Bulgaria’s broadcast regulator the Council for Electronic Media (CEM) has issued a licence for public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio to open a regional radio station in the region of Kurdzhali that will broadcast partly in Turkish, in a move that has incensed nationalist politicians.
The station will begin broadcasts in January 2016, aimed at a listening audience in Kurdhzali, the province with the highest proportion in the country of Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity. According to the most recent national census, in 2011, about 55.5 per cent of residents of Kurdzhali municipality identified themselves as ethnic Turkish.
Most of the time, the station will be relaying national broadcasts from Radio Bulgaria – which includes some broadcasts in Turkish – and BNR’s Horizont programme. In 2016, there will be a three-hour regional programme, increasing to six hours in 2017, 12 hours in 2018 and 18 hours in 2019.
CEM said that broadcasts in Turkish would not take up the entire consecutive three hours of regional programming. In all, broadcasts in Turkish would be about three hours of airtime out of 24.
Nationalist party VMRO, a partner in the Patriotic Front coalition which supports the government in the National Assembly, said that it would appeal in court against CEM’s decision. VMRO said that the CEM decision was “fixed in advance” and served the interests of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the party led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity.
For years, nationalist parties in Bulgaria have complained about broadcasts on BNR and Bulgarian National Television in Turkish. Bulgaria’s public broadcaster BNT has a short news bulletin on weekday afternoons in Turkish, a fact that long has been targeted for protests and attempts to change the law that makes it possible.
Ultra-nationalists in Bulgaria have a particular bugbear about Turkish because their platforms invoke memories of the five centuries of Ottoman rule of Bulgaria.