More than 14 years after they began, news bulletins in Turkish on public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television (BNT) are again the subject of controversy.
The bulletins, broadcast once daily in the afternoons from Monday to Friday, frequently have been the target of protests by ultra-nationalist groups.
Volen Siderov’s far-right ultra-nationalist Ataka minority party has picketed the headquarters of BNT in recent years, objecting to bulletins in Turkish, which his party associates with the centuries of Ottoman rule of Bulgaria and the alleged neo-Ottomanism of today’s government in Ankara.
But now matters have taken a new twist after the coalition government deal which returned centre-right GERB leader Boiko Borissov to power as Prime Minister relies in part on support for votes in Parliament from the nationalist Patriotic Front (PF) – which also is opposed to news in Turkish on national television.
In an interview on November 9 with privately-owned broadcaster Darik Radio, Deputy Prime Minister Roumyana Buchvarova of GERB acknowledged that the issue had been raised by the PF and said that consideration was being given to moving the news bulletin in Turkish to BNT’s regional broadcast channel, BNT2.
Buchvarova added, however, that the reorganisation would need additional funds.
Culture Minister Veshdi Rashidov of GERB, who is of Turkish descent, was asked about the issue by local media.
Rashidov said that he had no objection to the news in Turkish being moved off the national airwaves, saying that he was a Bulgarian and not Turkish and saw no need to watch the news in a different language after he had watched it in Bulgarian.
His greater concern was that there should be more about culture on television, Rashidov said.
In contrast, head of state President Rossen Plevneliev expressed misgivings about the idea.
“I do not understand what the positive effect of such an act would be, depriving people of something already accomplished,” Plevneliev told reporters on November 10, in reply to questions about the issue.
“I do not believe that when the Turkish-language news is removed, the standard of living will be raised, the country will become more democratic or it will stimulate the economy, create jobs or enable Bulgarians to live better. If someone has the opposite view, let them prove it,” Plevneliev said.
“I do not understand why, in the 21st century, the century of internet and communications, we need to impose a ban,” he said.
President Plevneliev said that every day, apart from the news in Bulgarian, he also reads the news in English and German.
“If I knew Turkish, I would read it in Turkish. If I knew Greek, I would be happy to take a look,” said Plevneliev, adding that people in the 21st century were entitled to the maximum amount of information to be able to take logical and reasoned decisions.
In Bulgaria, while news bulletins have been a daily feature of the public broadcaster since October 2000, the country’s other controversial language law requires that election campaigning is conducted solely in the Bulgarian language.
Most recently in the October 2014 early parliamentary elections, members of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – the party led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of ethnic Turkish descent – fell foul of this law. Among those fined for campaigning in Turkish was the party’s leader, Lyutvi Mestan.
The MRF, now in opposition, has complained frequently about the law against the use of languages other than Bulgarian in campaigning, alleging that this violates European codes of human rights. But even when it was part of the ruling axis, it failed in an attempt to have the ban removed.
(Photos via the Facebook page of the BNT Turkish-language news team)