Macedonian Minority Organization, OMO Ilinden,
Wins Another European Court of Human Rights Case Against Bulgaria
January 19, 2006
|Press release issued by the Registrar
Chamber judgments concerning Austria, Bulgaria and Cyprus
The United Macedonian Organisation Ilinden and Others v. Bulgaria (no. 59491/00) Violation of Article 11
The applicants are the United Macedonian Organisation Ilinden (“Ilinden”) and nine members of its management committee.
Ilinden is an association founded in 1990 and based in south-west Bulgaria, in an area known as the Pirin region or the geographic region of Pirin
Macedonia. Its stated aims are to “unite all Macedonians in Bulgaria on a regional and cultural basis” and to achieve “the recognition of the Macedonian
minority in Bulgaria”. In 1990-91, 1998-1999 and 2002-04 it applied unsuccessfully for registration. Every year from 1990 Ilinden tried to organise
commemorative meetings, which were banned by the authorities. (See the judgments in Stankov and United Macedonian Organisation Ilinden (2.10.2001) and
The United Macedonian Organisation Ilinden and Ivanov v. Bulgaria, (20.10.2005)).
In March 1998 the applicants lodged an application for the registration of Ilinden with the Blagoevgrad Regional Court. In November 1998 the court
rejected the application as the documents submitted were, in its view, not in conformity with the technical and substantive requirements of the law. It
also claimed that by proposing to defend a Macedonian minority and by harbouring separatist views, Ilinden would, if registered, be dangerous for the
territorial integrity of the country, for the public order and for the rights and freedoms of others. The applicants appealed.
Sofia Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s judgment. In addition, it found membership of Ilinden was limited to Macedonians and therefore
discriminatory. It also held that it was envisaging religious activities and accordingly had to register with the Council of Ministers prior to seeking
court registration. Furthermore it held that the holding of “peaceful assemblies, meetings, marches and demonstrations” and the “nomination of
independent candidates” in elections were political activities allowed only to political parties. The applicants appealed unsuccessfully to the Supreme
Court of Cassation, which endorsed the lower court’s reasoning.
The applicants complained about the refusal of the courts to register Ilinden in 1998-99 which they alleged had been unjustified and due to the fact
that its founders belonged to a minority. They relied on Articles 6 § 1 (right to a fair hearing), 14 (prohibition of discrimination) and 11 (freedom of
assembly and association).
The Court found that the domestic courts’ refusal to register the association amounted to interference to the applicants’ right to freedom of association.
The Court examined the three basic arguments relied on by those courts to assess whether such an interference had been necessary in a democratic society.
Firstly, regarding the alleged formal deficiencies in Ilinden’s registration documents, the Court did not accept that those constituted a sufficient
reason to deny registration. Secondly, the Court was not persuaded that the supposed substantive divergences of Ilinden’s articles with the Constitution
and laws of the country justified the interference to the applicants’ rights. Thirdly, as regards the alleged dangers stemming from Ilinden’s goals and
declarations, the Court was not persuaded that the interference was necessary to protect the rights and freedoms of the majority of the population in the
Pirin region. Their declarations and alleged intentions were not a sufficient ground to refuse registration.
In conclusion, the Court recalled that the applicant association had only about three thousand supporters, not all of whom were active and its public
influence was negligible. Despite this fact, the authorities sought to pre-emptively deprive it from any chance to engage in practical action. The Court
therefore found that the refusal to register Ilinden was disproportionate to the objectives pursued.
The Court held by six votes to one that there had been a violation of Article 11 and held unanimously that it was not necessary to rule on the allegations
of violations of Article 6 § 1 and Article 14. It awarded the applicants EUR 1,900 for costs and expenses. (The judgment is available only in English.)