Ethnicity and Politics
in Rural Bulgaria
Throughout Eastern Europe, the regions of the former U.S.S.R., and the Balkans one issue dominates political discussion: the specter of politicized ethnicity. The bloody aftermath of the dissolution of Yugoslavia gives a special poignancy to this for the Moslem minorities of Bulgaria. Is internecine strife inevitable; can local and national political structures peacefully accommodate ethnic and cultural diversity? "We are as much part of Bulgaria as anyone else, and our culture and language must be respected," a Turkish member of Parliament told me. "We are not guest workers here and we won't live like guest workers." A Bulgarian business person from the same region expressed an oftrepeated opinion of the new prominence of Turkish and Moslem minorities, "The Turks think they are bey (master) once more; no Bulgarian should ever have to live under Turkish rule again." Although there is profound skepticism among many of Bulgaria's Turks that they will be allowed to live normal lives, openly practicing their religion and expressing their cultural heritage following years of forced assimilation, in the northeastern region of Bulgaria, one of the two main areas of Turkish-speaking population concentration, Turkish is once more heard in cafes and marketplaces. More important, it is heard in the local corridors of power, as recently elected officials deal with their newly enfranchised constituents. At the same time, this has to be seen as an uneasy accommodation given Bulgaria!s history of anti-Turkish nationalism. Legally or otherwise over 100,000 Turks left the country for Turkey in 1992 ( HOH 1993, No. 29:1-2).
Even so, the case of Bulgaria is clearly instructive, perhaps even hopeful. The largely Turkish-supported political party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), has emerged as a strong voice for Turkish cultural interests