Date: Sun, 22 Feb 98 16:30:02 CST
From: Panayote Elias Dimitras <>
Subject: Bulgarians of Macedonia: A First Approach
Article: 28526

Violating Minorities' Rights Threatens Stability

By Mariana Lenkova, Sofia Independent, 20 February 1998

The Balkans are a complicated mixture of nationalities and historical myths, in which everyone seems to question his neighbor's identity. The Republic of Macedonia, although only a small piece of the Balkan puzzle, plays a big role in the overall scenario, out of proportion to the size of its territory. During its historical development, it has often been “the apple of discord” between the other Balkan actors, due to claims of the latter to “own” it, or at least to have “large minorities” there. Indeed, this diverse character of the country inspired the French to call their mixed salad “salade macedoine,” an emblematic name taken from a turbulent region.

Today, minorities and linguistic issues between Macedonia and Bulgaria are the most prominent between the two states. This is so not only in terms of bilateral relations, but also in regard to the two countries' fervent desire for EU and NATO membership. The West has made it clear that serious talks will not take place until the “language issue” is solved. However, there is also a problem for the countries' respective minorities—the Bulgarians in Macedonia and the Macedonians in Bulgaria.

The official stands of the respective governments are as follows: The Macedonian government considers the presence of Bulgarians in Macedonia incompatible with the fact that Macedonians cannot be Bulgarians, while the Bulgarian government acts as if the presence of Macedonians in Bulgaria would challenge the national myth that there is no separate Macedonian nation anywhere, let alone within the country's own territory. Still, is it not surprising that a respected publication like the US State Department 1997 Human Rights Report mentions the fact that Macedonian minority parties are banned in Bulgaria, but “forgets” to say that the same is true for Bulgarians in Macedonia? Regrettably, too, even the self-proclaimed proponents of an “open society,” the respective Soros Foundations in the two countries, in their recent publication on the otherwise commendable Joint Program with the King Baudouin Foundation on Improving Inter-Ethnic Relations in Central and Eastern Europe, are equally “forgetful” of these minorities (some may explain the foundations' one-sidedness with “politically correctness”).

Due to the importance and delicate character of the issue, a “neutral” organization—the Greek Helsinki Monitor—decided to investigate the problems of the Bulgarians of Macedonia (the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee has consistently done solid work on Macedonians in Bulgaria and related human rights violations). A letter detailing cases of alleged abuse suffered by representatives of the minority was sent, via the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in the Republic of Macedonia, to the Macedonian Interior Ministry.

The case of the non-registration of the Organization of the Macedonian Bulgarians [Macedonian Revolutionary Organization—Ohrid] on June 7, 1993 was confirmed by Dr. Zoran Verusevski, PR Assistant at the Macedonian Ministry of the Interior. In his letter, he says that the non-registration was due to “the disrespect for and the disregard of the constitutional and legal terms provided for by the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia.” He subsequently makes the underlying reasons clearer, as he denies the existence of Bulgarians in his country and therefore implies, like the court's decision, that such a party is irrelevant.

Maria Stoimenova of Skopje, considered to be a pro-Bulgaria Macedonian, claims that she was arrested and maltreated by the police on Oct. 6, 1995, as they tried to force her to confess her guilt for the attempted assassination of President Gligorov. This case of abuse was dismissed in the Ministry's letter, and described as regular “questioning” by the police.

The allegations of Nikola Karkulev of Ohrid, that his house was searched by the police simply because he calls himself “a Macedonian Bulgarian” (Oct. 24, 1994), and those of Pepi Krastanov from the same town, who claims to have been cruelly beaten by the police (July 11, 1997) due to alleged possession of literature in Bulgarian, provoked a more “heated” answer by the ministry's representative. Regarding the case of Karkulev, the official confirms that the police searched the house, although “not because of his [Karkulev's] feeling of being a Macedonian Bulgarian, as he actually isn’t.” The latter comment makes one wonder whether the Macedonian Interior Ministry is the only legitimate body which can determine an individual's national identity. Both citizens were described as people who often, while being intoxicated, disturbed the peace.

And last but not least comes the well-publicized case of Vladimir Pankov, who recently underwent a hunger strike to protest the violation of his human rights by the Macedonian state. He denounced his Macedonian citizenship and acquired a Bulgarian passport, which was confiscated on November 8, 1996, due to suspicion that it was forged, while Pankov himself was arrested. The ministry's answer claims that Pankov is still a citizen of the Republic of Macedonia and that he “cannot possess and use personal documents and passports of other states.” It is interesting, however, that on March 10, 1997, the charges were changed to the failure to pay alimony to his former wife. These ex post facto excuses for the confiscation of his passport sound fabricated. The Macedonian authorities do not have the right to confiscate a foreign passport unless they suspect fraud, in which case the Bulgarian authorities should be notified to verify the fraud and charges be raised against the holder: nothing of the sort happened, and we now know that the passport was returned without Pankov having to face such a criminal investigation. But it is the following quote from the ministry's official letter that says it all: “His [Pankov's] statements for the violation of his basic human rights were not accepted, as he declares himself a Macedonian Bulgarian and he does not recognize the Macedonian language as native.”

There is no question then that the Macedonian state intimidates its resident Bulgarians. Additional evidence comes from the rare and secretive contacts which can be made with representatives of that minority. The spirit of these meetings is characterized by fear and suspicion. The Greek Helsinki Monitor mission was provided with a physical basis for such fears, when they found the tires of their car punctured after such a meeting in Ohrid last summer.

Obviously, there are problems, ranging from the mere rejection of the Macedonian Bulgarians' existence to open persecution and harassment. This attitude on the part of the state is not unique to Macedonia. The Bulgarian state follows a similar policy with regard to the Macedonian minority. On the other hand, there is a problem which arises from the uncompromising positions of the respective minorities themselves. The Bulgarians of Macedonia as well as the Macedonians of Bulgaria seem to want not merely recognition, but secession and border re-arrangement. This demand may be legitimate by strict human rights standards; but it offers a perfect excuse to both states in their fight against “destabilizing minority elements.” Still, in the “marketplace of democracy,” all ideas, however “radical,” “revolutionary,” or “destabilizing,” have the right to exist and to freely attract followers and opponents. Politicians in Bulgaria and Macedonia alike should thus understand that they must preserve the mixture of “salade mac doine,” instead of violently removing some of its ingredients.

For background see Greek Helsinki Monitor's Bulgarians of Macedonia: A First Approach (February 1998) which follows



Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group—Greece jointly investigated in August 1997 the problems of the Macedonian citizens who declare having a Bulgarian national identity which however the Macedonian state denies. As a result of the preliminary investigation, a letter with related material attached was sent to the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in the Republic of Macedonia to further look into the matter. That Committee sent the letter to the Macedonian Ministry of Interior, without the supporting documents, and then published in the December 1997 issue of its newsletter Helsinki Monitor both the GHM letter and the Ministry's reply. We reproduce here unedited the related texts exactly as forwarded to GHM by the Macedonian Committee. GHM believes that the Ministry response in fact confirms the basis of the allegations about the discrimination of Bulgarians in that country. Some of our related arguments are featured in the article of GHM researcher Mariana Lenkova in the Sofia Independent (20/2/1998).


Macedonian Helsinki Committee received the following letter by the Greek Helsinki Monitor:

We are writing to you to express our concern on the problems which some citizens of the Republic of Macedonia are faced with. Please, find enclosed information on a few cases involving Macedonian citizens with Bulgarian ethnic identity.

1. First and foremost—the case with the non-registration of the Organization of the Macedonian Bulgarians named Macedonian Revoluntary Organization—Ohrid on June 7, 1993.

2. The case of Maria Stoimenova from Skopje who claims that she was arrested on October 6, 1995 because of her relationship with certain Alekso Stoimenov from Strumitsa. While arrested, Ms Stoimenova was psychologically maltreated, so that she confesses guilty of having attempted the assassination of President Gligorov.

3. The case of Nikola Karkulev (Krkulev) from Ohrid, whose house was searched by the police on allegations that Mr. Karkulev keeps close relations with VMRO (IMRO) and calls himself “a Macedonian Bulgarian.” (October 24, 1994). Karkulev claims that he was summoned to court because of having attacked the police verbally by calling them “You are Serbian police with Serbian weapons.” (October 3, 1996).

4. The case of Vladimir Pankov (Paunkov) from Ohrid. Pankov denounced his Macedonian citizenship and acquired a Bulgarian passport as a protest against the violations of his human rights on the part of the Republic of Macedonia. Namely, he protested against the non—registration of the IMRO-Ohrid, which was then followed by maltreatment by the police. Apart from that, Pankov was arrested at the Skopje airport (October 26, 1995) on his way to a conference in Austria. The charge on which he was arrested was that there was suspicion that his Bulgarian passport was forged. The passport was confiscated on November 8, 1996. However, on March 10, 1997, the Macedonian Ministry of Internal Affairs changed the charges and informed Pankov that his passport had been confiscated due to the fact that he had failed to pay the alimony he owes to his former wife, thus committing a criminal act. Meanwhile, his home had been searched and some valuable things were taken away. Last, but not least, on his case, we would mention that Pankov used to be political refugee in Switzerland during Sfry years. He wants to go to Switzerland again, but since he is a Bulgarian citizen, he has to get a visa from the Embassy in Sofia. However, the border authorities in Macedonia would not allow him to do so.

5. The case of Pepi Ristov Krastanov from Ohrid, who claims to have been cruelly beaten by the police (July 11, 1997) due to alleged possession of literature in Bulgarian and connections in Bulgaria. That is why we hope that you will take the appropriate steps to check on the above cases and give us the appropriate information so that we can write a complete report.


Regarding the above the Helsinki committee for Human Rights of Republic of Macedonia received the following reply from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) on December 23, 1997.

In reference to your letter dated Nov. 11.1997 requesting our comment on the cases mentioned therwith, the Ministry of internal Affairs undertook through investigation for each aprticular case in order to satisfy the essential principle for objective informing. Hereinafter we are giving our reply:

1. The registration of the Organisation of the Macedonian bulgarians _VMRO-Ohrid on April 7, 1993 was not completed due to the disrespect and disregard of the constitutional and legal terms provided with the Constitution of Republic of Macedonia. The founder then relinqueshed the registration procedure according the existing regulations.

2. I function of the investigation of the MIA on the assassination attempt of our President Mr. Kiro gligorov, in order to provide evidences and information, the police conducted a poll among citizens of Republic of Macedonia. The citizens Marija Stojmenova and Vladimir Paunkovski were questioned within this poll. While the interrogations they were not physically nor mentally violated.

3. Members of the MIA, in accordance to the legal regulations, searched the home of the citizen Nikola Krkulev, due to grounded suspicion that this citizen had hidden weapon in his home, and not because of his feeling as Macedonian Bulgarina (as actually he isn’t.). Namely, Nikola Krkulev is citizen of R.Macedonia, declared as Macedonian (according to the official identification papers and his birth certificate) and till now this citizen has not applied for changing his personal and familiar data, nor such have been authorised. Anyway, the citizen Nikola Krkulev often, while being intoxicated disturbed public peace and order and disdained other citizens of Republic of Macedonia.

4. Vladimir Paunkovski (not Pankov nor Paunkov) is also citizen of Republic of Macedonia in all official papers and his birth certificate. In the last census he declared as withdrawal of the citizenship of Republic of Macedonia, but this procedure is still not over. In accordance to the Nationality Law of Republic of Macedonia and to the European General convention on Nationality, till this procedure is not terminated he will not able one-sidedly to deprive from the citizenship of Republic of macedonia. He’d got a citizenship and passport of Republic of Bulgaria with different personal and familiar data. According to the legal regulations in Republic of Macedonia, one person cannot possess and use personal documents and passports with various personal data and of other states. Both his passports (Macedonian and Bulgarina) were deprived on the order of the Principal Court in Ohrid on Nov. 8, 1996 and a criminal charges have been brought against him for the criminal act #148796 of Art. 202, par. 1 at the Criminal Law of Republic of Macedonia. In 1995 he was sentenced 30 days in prison for the same act. With a court order thereupon, he was constrained to reimburse the debt towards his family. His home was not been searched, but was robbed, for which was reported. In former Yugoslavia, Paunovski was not a political refugee in Switzerland, but was temporally working there, and his mother is still living there. On December 20, 1995 he applied for a political asylum from the Embassy of Switzerland in Bulgaria, but he received a negative reply. His statements for violation of his basic human rights were not accepted as he declares himself as Macedonian Bulgarina and he does not recognise the macedonian language as native. Paunkovski will be able to leave Republic of Macedonia after he fulfills all his obligations towards his family and his citizenship status.

5. The claim of Pepi krstanovski (not Krstanov) that he had been cruelly beaten and violated just because he possessed literature in Bulgarina language and because his relations in Bulgaria and inaccurate. Many citizens in Republic of Macedonia have relations in bulgaria and are not being physically nor mentally misteated. The police arrested and questioned him as he was disturbint public peace and order being intoxicated. At the same I would like to inform you that due to mu absence from the office and the time required to checka rightfully all the statements in your letter we were not able to send our reply sooner. I agree that the communication between the Ministry of internal Affairs and the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of Republic of Macedonia, as well as with the other non-governmental organizations should be more active in order to inform the publicity more accurate and objectively.

Signed by:
Dr. Zoran Verusevski
Assistant for Public Relations

Mariana Lenkova is a researcher on Balkan issues for the Greek Helsinki Monitor.

(Greek National Committee of the International Helsinki Federation)
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