Tech & Rights

Macedonian Organization Sues Bulgaria Over Registration Refusal

A Macedonian cultural organization has brought a complaint against Bulgaria to the European Court of Human Rights after two state courts refused to register it because it poses "a threat to the unity of the Bulgarian nation."

by Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
Photo: Marjan Lazarevski - Flickr/CC content

The Association of Repressed Macedonians in Bulgaria, Victims of Communist Terror and its chairman, Stoyan Vassilev, filed a complaint against Bulgaria with the European Court of Human Rights after two courts in Bulgaria refused to register the association because it poses "a threat to the unity of the Bulgarian nation." The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee is representing the applicants before the court.

Activities of the association

The association was established on December 9, 2013. Its objectives include the protection and promotion of the Macedonian cultural and historical heritage, the protection of the rights of Macedonian refugees and their descendants, and the promotion of peace and good neighborly relations in the Balkans. The activities of the association include public advocacy, education, cultural celebrations, the collection of memorabilia and archival materials as well as publishing.

First refusal

The chairman of the association submitted an application for registration as a non-profit organization to the Blagoevgrad Regional Court. On September 24, 2014, the court refused, considering one of the objectives, "the protection and promotion of the Macedonian cultural and historical heritage," contrary to the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria, which prohibits organizations whose activities are directed against the unity of the Bulgarian nation or towards incitement of national and ethnic enmity.

According to the court, such activities include: conservation and promotion of the historical truth about the Macedonian problem and actions to resolve it; rehabilitation and construction of monuments associated with the Macedonian past; lectures about the past and current problems of the Macedonian people; celebration of historical dates in order to promote and preserve folklore.

Final refusal

The refusal of registration was appealed before the Sofia Court of Appeal, relying on Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom of assembly and association) and the case law of the Constitutional Court in Bulgaria, according to which the self-awareness of belonging to a minority group cannot be considered as a threat to the democratic society and the unity of the Bulgarian nation. On February 2, 2015, the Sofia Court of Appeal rendered a decision resulting in a final refusal to register the association.

One of many violations

The right of unpopular groups to freedom of association is often violated in Bulgaria. This is one of the many issues covered in the Annual Report on Human Rights in Bulgaria in 2014, published by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. It shows that most of the violations of the right to freedom of association were carried out precisely against the Macedonians in Bulgaria, whose identity is still officially denied. Currently there is no association of Macedonians registered in Bulgaria.

"The refusal to register the association is particularly unfair given that its members spent part of their lives in communist prisons or were persecuted because of their beliefs and ethnic identity," said Krassimir Kanev, chairman of BHC.

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