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2-6 Human Rights: Governmental Attitude RegardingNational/Racial/Ethnic Minorities


This article is from the Bulgaria FAQ, by Dragomir R. Radev radev@tune.cs.columbia.edu with numerous contributions by others.

2-6 Human Rights: Governmental Attitude RegardingNational/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic Turks comprise about 10 percent of the population. Although
estimates of the Romani population vary widely, several experts put it
at about 6 percent. These are the country's two largest minorities.

There are no restrictions on the speaking of Turkish in public or the
use of non-Slavic names. A defense bill before Parliament renewed
controversy over the issue of language. The bill declared Bulgarian to
be the official language in the armed forces and the language in which
military duties were to be carried out. Members of Parliament of the
mainly ethnic-Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms tried
unsuccessfully to amend the bill to affirm the constitutional right to
use the "mother tongue," for example, in personal conversations and
correspondence. The motion was rejected, but use of the mother tongue
is not prohibited in the military, and Turkish is freely spoken in off-
duty situations.

Voluntary Turkish-language classes, funded by the Government, continued
in areas with significant Turkish-speaking populations, although some
observers complained that the Government was restricting the
availability of training for teachers and discouraging the optional
language classes in areas with large concentrations of Bulgarian
Muslims. Some ethnic Turkish leaders, mainly in the MRF, demanded that
Turkish-language schooling be made compulsory in ethnic Turkish areas,
but the Government resisted this.

In the 1992 census approximately 3.4 percent of the population
identified itself as Romani. The real figure is probably about twice
that high, since many persons of Romani descent tend to identify
themselves to the authorities as ethnic Turks or Bulgarians. Romani
groups continued to be divided among themselves, although several groups
had some success presenting Romani issues to the Government. As
individuals and as an ethnic group, Roma faced high levels of

Attacks by private citizens on Romani communities continued to occur in
1995. The most serious were a series of attacks in two Romani
neighborhoods of Stara Zagora in March and April. A group of young men
wielding bats and sticks reportedly damaged the property of 11 Romani
families in March, and a group of young people wearing masks allegedly
beat 2 Romani women on school grounds in April. Police have identified
the alleged perpetrators of the March incident, and an investigation is
underway. An arson investigation resulting from the February 1994
incident in Dolno Belotintsi was suspended later that year because of
the reluctance of the sole witness to testify. A human rights NGO was
able to gather new evidence implicating individuals in the crime and has
asked the Chief Prosecutor to resume the investigation; no action has
yet been taken. Authorities often fail to aggressively investigate
cases of assault or other crimes against Romani individuals, although
there was some improvement in their responsiveness to inquiries of human
rights organizations.

Roma encounter difficulties applying for social benefits, and rural Roma
are discouraged from claiming land to which they are entitled under the
law disbanding agricultural collectives. Many Roma and other observers
made credible allegations that the quality of education offered to
Romani children is inferior to that afforded most other Bulgarian

The Government took some steps to address the problems faced by Roma.
The Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology convened a forum in
July to discuss the education of Romani children, during which
representatives of the President's office, concerned ministries, and
human rights organizations discussed pedagogical issues. The Council of
Ministers disbanded the interagency Ethnic Affairs Council established
in 1994, replacing it with a National Board on Social and Demographic
matters with broader responsibilities. Some observers expressed concern
over onerous requirements for admission of NGO's to the board. For
example, NGO's must have established branches in more than one-third of
Bulgarian municipalities.

The Ministry of Education continued its program to introduce Romani-
language schoolbooks into schools with Romani populations and issued
follow-on textbooks for the program. The program has had mixed success,
partly due to a lack of qualified teachers.

Workplace discrimination against minorities continued to be a problem,
especially for Roma. Employers justify such discrimination on the basis
that most Roma have relatively low training and education. Supervisory
jobs are generally given to ethnic Bulgarian employees, with ethnic
Turks, Bulgarian Muslims, and Roma among the first to be laid off.

During compulsory military service most Roma (and Muslims--see Section
2.c.) are shunted into labor units where they often perform commercial,
military construction, or maintenance work rather than serve in normal
military units. The MRF protested this practice, as did human rights
groups and labor observers who cited it as a violation of International
Labor Organization (ILO) accords. There are only a few ethnic Turkish
and Romani officers in the military.

Thousands of Bulgarians, mainly in the southwest, identify themselves as
Macedonians, most for historical and geographic reasons. Members of the
two organizations which purport to defend the interests of ethnic
Macedonians, Umo-Ilinden and Tmo-Ilinden, are believed to number in the
hundreds (see Section 2.b.).


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