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Bulgaria: Treatment of ethnic Macedonians and availability of state protection, particularly in Pirin (1999)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 30 November 1999
Citation / Document Symbol BGR33185.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Bulgaria: Treatment of ethnic Macedonians and availability of state protection, particularly in Pirin (1999), 30 November 1999, BGR33185.E, available at: [accessed 15 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

According to a March 1999 report by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) of the UK Home Office, "thousands of Bulgarians, mainly in the south-west, identify themselves as Macedonians" (par. 5.66). However,

As Macedonians cannot be identified among the Bulgarian population by their physical characteristics or by their lifestyle, nor even by their "language" (some Macedonians claim a separate Macedonian language and in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia [FYROM] this is the accepted position, but in Bulgaria it is considered a dialect of Bulgarian), therefore any discrimination against Macedonians is based on the declaration of Macedonian identity (ibid., par. 5.69).

UMO-Ilinden, a nationalist organization officially registered by the Sofia City Court in February 1999 (Pari 17 Feb. 1999; BNC 16 Feb. 1999), is the "political vehicle of the minority who proclaim Macedonian ethnicity" (IND Mar. 1999, par. 5.76). However, according to the IND report,

There is widespread popular resistance to UMO in Bulgaria and even in Pirin Macedonia the [December 1992] census results suggest that it cannot enjoy significant support. Up to one third of Bulgarians claim Macedonian antecedents (either in FYROM or in Pirin Macedonia) but they in no way consider that this makes them less Bulgarian, in fact this can be entirely the reverse (Mar. 1999, par. 5.77).

Many of the reports regarding ethnic Macedonians in 1998 and 1999 involved UMO-Ilinden activists; examples follow. In its most recent annual report, the International Helsinki Federation (IHF) noted continuing violations of activists' right to peaceful assembly, including an incident in April 1998 in which a member of the UMO-Ilinden was detained and beaten by police when he defied a ban on placing flowers on the grave of a Macedonian hero (1999a). According to a 19 April 1999 report by News.Bg, the municipality of Sandansky in Pirin Macedonia turned down a request by UMO-Ilinden to hold a public commemoration near the town, on the grounds that the organization was "not registered and non-legitimate." In a separate report, the IHF also referred to two similar incidents in July and August 1999, in which a district attorney and the mayor of Petrich issued orders banning public gatherings organized by members of UMO-Ilinden (1999b).

However, on 30 August 1999 the country's Supreme Administrative Court ruled that UMO-Ilinden was eligible to participate in the municipal elections of October 1999 (BTA 31 Aug. 1999; RFE 31 Aug. 1999), despite the provisions of the Bulgarian constitution which prohibit "political parties formed along religious, ethnic or racial lines" (Freedom in the World 1999). Following the court decision, the leader of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO), part of the ruling coalition, stated that the decision set a "dangerous precedent," opening the door to the "registration of all kinds of separatist parties, organizations and associations" (ibid.). According to a 20 October 1999 report by the BTA, UMO-Ilinden finished in twelfth place in the first round of voting in the city of Blagoevgrad, and only one UMO-Ilinden mayoral candidate had "some chance of winning" in the second round of voting in the town of Novo Leski, scheduled to be held on 23 October 1999 (BHHRG 11 Nov. 1999). Information on the results of this vote could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

On 5 March 1999, the Alternative Information Network in Former Yugoslavia (AIM) reported that the Bulgarian parliament had ratified the General Convention on Minority Rights. A majority of deputies voted in favour of ratification after it was agreed that a declaration would be attached stating that the Convention "must not be used for making separatist demands" (ibid.). According to the AIM report, the ratification of the Convention marked the first time that the Bulgarian government had formally recognized the existence of national minorities (ibid.).

Members of the IMRO and Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) voted against the ratification, with the leader of the IMRO, Krasimir Karakaconov, stating that

In this way we are offering the possibility to all kinds of dubious subjects to express such aspirations which can blow up civil peace and endanger national security and territorial integrity of Bulgaria (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Alternative Information Network in Former Yugoslavia (AIM) [Paris]. 5 March 1999. "Bulgaria Recognizes Minorities." [Accessed 18 Nov. 1999]

British Helsinki Human Rights Group (BHHRG). 11 November 1999. Bulgaria Between East and West: Local Elections, November 1999. [Accessed 19 Nov. 1999]

Bulgarian News Agency (BTA) [Sofia, in English]. 20 October 1999. "Pro-Macedonian Party May Win Mayor's Post in Runoff." (FBIS-EEU-1999-1020 20 Oct. 1999/WNC)

_____. 31 August 1999. "VMRO Leader, SDS' Mikhaylova React to OMO Registration." (FBIS-EEU-1999-0831 31 Aug. 1999/WNC)

Bulgarian News Collection (BNC). 16 February 1999. "OMO Ilinden-Registration." [Accessed 25 Nov. 1999]

Freedom in the World: The Annual Survey of Political Rights & Civil Liberties. 1998-1999. 1999. Edited by Adrian Karatnycky et al. New York: Freedom House. [Accessed 12 Nov. 1999]

Immigration and Nationality Directorate, Home Office, London. March 1999. Bulgaria Country Assessment. [Accessed 30 Nov. 1999]

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) [Vienna]. 1999a. Annual Report 1999: Bulgaria. [Accessed 18 Nov. 1999]

_____. 1999b. "Periodic Reports from the OSCE Region: Ethnic Macedonian Commemoration Hindered." [Accessed 18 Nov. 1999]

News.Bg [Sofia]. 19 April 1999. "Planned Meeting of OMO Ilinden Near the Grave of Sandansky is Banned." [Accessed 19 Nov. 1999]

Pari [Sofia, in Bulgarian]. 17 February 1999. "Ilinden Registration Viewed as Dangerous Precedent." (FBIS-EEU-1999-0217 17 Feb. 1999/WNC)

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) [Prague]. 31 August 1999. "Bulgarian Court Orders Registration of Controversial Party." [Accessed 19 Nov. 1999]

Additional Sources Consulted

Nationalities Papers [Abingdon, Oxfordshire, UK]. Dec. 1997-Sept. 1999.

Unsuccessful attempts to contact two oral sources.

Electronic sources: IRB Databases, LEXIS/NEXIS, WNC, REFWORLD.

Internet sites including:

European Centre for Minority Issues.

Initiative on Conflict Resolution and Ethnicity.

Minorities at Risk Project.

Minority Rights Group.

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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