Re: Bulgarian Minorities in Macedonia

To: MINELRES list submissions <>
Date: Wed, 25 Feb 1998 08:53:00 -0800
From: MINELRES moderator <>
Subject: Re: Bulgarian Minorities in Macedonia

From: MINELRES moderator  <>

Original sender: Francesco Strazzari  <>

Re: Bulgarian Minorities in Macedonia

Florence, February 24

Relations between Macedonia and Bulgaria have always been quite
complex and controversial, and obviously no single article can aim to
bring justice to this complexity. However, it is probably worth highlighting
a few elements that I hope may integrate and constructively criticise
Mariana Lenkova's rendtion of minorities' rights and stability in this region.

1) Although Bulgaria promptly recognized the Macedonian state,  it
has never recognized the existence Macedonian nation. By contrast,
Skopje has never questioned the existence of a Bulgarian nation. The
language contention, in particular, has hitherto blocked the ratification
of twenty bilateral agreements that would surely benefit both
stagnating economies.

2) Traditionally, Bulgarian nationalism seeks justifications in
arguments about the so-called artificiality of the Macedonian nation,
which is at times portraied as a 'genetic mutation', or better an
offspring of communism.

Apparently, lurking in such arguments is the idea that Bulgaria is
the foster-mother of the Macedonian identity, and that present territorial
demacations are amenable to revisions under more favourable historical
conditions (see the two Germanies, but also Romania and Moldavia).

3) Historically, one has to point to the existence of a deep rift between
an "autonomist" (later pro-Yugoslav) and a "pro-Sofia" tradition within
Macedonian national movement. It is no secret that the latter tradition,
which is roughly identifiable with the mainstream VMRO group, finally
managed to virtually monopolize the nationalist sentiment and got
enmeshed with obscure and proto-fascist plots, while the "autonomist
faction" converged with socialist forces in the building the republic in
1944, and was encouraged by Tito to bolster the national sentiment
within the Yugoslav framework, also to check Great-Serbian

In the post-WW II, the rise of an official Macedonian identity in Pirin
region of Bulgaria was officially encouraged by the Bulgarian leader
Dimitrov, as a step towards the creation of a "Balkan Confederation."
Needless to say, Zivkov actively pursued a de-nationalizing coercive
policy towards the region, an act which sawed the seeds of today's
local resentment by those Pirin Macedonians that denounce a
foreign occupation of their lands.

4) As with a visible portion of Macedonians politically organized
abroad, Macedonian political organizations from Pirin are not certainly
famous for their political moderation. On the other hand, an
exacerbating factor is that the only Macedonian organizations
allowed to register in Bulgaria are those in line with the "pro-Sofia
tradition" just described. (Far from being proven, allegations about
the Bulgarian mafia and Macedonian forces abroad were widely
circulated in the West in the wake of the assassination attempt on
the Macedonian president Gligorov in 1995. Virulent declaration by
groups of emigres were also heard at the time of the collapse of
Bitola's TAT pyramidal scheme in 1997).

5) Most importantly, the fact that a vocal Macedonian minority is to
be found in Bulgaria does not necessarily imply that there exists a
symetrical Bulgarian minority in Macedonia, and in turn that this
suffers from 'state persecution or repression'. For example, following
the OSCE High Commissioner's criteria, one could hardly conclude
that this is the case. While there is a considerable German speaking
minority which is mobilised in northern Italy, and this for a long time
was a source of strain for Italo-Austrian relations, the same cannot be
said of Italians in Austria. Quite obviously, this does not mean that
Italians who live in Austria should be mistreated.

6) Speaking of regional stability, one has to acknowledge the efforts
have and are being made in the Republic of Macedonia towards easing
tensions with neighbours and managing and transforming its most
serious social, political and constitutional minority problem, i.e., the
'Albanian question,' which shows clear symptoms of reignition as
shown in Shkoder and in Kosovo.

7) All of the above DOES NOT imply that Macedonian citizens
claiming Bulgarian nationality or actively engaged in Bulgarian
associations have not been mistreated, as denounced by the
Greek Helsinki Monitor. While asking to be exempted from work on
Macedonia, the UN special envoy for Human Rights Elisabeth Rehn
mentioned police and judicial abuse as an ongoing problem in the
Republic. Nonetheless, she expressed appreciation about recent
improvements in the country.

A critical reading of history, coupled with a genuine interest in human
rights protection and sustainable stability, is probably necessary to
avoid implicitly accepting reified and symmetrical ethnic constructs by
drawing boundaries along the Slavic linguistic continuum. One may
argue it has proven quite a dangerous game.

Francesco Strazzari, European University Institute

- - - - - - - - - -
Francesco Strazzari
Researcher - SPS Department
European University Institute
Via de' Roccettini 9 - Badia Fiesolana
50016 S. Domenico di Fiesole
Firenze - Italy

tel (+39) 55 541204
fax (+39) 55 599887 or 4685298

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