Bulgarian communities in Western Balkans call for Sunday schools and easier access to Bulgarian citizenship

Photo: BGNES

"The Bulgarian communities in Serbia, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo should have engaged more actively in discussions that took place before the Western Balkans summit on May17. They are aware of the situation and problems in these countries and can provide much valuable information as they are the natural link between Bulgaria and the governments of the Western Balkan countries," Vice President IliyanaYotova said at a conference in Sofia dedicated to Bulgarian communities as a key factor for the path of the Western Balkans to EU Membership. Deputy Prime Minister Valeriy Simeonov said that the policy for integration of the region into the European family would be continued by Austria, Romania, Finland and Croatia because the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of EU managed to bring the topic back on the EU agenda. He added that it was crucial for the region to improve investment climate, which depends both on stability and predictability of the economy, as well as on the country's specific commitments to building a functioning economic partnership based on good neighbor relations. The conference also included representatives of the Bulgarian communities in Albania, Serbia, Macedonia and Kosovo, who exposed the problems faced by Bulgarian communities in these countries. The President of the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, Petar Haralampiev paid special attention to the situation in Kosovo and Serbia, where for years Bulgarians have been calling for rights as citizens of the two countries:

“One of the organizations of Bulgarians in Kosovo has submitted a petition with more than 500 signatures to the Kosovo Parliament for the recognition of a Bulgarian national minority. Bulgarians want to be recognized just like many other minorities are, such as Montenegrins, Croats and Bosnians, in order to be able to take advantage of all the opportunities for development that the country offers. Bulgarians can seriously contribute for the faster integration of Kosovo into European processes. In Serbia, the Bulgarian minority is recognized and cooperation between the two states has been intensifying, but problems exist there, too.” Haralampiev says.

His opinion was also supported by the head of the Cultural and Information Center in Bosilegrad, Ivan Nikolov, who pointed out that processes taking place in Bosilegrad would cause the Bulgarian population there to disappear. He expressed concern that Bulgarians there would be the first minority to disappear from the ethnic map of Europe, and the responsibility for this would be both Serbian and Bulgarian. According to Mr. Nikolov, this process has already started:

“Population is ageing and there are very few people who work. Our economy has been destroyed and has been non-existent since 2001, as well as agriculture, not to mention education and Bulgarian language teaching.”

Another serious problem for Bulgarians in Serbia is that the names of their children are written in documents according to Serbian models. Alexander Dimitrov, of the “Glas” Association in Bosilegrad, suggested that Bulgaria should seek advice from other European countries on policies towards minorities in different countries. A good example was said to be Hungary, which, two years ago, supported its minority in Vojvodina with 160 million euros aimed at small businesses, thus allowing ethnic Hungarians to stay there.

However, long- lasting problems for the Bulgarian minorities in Serbia, Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia remain the complicated procedure for obtaining Bulgarian citizenship, as well as the impossibility for children of mixed marriages to visit Bulgarian weekend schools. The reason for this is trivial –such schools are absent in most of the countries mentioned above, so that Bulgarians could be assimilated and forget about their homeland and origin. The only exception is the Republic of Macedonia, as at the beginning of 2018the first Bulgarian Sunday school opened doors in Skopje and will be preserving Bulgarian self-consciousness in the future.

English: Alexander Markov

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