MHRMI Appeals to International Community to Intervene on Behalf of Oppressed Macedonian Minority in Bulgaria
Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
Press Release - October 22, 2006
Bulgaria has stepped up its campaign of blatant racism and intimidation against its large Macedonian minority only months before its acceptance into the European Union. Following a defamation campaign against Macedonian political party OMO Ilinden PIRIN by Bulgarian media, (see MHRMI press releases dated Sept. 14, 2006 and Sept.19, 2006 - www.mhrmi.org/press), Bulgarian politicians have threatened legal action against the Macedonian party and have called on all Macedonians to be "expelled" from Bulgaria or "shot dead when walking the streets".
Bulgarian secret police are detaining Macedonians and threatening them unless they denounce their involvement in the Macedonian human rights movement. Specifically, Bulgarian authorities are demanding that Macedonians sign declarations that they are not and they will not be members of OMO Ilinden PIRIN. For more details please see the letter below from OMO Ilinden PIRIN sent to the Committee of the Ministers of Europe.
MHRMI calls on the international community to condemn Bulgaria's state-sponsored acts of oppression, and demand that Bulgaria immediately recognize its large Macedonian minority and grant it the human rights that it is guaranteed by all international human rights conventions. Moreover, MHRMI calls on the European Union to enforce the European Court of Human Rights October 20, 2005 decision in favour of OMO Ilinden PIRIN's immediate registration and to make Bulgaria's accession to the EU explicitly conditional on its recognition of its Macedonian minority.
Bill Nicholov, President
OMO Ilinden PIRIN
To the Committee of the Ministers of Europe
OMO Ilinden PIRIN was established as a party on February 28, 1998, was registered on February 13, 1999 and was banned on February 19, 2000 by the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Bulgaria. On October 20, 2005 the party won its trial against the ban in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Since May 14, 2006 OMO Ilinden PIRIN has been an observer member of the European Free Alliance.
The main problems of the party come solely from the fact that it is the only one in the Republic of Bulgaria that recognizes the existence of a Macedonian minority and struggles for the rights of the Macedonians. Thus it is frequently described as an “anti-national” and “anti-government” party. The denials of the existence of the Macedonian minority and the violation of the rights of the Macedonians in Bulgaria have been an official policy in the Republic of Bulgaria for the last 50 years. The discrimination against OMO Ilinden PIRIN is a part of the policy of discrimination of the ethnic minorities in the country.
In February 2006 we turned to the Committee of the Ministers of Europe with an application for intervention in gaining back our registration since there is no procedure in Bulgaria for reversing the decision of the Constitutional Court.
In the absence of a procedure in Bulgaria for regaining the unlawfully taken registration of OMO Ilinden - PIRIN, the party started a new procedure for registering itself in the face of a new discriminatory law for political parties that required the gathering of 5,000 signatures in order to be established as a political party. On June 25, 2006 the party opened its foundational meeting under media pressure, disinformation and threats produced by other political parties and even by some MPs. The arguments given against the registration of the new party were accompanied with a vast disinformation campaign that the party was founded on an ethnic basis (something that is against the Bulgarian Constitution), that it is anti-Bulgarian, separatist and that at the foundational meeting there were less than the needed 500 founders. Alongside the media, agents from the political police of the Blagoevgrad (Pirin) region took part in this smear campaign, whose control over some of the journalists was evident. The peak of this escalated situation happened when MPs openly called for members of our party to be put in jail without trial (Boris Yachev and Krasimir Karakachanov) and various mayors started stating that all the Macedonians should be expelled from Bulgaria (one of them was Blagoevgrad's mayor Lazar Prichkapov); the municipal councilor in Varna, Veselin Danov stating that Macedonians must be shot dead if they go out on the streets etc. None of the above provoked any sign of condemnation in Bulgarian society at large.
Party members were also targeted with other disinformation and propaganda to the effect that pensioners would stop receiving their pensions if becoming members of the party. When the party eventually succeeded in gathering the needed 5,000 members another controlled campaign came into force in the media, claiming that the party got its members by paying them for each signature. Then followed another series of threats by politicians in the press, provocations that the prosecution should deal with the activists of the party and similar statements. The MP and a candidate for president of Bulgaria, Volen Siderov, said that if he had power, he would take citizenship of members of the party and the head of the Organization of the Blagoevgrad Municipalities, Valentin Chilikov, and a mayor of the village of Strumiani and a head of the Organization of the Municipalities of Bulgaria said that, without any doubt, as compared to the Bulgarians the Macedonians in Bulgaria were not loyal citizens of the country.
We suspect that the telephones of the leaders of the party are regularly under surveillance by the political police in the area. On September 9, 2006, without giving ay reason, one of the leaders of PIRIN - Botyo Vangelov - was detained by civil policemen, who did not identify themselves, and also confiscated from him a list with the names and personal details of 499 members of the party. He was kept in the local police station for 6 hours and was repeatedly insulted with ethnic slurs. The list was returned after 5 days. A short while later, the local directorate of the police gave to the media a made-up story, using the facts in the way they liked, claiming that there was an attempt of breaking-in by force into a state building, an attempt to break into a secret database and so on.
In the evening of September 10, 2006 , allegedly informed that there had been a “trade in signatures,” the police came into the party's meeting place in Blagoevgrad, where its members were preparing the documents for the court and sought to confiscate the party members list as “material evidence”. Fortunately, this did not happen because the people there resisted this unlawful action. The campaign in the press did not stop for 9 days and mysteriously stopped on the day when the documents for registration were taken to the court, despite that the party kept that secret from the media.
On December, 25 2005 the Party completed an application for a meeting with the Procurator General of Bulgaria in connection with the violation of the human rights of the Party's members. We still have no reply to these applications, as well as to the complaint filed during April.
According to the law for political parties in Bulgaria, the court is bound to set a trial within one month from the time the documents for registration are accepted and after to render its decision within two weeks of trial. The documents were submitted on September 20, 2006. The Sofia City Court broke the law by setting the trial date for November 8, 2006, 1 month and 19 days after the documents were submitted.
Unexpectedly, the Court changed its earlier decision setting the trial down for November 8, 2006 and rescheduled it for October 18, 2006 which means the timing requirements of the law will be observed but the party received the required summons only five days before the date of the trial, not 7 days as is required by law.
On Monday, October 16, 2006, from 8:00 a.m. groups of four people each, consisting of a representative of the Prosecution, local policemen, representatives of the economic police and one additional person started going to the homes and working places of people who had signed on to become members of the party. These groups rudely interrogated, threatened and otherwise harassed our members by asking them whether they knew that our party was forbidden in Bulgaria, whether we had paid them and promised them anything for becoming members of OMO “Ilinden” – PIRIN; they also asked our members whether they wanted to have trouble with the law and insisted that the people should complete and sign a declaration and that they did not know what they signed when they had filled in their party applications. In this process old people were intimidated and students were threatened with exclusion from the academy if they did not sign a declaration indicating that they had not known what they signed when they became party members. The same events happened in the cities of Peshtera and Goce Delchev and on the 18th and 19th of October 2006 in the city of Bansko.
On October 17, 2006 the Party filed three complaints directed to the Procurator General, the Ministry of Interior and the Justice Ministry regarding these practices.
At the trial on October 18, 2006 in the Sofia Regional Court regarding the application for registration of OMO “Ilinden”- PIRIN, the Prosecution presented over 90 pages of evidence as grounds to deny the party's registration. The party’s lawyer, Yonko Grozev, from the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, asked for a delay in the trial in order to have time to look at these evidence. His request was denied and he was given 30 minutes to get familiar at the time and to make his objections.
The Prosecution insisted on a denial of the request for registration because of incorrect data in the documents, for example, 66 of the declarations were written by one person only. In support of the Prosecution’s request for denial of registration of the party, expert was proffered. The party’s lawyer wanted a chance to examine the expert, noting that there were obvious errors, e.g. that the signature of the co-president of the party Botio Vangelov, placed in the bottom of his declaration for membership and in the list with the founders, did not belong to the same person, something to which Mr. Vangelov, who was present at trial, testified. The request for examination of the expert was denied. There were about 60 people’s declarations from the police claiming that they had never made applications for membership in the party but in most of them the named party is OMO “Ilinden” (which is an organization existing separately from ours). In some cases, the named party was "VMRO OMO Ilinden", "VMRO Ilinden" or other variations. The party’s lawyer requested the chance to examine the applications offered in evidence in order to determine their authenticity but this request was also denied.
Another offence of the law was pointed out that Stoyan Mechkarov who lives in London had become a member of the party, despite the fact that he is a Bulgarian citizen.
Also presented as evidence were two orders from the prosecutors of the towns of Sandanski and Goce Delchev for an investigation of alleged payments or other violations in completing the applications for party membership. One of them was based on a complaint from the ultra-nationalistic VMRO-BND for which the only source were publications in the press during the mass media campaign to smear our party. Both of them had an authorized period for investigation which had expired a long time before the current trial of the court (i.e. October 18, 2006) (although the results of these investigations were not presented as evidence as according to the party source, those mentioned had not proved any violations of the law and that is why they were not presented in the court).
The Prosecution did not present any evidence that payments were made to attract party members and neither denied the total number of the members (almost 6,000), nor complained against the constitution of the party. Instead, the complaints were aimed at the foundation committee and insisting that it lacked the required quorum (the required minimum number of people is 500).
The decisions of the Court in Strasbourg (ECHR) were not mentioned at all in the current proceeding before the Court. The court denied all of the requests of the lawyer of the party, even his plea to be given extra time to present more evidence, but accepted all “evidence” and demands of the Prosecution and gave a start of the trial which means that in 14 days ( before November 1, 2006) a decision will be rendered.
Eventually the Prosecutor declared that OMO “Ilinden” - PIRIN had violated Article 11 from the Charter of Human Rights - e.g. the rights of the citizens to create their own parties and organizations and added that as ground for denial of the registration. The Prosecution declared in front of the press that there were underage members on the party lists but at first their number stated was uncertain, then, according to the Prosecution only three were found to be underage.
The press showed an interesting change in its behavior. They took pictures of the empty room, the lawyer and the representatives of PIRIN (without asking them for their permission to do so) but at the end of the meeting they took statements only from the Prosecutor but not from any representatives of the party. The news accounts of “many errors in the documents” were published the same afternoon and included a great number of statements with politicians while nobody interviewed the Party's press officer to hear the other side of the story.
Here are some of the published opinions only two hours later:
The Regional Coordinator, fourth in influence in the Bulgarian parliamentary party “Ataka”(“Attack”) stated on the radio that the leaders of OMO “Ilinden “- PIRIN should be jailed. “We from “Attack” in the Blagoevgrad region will do everything possible to not permit the registration of OMO Ilinden PIRIN.”
The MP from VMRO BND Boris Yachev: “This is the normal way to stop such people . If this party is registered this will put the government in a dangerous position when so many other formations will ask for registration as well” and a many applications for registration of different minority parties could be expected.
The MP of DSB (Democrats for Free Bulgaria) from Blagoevgrad region Eliana Maseva: “I agree that if the government would allow the registration of separatist organizations it will put the state in a dangerous position affecting national security. Their formation, clearly, is anti-constitutional.”
The MP from NDSV (a party in the current government) Snezhana Grozdilova for Blagoevgrad region: “it is normal to expect such developments, keeping in mind that all of us in Pirin Macedonia witnessed irregular gathering of signatures from almost illiterate or illiterate citizens.”
The MP of ODS in Pirin Macedonia Yasen Popvasilev: “Such a party in Bulgaria shouldn't exist.”
According to the opinion of the party’s lawyer (Yonko Grozev from the Bulgarian Helsinki committee) the development of the trial does not leave any current hope for registration of the party. “I think that our chances for being registered without international intervention is less than 5 %.”
Intervention from the European institutions is our only hope to defend the right of association in Bulgaria. The moment is critical because if the trial goes to the Supreme Court it will not be assigned a time for response and the party could stay without a registration for years.
It is remarkable the way we have been treated, in light of our status as a party-observer in EFA. The presence of an observer in the trial could also have a positive effect.
All of the above seems to be an indirect way of replying to the verdict of ECHR in Strasbourg that ruled Bulgaria is in violation of our human rights.
We turn to you for help to make everything possible for implementing the human rights and democratic principals in Bulgaria.
With kind regards,
The Leadership of OMO Ilinden PIRIN