Row in Bulgaria’s Parliament over replacement of 800 ‘Turkish-Arabic’ place names in Stara Zagora

There were heated moments in Bulgaria’s National Assembly on June 6 when the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) condemned a decision by the Stara Zagora municipal council to change more than 800 names of places of Turkish and Arabic origin.

The five centuries of Ottoman rule continue to be a recurring theme in Bulgarian politics, while for the MRF – which has an electorate made up mainly of Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity – a key theme is the campaign late in the communist era to force such Bulgarians to adopt Slavonic names.

Reading a declaration, MRF leader Mustafa Karadayi said that the decision by the municipal council was “a test for Bulgarian democracy and tolerance with an alarming result”.

“Our democracy has need of serious consideration, a very serious and profound consideration, deep consideration. Dialogue in society is needed. This and other such actions are a reflection of the state of democracy, of the past of the country, of the earth, of the present and the future,” Karadayi said.

He exceeded his speaking time, and Speaker Tsveta Karayancheva switched off hismicrophone. This prompted MRF MPs to shout for her resignation. Karayancheva relented and allowed Karadayi to continue, saying after he finished that she would appeal to leaders of all parliamentary groups to ensure that speaking time limits were adhered to.

Karadayi said that the decision by the Stara Zagora council could lead to other municipalities in Bulgaria following suit, and this would lead to tension.

The decision awakened association with another process from the recent past, he said, referring to the communist-era “Revival Process” of the forcible renamings.

He said that GERB – Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s party – not only had failed to tame the nationalists, but “GERB has made nationalism a major state policy, forbidding democratic principles and European values, forgetting its responsibility for the future. This act in Stara Zagora shows the true nature of GERB’s policy”.

Karadayi was referring to the presence in government of minority partner the United Patriots, a grouping of ultra-nationalist and far-right parties.

Reacting to Karadayi’s statement, United Patriots MP Stanislav Stanilov said that the Bulgarian ethnic model had not been invented by MRF founder Ahmed Dogan, the MRF or anyone else.

“The Bulgarian ethnic model was created by the Bulgarian people after the Liberation (from Ottoman rule) and if that was not true, in Bulgaria there would be no Turks, but there are and there are a lot. The Bulgarian ethnic model allowed these Turks to remain and to live in peace with all Bulgarians, which they now do not want to do,” Stanilov said.

He said that there was no place in Turkey that a Bulgarian name.

MRF MP Yordan Tsonev said: “I want to ask you – where there are other majorities in the municipal councils, how will you stop them if they decide to respond to this? Do you realise that I am asking you this as an ethnic Bulgarian and as a Christian?

“Do you realise that for these 20 years, there has been a rejection of revanchism by a truly patriotic part of the Bulgarian population? When you speak here about the diversity in Bulgaria, there are a variety of religions, a variety of ethnicities, a variety of names – if you do not realise that, you are not patriots,” Tsonev said.

(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)



The Sofia Globe staff

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