By Svetla Dimitrova
According to the 2002 population census in Serbia, there were about 20,000 ethnic Bulgarians living in the country at the time. The largest concentrations of representatives of that community are in the southeastern border towns of Bosilegrad and Dimitrovgrad.
EU delegation to Belgrade chief Vincent Degert urged all citizens in the Balkan nation — particularly members of its ethnic minorities — to participate in the current census, which started on October 1st.
Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic made a similar call to ethnic Bulgarians, who were found to account for just 0.27% of the nearly 7.5 million people living in Serbia, according to the 2002 population count. He encouraged them to freely declare their ethnic identity in the census, which runs through October 15th.
“I call for everyone to use that right; nobody should try to inhibit that in Serbia, because everyone has the right to say what they are,” Bulgarian media quoted Dacic as saying.
Miroslav Nackov, a Dimitrovgrad-based journalist, told SETimes he was unaware of Dacic’s statement. He couldn’t recall any state official urging Bulgarians or members of any other specific ethnic group to participate in the census back in 2002, either.
“As far as I remember, [late Serbian Prime Minister] Zoran Djindjic and his government made no explicit calls to that effect,” he said.
Ethnic Bulgarians in Dimitrovgrad, just 8km west of the border, are not boycotting the census, Nackov said, noting that he expected the final results from it to be “very interesting” for social science experts.
The leaders of the Bulgarian community in Serbia have been claiming that their group numbers more than the 20,000 cited in the results of the 2002 census. That’s the case in Dimitrovgrad, as well, where Bulgarians were found to account for 49% of the people living in the town and villages in the region.
“Politicians expect the new census results to show the group as more numerous, so that they can push the state for certain privileges,” Nackov added. “We should all instead try to find ways for resolving problems. In [Dimitrovgrad], in particular, we have negative migration, so that the ethnic picture has been changing constantly over the past ten years.”
Angel Josifov, leader of the Democratic Party of Bulgarians (DPB), says the ongoing census should show ethnic Bulgarians as comprising at least 80% of Dimitrovgrad’s population for him to consider it realistic.
Poverty is a problem in both Dimitrovgrad and Bosilegrad, as neither of them is among the wealthiest and most developed towns in Serbia.
Josifov blames the country’s ruling Democratic Party for the negligible role the political organisations of ethnic minorities are allowed to play not only at the state, but at the local level as well.
“Their role is being minimised,” the DPB leader said. “The parties of the ethnic minority groups do not have much say in policy-making and their voice is not heard.”
Ivan Nikolov, head of the Culture and Information Centre of Bulgarians in Bosilegrad, sees little room for optimism, even if the final census results show the proportion of ethnic Bulgarians in Bosilegrad to be higher now than it was back in 2002.
“There is lack of tangible results in the social and economic areas,” he said. “I don’t expect anything good.”