Bulgaria's Turk minority seeks formal recognition


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Date: Wed, 2 Feb 2000 09:23:17 +0200 (EET)
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Subject: Bulgaria's Turk minority seeks formal recognition

From: MINELRES moderator <minelres@mailbox.riga.lv>

Original sender: Felix Corley <fcorley@mail.ndirect.co.uk>

Bulgaria's Turk minority seeks formal recognition


Bulgaria's Turk minority seeks formal recognition
 
SOFIA, Jan 31 (Reuters) - The leader of Bulgaria's ethnic Turk party
has said the Balkan state should amend the constitution and formally
recognise its Turkish minority to enhance its bid to join the EU and
NATO.
 
"In the context of the country's European integration, it is mandatory
to accept that Bulgaria is a multi-ethnic state," Ahmed Dogan said
late on Sunday after being re-elected head of the Movement for Rights
and Freedoms (MRF).
 
The country's post-communist constitution of 1991 says there are no
minorities in Bulgaria.
 
At the time, authorities thought that recognising the Turkish minority
in the constitution could foment separatist feelings and disrupt the
country's fragile ethnic balance.

"This is an anachronism. Does it mean that Bulgaria belongs only to
Bulgarians?" said Dogan.
 
A survey by the European Commission last year, which opened the way
for Bulgaria to be invited to start membership talks with the EU,
urged Sofia to do more to protect the rights of ethnic minorities.
 
The issue is extremely sensitive for MRF, set up 10 years ago. Ethnic
Turks total 829,000 or 9.8 percent of the country's 8.5 million
population according to the last census in 1992.
 
A change in the constitution requires a two-thirds majority in the
240-seat chamber which means that MRF, now the third force in
parliament which has frequently held the balance of power in the
chamber, needs an alliance with a bigger party.
 
The next general election is scheduled for 2001 and both the ruling
centre-right Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) and opposition leftist
parties have said they would seek partnership with MRF ahead of the
poll.
 
The Turkish party has so far kept its options open.
 
Dogan said MRF was open for talks with any party which backed a
Euro-Atlantic orientation, but said it was reluctant to set a formal
pre-election coalition with the UDF.
 
He said the MRF's major goal would be protecting the rights of
minorities and winning badly needed investment for the
poverty-stricken southern regions, populated by ethnic Turks.
 
In the early 1980s Bulgaria's ethnic Turks were victims of forcible
assimilation under communist dictator Todor Zhivkov. They were urged
to adopt Slav names and their religious and human rights were severely
curbed.
 
With the overthrow of totalitarian rule in 1989 their rights were
restored and more than half of the 300,000 Bulgarian ethnic Turks who
had left for Turkey have since returned.

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