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Intellectuals in Conflict Zones - The Balkans

Interview with Ljubomir Danilov Frckoski
By: Sam Vaknin
Skopje, June 2008

Ljubomir Danilov Frcksoki ("Frcko" to his friends) is by far Macedonia's most prominent public intellectual. The author of this struggling nation's first constitution in 1991, he also contributed to the Ohrid Framework Agreement, which, in the wake of an armed insurgency, has defined, ten years later, the relationship between the country's majority and its restive Albanian minority. He served as Macedonia's Minister of Interior and Minister of Foreign Affairs until 1997.

He is a Professor of International Law and Human Rights at the University of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Skopje and teaches in Trieste and Rome. A prolific author of books and columns on actual topics, he often provokes the ire of the recipients of his wit and erudition. Inevitably in the Balkans, he is the butt of numerous conspiracy theories, some more sinister and improbable than others.

Face to face, Frckoski has an unruly mane of wavy thick hair, two piercing aquamarine eyes, and a disarming, impish smile. But these cannot hide his impatience with ignorance and dim-wittedness.

When we sat down for this interview, he had just returned from lecturing in Athens, the capital city of Greece, a country perceived by many Macedonians to be a bitter enemy. It was the first time ever that a Macedonian professor was invited to provide a regular lecture to an audience that also included rabid right-wingers. "They merely stood at the back of the amphitheater" - he grins - "and listened. I am not sure why...". His host told him: "We are making history here!".

Perhaps it had something to do with his considerable rhetorical skills. Though invariably animated, his arguments are coherent and well-structured. "What does it mean to be a Macedonian?" - I ask him - "What is the essence of your nationhood?"

"We are going through a process that other nations have traversed in the past: trawling history to construct our identity. Whatever being Macedonian means, we cannot be anything but. Sure, for asserting our uniqueness, we are likely to be clubbed on the head by the Serbs, Bulgarians, and the Greeks. It is dangerous to have big nations as one's neighbors. It is even more perilous than having to cope with cultural-ethnic minorities.

We are a nation of 1.7 million, with our own language and historical heritage. We need to digest all this using two constructions: horizontal (the debate among Macedonians to what extent we are Slavs or ancient Macedonians) and vertical (the ethnically non-homogeneous nature of our modern state). We need time to devise our polity, it is an on-going project and we deserve not to be pushed around and urged along, even if it unnerves our neighbors.

The red line is that it is impossible for us not to be Macedonians. History here is thick on the ground: the relics of ancient, Byzantine, Slav and even Ottoman-Muslim cultures. We earned our state with our blood. We liberated our territory by ourselves. This gives us self-confidence. Our evolution as a state was based on legal acts, on the fight against Fascism, and it was gradual: from the People's Republic of Macedonia to the Federal, and then the Socialist Republics and, currently, simply The Republic of Macedonia.

Moreover, we seceded from the federated Yugoslavia without bloodshed. At the time, we had a competent political elite, but we were also lucky in that Serbia was looking to salvage substantial Serb minorities to its west, rather than the lesser number of Serbs to its south.

Thus, we embarked on a classic route of nation-building: we had a referendum, drafted a Declaration of Independence, enacted a Constitution. But, it was all done top-down, there was no grassroots movement. The people were traumatized by the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the transition from socialism to capitalism and democracy.

Will these achievements survive? Will the popular energy, so evident now, take a positive or a negative turn? How to channel this zest into the political process, not through the street? Above all, how to recognize that national homogeneity is not an option in this country. When we wrote the Constitution (in 1991), we made it a civic document and relegated the inevitable nationalist sentiment into the preamble. We couldn't ignore the upswell of emotions but we kept it out of the articles of the document, the parts that guide the working of the courts."

"So, the Macedonian identity is merely a defensive posture?"

"We were placed in this position by everyone around us with their numerical and economic superiority. Had we not had to confront this external opposition, we would have likely produced a cultural brand, not a military or an economic one. We, the Macedonians, have survived through our culture and in our cultural space, often unaware of it."

"You mentioned the fight against the occupiers in World War II. But did you fight the Nazis as Macedonians or as Communists?"

"The Liberation Movement had national and communist strands. After the territory was freed, the nationalists were persecuted or, like Kiro Gligorov, our first president, transferred to Belgrade, to be closely monitored. The Macedonian national movement was always in coalition with the ethnic minorities here. We inherited our multi-cultural tolerant pluralism from the Ottomans. This was the basis for our inclusive constitution that prevented the strife that characterized all the other republics that succeeded Yugoslavia.

True, nowadays, Macedonians distance themselves from the Albanians, but there is no active prejudice, no political mobilization to discriminate against the minorities and, thus, bring about conflict. What I call the Macedonian 'momentum of silence' survives in the gap between active and passive prejudice: no acceptance, but tolerance and toleration. That's why all these early warning reports fail. The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs is now making the same mistake by boasting that it has saved Europe from embracing an unstable country."

I ask: "Not entirely stable. The Albanians took up arms in 2001 and forced Macedonia's leaders to sign the Ohrid Framework Agreement ..."

"I welcome the changes that we introduced to the constitution in 2001, they had real-life legal consequences. It was a new inclusive beginning, mediated by the foreign powers. Had we not faced an insurrection, we would still have been forced to implement the very same changes by the European Union, on the way to accession.

The Agreement is decried by some Macedonians because they are enamored with language and its power. This is the result of fear, not reason. Language reform (granting minorities the right to use their languages in some circumstances and settings - SV) is not the first step towards federalization. The foreigners are right in this respect. Albanian hasn't become a second official language. It can be used only in very particular cases.

Of course, some constructive ambiguity here saved the day. The Albanians were told that the right to use their language was a major accomplishment, the Macedonians were soothed with the promise that Albanian can and will be employed solely in a restricted fashion. The language of the articles in the Ohrid Agreement is clear-cut, the interpretation helpfully ambiguous and allows everyone to save face and declare 'victory'".

"The Ohrid Agreement, I am told by foreigners, is the only state-reaffirming, functional compact ever signed in the Balkans. All other agreements dealt with post-traumatic outcomes of state dissolution and the ensuing confusion. It is short, but has disproportional symbolic significance. And don't forget that we did not negotiate directly with the insurgents. The USA and the EU guaranteed the equal-handed implementation of any understanding we reached and this was good enough for everyone concerned."

I interject: "Then why has the same formula failed to work in the case of the name negotiations with Greece that have been going nowhere for 17 years with US mediation? In NATO's March 2008 Bucharest Summit, Macedonia was not invited to join the alliance because it would not succumb to Greek intransigence: Greece insisted that Macedonia should change its constitutional name to cater to Greek domestic political sensitivities..."

Frckoski: "Macedonia is actually not negotiating with Greece. They don't treat us as partners. It was the same with the Ohrid Agreement: we had dealings with the Americans and that provided the insurgents with the legitimacy to reach a compromise ("If the Americans say it's OK, then we can safely go for it!"). We needed the mediators to allow the Albanians to strike a deal without being lynched by their own extremists.

And, you know what? This Agreement will survive because of the guarantees embedded in it. We have no alternative. The current debate between Macedonians and Albanians is about interpretation, within the framework of the text, with a view to legal instruments of the EU regarding minorities, cultural identities, and human rights. The Badinter principle has not been abused even once! (A principle in the agreement that requires dual majorities - of the entire parliaments and of the Albanian MPs to pass laws pertaining to inter-ethnic issues - SV).

Previous governments made two breaches in this protective wall, though. They allowed the issuance of bilingual passports, thus expanding the role of the Albanian language beyond the original scope; and they accredited Tetovo university, a chaotic institution that openly defied the law.

As for the Greeks, should they succeed in their quest to ostracize us and deny our identity, all the others will climb on the bandwagon: the Bulgarians, the Serbs. I see no problem for us to adopt a composite name such as the New Republic of Macedonia, Upper Macedonia, and so on. But, we cannot give up the non-exclusive use of the adjective and title 'Macedonian'. We may discuss what it denotes: its cultural, linguistic, and historical connotations. What we cannot and will not discuss is giving it up all together. This is the red line. Regrettably, the Greeks themselves have been changing their positions and demands dizzyingly." - he sighs.

On to the greater world. I suggest that Macedonia may have a Russian option or card to play.

Frckoski dismisses this scenario off-hand: "It is good that the Americans have shifted their intelligence base from Athens to Skopje. This move may antagonize Greece and Serbia, where the Russian presence is increasing. Even Bulgaria may be reverting to its Russophile roots. But, Macedonia must serve as the 'soft border' between east and west. Macedonians should overcome their instinctive and misguided feelings about Russian 'brotherhood' and adhere to the national interests of Macedonia.

Russia was always against an independent Macedonian state: an unstable entity, in their view, that may jeopardize Russian interests, policies, and presence throughout the region. Moreover, Russia represents an attempt to link ethnic homogeneity to Christian Orthodoxy which, if imported to Macedonia, will surely lead to the dreaded federalization. The new government can't say, as they currently do: 'who cares about the Albanians?' We must co-exist with the Albanians. It took us years to sever the umbilical cord to Serbia's 'Commonwealth' of states. The Serbs never forgave Gligorov for his role in this historic separation. Enough said."

In 1995, an assassination attempt was made on President Kiro Gligorov's life. His face was disfigured, but his stature among Macedonians grew as a result.

"If you alone, of all your neighbors, serve as a forward base of the USA, you may find yourself as isolated as Israel is in the Middle East." - I venture.

"Isolation is our history." - Frckoski reacts gloomily - "Macedonia has always been its neighbors' nightmare. If our multiculturalism succeeds, the decline of their ethnically homogeneous model of statehood will hasten. We threaten their very foundations. This is a semiotic clash between meanings, symbols, identities, language, approaches. Once we understand this, we will develop a cohesive national consensus."

"In which sense is Macedonia European, therefore?" - I enquire

"European civilization developed in the Mediterranean. Yet, civilization is not only about cultural heritage. It is also about organization: prioritizing and implementing plans. Here we are sorely lacking. Consider, for instance, Euro-Atlantic integration. This is the utmost formal priority of Macedonia. Yet, in the real-life political scene, everything seems to defeat this purpose: Macedonia's new-found populism, for example, is anti-European. Even our multiculturalism is not a strictly European attribute."

"There are sizable populations of immigrants throughout Europe ..." - I point out.

"Europe has a schizophrenic, multiple personality attitude towards multiculturalism. It is practiced among countries, but rarely inside nation-states. The oft-touted examples, Switzerland and Belgium, are actually federations. Europe's development will resemble ours: functional integration, no discrimination against minorities in the labor market, in housing, and in the use of languages. But, there will be no real acceptance, assimilation, and the production of a joint culture. The current failed policy of integration will be replaced with a policy of differences with multiple parallel legal systems: one for the majority, others for the minorities. The emergent cultural racism sits well with the rise of right-wing parties. It is a period of experimentation, using actual policy measures, rather than concepts and theories.

Macedonia can lead the way. If we, poor and under-developed as we are, succeed, so can they. We are accustomed to freedom of speech and religious issues. Cultural sensitivity is in-built, we are educated this way from early childhood. Hate speech is rare.

This is why Americans understand Macedonia far better than Europeans do. We lack the resources to realize a 'Macedonian Dream' akin to the 'American Dream'. But, we are still very similar.

The problem is that the current government regards Macedonia's multi-ethnic composition as a curse, not an opportunity. They don't understand their own country. They shake the bridges between the communities that we have so laboriously built and they reject 'soft arbitration' by foreigners."

"Soft arbitration?"

"Look, the Albanians don't trust us. We can't agree anything with them directly. In 1994, we proposed a national ID card with the names of Albanian citizens printed using the Albanian, Latin, alphabet. The Albanians demanded that all the script in the ID Card be Latin, rather than Cyrillic. We referred the matter to the Americans and one week later, the Albanians accepted our offer, unchanged. Gruevski doesn't understand the role of foreigners here.

We should use this type of 'soft arbitration' to resolve the issue of merit-based, non-politicized recruitment to the civil service. My suggestion: involve foreigners in the selection and vetting of candidates for jobs in the administration."

"Is this not compromising your sovereignty?" - I ask.

For the first time, Frckoski loses his composure:

"To me, sovereignty is meritocracy! Sovereignty is when bureaucrats are loyal to the state, not to their political masters! What do I care how I achieve this goal? The means are not important - the end is! I am interested in results!"

He leans back and eyes me intensely, almost pleadingly:

"Correct and efficient procedures are the only consensus in a multicultural society. And the only guarantee that the state will function as it should is a Webberian bureaucracy. This is the exclusive glue uniting the ethnicities of a country like Macedonia. This is why corruption and dysfunction are more dangerous here than in Slovenia, which is largely ethnically homogeneous. Making this happen should be our first priority!"

"The civil service? Not NATO accession?"

"Accession to NATO is crucial for countries like Macedonia, the successors to much larger polities, now saddled with new minorities, created overnight by the disintegration of the previous structures. Security is an issue far more important than human rights or democracy. Joining NATO allows for peaceful demarcation of the international borders. There is a pervasive fear of the future here. People have been traumatized by a bad history. Granted, their fear is irrational and based on the manipulation of abstract symbols, but, it is still there and fosters the emergence of mass manipulators and authoritarian regimes.

NATO has changed. Now it regards internal unrest as a challenge. Minority rights are part of the accession process, one of the three pillars. In this sense, NATO is more efficient than the EU. This is precisely the main issue in Macedonia today. NATO membership means a predictable, controllable Albanian sector. This is why Greece's veto on Macedonia's accession to NATO is highly irresponsible.

Also, the American role in NATO is pronounced. The deeper NATO is entrenched here, the larger the role of the USA. EU accession, on the other hand, means only greater Greek involvement and penetration.

The negotiations for NATO accession were mishandled by the government, probably owing to an internal resistance and lack of motivation to compromise. They should have surveyed all the options and exposed the Greeks to the world as the intransigent party. We should have involved the Europeans and Americans in the process far more heavily."

Question: "Kosovo has declared independence in February 2008. Good or bad for Macedonia?"

Frckoski, unhesitatingly: "Kosovo is an opportunity for Macedonia. About 200 million euros of trade will be displaced from Serbia to western Macedonia. Skopje-Pristina is now the only reliable land link to Kosovo. Foreign companies are already sending scouts and establishing their headquarters here, to cover not only Kosovo and Macedonia, but also Albania, south Serbia, and, to some extent, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Greece. The Albanians of Macedonia stand to profit, but this has to be a state-organized affair, not like the smuggling operations of the 1990s, during the embargo. We have to recognize Kosovo, normalize our relations, and support the presence of the USA."

"Finally, a personal question: do you miss being in politics?"

"I am way over my head in various academic pursuits. I am a participant in all the major political debates. If anything, I would like to be less mired in politics, to be able to spend more time with my family, and to avoid the kind of personal attacks that cause my nearest and dearest anxiety.

But, you can't avoid your character and destiny. I am ideologically committed to what I do. There is no personal gain in this. I simply believe in freedom and can't resist the call to further and defend it. I try to shape my environment and find the kind of company that I would feel comfortable with. Don't we all?"

Bulgaria - Past, Present, and Multiethnic Future
An Interview with Vladimir Chukov

By: Sam Vaknin

Skopje, June 2002

Vladimir Chukov is Associate Professor in the Bulgarian Centre for Middle East Studies and the Department of Administrative and Political Sciences in Varna Free University.

Sam: Aren't Bulgarians actually Turks? They are, after all, the descendants of the Bulgars, Turkic tribes that originated from the steppes to the north of the Black Sea and invaded the Balkan only as late as the 6th century AD.

Vladimir: First of all, I would like to underline that there are many theories concerning the origin of the Bulgarians. We have to distinguish between "Bulgarian" on the national level from "Bulgarian" on the tribal levels. It is undoubted that the Bulgarian nation is a product of the fusion of three tribes during the early Middle Ages (about 6-7 century AD): Bulgars, Slavs and Thracians. The first ethnic community played a leading role in the establishment of the state (which officially started with Byzantine recognition in 681) because they formed the core of the army and the nobility. Their political leader (the khan) and political traditions had been imposed on the newly founded State. Therefore, they were the ones to give their name to newly established nation. It is unclear what was the number, the influence, and real contribution of each group within Bulgarian socio - political processes. The majority of Bulgarian historians share the idea that Slavs were numerically superior to the Bulgars. If true, certainly the current Bulgarian people is not from Turkic origin. As time passed, this matter acquired a political interpretative aspect.

During the first half of the Third Bulgarian State (1878-1944), Bulgarian historiography emphasized the Bulgar origin compared to the second half (1944-1989) which was dominated by pro-Soviet history. During the Communist rule, the local historians attempted to show that Bulgarians actually remain predominantly Slavs and focused on Slavic solidarity and the close relationship with the Russians. As far as the origins of the Bulgar tribe itself, two main theories exist: that they are issued from the Turks or from the Huns. I would not venture to comment of the reliability of both these historical hypotheses. In general, we can admit the Turkic origin of Bulgar tribe on a historical hypothetical level only.

Sam: The Bulgarians collaborated with the invading Ottoman Turks against the Catholic West. The most notorious example is when they fought against the crusade initiated by Pope Urban V to liberate Adrianople in 1364. Tsar Ivan Shishman even declared himself vassal to Murad in 1371 before the Ottomans captured him and subjugated the Bulgarian Empire. This east-bound propensity (later towards the Russian Empire and the USSR) - how can it be reconciled with the current professed EU orientation?

Vladimir: The historical examples you mentioned were bad foreign policy options that Bulgaria must never repeat. Each tactical compromise and "political myopia" may be fatal for the next generations. As far as Tsar Ivan Shishman's policy is concerned, he allied in 1364 with the Ottoman Turks temporarily against the Hungarians of Pope Urban V and his mortal enemy Byzantium. So, he did not fight with the Turks against the West as represented by the Pope, but he declared war on the eternal Byzantine antagonist due to a lack of foresight. Unfortunately, Ivan Shishman "had seen the branch, but he did not mention the wood". As far as the Bulgarian dependence on the Russian Empire and the USSR is concerned, I think that is would be quite appropriate to regard this period as a part of the pro- and anti-Russia specifics of the Bulgarian foreign policy decision making. Bulgaria was a Soviet satellite in the 45 years (1944-1989) following the Red Army invasion. Inversely, the Kingdom of Bulgaria was traditional an ally to Germany during the First and the Second World War. Thus, the pro- and anti- West European orientations remain balanced within the contemporary period.

I can say that there is not contradiction between the current EU and NATO aspirations of Bulgaria and its Communist past. Only conjectural circumstances resulting from external factors made Bulgaria hesitate on the path of (the complex) adhesion to the family of European nations. By "external factors", I mean the 5-centuries of Ottoman rule and the half century of Soviet-Communist totalitarian rule that I consider as an imposed deviation from the normal development of the Bulgarian nation. There is something symbolic in king Simeon II winning the elections last June and becoming Prime Minister of Bulgaria. This obviously confirmed the pro-EU and NATO foreign orientation of the majority of Bulgarian governments after the democratic shift in 1989.

Sam: Some revisionist historians in the West say that the "Ottoman Yoke" period of incorporation in the pax Ottomanica of Bulgaria was actually a blessing. Peace prevailed for 5 centuries, the nobility converted to Islam, Bulgarians reached top ranks in the Ottoman Janissary army, the population prospered in an atmosphere of religious tolerance and administrative functioning, and local laws and community institutions were honoured and sustained - at least until Turkey became the "sick man of Europe". What is your view?

Vladimir: Yes, you're right to some extent in suggesting that the Bulgarian people lived in an atmosphere of religious tolerance and administrative comfort. The conditions of life depended on the internal situation of the Ottoman Empire. The more the State of the Turkish Sultans prospered, the more the social status of the Bulgarian population benefited. Up to 1856 (the Crimean Russian-Turkish war), the Bulgarian notability reached top ranks in Ottoman administration. Nevertheless, let us not mention the Janissary army. All Bulgarian boys in it were kidnapped from their families and had been forced to convert to Islam at the age of 5-7 years. This act is a result of the so-called "bloody tax" (dafcharme) imposed on the Christian people living within the Ottoman Empire. In practice, those people had not been considered Bulgarian and they did not consider themselves Bulgarians, too. The manner of the "recruitment" of the Ottoman Janissary army remains one of the "black pages" of Bulgarian history during the 5 centuries of Turkish rule.

So, we have to distinguish between the military (Janissary) and the civil parts of the Bulgarian elite during the aforementioned period. Despite all this, Bulgarians remained "raya" of the Turkish Sultans. In short, they occupied the status of "ahl al dhima" according to the shari'a law. It means that they were "second rate" people within the system of private law. In the court, a Muslim's testimony was always considered as more trustworthy than the Christian's. This injustice embedded in the private law provoked a proportionate shift in public law towards the establishment of a Bulgarian State that would equalize the legal standing of both religions. Thus, the incorporation of Bulgaria in pax Ottomanica was merely a partial process. Predominantly, Bulgarians felt themselves comfortable up to the end of the 16-17-th century when the Ottoman army was defeated in Vienna. Later, the crises-ridden Turkey became a burden.

Sam: Can you tell the readers more about the phenomenon of the Pomaks?

Vladimir: In short, the genesis of the Pomaks in Bulgaria is comparable that of the Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Turbeshi in Macedonia.

This specific group belongs to the ethnic majority, but they changed their faith (from Christianity to Islam) during the Ottoman rule of the Balkan Peninsula due to various reasons. Bulgarian historians share the idea that the Islamization of these ethnic Bulgarians lasted throughout the 17-th century. There are several theories on how they converted to Islam (by force or voluntary). I think that one can distinguish three groups of Islamised Bulgarians. The biggest group issues from the heirs of the Bogomils (radical anti-Christian Orthodox sect very popular among the Bulgarian peasants). The Ottoman authorities considered those people as pagans, not as Christians. So, according to the Shari'a law they had to be Islamised by force.

The second group comprised a part of the local Christian notability. The religious conversion was voluntary. Maybe the motives for this act were commercial. Christians in the Islamic State were subject to the "ahl al dhima" status. It resulted in the payment of additional duty called "djizie" that was proportional to one's wealth. Christian people, victims of religious genocide and violence composed the third group.

There are estimated to be between 200 and 300 thousands Bulgarian Pomaks. They live predominantly in the mountain areas in South and Southwest Bulgaria (bordering Greece) in a hermetic, conservative and patriarchal social climate, which emphasizes the conservation of family values and instinctive kindness. Their political behaviour is very specific. Traditionally, they support the political party in power as a resulting of a concealed psychological complex of inferiority.

In 1991, Kamen Burov from the village Jeltousha attempted to establish political entity claiming to defend the Pomaks' political interests - the Democratic Party of labour (DPL). He failed because in the 1994 parliamentary elections, DPL won only 0,1% of the popular vote. The Bulgarian Pomaks remained a monolithic community religiously, psychologically, and regionally. They demonstrate strict loyalty to the Bulgarian State. Currently, they again massively support the ruling National Movement Simeon II.

Sam: When did the migration of poor Turkish peasants to Bulgaria start and what were the geographic dispersion and the demographic and socio-economic profile of the newcomers? How did the local population react to them at first?

Vladimir: The expression "poor Turkish peasants" is quite relative within the Middle Ages context. The Balkan Peninsula, including the Bulgarian territories witnessed several migration waves which started in the second half of 14-th century. I am talking about the triumphant Ottoman army composed by nomad warriors coming from Anatolia and seeking new lands for booty. In summary, their socio-economic characteristics were as follows:

1.. They are warriors who after the victory had been given the management of the conquered Bulgarian lands (not in order to work it and thus gain a livelihood);

2.. They imposed by force the Asiatic values system and the social profile of the non-settled, military;

3.. The land remained strictly the Sultan's property;

4.. Mehmet I (1413-1431) institutionalised the "spahia system" as a symbiosis between the military and the rural Ottoman spheres.

As far as the geographic dispersion of the Turkish newcomers is concerned, they preferred to settle in the garrison centres such as Shumen, Silistra, and Russe in Northeast Bulgaria as well as in the small valley towns. In the mountain areas and the villages the Turks encountered a violent resistance. The Bulgarian people were scared by the new conquerors. Indeed, the low status groups did not feel quite different to the new rulers from the economic and especially fiscal aspects. In practice, Bulgarian peasants remained to work in communities and paid the same taxes and duties. The nobility (Boliars) was different. Some of them converted to Islam (for example Tsar Ivan Shishman's son, Alexander, who renamed himself Eskander). Another part as well as the clergy left the country and migrated to Russia and Serbia. Thus, by the end of the 14th century the Bulgarian State, weakened by feudal wars, underestimated the Ottoman threat and lost its political independence. At the same time, this was the second wave of Bulgarian political ideas that was transmitted to Russia. (after the 10th century period when both the Orthodox Christianity and the Slavic alphabet were similarly transmitted).

Sam: The hostility between Bulgarians and Turks has a long history. The re-settlement of Turkish refugees from lands conquered by Christians in Bulgarian ciftliks, the guerrilla warfare between Turkish gangs and Bulgarian haiduks, the Plovdiv massacre ("The Bulgarian Horrors"). What was the contribution of this constant friction to re-emerging Bulgarian nationalism? In other words, did Bulgarian nationalism define itself in opposition to all things Turk or to all things Greek?

Vladimir: Nationalism emerged as collective defence instinct, gradually transformed into a permanent and stable feeling, oriented towards fighting the appropriate State enemies during the Enlightenment period. Later, in the era of the building of the modern States (19th century), nationalism became a well-conceptualised political theory, whose main characteristic was negativism. The newly established State-Nations (including in those in Southeastern Europe) found themselves in competition with all their presumptive antagonists. The neighbouring States were predominantly perceived as those protagonists. Accumulated mistrust resulting from the Middle Ages and the wars in modern times, as well as frustration, were the leading expressions of the collective political culture.

I consider modern nationalism as a leading factor in the disloyal rivalry between neighbouring nations. Within this framework, I admit that Bulgarian nationalism rose as a collective outlook opposed to all neighbouring Statehood, including Turkey and Greece. Notwithstanding that, nationalism as an emotionally motivated theory identified very correctly the most dangerous antagonists. Indeed, during the 13-centuries of Bulgarian existence, the most aggressive (as well as competitive) remained both Turkey and Greece. It does not mean that Bulgarian nationalism underestimated Serbia and Romania as potential threats (the Balkan Wars in 1912-1913). But Bulgaria suffered five-centuries Ottoman rule (1396-1878) and more than one century of Byzantine rule (1018-1186). Thus, Bulgarian nationalism as conceptualised political negativism was only more radically inclined towards the Turkish and the Greek neighbours just because they succeeded to build Empires and to truly threaten Bulgarian existence.

Sam: The Bulgarian land reform at the end of the 19th century was long a model of equity and the formation of a smallholder's middle class. Yet, it was done at the expense of Turkish land owners and peasants. Did it transform the relationship between these two nations on Bulgarian soil?

Vladimir: At the end of the 19-th century, 80% of all Bulgarian people lived off agriculture. 80% of Bulgarian peasants were smallholders or landless.

Land reform was implemented among this majority because of the lack of a national nobility class. Thus, egalitarian "paint" and radical "rays" during and after the revolutionary political changes had characterized the land reform which started in 1878. The newly created public law relationship demanded adequate economic and social shifts. Some Bulgarian historians call the concerned land reform an "agrarian coup".

As a whole, There were two main periods:

First, during the war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire in 1877-1878, some Turkish peasants left the country together with the Ottoman army. Landless Bulgarian peasants have possessed the abandoned lands. Later, the Bulgarian administration demanded from the new owners to return the land. At the same time, an inverse refugee wave (Bulgarians from Thrace who remained under Turkish and Greek jurisdiction) had been directed to these lands and settled in them. The majority of Turkish peasants had not been forced to leave. Therefore, in 1879, 10% of the Bulgarian deputies, who elaborated and voted the first Bulgarian Constitution, were of Turk origin.

Second, in the mid-80's, after the revolutionary events ended and the new administration stabilized, a slow flux of former returning Turkish peasants had been observed. As a matter in fact, some rural properties remained still abandoned after they fled. Actually, the Bulgarian government was interested in increasing the skilled rural labour force. The land reform was an inevitable measure of the new Bulgarian State. It may be characterized as equitable, but bearing in mind two specific details:

1.. Up to 1878, 60% of the fertile lands were in the possession of Muslims. In the 60's, the former Ottoman authorities massively settled by force Tartars and Gerkassians in Bulgaria, aiming to change the ethnic profile of the peasantry working on Bulgarian lands.

2.. The Bulgarian government encountered a series of setbacks and in practice abstained from the implementation of agrarian reform in the Northeast and Southeast because the Turkish army did not withdraw from these districts up to the San Stefano agreement (1878). Indeed, these soldiers remained in Bulgaria with their families. The mentioned events were specific for Shumen, Russe, Silistra, Razgrad, Kardjali, etc.

In this way, the actual Turkish minority predominantly issues from the Turk soldiers who settled and owned the arable lands around the above mentioned towns. They endeavoured sincerely to adapt themselves to the Bulgarian majority and to the new political realities. This process was facilitated by the government's tolerance. Additionally, the Turkish community benefited from the non-expropriated rural ownership. I admit that the land reform at the end of 19th century was one of the most serious tests of the Bulgarian State and its multi-ethnic society. Its social equity led gradually to decisive steps towards the establishment of sustainable coexistence and religious tolerance between the Christian majority and the Muslim minority.

Sam: Why did the Communist government seek to "Bulgarize" the Turkish minority? Can you describe the measures taken, how many people they affected, how did the Bulgarian population react to them, etc.? Why did 300,000 Turks leave Bulgaria as refugees?

Vladimir: There are several hypotheses regarding the so-called "revival process" among the academic community. No one found official document issued by the Central Committee of the Communist Party or the State Council of the former People's Republic of Bulgaria in this matter. It is worthwhile to mention two versions.

The first one points to Moscow as the principal inspiration. Gorbachev, the Soviet leader at the time, was interested in removing the last Bulgarian Communist President Todor Jivkov during the first stage of his "Perestroika", because Jivkov was one of its radical opponents. The brutal assimilation of the Turkish population was intended to provoke active international opprobrium and international isolation of Jivkov's regime, leading to his ousting.

The second version is related to strict internal reasons, the principal one being the ethnic lack of balance within Bulgarian society in mid 80's, the outcome of the strong negative growth rate of the Bulgarian ethnicity and the inverse positive one of the Turks and the other Muslims (Pomaks, Gypsies, etc.) The ethnic cleansing aimed to maintain the existing ethnic profile after the Politburo estimated that the presence of more than 1.5 million Muslims would certainly lead to official demands for autonomy and later - to a Bulgarian-Turkish federation.

I share the opinion that the "revival process" was product of a small group of political non-intelligent and uneducated adventurers who initiated an act whose significance they did not understand. Jivkov and his most loyal collaborators from among the Politburo members like M.Balev, D.Stoyanov, P. Kobadinski, Al. Lilov, etc., decided to overcome the deep crisis of the Communist regime by diverting public attention towards the Turks and the other minorities.

The measures taken were organized and implemented by the police and the army. After the violent antigovernment demonstrations on April 1986, the Politburo created Special Forces for struggle against the collective resistance. As a whole, the measures included:

1.. Changing Turkish-Arab names into Slavic ones;

2.. Prohibition of speaking mother tongues (especially the Turkish language) in public areas;

3.. Re-settlement of the Turkish-Muslim minority from the so called "mixed regions" in areas dominated by a Bulgarian majority with the aim of breaking the compact character of the Turkish community;

4.. Limiting the freedom of Islamic worship;

5.. Organizing social pressure upon the Turkish minority by maintaining a high level of unemployment and aiming to push them to migrate to Turkey.

The above mentioned measures affected approximately 1.5 million people. The majority of the affected minority groups were forced into accepting the imposed measures. Some Turkish intellectuals collaborated with the authorities, others founded an illegal resistant movement that gave rise, following the fall of the Communist regime, to the current political party of Bulgarian Turks - the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF).

Despite several demonstrations planned by the Communist rule in support of the "revival process", the Bulgarian population sympathized with its compatriots from the minorities. In general, Bulgarians perceived the events as a national nightmare, whose resonance instinctively reinforced dissidents' resistance.

On April-May 1986, about 300 thousand Turks leaved the country. Most of them refused to change their names, others were forced to seek a job in neighbouring Turkey. Unfortunately, the economic reason for Turkish migration is still there. Between 20 and 30 thousands of Turks are still leaving Bulgaria annually.

Sam: The Turkish population still constitutes c. 9% of the population and are politically often represented in the opposition (though not currently). Are the current relations with ethnic Bulgarians tense? Is the past still alive? Any prognosis?

Vladimir: The Turkish community is approximately 8-10% of the population and as such remains the biggest minority group. It makes important efforts towards gradual integration in Bulgarian society by focusing on surmounting the negative consequences of the "revival process" on the legislative, economic, political and psychological levels. The Bulgarian parliament voted a series of laws for restoring Turk-Arab names through an easy administrative procedure. In 1998, at the MRF's insistence, parliament approved the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

Despite the MRF becoming the third national political entity, with outstanding organizational presence, the nationalist prejudices of the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) and the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) prevented the establishment of real partnership with the party of the ethnic Turks. So, the post-Communist bipolar system based on confrontation marginalized MRF and pushed it away from real involvement in the political power. The concealed political tension reached its culmination when in 1991 BSP referred to the Constitutional Court MRF's legal status and its existence and when in 2001 Ivan Kostov, the former UDF leader and Prime Minister declared that MRF is a curse for Bulgaria.

On 17 June 2001 the ex-king Simeon won the parliamentary elections and demonstrated a clever style of coalition-building and partnering. For the first time MRF entered a ruling coalition as a result of an official agreement on the basis of equal rights with the leading party. The Turks received 2 ministers, 5 deputy ministers, 3 governors (including of the capital Sofia) and 8 deputy governors.

This formula can serve as a precedent for political practice in Southeastern Europe. I exclude the Macedonian case because I am doubtful about its future. I can compare the current Bulgarian construct with the Bosnian-Croatian federation not by way of legal status, but as a philosophy for multi-ethnic co-existence. Despite the disintegration of former Yugoslavia, it seemed to be a successful working formula in Southeastern Europe because of the European standards with regards to the requirements of the protection of human rights and the possibilities for attracting investments from the Moslem countries.

I think that with MRF's involvement in power, Bulgaria has taken a serious step towards solving the problems of the Turkish minority. At the same time, I guess, aggravating the problems of the other big minority in the country - the Gypsies.


Author Bio

Sam Vaknin ( ) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East.

He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, Global Politician, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.

Visit Sam's Web site at

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The following comments are for "Intellectuals in Conflict Zones: The Balkans"
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