Ethnic Minority Demonstrations in Bulgaria
Since the 1950s, the Bulgarian government conducted campaigns to assimilate Macedonians, Pomaks (ethnic Bulgarian converts to Islam), Gypsies, and Turkish Muslims by requiring them to substitute Slavic names for their own. The government also prohibited the use of the Turkish language in public and forbid Muslims from practicing their religious and traditional cultural activities. In response to a series of demonstrations in May 1989 for Turkish rights, the Communist government expelled more than 300,000 Bulgarian Turks over the course of the year. With such a large portion of the population affected, Turkish rights in Bulgaria became one of leading human rights issues facing the Bulgarian government in the fall of 1989, and on November 10, 1989, the day after the fall of the Berlin Wall, leading figures in the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) forced Todor Zhivkov, Bulgaria’s leader for more than 35 years, to resign. The following communication from the American embassy in Sofia to Washington presents the step-by-step strategy of a leading Bulgarian human rights group seeking to reclaim ethnic minority rights, as related by its chairman, Rumen Vodenicharov.
U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria to U.S. Secretary of State, telegram, 29 December 1989, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).
SUMMARY. INDEPENDENT SOCIETY LEADER RUMEN VODENICHAROV REPORTS THAT 20,000 PEOPLE GATHERED IN MADAN ON 24 DECEMBER FOR THE INDEPENDENT SOCIETY'S SECOND MASS MEETING IN BULGARIA'S POMAK REGIONS. HE ALSO ANNOUNCED HIS PLANS FOR THE NEW YEAR, INCLUDING MORE MEETINGS IN POMAK AND ETHNIC TURKISH AREAS, CONTINUED SOCIETY GATHERINGS IN SOFIA'S SOUTH PARK, PARTICIPATION IN A POLITICAL SEMINAR IN VIENNA, AND A TRIP TO THE UNITED STATES. HE SAID THAT, SOON, THE SOCIETY WOULD HAVE TO DECIDE WHETHER TO BECOME OVERTLY POLITICAL OR TO REMAIN A HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION. END SUMMARY.
3. AT LUNCHEON WITH POST HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICER AND PAO ON 27 DECEMBER, RUMEN VODENICHAROV REPORTED THAT THE INDEPENDENT SOCIETY'S MASS DEMONSTRATION IN SUPPORT OF MINORITY RIGHTS HAD BEEN COMPLETELY SUCCESSFUL. . . . VODENICHAROV SAID THAT 20,000 PEOPLE, PRIMARILY POMAKS (BULGARIAN MUSLIMS), HAD ATTENDED. THE MEETING HAD FOLLOWED THE SOCIETY'S STRATEGY OF TAKING ITS PROGRAM ONE STEP FURTHER WITH EACH PUBLIC EVENT: THE 18 NOVEMBER DEMONSTRATION HAD FIRST RAISED THE ISSUE OF EQUAL RIGHTS FOR THE COUNTRY'S MUSLIM MINORITIES. THE NEXT MEETING OF THE SOCIETY IN SOFIA'S SOUTH PARK HAD REAFFIRMED THE GROUP'S COMMITMENT TO EQUAL RIGHTS AND FOR THE FIRST TIME STATED THE CLOSING OF ITS MEMBERSHIP TO COMMUNISTS. THE 2 DECEMBER MEETING, WITH THE PRESIDENT OF THE INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AS GUEST OF HONOR, HAD INCLUDED AN ADDRESS FROM HASSAN BYALKO, WHO IS PERHAPS THE COUNTRY'S LEADING POMAK ACTIVIST. THE 10 DECEMBER SOFIA MASS DEMONSTRATION . . . SAW THOUSANDS OF POMAKS AND ETHNIC TURKS DEMANDING THAT THEIR NAMES BE RETURNED TO THEM. THE 16 DECEMBER GOTSE DELCHEV GATHERING HAD BEEN A TEST OF THE NEW BCP LEADERSHIP'S WILLINGNESS TO ALLOW MUSLIMS TO MEET PUBLICLY. THE MADAN MEETING REPRESENTED A DIRECT EXPRESSION OF RELIGIOUS RITES AS THREE IMAMS OPENED AND CLOSED THE MEETING WITH PRAYERS AND INTONATIONS OF "ALLAH IS GREAT."