Helsinki Committees Denounce Anti-minority Rhetoric and Discrimination in Bulgaria

Source: International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights 

Sofia/Vienna, 21 November 2006. Gathered for their annual General Assembly meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, on 16-19 November 2006, members of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) expressed concern about the rise in anti-minority rhetoric and discrimination in Bulgaria.

The extremist nationalist party Ataka (“Attack”), which gained representation in the Bulgarian parliament by winning 8% of the vote in the 2005 general elections, openly advocates hostility and discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities. Running on an aggressively xenophobic platform, the leader of Ataka (“Attack”) qualified for the second round of the October 2006 presidential elections, where he received more than 24% of the vote.

“This level of electoral support for a person who frequently employs racist propaganda, denies the holocaust and endorses totalitarian methods of government is disgraceful for a country that is due to accede to the EU on 1 January 2007,” stated Ulrich Fischer, President of the IHF. 

The minority policies of the Bulgarian government also remain of serious concern. The government denies the existence of an ethnic Macedonian minority in the country and insists that it does not have any obligation to protect this group. Representatives of all political parties represented in parliament recently backed this policy.

In another problematic development, the Sofia City Court decided in October 2006, in a proceeding conducted in gross violation of due process standards, to refuse registration to OMO Ilinden – PIRIN, a political party that draws support among the country’s ethnic Macedonian minority. This decision was made despite an October 2005 ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), according to which a previous ban of the party violated the right to freedom of association. The ECHR has found violations of freedom of association and assembly in a total of five cases involving ethnic Macedonians from Bulgaria, but these rulings have not been effectively implemented by the Bulgarian government and have not resulted in any concrete positive changes.

The situation of Bulgaria’s Roma minority, which is estimated to have 600,000-800,000 members, has only marginally improved in recent years and remains characterized by discrimination and exclusion. Such trends are reinforced by prejudiced political statements, which sometimes are of a blatantly overt character. For example, on 14 November 2006, the mayor of the Ovcha Kupel district of Sofia was reported as saying: “the cows in Ovcha Kupel harm less than a local Gypsy neighborhood…Roma must gradually acquire normal citizen’s habits, and before this happens, they cannot live among citizens…A Roma settlement near living quarters is ten times more harmful than a garbage bin.”

The IHF General Assembly denounced the rise in political rhetoric targeting ethnic and religious minorities in Bulgaria and called on the Bulgarian government to ensure that clear instances of hate speech are criminally prosecuted. The Helsinki Committees also called on the Bulgarian government to increase its efforts to promote tolerance and equal participation in society of minority members and to ensure that its minority policies conform to international standards, including the Framework Convention on National Minorities, which Bulgaria ratified in 1999.

For more information:

Krassimir Kanev, Chair of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, +359-2-944 0670

Henriette Schroeder, IHF Press Secretary, +43-676-725 4829

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