OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting
The Macedonian Minority in Bulgaria
Warsaw, October 6-17, 2003
Source: Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada
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. Despite the
European Courts 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:
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"
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
Despite Mr. Saksoburgotskis
claim that the Bulgarian government has a good understanding of the
Macedonian minority issue, human rights violations against Macedonians
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:
September 12, 2002
On Thursday, September
12 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
Its paramount to prepare the mayors and representatives of local
administration how to react to these types of events according to
the law and constitution.
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.
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
of freedom of association violations occurred during this gathering
(more information in the section titled Freedom of Association and
the Right of Peaceful Assembly)
- 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:
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.
On Saturday, July
27, 2002 OMO Ilinden members and supporters gathered at King Samuels
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).
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.
Groups Visit to Bulgaria April 2002
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?
February 2, 2001
Members and supporters
of OMO Ilinden PIRIN were prevented from reaching Gotse Delchevs monument
in the city of Blagoevgrad, in order to place flowers in honour of
the Macedonian revolutionarys 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.
Every year, OMO Ilinden
members and supporters commemorate the anniversary of Yane Sandanskis
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 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 citizens
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 Sandanskis
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.
May 4, 2001
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, 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 Delchevs 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.
border 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
The same day at 5:00pm,
OMO Ilinden PIRIN had announced a flower laying ceremony to be held
at Gotse Delchevs 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 - July
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 Samuels
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 Samuels 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
Ilindens 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
September 12, 2001
This date signifies
Vartolomey Night (massacre of Macedonians in Bulgaria) when Vancho
Mihailovs pro-Bulgarian VMRO killed over 380 Macedonian patriots in
1924. OMO Ilinden activists and supporters placed flowers at Gotse
Delchevs monument in Blagoevgrad to commemorate the dead Macedonian
patriots. Although the police did not interfere in the event, plainclothes
police officers again used video cameras to identify and intimidate
the activists and their supporters.
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.
Vice-President, Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada
Address: P.O. Box 44532, 2376 Eglinton Ave. East, Toronto, Canada M1K
Tel: 416-493-9555 Fax: 416-412-3385
Email: email@example.com Website: www.mhrmc.ca
Member, Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada
Vice-President, Association of Macedonians in Poland
Address: ul. Odziezowa 15/15 71-502 Szczecin, Poland
For more information,
please contact the Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada, Association
of Macedonians in Poland, or the following organizations of Macedonians
Jordan Konstantinov Ivanov
Ul. Georgi Skrizovski # 31
Website: www.omoilinden.org (coming
Botyo Vangelov Tikov
Ul. Shar Planina # 5,
m. ++ 359-87-93-152
OMO Ilinden Pirin
Selo Mosomiste, Postenski Kod 2920, Bulgaria
Ivan Gargavelov - secretary
of Islamic Macedonians
President - Damjan Iskrenov