By Muzaffer Kutlay
The National Assembly of Bulgaria affixed to a historical decision in the first session of 2012. The National Assembly adopted a declaration that condemns the assimilation process that was applied as an official state policy towards the Bulgarian Turks by Todor Jivkov, the totalitarian leader of the Communist regime and the forced emigration of 1989. The declaration that was prepared and introduced to the Assembly’s agenda by one of the five blocs, The Blue Coalition led by Ivan Kostov, was discussed at noon time of January 11, 2012 and adopted by 112 affirmative and 3 abstainer votes.
According to this, MPs of the 41st National Assembly declared that they condemn the forced assimilation policy including the applied to the Muslims of Bulgaria and announced that they perceive the forced emigration of 1989 as an ethnic cleansing. Consequently, for the first time, Bulgaria come up to Turkey’s agenda as a neighbour that is facing its past and acting with the virtue of apologizing instead of racist and nationalist scolds.
Content of the Condemnation Declaration
The declaration, concerning the condemnation of intensely implemented assimilation policies between 1984-1989 that is called “Revival Process” by the Bulgarian officials of the period, had been brought to the agenda of Bulgarian National Assembly twice (October 2009 and December 2010) but the discussion of the matter was refused by the general assembly of the Parliament. The Blue Coalition who introduced the bill to the National Assembly succeeded this time and the declaration containing the following statements has been officially adopted:
The Declaration Adopted in the National Assembly of Bulgaria Concerning the Forced Assimilation Process Implemented to the Muslim Bulgarians*
(January 11, 2012, Sofia)
- By addressing to the European and global notion and to the highest acquisitions of international law in the field of human rights and minority rights,
- By addressing to the European Convention of Human Rights and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms,
- By expressing the distress caused by the Bulgarian judicial system’s disability to punish the responsible parties for the attempt of the forced assimilation process implemented to the Bulgarian Muslims during the 20 years’ time from the beginning of the democratic reform process, including the so called “Revival Process”,
- By stating our absolute belief regarding these kind of crimes are not due to statutory period of limitations.
We, the Members of Parliament of the 41st National Assembly declare;
- We condemn vociferously the assimilation process implemented to the Muslim minority living in the Republic of Bulgaria, including the so called “Revival Process”, by the totalitarian communist regime.
- We declare the expulsion of more than 360.000 Turkish descendant Bulgarian citizens from the country in 1989 as an act of ethnic cleansing committed by the totalitarian regime.
- We invite the Bulgarian justice and the Attorney General of Republic of Bulgaria to make every effort necessary to finalize the case started against the offenders of the so called “Revival Process”. Efforts to cover this up by statutory prescription are shifting the blame on the Bulgarian people from the real perpetrator.
Bulgaria is Escaping the Monkey on It’s Back
Bulgaria’s policy on minorities has an ever-changing tendency from the past until today in periods, sometimes affirmative actions are taken like keeping additional vacancy in universities, sometimes serious limitations regarding rights and liberties. The only unvarying fact in this process, minorities in the country had always been considered as a threat instead of diversity and a means of richness. In this context, the motivation to keep the minorities under control no matter whatever government rules with whatever ideology was realized from the very beginning of sovereign Bulgarian state.
The communist ideology that came to power after the World War II followed equal and emancipatory policies to the Turkish people in the country. Even with the 1947 Dimitrov Constitution, the minorities in the country were recognized as “national minority” and their rights were taken under constitutional assurance. However, with the death of Stalin in 1953, the leader of the Communist Party in Bulgaria also changed and Todor Jivkov, the architect of the official assimilation policy carried out by the state between 1984-1989, came to power. A new constitution was prepared in 1971 and starting from this date the minority concept was taken out of the constitution, Turkish schools were shut down and Turkish classes reduced to 2 hours/week as elective course. Starting with Pomacs the campaign to change names carried out in that period. The pressure to the Turks in the country increased as form the winter of 1984.
Today, according to the archive documents of Communist Party’s highest decision making organ Politburo; starting from late 1984 the “Assimilation Campaign” carried on Turks was officially declared as an official state policy in April 1986 and some of the precautions within this scope are listed as:
1- Changing the Turkish names with Slavic ones,
2- To ban the use of Turkish language from public places,
3- Taking the Turkish families from Turkish majority regions and switching them with Bulgarian families,
4- Restricting all freedoms regarding the Islam religion,
5- Closing all establishments giving education in Turkish and closing the Kur’an classes,
6- Punishing the violators of the decisions with cash fine and prison.
When 5 years of strict policies and the resistance held by the Turkish minority started to be heard in the international fora from early 1989. As an answer to international reactions, Jivkov administration announced that they opened the Turkish border gate in May 29, 1989. As of the beginning of June, more than 360.000 Turkish descendent Bulgarian citizens forced to immigrate to Turkey in a three months’ time.
Bulgaria Left It’s Fears behind after 21 Years
21 years have passed over the collapse of the communist regime in Bulgaria. In this period, although important steps were taken regarding the return of the rights of the Turkish minority in the country, the difficulties regarding the efforts to preserve the Turkish culture and especially education in Turkish language are still going on and remaining unchanged.
This decision made by the National Assembly of Bulgaria can be considered as a beacon of hope. Bulgaria that became an EU member in 2007, did not remain only addressing to the European values but showed that it started to internalize them officially for the first time. Besides, with this decision, Bulgaria declared that it left it’s fears behind and is ready to face with its past. From now on, we can say that Bulgaria both in international opinion and in Turkish-Bulgarian relations escaped the monkey on it’s back. Also by acting with the virtue of apologizing, Bulgaria gained a lot of credibility in the sight of Turkey.
* The text of the Declaration had been taken from the website of the Blue Coalition and translated to English from Bulgarian unofficially, and also to English from its Turkish translation.
USAK Center for EU Studies