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Proud Macedonians in Gorna Dzumaja, Pirin Macedonia
International Helsinki Federation 1999 Human Rights Report | International Helsinki Federation Report on Bulgaria
Amnesty International Press Release
The following are two quotes from Jorn Ivar Qvonje, Professor of Balkan Linguistics at the University of Copenhagen: 3
In Bulgaria, in Pirin Macedonia, there was in 1919 a compact Macedonian population of about 250,000. Official Bulgarian policy and statistics following the Second World War showed different figures in different periods concerning the number of ethnic Macedonians in the country. The encyclopedic handbook Ethnic Minorities in Europe quotes data from the official censuses. In 1946 there were 300,000 people enumerated as Macedonians and in 1956 - 188,000. According to the sources quoted, in 1990 there were about 250,000 Macedonians living in Bulgaria. It is important to note that according to the 1956 census, when 187,789 inhabitants declared themselves as Macedonians, they constituted a majority in a large part of Pirin Macedonia. In the Blagoevgrad District alone, which comprised 281,015 inhabitants, 178,862, or 63.7% declared themselves as Macedonians. There are also many Macedonians living in Sofia and other parts of Bulgaria. In spite of all claims by Bulgaria to European orientation and the acceptance of European democratic values, during the 1992 population census the Macedonians were not allowed to declare their ethnic affiliation under a separate heading.
In a short period after 1947, the Macedonians living in Pirin Macedonia had schools in their mother tongue and their own theatre. More recently, Amnesty International, the Organization for International Human Rights, and Human Rights Watch/Helsinki have given documentary evidence about the situation there and about the violation of the individual and minority rights of the Macedonians.
The authorities have been refusing the registration of the Ilinden United Macedonian Organization and the Macedonian Democratic Party, although they fulfill all the necessary legal conditions. The 1995 U.S. Department of State report underlines "the Government's refusal since 1990 to register a Macedonian rights group, OMO Ilinden," and that this is a "restriction of the constitutional rights to express opinions and to associate". Police and judicial repression against the leaders and activists of OMO Ilinden and other Macedonian organizations is continuing. In order to prevent the celebration of anniversaries of historical events by the Macedonians in Pirin Macedonia, special police forces are used and even military manouevres are organized at that time.
In 1994 and 1995, the periodicals of the Macedonian organizations in Pirin Macedonia came under attack from the Public Prosecutor of Bulgaria. Several periodicals, including Makedonska Volja, however, continue to write openly on the discrimination against ethnic Macedonians in Bulgaria. An illustration of the extent of this discrimination is the expulsion from the Bulgarian Writer's Association of the writer Slave Makedonski, whose works have been translated into several world languages, owing to the fact that he has publicly declared his Macedonian ethnic affiliation. A number of writers, artists, and other individuals are harassed or denied access to jobs because of their Macedonian feeling.
OMO (United Macedonian Organization) Ilinden is an organization of Macedonians in Pirin Macedonia that are dedicated to achieving cultural and human rights. It was established in November of 1989 during the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. As citizens of other countries were finally attaining their freedom, Bulgaria, along with Greece, remained determined to deny their minorities any rights. The Bulgarian government has consistently denied this group the right to register as a "legal" organization.
"In July 1990, OMO Ilinden applied for registration at the district court of Blagoevgrad but was turned down as the 'targets of the organization and the means of its attainment are directed against this nation's (Bulgaria) unity, and are aiming at spurring a national and ethnic hostility' (Bulgarian Telegraph Association, July 18, 1990) and the Blagoevgrad prosecutor warned that the leaders faced prosecution under Article 162 of the penal code which allows for up to six years imprisonment." 5
Other articles of the Criminal Code that are frequently used to prosecute Macedonians and other national minorities are Articles 108 and 109 which deal with "anti-state agitation and propaganda" and Article 39 of the People's Militia Law which "allows administrative punishment (that is without trial), which has reportedly been used to forcibly resettle members of the Macedonian ethnic minority in other areas of the country." 6
The following quotes are from the Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada, on behalf of OMO Ilinden, made at the OSCE Human Rights Conference in November, 1998 in Warsaw, Poland.
To read more about MHRMC's presentations at the conference regarding Bulgarian and Greek discrimination against ethnic Macedonians, please click here
The Current State of Bulgarian State Compliance with Its Obligations Respecting Freedom of Expression, Free Media and Information, Freedom of Association, and the Right of Peaceful AssemblyFreedom of Expression and Free Media
With respect to those citizens who identify themselves as Macedonians the Bulgarian government has and continues to place unlawful restrictions on a number of fundamental rights of these people. Whether it be through uneven application of laws which on their face 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 call themselves Macedonians suffer abuses of their human rights repeatedly. As regards freedom of expression and free media and information, for instance, the Macedonian human and minority rights organization, OMO-Ilinden has recently suffered the following outrageous act at the hands of the Bulgarian authorities.
On April 14 of this year, OMO-Ilinden began the publication of a newspaper which was intended to serve as a voice for its members and their concerns and interests. Just two days later, on 16, April, 1998 seven policemen broke up a meeting of this organization without a search warrant and after 8:00 p.m. (the latest time in which searches can be conducted legally). Notwithstanding the statement of police sergeant Krsomir Karonfil, that he was ďsent by the authorities to come and search your organizationís headquarters and seize what is necessary,Ē when asked for evidence of his legal right to conduct such a search, he was unable to provide such evidence. Fearing violence, OMO-Ilinden members allowed the search to continue without any other protest, hoping that they could achieve some measure of relief after the fact through the court system. All equipment and supplies necessary to publish a newspaper (including what is for those in Bulgaria a particularly expensive item, a photocopier) were seized and, as of today (some six months later) have not been returned. Nor, subsequent OMO-Ilindenís official complaint to the regional authority who oversees these kinds of searches, and to the highest military authority in Sofia, has there been a response to the complaints lodged.
In addition to forcibly restricting the right of OMO-Ilinden to publish its own newspaper, the government of Bulgaria uses, or permits others in the private sphere to use, the media to discredit the legitimacy of OMO-Ilinden and, by extension, the central tenet of the organization: the existence and significance of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. OMO-Ilinden is either portrayed as a fringe organization of mentally unstable people (the implication being, to believe you are Macedonian in Bulgaria must mean you are insane) or as a terrorist organization responsible for a whole range of criminal activity (implying that only criminals call themselves Macedonians). Examples are very numerous. In all cases, despite the governmentís direct or indirect involvement of the promulgation of untruths about OMO- Ilinden, the organization is, perhaps not surprisingly, forbidden access to the same media for purposes of rebuttal. Furthermore, when OMO-Ilinden has attempted to seek redress through the courts, they are denied standing at the first stage and a court-derived remedy is denied them.
Following are specific examples of comments made in the following newspapers: 24 Chassa, Trut, 168 Chassa, Duma, Makedonje, Struma and Pirin News:
The following are excerpts from the IHF's 1999 human rights report. For the full text please visit their website
Throughout 1998 Bulgaria was ruled by a government consisting of the United Democratic Forces (UtDF), formed after the elections of April 1997. In contrast to previous years, 1998 was not marked by political or economic upheavals. The government continued its policy of reform and reiterated its willingness to abide by European human rights standards. This created a favorable public climate both for legislative reforms as well as for NGO activities.
However, the actual development of the human rights situation in Bulgaria in 1998 was contradictory. While authorities continued their dialogue with human rights NGOs and carried out investigations into past abuses, sentences for human rights violations were very mild. On the whole, in most spheres of human rights the situation did not change, in some a setback was observed.
Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly
The rights of ethnic and religious minority groups as well as trade-union activists to association and assembly were restricted. The only positive development was the government's June decision to register the moderate Macedonian culture-based organization TMO-IMRO, led by Georgi Solunski.
Protection of Ethnic Minorities - Macedonian Minority
In early July the European Commission of Human Rights admitted the complaint submitted by ethnic Macedonians regarding the violation of their right to peaceful assembly. Despite this fact, violations continued.
∑ On 18 April several hundred activists of UMO "Ilinden" were prevented from placing flowers on the grave of Yane Sandanski, a historic Macedonian figure on the basis of an order of the Blagoevgrad District Prosecutor's Office. People attempting to approach the site of the grave near Rozhen were turned back because of their "technically faulty vehicles." Vassil Gyudjemov, who still managed to reach to the grave, was detained for not carrying a passport and beaten by the police.
∑ On 2 August the mayor of Petrich banned the UMO "Ilinden" celebrations of the anniversary of the Ilinden Uprising in the Samouilova Krepost locality near Petrich. Yordan Toshev, a local UMO "Ilinden" activist, was arrested for having thrown flowers at the policemen's feet.
Report by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
United Nations Commission on Human Rights
Geneva, 16 March - 24 April 1998
(Item No. 16)
Protection of the ethnic and cultural identity of the minorities in Bulgaria is inadequate. Members of ethnic minority groups appear today to have less chance of receiving instruction in their mother tongue than in previous years. A request by members of the Bulgarian Turkish community to receive instruction in and about their own language was rejected by the authorities.
On 4 December 1997, the government adopted Decree N 449, setting up a National Council on Ethnic and Demographic Questions at the Council of Ministers. The Council is a consultative body expected to develop and propose strategies of demographic policy, promote tolerance and understanding between ethnic and religious groups, and to coordinate support for Bulgarians abroad. This strange combination of functions raises serious doubts about the Councilís capacity to fulfill them.
The Macedonian Minority
Under the new government of the United Democratic Forces, policy towards ethnic Macedonians has remained unchanged. Macedonians are subjected to various forms of harassment, including confiscation of their publications, being prevented from holding assemblies and book presentations, and officials refusing to let them meet on public premises.
On 28 August 1997, customs officers at Stanke Lissichkovo border checkpoint confiscated 31 books from Georgi Hristov on the ground that he had not declared them upon entry and that they had a "pro-Macedonian nationalistic content."
On 20 April 1997, the Blagoevgrad district prosecutor banned a rally by activists of UMO "Ilinden," a pro-Macedonian group, at the grave of Yane Sandanski in the Rozhen Monastery. In May, the prosecutor banned them from celebrating the 94th anniversary of the death of Gotse Delchev, and the activists involved were detained.
22 APRIL 1994
BULGARIA: AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL URGES AUTHORITIES TO ENSURE POLICE OBSERVANCE OF INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS STANDARDS
Amnesty International is urging the authorities to ensure that police abide by international human rights standards at tomorrow's ethnic Macedonian commemorative assembly, following the violent events which overtook the assembly last year.
The commemorative assembly at Rozhen Monastery is an annual event, traditionally organized by OMO "Ilinden" (United Macedonian Organization "Ilinden") to commemorate the death of Jane Sandanski, a local hero of the struggle against Ottoman rule at the turn of the century.
On 24 April 1993, dozens of ethnic Macedonians, many of them members of OMO "Ilinden", were ill-treated by police officers in Lozenitsa and Spatovo after attempting to visit Rozhen Monastery.
Three ethnic Macedonians are already reported to have been detained in Blagoevgrad while peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. On 15 April, Stoyan Machkarov, Khristo Yanev and Lubomir Vasilev were reportedly arrested by members of the Regional Security Service of Blagoevgrad and charged with putting up posters to announce Saturday's assembly. All three were allegedly beaten while in the police station before being released that day.
Amnesty International considers their detention and alleged ill- treatment to be a violation of the ICCPR. As a State Party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Bulgaria is bound to initiate a prompt and impartial investigation wherever there is evidence that torture or other ill-treatment has occurred.
Amnesty International has written to Zhelyu Zhelev, the President of Bulgaria, urging him to initiate an independent and impartial inquiry into the alleged beatings in Blagoevgrad, to make public its findings and to bring to justice anyone responsible for human rights violations. The human rights organization has still not received any reply to its letter of July 1993, to Minister of the Interior, Viktor Mikhaylov, that expressed its concern at the police violence at last year's assembly. The human rights organization called on the Bulgarian Government to initiate an independent and impartial inquiry into the alleged ill- treatment of people in Lozenitsa and Spatovo, to make public its findings and to bring to justice all those found responsible. Amnesty International is not aware whether such an investigation took place.
The human rights organization is urging President Zhelev to ensure that the police in the area of Rozhen Monastery on 23 April abide by relevant international human rights standards including UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.