of events according to the law and constitution.”

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.

Rozhen Monastery

On April 22, 2001, 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 Association and the Right of Peaceful Assembly:

Sandanski – April 2003

On April 21, 2003, members of several Macedonian organizations in Bulgaria mutually commemorated the anniversary of the murder of Macedonian revolutionary Jane Sandanski. In a welcome change, the police did not interfere but there were reports that the event was videotaped by the police in an attempt to intimidate the participants as they had done in the past.

Petrich – July 2002

On Saturday, July 27, 2002 OMO Ilinden members and supporters gathered at King Samuel’s fortress near the town of Petrich in order to commemorate the 99th anniversary of the Ilinden uprising (Macedonian uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1903).

Approximately 1,500 people attended the ceremony, which included speeches and Macedonian music and dances. While the ceremony was taking place, plainclothes police officers videotaped the OMO Ilinden members and supporters in an effort to intimidate them. The following day, journalists with pictures of the event visited the individual participants and asked them why they would attend “such an anti-Bulgarian event.”

Macedonians in Bulgaria continuously face discrimination and intimidation when asserting their ethnic Macedonian identity. As a country that is hoping to enter the European Union, Bulgaria must respect its minorities’ human rights and put an end to such violations.

Macedonian Theatre Group’s Visit to Bulgaria

The following is a quote by Tihomir Stojanovski, Art Director of the Macedonian theatre group “Skrb I Uteha” at the Third Macedonian World Human Rights Conference on September 20, 2003.

“Our second visit to Bulgaria happened in April 2002, and at that time we felt that the resistance towards the Macedonian culture was still present. The Macedonians in the village of Koprivgan were intimidated and we played in front of an empty hall. In the village of Elesnica, the head of the village locked the hall and ran away. In the village of Razlog people waited for us in order to beat us?! We played in villages where the Macedonians were not afraid to take us: the villages of Kremen, Mosomishte, Leski and Sandanski. On our way back to Macedonia, we were held up at the border crossing of Novo Selo/Strumica for seven hours, we were treated like criminals; two journalists and our manager were questioned in the classic Bulgarian police fashion. Our manager was told: “you could have come back with holes in yours heads” and “we let you in once, what are you looking for in Bulgaria for the second time?”

Blagoevgrad – Gotse Delchev Commemoration

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.

Yane Sandanski Commemoration

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, 2001 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.

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, 2001 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.

Macedonian/Bulgarian border

On May 4, 2001, 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.

Petrich

On July 29, 2001, 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.

Conclusion:

Macedonians in Bulgaria continuously face discrimination and intimidation when asserting their ethnic Macedonian identity. As a country that is preparing to enter the European Union, Bulgaria must respect its minorities’ human rights and put an end to its state-endorsed acts of oppression.

Bill Nicholov, President
Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
Address: 157 Adelaide St. West, Suite 434, Toronto, Canada M5H 4E7
Tel: 416-850-7125 Fax: 416-850-7127
E-mail: info@mhrmi.org Website: www.mhrmi.org

Presented by:

George Papadakis
Rainbow – Organization of the Macedonian Minority in Greece
Address: Stephanou Dragoumi 11, P.O. Box 51, 53100 Florina, Greece
Tel/Fax: ++ 23850 46548
Email: vinozito@otenet.gr
Website: www.florina.org

For more information, please contact the Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada or the following organizations of Macedonians in Bulgaria:

OMO Ilinden
Jordan Konstantinov Ivanov
Address: Ul. Georgi Skrizovski # 31, Sandanski, Bulgaria
Tel/Fax: ++359-746-29-133

OMO Pirin
Botyo Vangelov Tikov
Address: Ul. Shar Planina # 5, Sandanski, Bulgaria
m. ++ 359-87-93-152

OMO Ilinden Pirin
Ivan Singartiski
Address: Oblast Blagoevgradska, Selo Mosomiste, Postenski Kod 2920, Bulgaria
Ivan Gargavelov - secretary
Tel: ++359-751-24-834
Email: info@omoilindenpirin.org
Website: www.omoilindenpirin.org

Sonce – Organization of Islamic Macedonians
President - Damjan Iskrenov
h. ++359-754-5-2808
m. ++359-876-54-347

     
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