Melbourne, Australia and Toronto, Canada (10/5/2010) -- The Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee (AMHRC) and Macedonian Human Rights Movement International (MHRMI) condemn the statement by the Bulgarian Foreign Minister, Nikolay Mladenov that a Macedonian minority does not exist in Bulgaria.
On 6 May 2010 the Bulgarian Foreign Minister, Nikolay Mladenov, during an official visit to the Republic of Macedonia, stated as follows in reply to a journalist's question about the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria:
"There is no Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. In Bulgaria there are no minorities of any sort, however there are people who have human rights and our constitution is based on the individual rights of people and not collective rights".
Foreign Minister's Mladenov statement is not only factually incorrect, but disturbing as it comes from an eminent representative of a country which claims that it is committed to basic human rights principles such as freedom of speech, assembly and association as well as the right to self-identification.
It is well known that the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria lives compactly in the Pirin region and ethnic Macedonians are found in significant numbers in other regions of Bulgaria. From 1944-1948 the distinct ethnicity of the Macedonians in the Pirin region and Macedonian immigrants in other parts of Bulgaria was officially recognised. In 1947 the Bled Agreement between Yugoslavia and Bulgaria was signed regarding cultural cooperation between the then People's Republic of Macedonia and the Prin region within Bulgaria. This agreement in effect granted cultural autonomy to the Macedonians in Pirin and ushered in a period of cultural renaissance during which the Macedonian language and history were widely taught.
This period of cultural autonomy was brought abruptly to a halt in June 1948. From then on the Bulgarian state reverted to its pre-September 1944 position whereby Macedonian history, language and culture were misappropriated and presented as an integral part of Bulgarian national and historical development. This policy of denial and forced assimilation of the Macedonians in Bulgaria has continued to the present day and as a result the number of those willing to declare as Macedonians has significantly reduced or been deliberately underreported.
From 1956 onwards the Macedonian nationality all but disappeared from Bulgarian public life, official documents and census figures. In 1950 Hristo Kalaydzhiev reported to the Conference of Cultural and Educational Societies that the number of Macedonians in Bulgaria was about 500,000. The official census of 1956 established that 178, 862 Macedonians (or 63.7% of the total population of the Pirin region) live in the Pirin region. However, the 1968 census only registered 7-8,000 Macedonians in all of Bulgaria at a time when emigration was severely restricted under the Communist regime. At the last census held in 2001, 5071 persons declared that they were of Macedonian ethnicity; however the Bulgarian Prime Minister at that time, Simeon Saxcoburgski, indicated that such persons were Bulgarians with a Macedonian regional identity.
The ability of Macedonians in Bulgaria to enjoy their basic human rights is severely limited. Even though they are not subjected to the brutal treatment meted out to them under the Stalinist Zhivkov regime, Macedonians in Bulgaria are subject to significant official and societal discrimination and harassment when they attempt to assert their rights. Macedonian political parties such as OMO-Ilinden-PIRIN and OMO Ilinden remain unregistered. Those who assert a Macedonian ethnic identity encounter discrimination in employment, education and cultural life. The Macedonian language is not taught at any level in the education system. Macedonian human rights activists are subjected to official harassment when attempting to legally and peacefully carry out their activities.
Given the widespread human rights violations to which Macedonians in Bulgaria are subjected, it is disingenuous in the extreme for Foreign Minister Mladenov to assert that Bulgarian citizens-including those who identify as ethnic Macedonians- are accorded full enjoyment of their human rights.
It is even more absurd for him to claim that there are no minorities in Bulgaria. Bulgaria has signed and ratified all major international human rights instruments and conventions and importantly on 7/5/1999, it ratified the Council of Europe?s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities which states at Article 3:
1. Every person belonging to a national minority shall have the right freely to choose to be treated or not to be treated as such and no disadvantage shall result from this choice or from the exercise of the rights which are connected to that choice. 2. Persons belonging to national minorities may exercise the rights and enjoy the freedoms flowing from the principles enshrined in the present framework Convention individually as well as in community with others".
In the light of this undertaking, it is absurd for Mladenov to firstly claim that there are no minorities in Bulgaria by referring to the fact that the Bulgarian Constitution does not recognise minorities' collective rights and secondly, by refusing to recognise the sizeable Macedonian, Turkish, Roma, Armenian and Pomak minorities which exist within Bulgaria?s borders. The existence of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria is an objective reality which no amount of obfuscation by Sofia can conceal.
Moreover we strongly urge that Foreign Minister Mladenov and the Bulgarian state implement the recommendations made in the report on Bulgaria released by Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe on 9 February 2010. Namely, as indicated at paragraph 52 of the report:
52. The Commissioner believes that domestic law potentially restricting freedom of association should be precise and its application proportionate to the aims pursued in the context of a democratic society. Regardless of the outcome of the new applications lodged with the Court, the Commissioner considers necessary the establishment by the authorities of an open, sincere and systematic dialogue with all minorities in Bulgaria, including the Macedonian one, in line with the Council of Europe standards. Furthermore, it would send a positive signal to all minority groups if the domestic law, including the Constitution, could be amended in such a way that the rights to freedom of association and assembly enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights were better safeguarded in practice for minorities.
The Australian-Macedonian Human Rights Committee (AMHRC) and Macedonian Human Rights Movement International (MHRMI) call on the international community to apply pressure on the Bulgarian government to observe its obligations towards all minorities that? exist within its borders; to implement the recommendations of Commissioner Hammarberg in his most recent report? and to cease its policy of denial and assimilation of its Macedonian minority in order to enhance regional stability and peace in the Balkans.
For all those who are interested in contributing support to the Macedonian human rights movement in Bulgaria, please contact the AMHRC or MHRMI via the means offered below.
Established in 1984 the Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee (AMHRC) is a non governmental organisation that informs and advocates to governments, international institutions and broader communities about combating discrimination and promoting basic human rights. Our aspiration is to ensure that Macedonian communities and other excluded groups throughout the world are recognised, respected and afforded equitable treatment. For more information please visit ww.macedonianhr.org.au, or contact AMHRC at firstname.lastname@example.org or via +61 3 93298960.
Macedonian Human Rights Movement International (MHRMI) has been active on human and national rights issues for Macedonians and other oppressed peoples since 1986. For more information, please visit www.mhrmi.org, or contact MHRMI at 416-850-7125, or email@example.com.