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

Associate Professor Vladimir Chukov, Ph D

Part I


    During the last two years the Bulgarian Ethnic Model (BEM) got a footing in the society and imposed itself as a special political theory within the Bulgarian political agenda. It was innovated by Bulgarian society and its political practice aiming to find the appropriate long-term answer concerning the implementation of one of the most important aspects of the internal national consents. BEM may be considered as political alternative or a multitude of political principles and characteristics that predominantly include hypothetical structural components. It aims to surmount the intellectual Communist inheritance, the internal confessional differentiation and the presumptive ethnic confrontation. On the other side, BEM became quite relevant and important intellectual product of Bulgarian post-Communist political thought. Really it may be qualified as an impressive ramification of Bulgarian contemporary elitism.
    According to the latest ethnologic research, about 50 different ethnic groups coexist in the country.i Therefore, the ongoing civilized competition for the power between the representatives of this ethnic amalgam has to extract democratic rules admissible for everybody. BEM may be characterized as crisis theory. Its impact is noticeable during the period of State weakness and social insecurity such as has to be perceived the period of political and economic posttotalitarian transition.ii In Bulgaria, the overall internal crisis was pushed forward by the so called "revival process" consequences, which remain the gravest disgrace of the Bulgarian totalitarian State in the field of its multiethnic policy.iii At the same time, in 1989 BEM was set forth especially by the political organization of Bulgarian Turks (Movement for Rights and Freedoms) 10 years after the local radical political shifts. It yielded and demonstrated symptomatic political trends and sincere efforts to reach a proposed ethnic harmony with convenient practical consequences. BEM remains a theoretical attempt to establish a sustainable framework of the Bulgarian internal ethnic concert.
    Firstly, at this moment, it plays a very important role for the mobilization of agents enabling to build a specific Balkan matrix of State of social welfare. Despite this, the internal mechanisms of BEM implementation left many of the ethnic problems unsolved.
    Secondly, BEM gradually crept into permanently renewed national ideal framework. On the eve of the new century, Bulgarian public opinion identified full membership in the European Union and NATO, popularized by the media like "the immanent Euroatlantic orientation", as part of the post-Communist national interests transformed in respective foreign policy goals. An explicit proof of the external aspects of BEM existence was Bulgarian State fall out of Shengen negative visa list on 31.11.2000 and the approval of Bulgarian involvement in EU structures at EU Nice summit on 15.12.2000.iv
    Meanwhile, the Communist prejudices remained quite influential within the local economic system background. As far as the maintenance of the local ethnic balance is concerned the respective clashes were and are still resulting from the Balkan mentality, the people's psychology and the persistent value system. Thus, the reasons for the ongoing ethnic tensions in Bulgaria acquire cyclic and long-term character and they cannot be solved by administrative or legislative measures. I share Professor Bojidar Dimitrov's opinion that "the source of the ethnic intolerance has to be found in the specific and unstable emotional background appropriate to all Balkan nations". So, the Bulgarian ethnic amalgam evolved its own formula for sustainable in-group harmony. BEM is multitude of harmonized rules that determine the multi-level ethnic rank within the big Bulgarian chorus. Unfortunately, we may hear permanently false voices and insincere songs due to the violation to the legitimated political framework. As a rule, the standards of ethnic co-existence and harmony have to be borrowed from the existing European principles and law in the field of the collective human rights' system.

Philosophy of minorities

    Every nation, prior to establishing its own and unique formula of internal ethnic concert has to develop a relevant and appropriate minority philosophy. In outline, it issues from the specific manner of mental and logic expression, the way of self-assessment, the evaluation of the "others", the level of destructive psychological adjustments such as frustration potential, etc…v The minority philosophy as an aspect of the political culture theory is important and long-term factor as much as it focuses on and encompasses the appropriate behavioral deviations, which describe this philosophy as a strictly national doctrine. Firstly, it will entail the general features and the minority group outlines determination. In short, it has to specify the perception process characteristics and / or the predisposition of the mutual assessment processes between the different ethnic groups. Secondly, as a whole, I guess that ethnic subject such is the appropriate community becomes a real object of assessment (positive or negative) by the other participating subjects. It permanently attracts their attention and imposes their consideration by provoking some interactions with political consequences. Thus, the political assessment of the ethnic groups as subjects enabling to initiate diverse social processes remains the most important characteristic, because they introduce themselves as part of the post-Communist system's institutional factor. Indeed, the political competition is implemented only by subjects, whose outlines is enough distinguishable and perceptible for the interacting social ambience. The electoral process may be qualified as the most contrasting collective activity in comparison with the other derived public processes - economic, legal, demographic, social, cultural, etc… Quite obviously, the political contact and relationship preserve permanent features and marks, while the social and cultural interacts generate a long-term resonance and vaguely distinguishable characteristics.
    An universal formula for ethnic groups' political determination does not exist. Although we deal with comparative political science quantities, which generally yield to respective mathematical structural expressions, I think that minorities' philosophy remains an absolutely exceptional system of unique principles. The empirical data cannot be generalized. The uniqueness of this presumptive theory is resulting from its strictly national character and community conservatism. Each attempt for creating a perfect algebra equation, which pretends to measure ethnic group internal and external relationship or figuring up minorities' theory, is senseless. Notwithstanding, as far as the ethnic group profile is specified by the local political life's customs and especially by the democratic game rules, such a theoretical matrix remains an academic challenge for the appropriate national political science school. Therefore, Dimitar Loudjev, leader of the Liberal party "New Choice"vi stated that "the ethnic group's dimensions take shape by the electoral system specificity, which is borrowed from the local traditions and experience". Indeed, we have to clarify that the politician in question adjusts the notion of ethnic group in reference to its political representation. He identifies the ethnic group with "political representation unit" bearing in mind the idea of minimal threshold of national political influence.
    So, we have to clarify two focal points in regard to the above mentioned:

  1. Specification of the notion of Bulgarian ethnic group within the national political, legal and electoral framework;
  2. Claryfying the world experience of modeling the ethnic problems solution emphasizing the minorities' involvement in the political power as an inseparable process of the proposed ethnic pattern.

    Firstly, except the first democratic elections in 1990 Bulgarian society adopted proportional representative electoral system, i.e. competition between political party lists for the legislative power. It seems the better way for most representative presence of the multitude of the different groups in the country, including the ethnic ones. According to the Constitution, voted in 1991, approximately 6,2 millions voters choose 240 deputies.vii It makes approximately 25 000 votes for one parliamentary seat. In addition, the irregular distribution of the remainder votes (according to the O'Daunt method) reshapes the real figure content of the so called "political representation unit".viii The requested number of voters for one Bulgarian parliamentary seat is between 16 000 and 29 000 votes. Of course, it varies within the different constituencies. As a matter in fact, the big Bulgarian minorities' groups (Turks, Gypsies and Pomaks) are presented in those constituencies where the threshold is higher. So, in taking under consideration Bulgarian political traditions and electoral realities and in approving the most democratic (or lower) threshold of quantitative data of eventual political unit, I am leaning to accept the limit of 15 000 persons declaring themselves as belonging to one separate ethnos. In short, to be in order to be more convincible and more clear in illustrating the relationship in question I will draw the following scheme:

  1. Constitution (240 deputies);
  2. Proportional electoral system (6,2 millions voters);
  3. 15 000 to 29 000 votes for one parliamentary seat;
  4. 15 000 persons for one political representation unit;
  5. Equation of the notion ethnic presence with the notion political representation;
  6. 15 000 persons as lower threshold for ethnic group existence in Bulgaria.

    As far as the ethnic minorities, which fall out of the mentioned scheme or somehow present exception within the above drawn principles, are concerned, their involvement will be detailed later. Notwithstanding, their number is quite important and of course has to be the object of our research.
    Second major issue concerning the democratic involvement of the ethnoses focuses on the political process' modeling operation. As each academic research activity, its prognostic modeling component is so urgent as it is the empirical information and the ensuing offspring. Therefore, the models of ethnic problem solution approved by the international practice may be summarized on both theoretical and pragmatic levels. They represent, themselves, two megapatterns extracted by the diverse international political traditions and practices. The multitude of aspects, diversification and exceptions do not compromise their occurrence and practical importance. Logically, the appropriate social and political data remains always difficult to be generalized. Despite the above mentioned, we observe two "exact" models, which are additionally accompanied and hereby explained by hybrid or transitional patterns:
    1. The "Soviet" model lies stress upon the ethnicity as a leading factor for Statehood coherence building and for internal dialogs background. It requires every ethnic subject or quasiethnic community imperatively builds its own state or appropriate substate political association. Par example during the Soviet era the Russian nation formally unified around it 14 other nations. In practice, the Russian authorities executed the power upon them. They from their part, disposed own national state structures, called "united republics". On the third level within this hierarchic pyramid a dozen of ethnos had acquired public legal structural expressions called "autonomous republics". On the forth level there were the "autonomous districts" (kraishta), the majority of them set up as "subjects of the Russian Federation". Thereby, the State building process in question did not represent union of political nations, but multilevel ethnic hierarchy. The process of ethnic self-determination had been politically exaggerated, gradually became an end of it and logically reincarnated an obvious political senselessness. The ethnic union transforms itself in ethnoseparatism and generates ethnic clashes.ix
    The Soviet model was based on extreme "ethnization" of the political processes. The concept of the ethnic political hierarchy is the most defective point of the a.m. theoretical pattern. So, the ethnic presence on the territory within the multiethnic State, as the USSR case was and as Russian Federation case is now, argues the public legal possession of this territory. The public legal possession of the territory by the ethnos in question motives the legal exertion of its public power. This public law case conducts explicitly to the ethnic conflicts and describes the history of the ethnic wars. Therefore, the existing political borders in the Caucasian region (Chechenia - Dagestan, Azarbeidjan - Armenia, Georgia - Abhazia and/or Ossetia, etc…) can not be accepted as admissible and "justified" by the both sides.
    The Soviet-Russian model is the best sample of the "old States-Nations" ethnic relationship building. It is not exception because in principle it corresponds to all States-Nations of the Old Continent with ancient and medieval history. All states that benefited of more than one-millenium political existence had been created by State building ethnos. Bulgarian political science expert Miroslav Popov called it "political nation" and scheduled its modern rising between the 17-th and 18-th century. An alternative terminological expression of this political subject is the so-called "titular nation". So, the titular nation elaborated its own criteria of political loyalty.x Instinctively, the leading ethnos transformed this kind of political evaluation reflex into perception system of the other non-titular nations and gradually into behavioral reflex and interacting instincts called "ethnic tolerance". The following presumptive logical schema aims to clarify the suggested idea:

  1. Old State-Nation body (not less than a millenium political existence);
  2. Political Nation / Titular Nation (Leading ethnos);
  3. Elaboration of specific Statehood criteria;
  4. Adaptation of the above mentioned criteria into criteria system of political loyalty;
  5. Equation of the notion political loyalty with the notion ethnic tolerance;
  6. Marginalization (intolerance) of the ethnic groups that do not demonstrate acceptance of the specific Statehood criteria.

    Finally, we may generalize the characteristics of the above drown scheme as Paneuropean as much as approximately all leading modern European States benefited of similar national historical destiny. Therefore, we can rename the concerned national ethnic pattern as European or continental. It encompasses a large diversity of deviations issued from different objective and subjective factors.
    The Anglo-Saxon model became the opposite theoretical pattern in comparison with the precedent one. It is appropriate to the so-called "new nations" as far as Britain exported her specific State building vision throughout the vast British colonial Empire that inherited the States of the Commonwealth. It seems that the American ethnonational State establishment case remains quite significant because of the revolutionary development circumstances and the originality of the political system in place. A federalization process of territorial communities, not of separate ethnic groups-subjects had been implemented in the USA. So, the ethnic identity turns into matter of personal option and it concerns only the citizen himself, not the State. Par example Bulgarian and Tunisian immigrants in USA, American passport holders benefit of the same rights and freedoms. After the "Affirmative Action" approval in 1964 the law guarantees the formal equality. Thus, the ethnic identity does not become source of privileges in the American society. In the same time, the Anglo-Saxon culture and values remain dominant, but the Anglo-Saxons did not build some kind of "integrated community". The same in-group building process principles are available for the Lebanese, Chinese, Italian, etc… communities within the American society.
    We distinguish an obvious discrepancy between the both mentioned theoretical patterns. The Soviet-Russian (or the continental, including the Balkan) ethnic model conceives the public relationship not as relationship between free and equal citizens towards the political power, but as relationship between ethnic groups, respectively their representatives towards the State. Therefore, the ethnic representation instinctively replaced the notion of political representation interpreted as political party, gathering and territorial or leadership representation. Gradually, the political leader grows up as ethnic leader. The ethnic leadership concept falls with crash right away when schismatic movements; wings and groups appear among the ethnic community. Usually, they call themselves "moderate", "new", "revivalists", etc…
    Another very important characteristic of the Bulgarian minority philosophy development is the analysis of its legal basis. The matter had to be taken under consideration within the traditional Bulgarian legal logic and regional specificity of the SEE as "melting pot" area. In outline, the modern local legislative thought had to be enlightened upon the fact of the interweaving the following legal trends:

  1. The West European innovative influence interfered by the Russian administrative intervention expressed by a "penetration" in a public law field;
  2. The traditionalist and conservative dominance expressed by ethnic and religious parochial primitivism resulting in production of underdeveloped and atrophied private law matter.

    Perhaps this type of discrepancy had been obviously observed during the Kingdom of Bulgaria period (1878-1946). The Constitution of Turnovo, adopted in 1879 and elaborated on the Belge royal sample guaranteed irrevocable rights of the local minorities. Additionally, the Bulgarian Parliament ensured strong control on the executive branch in the field of the ecclesiastical and the cult freedom.xi
    The same level of contradiction had been maintained during the post-Communist period. Minorities inherited from the Communist rulers unenviable legislative burden related to the so called "revival process". It consists the legal humiliation of the local Muslim minority during the period 1984-1989 through forced change of their Turk-Arab names into Slavic. The Communist party itself still in power initiated the first step. The Parliament voted law aiming the abrogation of the forced names' shifting of Bulgarian Muslims anticipated by an appropriate decision of the Central Committee. On 15.01.1990 this legislative act had been followed up by Amnesty action. It aimed to push forward the reconciliation process between the State and the minorities' representatives who were persecuted during the above mentioned "revival process". On August 1990 the Amnesty process was speeded by means of two successive President decrees. The State head intended to complete the releasing procedure from detention of the persons who were accused in crimes against the Republic. Despite the decisiveness of the pardon activities the real estate restoration was not concerned. Only on 27.12.1990 a law with appropriate content had been voted by the first democratically elected parliament. In addition, on 5.06.1991 the Bulgarian approbated Law for Political and Civil Rehabilitation for the persons persecuted by former totalitarian regime.
    On 12.07.1991 a wide majority of Bulgarian deputies approved the last democratic Constitution. It may be considered as the most important legal framework for protection and guarantee for the individual human rights of the minority communities including the ethnic and the religious groups. Thus, the articles 13, 36, 37 and 54 recognized the rights of Bulgarian citizens issued from the ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities to maintain their specific cultural identity, to practice free their religion and to speak their mother tongue. Nevertheless, the articles 11 paragraph 4 pointed at the prohibition of political organizations established upon ethnic and religious issues. The criticism towards its content was very severely demonstrated by the local and international human rights observers.xii
    Despite the above mentioned ambiguities the overall initiative for political and civil association establishing process of the minority groups was pushed ahead. The current legal framework responds to demands of the minorities for adequate political participation. Gradually, cultural, educative, amateur art activities groups of the minorities (Turks, Roma, Jews, Karakachans and Vlachs) were registrated according to the new approbative legal basis. On 29.06.1992 the first Macedonian organization TMO-Ilinden was set up. Later, the Chief Prosecutor Ivan Tatarchev contested its registration by formal reasons. Some of those civil society subjects quickly restored their ownership upon the properties expropriated by the former Communist regime. Logically, their leadership developed intensive cultural activities aiming predominantly to speed an effective teaching process of the mother tongue. I mean the activities of the Armenian Association "Erevan" and Jewish organization "Shalom".
    The State cares for institutionalization of the minorities remain the second act from crucial significance for the improvement of the minorities' legal status. Until 1994, several working groups were established and were spread in the leading ministries. They played the role of implementation instrument for this kind of State commitment. All of them remained formal actors as well as their policy did not overlap the real problems of the target groups. On 30.06.1994 the Socialist Council of Ministers set up Interinstitutional Council of Ethnic Problems resulting from its decision 267. The government failed in its first attempt to forward the ethnic topics because the membership list of the above-mentioned institution remained unapproved. On 14.06.1995 the government replaced the institution in question by new one, which was renamed National Council of Social and Demographic Problems resulting from the Council of Ministers Decision 123. The Socialists intended to solve the problems of the minorities through the mixture with social topics related to the women, retirees, invalids, etc…In short, BSP pointed to the social aspects of the minorities groups' problems.
    On 4.12.1997 the last Bulgarian government headed by the UDF established appropriate institution - National Council of Ethnic and Demographic Problems.xiii The difference with the previous one was the accent upon the political control on the minority groups represented in the State administration. Unfortunately, as a matter in fact this Council symbolized predominantly the political and administrative flirt of the ruling political party UDF with the Roma community to the detriment of the Turk community because of the UDF - MRF relationship aggravation.
    Gradually, the improvement of the national legal basis towards the minorities' rights protection leans forward enlargement the mother tongue learning process. The ratification of the Framework Convention of the National Minorities on February 1998 played a decisive role in this field. Bulgaria became the first SEE country, which started officially to convert the European standards for collective human rights protection into source for domestic legislation. Notwithstanding, the above mentioned Convention has been voted with subsidiary annex after MRF' parliamentary insistence that aimed to adopt the European legislative logic into Bulgarian specific circumstances.xiv Despite the lumbering procedure for the real implementation of the Convention texts we witness a sensitive steps towards respect of the minorities' rights and freedoms. As precedent, on October 2000 on Bulgarian National TV started the news emission presented in Turkish language, while in Northwest has been licensed regional Roma TV, where lives an important Gypsy community. The last measure is issued from the implementation of the Framework Program for Equal Rights Roma integration voted by Bulgarian government on 12.04.1999.
    Finally, the ratification act of another significant European legislative source - European Charter of Minority and Regional Languages is still in the agenda of the Bulgarian parliament. Unquestionably, it will represent a successive legislative activity towards a good direction and truly proof for the State willingness for minorities' integration in Bulgarian multiethnic society.

Go to Part II

Notes - Part I

i.The concerned information is collected upon unofficial ethnographic statistical researches of Bulgarian NGO Center for Historical and Political Studies, 1999;Back

ii.The crisis in neighbor Macedonia in March 2001 and the legislative elections in June 2001 seriously challenged the BEM background. The statements of Bulgarian Turk and Gypsy leaders became more radical claiming more effective involvement of the big minorities in the power;Back

iii.During the period 1984-1989 the regime of the last Communist president T. Jivkov carried out a kind of ethnic cleansing by challenging the local Muslims through changing their names into Slavic ones. So, in the summer of 1989 500 000 Bulgarian Muslims left the country to settle in Turkey. The Prime Minister Guergui Atanassov launched the notion "revival process" as such;Back

iv.The further Bulgarian representation in EU will include 15 votes in the Council of the Ministers and 19 seats in the Europarliament;Back

v.During the post-Communist transition period this kind of explanation of the crisis focusing on the psychology and mentality became very popular among the Bulgarian academic circles and intellectuals;Back

vi.Dimitar Loudjev is one of first generation activists of the democratic changes in Bulgaria, while its Liberal Party "New Choice" became observer in Liberal International;Back

vii.It seems that because of the increased immigration and the strong negative growth rate in Bulgaria during the last 10 years in June 2001the electors had diminished on 6 millions;Back

viii.Except the first democratic election in 1990, this kind of proportional electoral system had not been shifted in Bulgarian post-Communist electoral practice;Back

ix.This type of nation building is explicitly issued from Lenin and Stalin concepts of nation-building process.Back

x.A large range of terminological synonyms had explained the notion of "political loyalty". I think that the most appropriate explanatory term remains "faithfulness to the Motherland".Back

xi.The positive legislative tradition in the field of minorities' rights and freedoms protection during the period before the Communist rule up to 1944 had been used also after the last democratic shifting in the country;Back

xii.I mean the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, the Parliamentary Assembly in 1992 and the US Department of State in 1993;Back

xiii.Bulgarian Petar Atanassov was assigned as a head of the mentioned institution, unexpectedly to the minorities that their representative will be in charge of;Back

xiv.As a matter in fact, the annex in question may be considered as short repetition of some articles of the Convention itself. It has to be understood as political compromise between the MRF and the nationalist leaning deputies from VMRO, coalition partners of the ruling UDF.Back