European Court of Human Rights Rules Against Bulgaria…Again

October 27, 2011 – Washington, D.C. – On October 18th, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) again found the Bulgarian state to have violated the human rights of the Macedonian minority, including freedom of assembly. While encouraged by the decision, the United Macedonian Diaspora (“UMD”) calls on the Republic of Bulgaria to finally recognize its Macedonian minority in the Pirin region, and cease all illegal police and court actions against them immediately.

The association “UMO Ilinden” and political party “UMO Ilinden – Pirin” have suffered from a long history of political interference by reactionary elements within the Bulgarian state, going back to 1990.  In five previous judgments, the ECHR condemned Bulgaria’s attempts at legal dissolution of the political party, its refusal to register the association, and its unlawful bans of several large public assemblies.

Since those previous decisions, however, it seems that nothing changed.  In three of the four new cases on October 18, the ECHR again found Bulgaria in violation of Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  These new violations were all very similar to the ones condemned by the Court previously, thus confirming that Bulgaria is willing and able to ignore ECHR judgments.  The new offenses included imposing unlawful bans of peaceful gatherings and arresting participants without cause, as well as other illegal actions against Bulgarian citizens of Macedonian ethnicity.  The final judgment ordered Bulgaria to pay each applicant in the first three cases 9,000 euros each in damages, plus costs and expenses.

“It is positive that the European Court’s decision went the right way and that the victims were compensated,” said UMD Chairman Stojan Nikolov. “However, it still amounts to a slap on the wrist for Bulgaria.  It is still highly doubtful that Bulgaria’s respect for the European Convention of Human Rights will improve any time soon, or that there is any political will for real change in Sofia’s attitude towards its sizeable Macedonian minority.  Ultimately, we need the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria to be fully recognized under the law, and we must accept nothing less.  The situation in Greece is no different.  Lasting, peaceful cooperation in the Balkans cannot move forward without full recognition of ethnic Macedonian minorities in all neighboring states.”

UMD President Metodija A. Koloski added: “Recently, the Bulgarian Foreign Minister has talked loudly in the press about a new ‘friendship’ policy toward Macedonia, but with European Court decisions like these, the facade falls, and the Bulgarian state shows its true colors.”

UMD reiterates its call to the Bulgarian state authorities to recognize its own ethnic Macedonian minority and cease all illegal police and court actions against them immediately.  Through its global network, UMD will continue to bring awareness of this issue to all major recognized human rights institutions, such as the United Nations, Helsinki Commissions, the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament, among others. 

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