Draft resolution

Resolution 1096


Communist Terror
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History > Communist Terror > Bulgaria
  Persecutions of ethnic minorities

The Human Rights of Muslims in Bulgaria in Law and Politics since 1878
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee

From 1944 until 1989

In the course of this period, the main concern of the authorities, dominated by the Communist Party, was to win over the minorities on the basis of the dominant ideology of Marxism-Leninism.

When the Fatherland Front government came to power in 1944, which severed the alliance with Germany and included Bulgaria in the anti-Nazi coalition during the final stage of World War Two, the Turkish minority was confronted with a two-pronged situation. On the one hand, this group of the population, neglected until then and at times even wronged, was offered the possibility of recovering its rights lost in the previous years, and of advancing in its development, thanks to the declared desire for modernization of the communist-dominated Fatherland Front. On the other, however, the new government distrusted the Turkish population. Early in 1948, Georgi Dimitrov2, addressing a session of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party, set the task of deporting the Muslim population from the southern border regions, and to replace it with ethnic Bulgarian population. In August 1950, following the mass immigration wishes amidst the Turkish population, the Communist Party Politburo took a decision to deport 250 000 people to Turkey in the shortest possible period (3 months). In the course of this campaign, which ended in November 1951, some 155 000 people were deported

The two main legislative acts, marking and governing relations between State and minorities, were the 1947 Constitution and the 1971Constitution. The 1947 Constitution guaranteed equality before the law and protection against discrimination, based on nationality, origin and faith, freedom to profess religion, the rights of everyone to declare his or her ethnic belonging, the right of national minorities to study their mother tongues and to develop their national culture. The 1971 Constitution no longer referred to `national minorities''. The term was replaced by "citizens of non-Bulgarian origin". They were granted the right to study their own languages. The Constitution contained a provision which protected against discrimination, based on `nationality, origin, religion, sex, race, educational and social status'. It also guaranteed the freedom of conscience and of religious traditions and rituals. Both constitutions prohibited political parties on the grounds of religion.

At the end of the 1940s, some 32 000 Jews emigrated to Israel. In 1946, about 5 000 Armenians immigrated to Armenia, and during the period 1965-1968, about 5 000 Armenians immigrated to the USA. There are no exact figures of the number of White-Russian emigres deported to the Soviet Union.

Special efforts were made to education and combating illiteracy. The state nationalized minority' schools, yet at the same time, it substantially increased their number; in the early 1950s, Turkish schools exceeded 1000.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the Communist Party, imitating the policy of the Communist International, actively encouraged the Macedonian identity. It decreed that the 1946 and 1956 censuses should include Macedonians, even if it was necessary to use violence. In carrying out the decisions of the closed Tenth Plenum of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Workers Party (Communists), a policy was pursued of making forced entries in the statistical data for some 200 000 persons, residing mainly in South-western Bulgaria.

The State stimulated the printed media and culture of minorities by financing their publications and cultural institutions. In April 1951, the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) adopted a special decision on improving the overall conditions of the Turkish minority. Consequently, special quotas and scholarships were introduced to admit Turks to many educational institutions.
Although the totalitarian regime's policy towards ethnic minorities allowed some encouragement of their ethnic identity, though briefly, it was, from the very outset, outrightly repressive towards religious minorities. Only three religious denominations were officially recognised during that period, namely, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the Muslim and the Israelite religions. Their existence, however, was marginalized. Catholics and Protestants were reduced to symbolic existence after the frame-up trials in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when their spiritual leaders were summarily executed and imprisoned, leaving the two religious denominations without leaderships.

Very soon, however, the policy of encouraging the ethnic identity of minorities during the totalitarian period, was radically changed. This occurred after 1956 with the coming to power of the new BCP leadership, headed by Todor Zhivkov, which ruled the country over the entire period until 1989. In 1958, the BCP Politburo took a decision to merge Turkish and Bulgarian schools. Gradually, regional publications in minority languages were closed down, and later on some of the central ones followed suit. These policies were intensified 1967, when Todor Zhivkov formulated his thesis of a homogenous Bulgarian socialist nation. In 1968, the department for national minorities with the BCP Central Committee was closed down, only to be followed, in 1969, by another Politburo decision signalling the imposition of large-scale limitations on Turkish culture.

Although it was officially stressed that emigration to Turkey was unthinkable, because Bulgarian Turks were `an inseparable part of the Bulgarian people', as of the mid-60s the Bulgarian state leadership entered into negotiations with the Turkish government, to conclude an emigration agreement, which was signed in 1968. About 130 000 people immigrated to Turkey over the period 1968 -1978.

In July 1971, the Secretariat of the BCP Central Committee took a decision, which marked the start of a campaign to rename Bulgarian Muslims. It ended in 1975, and covered several Turkish villages in the Central Rhodopi region, namely, Borino, Gyovren, Grohotno, etc. Local Communist party and the Ministry of the Interior structures were involved in the campaign.. In some places, especially in the areas of Gotse Delchev and Yakorouda, there was violence resulting in people killed by the authorities.

The Government's efforts to assimilate the Bulgarian Roma population proceeded at a more gradual pace. They started in the 1950s with a stage-by-stage renaming the Muslim Roma. The peak was in 1981, when the largest number of Roma was given new names. In 1958, a decree was issued whereby nomad Roma were forced to settle down permanently. At many places the authorities made efforts to improve the Roma living standards. These measures often proved ineffective, insufficiently consistent or ill planned.

Undoubtedly, the most flagrant violation of minority rights during the time of totalitarian regime was the campaign to change Turkish names by force in 1984-1989. It started under a decision, taken by a most immediate circle of top party higher-ups, when in the winter of 1984-1985 the identity papers of about 850 000 people were substituted by new ones. Armed forces and militia units, as well as all Communist party local activists were involved in this campaign. There were deportations, beatings, murders and various other abuses against Muslim ways of life and culture. Thousands of people were imprisoned for various terms, some of them summarily and without a sentence. Hundreds were locked up in the Belene concentration camp. Muslim cemeteries were desecrated, hospital files of patients with Turkish names were destroyed, and speaking Turkish in public places was strictly prohibited. Compulsory lists of `Bulgarian' first names were introduced, and parents could choose the names for their newly born babies only from these lists. The process deteriorated into a vicious ideological propaganda, aimed at convincing both the Bulgarian and the international communities that it was a case of voluntary changing of names. The campaign provoked a mass exodus to Turkey of some 370 000 Bulgarian Turks, when the border was opened in June 1989. Part of them (around 155 000) subsequently returned to Bulgaria.

Report submitted by Bulgaria pursuant to Article 25, paragraph 1 of the Framework Convention for the protection of national minorities

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