East European Communities: The Struggle for Balance in Turbulent Times

By David A. Kideckel | Go to book overview

Conversations with individuals from all sectors of Bulgarian society suggest that most are extremely sensitive to world opinion and are offended by the public attention occasioned by the policy of forced assimilation. Most, too, seem eager to avoid ethnic strife despite often virulent nationalist expressions of anti-Turkish sentiment. Yugoslavia is a reminder of the costs. For their part, thanks in part to the discipline and visible effectiveness of the MRF, there is little reason for Turks to respond extra-legally to nationalist provocations. The MRF strongly advocates a continued Turkish presence in a multi-cultural Bulgaria and strongly opposed out-migration.

So the Bulgarians and the Turks have an uneasy accommodation, but so does the MRF with its constituency. Having so successfully represented the interests of that constituency up to now, can the organization continue to do so as those interests change in response to wider economic and social developments? The emphasis on clearly defined community rights, for example, may prove increasingly irrelevant as rural communities, Bulgarians and Turks alike, have to deal with the economic realities of the free market. Already local discourse has clearly shifted from issues related to communal identity to economic concerns. Further, different segments of the large Moslem constituency may reasonably diverge or at least come to express different priorities. Many local leaders express dissatisfaction with the national MRF leadership, saying that it is "out of touch"; or "too concerned with private business." Islam, presently a cultural force, could provide an alternative basis for local community leadership, although "fundamentalist" appeals seem non-existent at the moment. The worst-case scenario for all concerned would be a massive out-pouring of disaffected Turkish-speakers to Turkey. This would be disastrous for Bulgaria's long term recovery given its demographic structure, and it need not happen. Just as Turks in Bulgaria are uncertain about their future in their native land, they have doubts about their place in Turkey. As one Shumen MRF leader said, "The best thing would be for the MRF to achieve its goals and become irrelevant."


Notes

I wish to thank the following individuals who assisted me in fieldwork or in preparing this paper: HaS+̜im Akif, Gerald Creed, Ali Eminov, Krustyu Petkov, Resmi S+̜erif Mustafa, Greg Johnson, Detelina Radoeva, Eleanor Smollett, and in particular Judith Tucker.

1.
See also Konstantinovet al 1991 and Tomova and Bogoev 1992: 1-15. The latter report puts the numbers of Pomaks (Bulgarian-speaking Moslems), at 268,971 and Gypsies (Christian and Moslem) at 576,927 (see Konstaninov 1991, and Iglaet al ( 1991) for other estimates. The best discussions of the Pomaks are Silverman 1984 and Konstantinov 1992b) but see also Marushiakovet al ( 1992). The census is interesting, too, because for the first time it notes an absolute decline in Bulgaria's population, a birthrate below replacement, an average household size of 2.8, and an age structure in which retired individuals out-number those under age 17.

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