Bulgaria 'Grants No Rights' to Romanian Minority - MEPBulgaria in EU | March 10, 2016, Thursday // 17:00| views
Romanian MEP Monica Macovei. File photo, BGNES
Members of the Romanian minority in Bulgaria are being deprived of their rights, according to a letter sent to Bulgarian officials by Monica Macovei, former Romanian Justice Minister and incumbent MEP.
Reports of Macovei's claims first appeared in the transcript of a cabinet meeting held Thursday. Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Ivaylo Kalfin, who is in charge of social and demographic policy apart from heading the Labor Ministry, is quoted as informing Prime Minister Boyko Borisov about having received the letter.
Macovei argues that that the Romanian community and the Romanian minority in Bulgaria are deprived of their right to learn their mother tongue as they are being denied legal definition as a minority.
She says "Bulgarian citizens of Romanian descent" turned to her last year to inform her of problems experienced by Roma of Romanian ancestry in Bulgaria.
"This is the second time I am warning about these problems. All Romanians living in Bulgaria must be recognized and treated as a national minority in compliance with international law."
"Efforts by the Romanian government to secure access to learning school subjects in Romanian were thwarted by the Ministry of Education of Bulgaria."
"I would like that you adopt a budget and a detailed plan of action, as well as a list of concrete measures to preserve the language and allow that classes are taught in minority languages at schools and higher education institutions."
The letter's text was not immediately published by the government, but local media quoted sections of the text.
According to Kalfin, reads that "many Roma people of Romanian origin" find obstacles when trying to declare their "ethnicity" [sic!], and the state does not allow them to learn their mother tongue, according to Kalfin.
A number of "villages" (some of which are actually larger towns) are reportedly enumerated by Macovei, including Graf Ignatievo, Beloslav, Izvorski, Vaglen, Lyuben Karavelovo, and Devnya (actually an industrial town) in the region of Varna, northerastern Bulgaria.
Kalfin, however, is quoted as telling Borisov:
"I think the Bulgarian state has quite a persistent position in this. We are a nation-state. In Bulgaria national minorities do not exist.
Learning opportunities with regard to mother tongues are stipulated under the legislation (probably this is why the letter is also addressed to Ms Kuneva [who currently serves as Education Minister]) as an optional language. No Bulgarian citizen is hindered from learning Romanian or whatever other language they choose in their respective educational institution."
Macovei reportedly addressed her letter to Borisov, to his Deputy Meglena Kuneva, and to Kalfin himself.
Demands for measures coming from her and a group of "various Romanian representatives" (whom Kalfin did not name) "contribute in no way to good neighborly relations between the two countries."
Borisov is quoted as saying it is Kuneva who should reply, but Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee should make itself familiar with the letter first.
Comments by Kuneva cannot be found in the transcript as she did not attend the cabinet meeting due to an ongoing visit to the UK.
A number of Bulgarian MPs, MEPs and party leaders have already reacted to the letter.
Emil Radev, an EPP MEP elected on the ticket of Bulgaria's main governing party GERB, called the move by Macovei "an outrageous interference in Bulgaria's domestic affairs."
"There is no such problem in Bulgaria" and accusations that the constitution of the country puts an obstacle to to the existence of ethnic minorities "do not match reality", Focus News Agency quotes him as saying.
"Regardless of whether [we are talking about] Bulgarians, Turks, Armenians, Jews, Romanians, in Bulgaria there is no ethnic problem," Radev added. "I don't know where Ms Macovei gets this information from."
"If this is another way to secure more funding for Roma people, I would say there are many other ways for cultural and ethnic diversity to be preserved, instead of lashing out at Bulgaria this way."
"Bulgaria has a minority strategy", and in the region of Varna in particular, a mediator has been appointed to work with minority groups, in the words of Georg Georgiev, a lawmaker from GERB party.
Both co-leaders of nationalist Patriotic Front coalition also reacted vehemently, saying there are no "Romanian Roma" in Bulgaria. "Who is she? What is she calling for? They should only care for the rights of their own Roma people in Romania," Valeri Simeonov, the leader of NFSB party (one of the two main PF parties), retorted. Krasimir Karakachanov, who heads the VMRO party, for his part argued Macovei's words could "cast a shadow of doubt on the really good relations between Bulgaria and Romania."
"If she is speaking about Romanian Gypsies [sic], I am really curious what kind of people they are. If they are Romanian citizens, they should be taken back by Romania. They also have a king there. He is the Romanian Gypsy King, but looks after them," Karakachanov said, suggesting someone must have "misled" Macovei.
Under Bulgaria's constitution, Article 54:
Article 54 (1): "Everyone shall have the right to benefit from the national and universal human cultural values, as well as to develop their own culture in accordance with their ethnic identification, and this right shall be recognized and guaranteed by the law."
The word "minority" is not present in the Constitution.
Bulgaria, however, signed in 1997 (and later became a member state of) the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, thus committing itself to the protection of minority rights.
The issue has been raised several times over the years.
Reports by Romanian media, back in 2011 and 2013, had already suggested several years earlier that as many as 300 000 Romanians live in the country and are being subject to "assimilation".
A 2011 census in Bulgaria, on the other hand, shows only 866 people living in the country identified themselves as "Romanians", while 3598 people considered themselves "Vlachs" (Eastern Romance-speaking peoples who can trace their ancestry to the lands of Romania and Moldova), in a country whose population is some 7.2 million.
As many as 5454 and 1815 say their mother tongue is Romanian or Vlach, respectively.