Come ha vissuto la società bulgara le violenze contro la minoranza turca? L'avvio di un processo democratico nel Paese ha portato anche ad una nuova analisi sui fatti del passato? Un'intervista della nostra corrispondente Tanya Mangalakova.

10/12/2002 -  Anonymous User

Ms. Antonina Zhelyazkova is a researcher of South Eastern Europe, a human rights activist and chair of the Board of Directors of International Centre for Minority Studies and Intercultural Relations (IMIR, Sofia). In 2000 the French prime minister Lionel Jospin awarded her the human rights prize of the French Republic "Liberté, fraternité, egalité".
Before the fall of Communism Ms. Zhelyazkova has been actively involved in the Club for Publicity and Reconstruction (perestroyka) - a non-formal movement, which later gave birth to the anticommunist opposition. In the summer of 1989 she read an open letter confronting the change of the Muslim names of the Bulgarian Turks and Pomaks (Pomaks are Bulgarian Muslims, they converted into Islam during Ottoman Empire) with Bulgarian names (during the so called "revival process" in the Institute for South East European Studies, broadcast on the Radio Free Europe, Deutche Welle and the BBC . She is the founder and the speaker of the Committee for National Reconciliation, established in 1989 and dissolved in 1991, which was instrumental in reinstating the Muslim names of the Bulgarian Turks and Pomaks.
Have the wounds from the so called "big excursion" in the spring of 1989, when 360 000 Bulgarian Turks were evicted, been healed? Has national reconciliation taken place? Is there a chance that a nationalist fascist party emerges in the future? These are the questions, answered especially for Osservatorio sui Balcani by Ms. Antonina Zhelyazkova, who at the end of November celebrates her 50-th anniversary in the company of her teacher, the novelist Vera Mutafchieva.

OB: How would you comment the criticism of some of the Western commentators that during the Communist rule in Bulgaria there was no strong protest movement against the violations committed to the Bulgarian Turks?

A.Z: I refute this criticism, because the propaganda machine of the totalitarian rule was very strong and the fear it instilled was very great. The threats were not minor. Only afterwards, I learnt that in the spring of 1989 and the spring of 1990 the authorities had a plan to evict from the country by force us, the intellectuals members of the Club for Publicity and Reconstruction, protesting the violations committed to the Bulgarian Turks, similar to the way they evicted the leaders of the Turkish protests. Other informal organisations also supported the Turks - Dr. Trenchev's Podkrepa, who was arrested together with Kolio Bosia, the Krag "231", who sent a scientific publication about the Bulgarian Turks to international human rights organisations. All the documents were broadcast to the Radio Free Europe, Deutche Welle and the BBC and in this way Bulgarian and the world learnt what happened to the Bulgarian Turks.

O.B: The name of around 600 000 Muslims were reinstated till the end of 1991. What was the role played by the Committee for National Reconciliation to overcome the resistance of part of the Bulgarian society?

A.Z: Before the reinstitution of the names of the Bulgarian Turks and Pomaks, the nationalistic hysteria in Bulgaria was to a great extent fuelled by the Communist nomenklatura, since this offered a chance that our country is overtaken by chaos and that the economy be plundered. In the regions with mixed population Bulgarians and Turks confronted each other similar to a frontline confrontation. During the so called "revival process" the Communist authorities had succeeded to involve the Bulgarians, part of them had ceded to temptations, when the Turks started to leave the country. The Turks were selling their property at very low prices and I call this pillage in my publications. The Secret Services of the Bulgarian Communist Party spread the rumour in the mixed regions that after the Turks were reinstated their names, they would request a retribution. The Bulgarian residing in the regions with mixed population were seized by fears, they supplied themselves with weapons and at one point the situation became very grave. Bulgarians, Jews, Armenians, Roma, Turks and Pomaks stood on the Committee for National Reconciliation. We all held different political views, they were party members among us, but our common objective was to prevent the spilling of a single drop of blood and to gradually rebuild the relations between Bulgarians and Turks, Christians and Muslims, as they have been throughout the centuries. We did not have offices at that time, my home telephone number was published in the newspapers and I was constantly called by Bulgarians and Turks. The Committee had regional branches in the regions with mixed population, on which stood Bulgarian and Turks. I advised the Turks to set up sitting protests and hold their passports. There were prominent intellectuals and artists who appeared each evening on the National Television's prime time and spoke about national reconciliation.

O.B: The Bulgarian transition is characterised by the fact that the nationalists do not exercise any influence over society. What is your explanation about this particularity?

A.Z: Civil society in Bulgaria united with the slogans about clean environment, human rights protection and minorities' rights protection. There is an effort to erase the consequences of the violations committed to our Muslim compatriots. For centuries the Bulgarians have peacefully coexisted with the "others", probably due to the good traditions in the Ottoman Empire. There is a tradition of coexistence in Bulgaria - Bulgarians offered homage to the Amenian refuges, saved the Jews from deportation during the WWII and at the end of the 19-th century and the beginning of the 20-th century the Jews fleeing Russia and Romania due to an outburst of hysterical antisemitism were accepted in Bulgaria and the Parliament passed regulations regarding their status. Bulgarians have burnt their fingers from nationalism during the Balkan wars and WWI. Bulgarians' tolerance is pragmatical and that is the reason why it is so solid. Bulgarians will not start to burn the houses of somebody else, nor would kill or expose to risk themselves and their families due to an unclear nationalistic cause. When the nationalistic parties were established in 1990-1991, society knew that there had been invlovement on part of the secret services and most probably that is the reason why it did not believe them.

O.B: What is your opinion about father Boyan Saraev, who has been for years now christianising Bulgarian Muslims (Pomaks) in the Rhodopes by asserting that in this way they return to their origins.

A.Z: I believe that Boyan Saraev is a provocateur and I do not believe him. I know Orthodox clergymen, who have for years offered homage to Bulgarian Muslims and have ceded to their will to be christianised without publicising this. It is shameful to publicise something, which is so sacred and intimate. I refute father Saraev's activities not because I oppose the fact that Bulgarian Muslims accept Christianity but because this is a personal choice and the one who is publicising it can not be normal.

O.B: How would you comment the declaration of the Bulgarian Turks that migrated to Turkey, made on a conference in Odrin at the beginning of this December and demanding that they be compensated for the "revival process" and that Bulgaria officially recognises that they have been repressed by Todor Zhivkov with the changes of their names between 1984 and 1989?

A.Z: This action will not be successful. They say that former president Petar Stoyanov and prime minister Ivan Kostov apologised only in words but everywhere in the world official statements of state heads are considered to be more important than a contract. Nowadays, the archives related to the Communist authorities' policy towards the Turks have been opened and will be published. In my opinion the one who directly assaulted the Turks should be brought to justice. Despite the fact that many of the ideologists from the high echelon of the Bulgarian Communist Party are not among us, a virtual judgement by default should be done. What is more important is that society has already sentenced them and these people are doomed to eternal ostracism.

O.B: Since a year many sociologists predict in the press that there is an open niche in Bulgaria for the emergence of a nationalistic party. What is your prognosis?

A.Z: Negative stereotypes towards the ethnic Turks, who are already part of the power, are constantly diminishing during the last few years. Bulgarian society has been fatigued by the continuing poverty. There is grounds for the emergence of a fascist-like party that could mobilise support through a populist and anti-Roma platform: the Roma do not work, they are illiterate, they do not pay their electricity and water supply bills for years. Statistics indicate that 70% of young Roma aged 17 to 29 have never been employed but at the same time they have survived and they look healthy. I hope that again people will loose interest in such a party and abstain due to this Bulgarian pragmatism, which restricts us to get involved in whatsoever conspicuous enterprise.


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