OMO "Ilinden" PIRIN, AMHRC & MHRMI welcome visit of United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues to Bulgaria

7 July 2011
Blagoevgrad, Melbourne, and Toronto

OMO "Ilinden" Pirin, the political party of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria, the Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee (AMHRC) and Macedonian Human Rights Movement International (MHRMI) welcome this week's visit of the Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Gay McDougall, to Bulgaria.

Today, the Independent Expert met with representatives of the Macedonian minority in the country. The delegation comprised of: Stojko Stojkov, Co-President of OMO "Ilinden" PIRIN and Stahil Tupalski, Central Council Member of OMO "Ilinden" PIRIN; Stojan Gerasimov from the Society of Repressed Macedonians; and Georgi Hristov, the Chief Editor of the pro-Macedonian newspaper, Narodna Volja.

The meeting gave the Macedonian organisations the opportunity to provide the Independent Expert with a first hand, documented account of the problems facing the Macedonian population in Bulgaria. Many questions were asked by Ms McDougall who, according to the Macedonian representatives, demonstrated a good understanding of the issues facing the Macedonian minority.

On behalf of OMO "Ilinden" PIRIN, Stojko Stojkov presented the Independent Expert with a report on the status of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria, as well as a document outlining the irregularities carried out in the recent census together with the text of the declaration issued by Macedonian organisations in Bulgaria in which they announce that they will not recognise the census results.

At present the Bulgarian state does not recognise the existence of a distinct Macedonian ethnic group and has actively pursued policies to suppress individuals and organisations expressing such an identity. One such organisation is OMO "Ilinden" PIRIN, a political party founded on 28 February 1998 and based in south-west Bulgaria, in the Pirin region. On 29 February 2000 the Bulgarian Constitutional Court declared the party unconstitutional and dissolved it. However in 2005 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the ban was in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and ordered the immediate re-registration of the party. Since that judgement, the party has tried on no less than three separate occasions to reconstitute itself, however all applications have been rejected by Bulgarian authorities. This denial of the right to freedom of association has been noted by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee as well as several international human rights bodies such as the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and by the European Parliament.

AMHRC/MHRMI have consistently demanded that Bulgaria re-register OMO "Ilinden" PIRIN and recognise the Macedonian minority in the country. We have also repeatedly called on the international community to ensure that Bulgaria fulfils its human rights commitments and in this connection, we hope that the visit of the Independent Expert will lead to a change in the policy of the Bulgarian government. Namely, Bulgaria must afford equal recognition to Macedonians, and other minorities, in accordance with international standards, such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Person belonging to Minorities and the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

At today's meeting, the Macedonian minority organisations recommended, inter alia, to the Independent Expert that:

  • Bulgaria officially recognise the existence of a distinct Macedonian identity, Macedonian language and grant full minority status to the Macedonians of Bulgaria.
  • Bulgaria extends the legal scope of application of the Framework Convention for the Protection for National Minorities to also include the Macedonian minority.
  • Bulgaria fully execute the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of OMO "Ilinden" PIRIN and Others against Bulgaria, judgment of 20/10/2005, final on 20/01/2006 and re-register OMO "Ilinden" PIRIN as required under the European Convention on Human Rights.
  • The Bulgarian government forms an independent commission to investigate allegations of discrimination, harassment and persecution of members of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria.

OMO "Ilinden" PIRIN, AMHRC and MHRMI demand that the Bulgarian government engage constructively with the UN Independent Expert and work with the Macedonian minority organisations to implement the recommendations which will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council by the end of the year.