Counting the Macedonians in Bulgaria

| Stoiko Stoikov,

On April 14, the media’s attention was seized by a public statement made by an organization for the Romanian minority in Bulgarian, stating it did not accept the results of the census. Those familiar with the problems faced by the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria will hardly be surprised by the fact that the media solidly ignored similar declarations made by Macedonian organizations within the country.

On September 13, 2010, after a trial count and the scandalous firing of leading individuals at the National Statistics Institute (NSI) due to the fact that they had allowed “nonexistent ethnicities” to be counted in the census (which included, of course, Macedonians at the top of the list), and after failing to receive any response to numerous letters, position papers and proposals, four organizations – OMO Ilinden-PIRIN, the Association of Repressed Macedonians in Bulgaria, the TMO VMRO (independent), and KPD Nikola Vaptsarov – came out with a declaration in which they warned that they would not accept the result of the upcoming census unless three conditions were met:

  • a “Macedonian” category was added;
  • the government publicly guaranteed the freedom to self-determination;
  • those who were fired without cause were reinstated in their jobs.

No attention was paid to this declaration.

(I am tempted to mention that there has never been a “Macedonian” category included in the Bulgarian census, not even those from 1946 and 1956, thus, the current government has achieved the astonishing effect of transforming a never-introduced category into an abolished one.)

On the eve of the census, on January 20, 2011, at a meeting in Gotse Delchev, it was established that not a single one of the conditions had been met and therefore the position that the census results would not be accepted was confirmed. Several other organizations also joined in this action: the Macedonian Christian Brotherhood of the Holy Prophet Elijah, KPD Tsar Samuil, KPD Ilinden, as well as the editorial staff of the Macedonian publications in Bulgaria Narodna volya (People’s Will) and Makedonski glas (Macedonian Voice).

The state authorities, for their part, hastened to demonstrate that this position was fully grounded.  The issue of Macedonian Voice dedicated to the election was confiscated by plainclothes officers who refused to show any identification to legitimize themselves or to show any document ordering the confiscation; they also refused to issue any document about the confiscation and held the printers all day at the premises of the Interior Ministry in Blagoevgrad. And until this very day, no state body dares take responsibility for this illegal confiscation – all deny having anything to do with it and the Macedonians are left once again with no option but to go crying to Strasbourg. Two mini-campaigns were undertaken in the media with threats against the distribution of leaflets calling on people with Macedonian self-identity to define themselves as what they feel they are, without any reaction on the part of the authorities in defense of the right to free speech and self-determination. During the course of the census, an outrageous amount of programs were shown on Bulgarian National Television dedicated to the non-existence of the Macedonians.

The census in and of itself did not differ fundamentally from that which we have witnessed over the past 20 years. Most of the numerous violations were described in writing as early as September 2010 in letters to the prime minister, as well as to NSI, but no answers were received. Or rather we did receive an answer – all the usual violations and methods of manipulation were repeated. In brief, these consisted of:

  • Census takers recorded citizens as Bulgarians, without asking them about their nationality.
  • Questions about nationality and language were skipped over.
  • Census takers informed those wishing to be counted as Macedonians that such a category did not exist (rather than counting them in the “Other” category).
  • When the individual wishing to be counted as Macedonian asked to be counted in the “Other” category, the census takers began arguing that there is no such nation, language, or minority.
  • In a series of cases, the census takers were so blunt as to categorically refuse to count the citizen as a Macedonian, using the argument that there was no such thing or that he or she simply could not do so.
  • Cases were also registered in which refusals to count citizens as Macedonians were accompanied by threats. A case was registered of a Macedonian activist being warned while filling out the electronic census form to be careful about how he defines himself.
  • Administrative counts were made in the absence of citizens in certain places (especially in smaller villages), without the presence of those being counted.
  • Census forms were filled out with pencil or white-out was used to correct them (which in practice means that the any person’s data could be changed).
  • There are cases of people who were not visited by census takers at all and who do not know whether they were counted and if so, how.

(Most of the concrete examples are given in an official 25-page report which can be seen on the official website of the OMO Ilinden-PIRIN.)

The census itself was carried out on the basis of the official and public position of the Bulgarian state that the Macedonian minority, nation, language and so on do not exist, under the conditions of a negative social atmosphere that has been created over decades, which sees the self-definition as a Macedonian as national treachery, denial of one’s roots, an anti-Bulgarian and anti-state act. It was carried out in an atmosphere of fear and distrust among the Macedonians themselves, as well as insecurity among the census-takers; this fear, distrust and insecurity are created by the statements and actions of representatives of the state (the five specialists fired from NSI because of their inclusion of “nonexistent” minorities and so on), but they are also inherited from the past.

While the addition of just one category and one bit of official reassurance are all it would take to dispel these worries among a minority that is not only unrecognized, but is, in fact, officially rejected by all the highest-level state bodies (Parliament, the president, the government, the constitutional court and so on).

The government, however, did not take any measures to right this unacceptable situation, even though it was forewarned by the Macedonian organizations. To the contrary, the state took specific measures that only deepened the problem.

Unfortunately, there is no transparency as to how the results collected in such a way will be processed, nor is there any supervision or guarantee that manipulations will not be allowed to occur. Also, the Macedonian organizations do not trust the institutions. They have been deceived far too long and too often to be able to accept something this important on faith alone.

The Macedonian organizations in Bulgaria share the conviction that the number of Macedonians will be defined not according to citizens’ self-identifications, nor through statistics, but rather according to the principle of expediency. It will not be equal to zero (since that would make the falsification completely obvious), but it will be made as small as possible so that any pretensions regarding rights will be simply pointless, while at the same time the state’s “democratic attitude” and “tolerance” towards them will be demonstrated (look – we count them!).

But even if there turn out to be more Macedonians than last time – it doesn’t matter. The results still will not be accepted. After seeing what happening during the census and since they are being counted by a state who claims that they do not exist, Macedonians have no doubt that their numbers will be strongly reduced.

Still, it will still be interesting to see what number the state will deign to bestow on us, the nonexistent ones.