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Bulgarian Ethnic Model. A Pragmatical National Version of the Multiethnic Dialog

Part II

Bulgarian Ethnic Minorities' Classification

    The level of the minorities' involvement in the political power depends very closely of the manner those groups are accepted by the majority or on how they are perceived by the public opinion. Logically, this needs specification of the minorities' outlines and description of their original profile as it is drawn by people psychological instinct. This type of analytical approach requests an elaboration of national classification vision. Indeed, its background remains quite subjective and it is directly related to the nature of the preferred methodological approach. As political science researcher I lean to the superiority of political tools and characteristics. The criteria that I focus on are connected implicitly or explicitly with the notion ethnic group considered as political body or within the dichotomy "object-subject". Bearing in mind the above mentioned issues I seek to explain the complex matter called "ethnic tolerance" through its identification with the notion of "political loyalty" to the State. As part of the so-called "Old Nations-States" in Europe the appropriate detailed criteria of Bulgarian vision of Statehood tradition is imposed and gradually institutionalized only by the leading ethnos (Bulgarians). Within the framework of this logic we distinguish the following components of the Bulgarian ethnic evaluation approach for the "others" or in short, for the ethnic minorities living centuries ago on the Bulgarian territory:

  1. The number of the group participants' is recommended to be more than 15000. This circumstance transforms the real object of public consideration into a presumptive political subject within the internal political game. The mentioned figure had been pointed up resulting from the specificity of the local electoral system. The minorities felt down this level have to satisfy with the role of a democratic decor. As a rule, they extremely mobilize the efforts aiming to develop of their cultural identity;
  2. The confession seems concealed and "instinctive" characteristic, but the majority gives an impetus to it because Bulgarian public opinion often does not make difference between ethnicity and religion. Subconsciously, the Bulgarian majority identifies the Orthodox Church institution with the State and the Statehood tradition because of its decisive role for strengthening Bulgarian State building process during the centuries. This is available especially during the Ottoman rule;xv
  3. The common historical destiny is another quite important instinctive evaluative mark for proving a political loyalty towards the Bulgarian State. In short, it may be measured on the both sides:

    D. The existence of presumptive Motherland plays the role of latent component, which influence remains quite implicit and usually presumes wisdom, self-discipline and instinctive respect for State as political institution and factor for in-group mobilization. It is worthy to be considered also as educative behavioral imperative element for appropriate collective political culture. So, we witness a large-scale diversity of comportment of the main minority communities in Bulgaria in regard to State affiliation feelings. The Turks are one of the most State related ethnic groups because they are still dreaming about their "an awatan" (the big Ottoman Empire). The Armenians remain instinctively affiliated with their martyr Motherland Armenia, the Jews - with martyr State Israel, while the Roma community had never built their own State. The last circumstance is one of the main reasons for the weak capability of social integration of the Gypsy community.

    Following up the logic of the above mentioned methodological classification I guess the following approximate minority communities' scheme with stipulation of presumptive deviation resulting in limited subjective mistake of the author approach:

  1. The "invisible" or the most integrated minorities in Bulgarian society are the Greeks, the Karakachans, the Vlachs and the Aromanians. The Bulgarian researcher G. Valchanova called them the "nonestablished minorities". They benefit of this specific status resulting from different reasons and circumstances. Aiming to facilitate our analysis the above mentioned minority communities are going to be considered in two separate interdependent groups:

    A. On some extent, the Greeks and the Karakachans may be perceived as a monolith minority group because both of them are Greek speaking. Meanwhile, each one is issued from diverse social ambience and this circumstance influence their quite different social and political behaviour. The Greeks are town living community and their most acceptable characteristic is "identity without minority". According to the census in 1992 4930 Bulgarian citizens declared themselves Greeks.xvi It seems that the Greeks regard to the ethnic identity as a personal choice, while the minority status remains assessed as "social and cultural construction with appropriate public and political consequences". May be they did not establish their own cultural associations or similar organizations because the notion "minority" is premise for direct self-identification as "second hand" people in the country. Finally, the Greeks claim a minority status "outside" (in Greece), while they concealed it "inside" (in Bulgaria).
    The Karakachans' number is similar to the Greeks' one. According to the mentioned census there are 5144 Karakachans in Bulgaria. In the mean time, some scholars pretend that they are approximately 10 - 12 thousands. Unlike the previous community, they live in the mountain areas, predominantly in the villages.xvii As a whole, this community reveals itself as most structured and self-manifested as minority. Perhaps the in-group cohesive feelings are alimented by the nomad origin and quite different style of life in comparison with the rest mountain population in Bulgaria - Turks, Pomaks and Bulgarians. The Karakachan ethnic identification is threefold: Karakachans - Greeks (they pretend to be the true Greeks) - Bulgarians. The identical Orthodox religion, the long-term coexistence and the complexity of inferiority in regard to Bulgarian majority activate extremely the concerned ethnic group within the framework of their own mobilization potential and the level of involvement in the national political life. In 1991 Cultural and Enlightenment Association of Karakachans in Bulgaria was established in Sliven. It grew up quickly and in 1995 was renamed in Federation because it ramified in 15 branches around the biggest Karakachan center. It is curious that the family name of Karakachanov (relative to the Karakachans) is presented widely within Bulgarian political elite. The leaders of two of the most important local political parties are holders of Karakachanov's name.xviii

    B. The Aromanians and the Vlachs ate another couple of ethnic minority groups related to neighboring country of Bulgaria, the case of Romania. It seems that between the both mentioned communities exists identical relationship. The Aromanians are rural issued people. Usually, they remain spread throughout the country resulting from the nomad issue, while the Vlachs are predominantly concentrated in towns, beside the river Danube, essentially in Vidin. According to the census in 1992, 2491 persons declared themselves Aromanians among 7650 persons, who are Romanian speaking (0,09%). Toma Kiurkchiev, the President of Aromanian association stepped towards a formal cohesion with the organization of the Vlachs. The both structures aim to protect the cultural identity through establishment of Romanian school in Sofia. In the same time, the Aromanian association started to publish the journal "Tempul" and affiliated the Federation of European Ethnic Communities, based in Fleiburg, Germany. As far as the Vlachs are concerned their number remains quite inexact. In 1992 the Vlachs are 5159 and they manifest themselves as one of the most integrated ethnic groups within Bulgarian society. The Vlachs do not consider the weddings with Bulgarian as "mixed" unlike the weddings with the Gypsies or the Turks. In the same time, the old generation attempts to conserve Romanian language practice. When someone ask them "Who are you?" they answer "We are Bulgarians, but we know (we speak) another language". The Vlachs' Association established in 1991 conducts the activities of the ethnic group in question. They are oriented towards the maintenance and the improvement of the cultural identity and heritage.


    2. The group of the so-called "satellite" minorities plays the role of background or separation line between the big ethnoses Bulgarians and Turks and between the two big religious communities in the country - the Orthodox Christianity and the Sunni Islam. This group is quite varied by including in it Tartars, Pomaks (Bulgarian Muslims) and Gagaouzes.

  1. The Gagaouzes are the smallest, but the most complicated community from ethno-cultural point of view. According to the census in 1994 they are 1478 persons recognized themselves as Gagaouzes in Northeast Bulgaria. The group corresponds to 0,01% of the total population. Simultaneity, they are speaking one of the Turkish dialects in the country and confess Orthodox Christianity. It seems that the religious mark prevails over the language because they always attempt to focus on the Christian cult within Bulgarian society. Even some members of the community comport and declare themselves as Bulgarian nationalists after their involvement in BSP and UDF activists' ranges. Curiously, MRF do not possess supporters among Gagaouze group and Turkey is not their favorite destination for migration.

  2. The Tartar community is leaning to the Turkish community in the country. Usually, they are attracted intellectually and organizationally by their political party, MRF. The family "Tatarlu" is frequent among the MRF' activists lists.xix According to the census in 1992 they are 4515 persons, who consider themselves as part of the ethnic group in question. It exists some kind of contradiction between Bulgarian public opinion perception and Turkish evaluation of the Tartars. As far as they are Muslim confession and their language is derived from the local Turkish dialects, Turks regard them as "bad quality Turks", while Bulgarians classify them instinctively as Turkish "notability" because most of them are well educated and represent part of the local Turkish elite. In 1993 Tartars in Bulgaria established the Cultural and Educative Association "Assabay", based in Silistra (Northeast Bulgaria).

  3. The Pomaks are the biggest minority community among the "satellite" group, but they remain the most unidentified and most difficult for studying. In general, they are mountain living people spread throughout five SEE countries. There is not census concerning the number of Pomak community because usually they are included within other ethnic and/or religious groups. Par example in Bulgaria Pomaks are part of the 83% of ethnic Bulgarians, but in the same time they are considered as inseparable part of the 13% Muslims in the country. According to unofficial statistics the total number of this group is approximately 500 000. Its presence in SEE context is as follow: Albania - between 80 000 and 120 000, Greece - 40 000, Macedonia - 40 000, Bulgaria - between 150 000 and 200 000 and Turkey - between 100 000 and 200 000.xx

    The community establishment and the self-identification process are quite difficult because of the several theories of Pomak roots (issued from Helenizied Thracians, Arabs, Turks, Persians, ethnic Slavics, etc…). After the political changes in 1989 and during the process of overcoming the consequences of the so called "revival process" Pomaks fell down in the lowest scale social groups of Bulgarian society. The Pomak pre-industrial social origin and the isolationist mountain style of life have explained their weak capability of adaptation to market economy conditions. For sure, this community was ruined, the average of unemployment in Pomak districts (Smolian, Lovech and Blagoevgrad) are higher unlike the rest of the country. The first reaction of the community is the attempt for establishment of its own political subject by proclamation of separate Pomak ethnos. In 1992 Kamen Burov found the Democratic Party of Labor (DPR), but he failed in mobilization of the numerous community. In 1994 DPL was supported only by 24 000 votes, approximately 0,1% of the total votes.xxi It appears that the feelings of inferiority are most expressive among the Pomaks due to their obvious demonstration of collective political satellitism. Par example, usually they support the dominant regional political party: in Lovech - BSP, in Smolian - MRF and in Blagoevgrad - UDF. On 17 June 2001 in the parliamentary elections the Pomaks massively voted for the ex-monarch Simeon II.
    Nevertheless, we witness permanent endeavors for distinguishing from the two leading ethnic groups in the country. "Here is not Bulgaria, but Pomakia", some demonstrators chanted slogans in the town of Iakoruda (district of Smolian) for refusing the government proposal to build there hospital for drug addicts treatment. Pomaks are quite persistent for their religious independence in front of the Turks. In 1993 they asked for establishment of second Chief Mufti institution, based in Smolian because of the Turkish traditional dominance in it. After the election of Mustafa Hadji in 1998 as Chief Mufti they abandoned this initiative because he was the first Pomak representative in the Bulgarian Chief Mufti institution. On March 2001 Smolian Pomaks renewed the claim after Mustafa Hadji has been shifted resulting from a doubtful election.


    3. Macedonians in Bulgaria have to be considered as a very particular minority group. They may be called "rebel minority" because they attempt to identify themselves through permanent clashes with the State. Bearing in mind the contradictory historical relationship with the neighbor Macedonia and the followed upset relations with the contemporary F.Y.R.O.M it is logical to understanding Bulgarian obstinacy for Macedonian minority recognition. According to the 1992 census 10 thousands declared themselves Macedonians, while 9 years later (according to the 2001 census) this community decreased its number to one thousand.

    On June 1992 was registrated the first Macedonian political organization - TMO "Ilinden", but later it was canceled after the Chief Prosecutor Ivan Tatarchev intervention. In 1998 its registration was renewed under the name of OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN and in 1999 its candidates for mayors and communal advisers were supported by approximately 3 000 votes. On April 2000 the political party in question has been prohibited by the Constitutional Court.
    The leadership of the forbidden political organization is still publishing several newspapers in the both languages, but it has to resist very strongly to the police counteraction and the violent opposition of VMRO activists. By the way, VMRO ideology is really constructed as alternative of OMO Idinden- PIRIN. Both of them are issued from the district of Blagoevgrad, but VMRO is claiming Macedonia for Bulgarians, while OMO - the Southwest part of Bulgaria for Macedonians.

    The "perceived minorities" are those ethnic communities in the country, which are really specified and imagined by the public opinion as minorities. The groups under consideration as the most numerous and important may be separate in two subgroups in reference to the domestic instinctive evaluation or measuring the sensitive majority-minority relationship. In the first subgroup are included the so-called "positive minorities", whose involvement in the power remain more representative than their real number. Thus, it exists discrepancy between the real presence in the society and the participation in the diverse levels of the public administration. I mean Armenians and Jews, who are favorite for varied positions in Bulgarian executive, legislative, judiciary branches and the local administration.


  1. Bulgaria accommodated several Armenian waves that emigrated from Armenia through the Ottoman Empire. The first wave arrived by the end of 19-th century after Turkish genocide in West Armenia. The last human wave happened about 1920 when Bulgarian ethnologists consider Armenian local Diaspora definitively structured and organized. Until 1944 Bulgarian Armenians set up three political parties, independent Church institution, numerous charity associations, 50 periodicals, sport and scout organizations. They remained concentrated only in the biggest Bulgarian agglomerations - Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Russe, Shumen, etc…Actually, the Armenian community, which number is estimated about 15 000 renewed the above mentioned activities. As a whole, its representatives are well educated and they are involved in the diverse groups of Bulgarian intellectuals. Gradually Armenian community reestablished the activities of Panarmenian Charity Association "Parekordzagan", Armenian Subsidiary Union "HOM", Panarmenian Sports Association (Scout), Club "Modern Armenian History", etc… In 1989 the Armenian high school was reopened in Plovdiv. In 1995 faculty of Armenian philology was established within Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski". Three bilingual newspapers (Armenian and Bulgarian) are published in Sofia, Plovdiv and Burgas.
  2.     The Armenian community is the widest presented ethnic minority in the Bulgarian post-Communist political institutions. As a matter in fact, they are permanently attending at the diverse levels of the legislative, executive and judiciary branch. In 1994 in Bulgaria was appointed the first lady Prime-minister Reneta Indjova, Armenian roots.

  3. The local Jewish community occupied an important place in Bulgarian modern history. Bulgaria remained the sole European country that rescued its Jewish minority during the Second World War from the Nazi deportation. This heroically act of Bulgarian State and society urged on the integration of the Jews and their followed involvement in the power. Most of them shared left political ideas persecuted by Bulgarian pronazi government prior to 1944. According to census in 1992 Jewish minority in the country included 3 461 persons. In the same time, the Jewish organization in Bulgaria claim that 6 000 persons declare themselves Jews. There is a third figural proposal concerning the community of the Bulgarian Jews. The representative of the Jewish Agency suggests that 10 000 Bulgarians may ask for Israeli citizenship according to the Israeli law for repatriation. Bulgarian Jewish minority is small number, but well organized and structured. With foreign assistance Sofia Synagogue, the biggest Synagogue in SEE was restored and now is normally functioning. In 1989 after the political changes in Bulgaria the local Jewish organization fell down in schismatic period influenced by the radical ideological contradictions of the Bulgarian post-Communist society. The establishment of "Zion" challenged the traditional existing organization "Shalom". The first claimed to represent the democratically thinking Jews in Bulgaria. It appears that the internal misunderstandings were quickly overcoming because "Shalom" remained accepted by the majority of Bulgarian Jews as their respectable representative.

  4. The Roma and the Turk communities in Bulgaria are considered as the real minority groups in the country that local ethnic majority and the State have to make sensitive efforts to solve their specific problems. Their integration in the society remained one of the most crucial challenges towards the peace and the prosperity of post-totalitarian Bulgaria. The international public opinion also urged the necessity of appropriate work by means of the resolving the problems, especially of the above mentioned minorities. On August 1999 American Congress made an official statement that "US government will encourage the gradual integration of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria". On 7 March 2001 Robin Cock, British Foreign Minister notified his Bulgarian colleague Nadejda Mihailova that he is impressed by the successful manner to solve the ethnic problems".xxii     The Roma community is the most heterogeneous minority group. The leading Bulgarian Romanologists like B. Aleksiev, E. Marushiakova, I. Tomova, etc… share the opinion that the notion "community" in this case is quite hypothetical because the in-group differences are graver than the discrepancy between the Gypsies and the other locally presented ethnic groups. Quite varied subgroups emerged over the wide Gypsy community resulting from gradually strengthened in-group characterological differences like religion (Muslims, Orthodox, Protestants, Jews, etc…), mother tongue (wide spectrum of Roma dialects, Turkish, Bulgarian, Vlachian, etc…), traditional occupation, manner of settlement, style of life, etc…

    Another very contested point concerning Roma minority is its exact number. The census and the academic community ensure that all statistics remain inexact due to the identification process setbacks. In 1992 according to the census 313 326 persons declared themselves Romas. In 1994 according to "unofficial data" of the Ministry of Interior and local administration sources the number of the Gypsies is 577000 or 6, 45% of the total population. According to the latest census in 2001 the Gypsy community in the country is 370 000. It means that its number increased from 3,7% to 4,3% of the total population. In the mean time, French researcher Jean-Pierre Liegeois who initiated in 1998 separate census within Bulgarian Romas stressed that their number has to be evaluating between 700 000 and 800 000 persons. Most of them prefer to declare themselves Bulgarians, Turks and Vlachs because of the low social status that benefits the local Gypsy community.xxiii
    Additionally, there are some data proving the mentioned Roma community heterogeneity: 52% - urban against 48% rural population, extremely positive growth rates in comparison with the other ethnic groups - + 3% against - 5,1% (for Bulgarians), religion - 44% Orthodox Christian, 15%-Protestants and 39%-Muslims.xxiv
    Nevertheless, it seems that during the last 4-5 years the minority in question endeavors to identify itself most effectively. This activity is realized on the both levels: cultural and political. The numerous associations and foundations like Democratic Union "Roma", Roma Community Council "Kupate", United Roma Association, Roma Confederation in Bulgaria, Roma Solidarity, etc…aim to revival Gypsy cultural originality. They plan to reestablish the Roma theatre closed down in 1960, to reanimate the artistic activities of Roma writers and poets like Sali Imbahim, V. Chaprazov, G. Parushev, M. Gueorguiev, etc…

    Bulgarian Gypsies effort to consolidate them as monolith group on the political level by imitation of the Turk community experience. They are already convinced that Bulgarian post-totalitarian State would not solve their specific problems. Only independent Gypsy political subject may step towards acceptable involvement of the community in the State and in the society. Being on late, Roma founded several political parties. The main political gatherings are Free Bulgaria, Euroroma, Rodoliubie, Party of Democratic Prosperity, 10-th of April, etc… In 1999 party Free Bulgaria was supported by 89 000 votes and played decisive role for the regional elections in several big Bulgarian agglomeration - Pleven, Lom, Pazardjik, etc… Bearing in mind the in-group heterogeneity, the family and the regional contradictions the Bulgarian Gypsies would not build significant political subject. So, their social problems will continue to be solved through ideological alternatives of the main political forces in the country - UDF, BSP, MRF and the new rising promonarchy coalition of the ex-monarch Simeon II. The above mentioned circumstances do not predict forthcoming improvement of Bulgarian Gypsies' situation.xxv
    The Turks are holders and initiators of the so-called "Bulgarian Ethnic Model". Their leader Ahmed Dogan materialized his personal contribution (on both practical and theoretical levels) for the installation of climate of peaceful coexistence between the two big ethnic groups in the country - Bulgarians and Turks. As a whole, the self-identification feelings and the consolidation process of the Turkish minority goes ahead through surmounting the consequences of the so-called "revival process". Notwithstanding, the process of the original Turkish names' restoration is not finished yet. On March 2001, the Bulgarian parliament voted law for administrative procedure for names' shiftingxxvi according to the subjective wish. It is easier and faster and does not create conditions for bureaucratic pressure upon the opted personal variant.

    According to the census in 1992 Turkish community was 800 000, while in 2001 its number decreased in 745 000. It seems that because of the shrinking situation in the country the annual average of immigrant flux towards Turkey is between 20 000 and 50 000. In the same time, after the demolishing earthquake in 1999 in Turkey and after the declaration of the European Union readiness for conceal Bulgaria of the negative Shenguen visa list, we witness the inverse tendency of migration.xxvii So, the easy acceptance of immigration act of Bulgarian Turks facilitates the transformation of the conscience of those people in twofold internal "ego". They dream about the "an alwatan"xxviii, but once arrived over there they are nostalgic about their real Motherland, Bulgaria. Most of them say: "We are Turks in Bulgaria and Bulgarians in Turkey". The majority in the both countries is still regarding them as the "others". This hypothesis is proved by the fact that the Bulgarian Turks remain located in compact groups in the both countries: in Bulgaria - Southeast (Kardjali) and Northeast (Shumen, Razgrad, Silistra), while in Turkey they settled Bursa, Izmir and Istanbul.
    Bulgarian Turks are the most streamlined minority group. They are well organized and very disciplined community that established on 4 January 1990 its own political party - the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. The schismatic movements initiated by the main political forces (UDF and BSP) remained unsuccessful. MRF demonstrated itself as the third political party and guarantee for peaceful political transition process in Bulgaria. The attractiveness of MRF for Bulgarian Turks does not consist only the unquestionable personality of the unchangeable Ahmed Dogan (despite some MRF' members make him charismatic), but the circumstance that they do not believe to the Bulgarian State. The Turks are 8,3 % and the Muslims - 13% of the total population. In the mean time, they are practically ignored within State governance process and respectively in the recruitment of high administration personnel. As a matter in fact, they are rejected from the executive and the judicial branches, despite MRF formed Bulgarian executive in 1992 within governing coalition with BSP. The independent political subject is considered as the most effective way for the minority involvement in the State institutions.


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Notes - Part II


xv.After the political changes in 1989, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church felt into most serious internal crisis. In 1990 a schismatic Holy Synod appeared by contesting the Patriarch Maxim leadership. The successive governments cooperated with both of them according to the political criteria.Back

xvi.97% - town living population against 3% - rural population;Back

xvii.40% - town living population against 60% - rural population;Back

xviii.Krassimir Karakachanov - VMRO (Enlightened Nationalists) and Alexander Karakachanov - the Green Party;Back

xix.One of the most famous activists of MRF, close collaborator of the leader Ahmed Dogan and permanently elected with MRF' lists deputy is Professor Ibrahim Tatarlu.Back

xx.Bulgarian scholar M. Apostolov published the statistics about the religious minorities in the Balkans in Nationalities Papers, V. 25, 1998.Back

xxi.The aims and the program of the so-called Pomak political party had been published in the journal "Standard" N 251, 25 May 1993.Back

xxii.For more details see the US Congress' statement in the newspaper "Trud", 25August, 2000 and statement of Foreign Office in Bulgarian newspaper "Trud", 8, March 2001;Back

xxiii.For more details see "Balkan Gypsies", P.U.F., J.P. Liegeois, 1998;Back

xxiv.For more details see I.Tomova in "The Romas" in "Communities and Identifications in Bulgaria", Sofia, 1998;Back

xxv.The continuing shrinking situation was confirmed by the consecutive migration waves to Norway and Belgium in July-August 2001;Back

xxvi.Instead of the bureaucratic judiciary procedure;Back

xxvii.Indeed, Bulgaria felt down from the Shengen negative visa list on 20 April, 2001;Back

xxviii.The Great Turkey;Back