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Winter 1996, Bulletin #11

Slovak And Ethnic Hungarian Parliamentarians Sign Agreement On Cooperation

In a historic breakthrough, leaders of Slovakia's three ethnic Hungarianparties, opposition parliamentarians, and representatives of the rulingcoalition signed a joint statement calling for continuing dialogue regardingthe protection of rights of members of ethnic minorities.

The group, meeting under PER's auspices in Le Mont-Pelerin, Switzerland onSeptember 6-8, 1996, recommended that the government of Slovakia beginwithout delay to draft a bill on the use of minority languages for officialbusiness. Conferees also affirmed their loyalty to Slovakia as citizens andas representatives of their respective political parties, and agreed tosupport Slovakia's efforts to join NATO and the European Union. They calledon all political entities in the Slovak parliament to join in support oftheir recommendations, and agreed to continue good faith efforts toestablish amicable relations among the people of the Slovak Republic.

The Project on Ethnic Relations has been sponsoring a series of roundtablesproviding a neutral forum for major decision-makers from Slovakia. The firstmeeting was held in Washington, D.C., in June 1995. The second meeting,co-sponsored with the Slovak National Council (parliament), took place atCasta-Papiernicka, near Bratislava, on May 10-11, 1996. The third was heldin Le Mont-Pelerin. PER was joined in these efforts by the White House,State Department, the Pentagon, and major European internationalorganizations.

The full report on the Casta-Papiernicka meeting, Second SlovakiaRoundtable, can be obtained from PER.

At the Le Mont-Pelerin talks, there were eleven participants from Slovakiarepresenting the ruling coalition in parliament, the parliamentaryopposition (including the three Hungarian parties), the Office of thePresident, and the Foreign Ministry. Herbert Boesch, an Austrian member ofthe European Parliament, attended the meeting in his capacity as chairman ofthe European-Slovak parliamentary joint committee. Ambassador Urs Ziswilerwelcomed the conferees to Switzerland on behalf of the Swiss Federal Officefor Foreign Affairs.

The participants focused on specific legislative issues, includingparliamentary co-operation and possible compromises on drafts of languageand minorities laws. The signers of the document included Dusan Slobodnik,Chairman of the National Council's Foreign Relations committee and a memberof the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), which is the lead party inthe governing coalition; Eva Garajova and Eva Zelenayova, also of the HZDS;Anton Hrnko and Milan Knazko of the Democratic Union; Frantisek Miklosko ofthe Christian Democratic Movement; Jozef Prokes of the Slovak NationalParty; the chairmen of the three ethnic Hungarian parties, Laszlo Nagy, ofthe Hungarian Civic Party, Bela Bugar, of the Hungarian Christian DemocraticParty, and Miklos Duray of the Coexistence party. Other participants at themeeting were Jan Gabor from the Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs; MilanZemko from the Office of the President; and Allen Kassof, Livia Plaks, andSamuel Abraham, PER staff.

The conferees' declaration was particularly important in view of mountingtensions in the aftermath of the controversial meeting held in Budapest inJuly on "Hungary and Hungarians Abroad", in which the leaders of the threeethnic Hungarian parties from Slovakia were participants. At the meeting inSwitzerland, the political opponents put aside their differences to joinother parliamentarians in calling for mutual efforts to resolveSlovak-Hungarian ethnic tensions in Slovakia in the interest of easingSlovakia's entry into the EU and NATO.

The full text of the Le Mont-Pelerin agreement is available from PER.

Bosnian And Croat Journalists Confer

Twelve journalists from Bosnia and Croatia met for two days of intensivediscussions under PER's sponsorship at the Inter-University Center inDubrovnik, Croatia, September 27-28. Representing both government andindependent media, they considered how the Bosnian and Croatian media couldcontribute to calming post-conflict tensions and help avoid the outbreak ofa new war.

Journalists from Zagreb, Sarajevo, and Mostar, who had had little contactsince the outbreak of the war in Bosnia, found room for cooperation despitetheir differing political interests and ethnic backgrounds.

They tackled questions of journalistic independence in the face of politicaland market pressures; how to report fairly on controversial ethnic issues;how to identify and deal with such "taboo" subjects as war crimes by theirown side and the role of churches in inciting ethnic warfare; journalisticethics during war and its aftermath and the lessons learned from theconflict; the need to report both sides of a story; and how to help get theBosnian-Croat Federation going with practical cooperation across boundaries.Konstanty Gebert of Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland), who came as a special guest,and Jasmina Kuzmanovic of AP Zagreb, chaired the sessions.

Participants were greatly concerned over barriers to the free flow ofinformation, citing the difficulty of distributing print media, especiallyfrom the Bosniac side, across the de facto boundary in the city of Mostar.They recommended that the European Union administration in Mostar be askedto assure the availability of all newspapers from Croatia and theFederation. The participants stressed that professionalism, not ethnicity,should guide their work, and expressed their fear that a censorship "of thegun" still reigns in some parts of Bosnia. All agreed that the developmentof democracy is crucial to maintaining an independent media.

A report on the meeting is in preparation.

Dialogue Between Romanian and Hungarian Editors

Continuing its series of informal get-togethers for national opinion makers,last May PER brought together four Hungarian newspaper editors in Bucharestto meet their Romanian counterparts for an informal discussion on the roleand impact of the press on bilateral and interethnic relations.

After a day of meetings with leading Romanian politicians of the governingand opposition parties to discuss the upcoming elections in Romania, theparticipants proceeded to Sinaia, where they discussed issues of highpriority in the foreign policies of both countries--Euro-Atlanticintegration, the Hungarian-Romanian basic treaty and interethnic relations.Editors also dealt extensively with ethical and practical issues of coveringthe elections in Romania.

The participants from Romania and the newspapers they represented were: IonCristoiu, Evenimentul Zilei; Dumitru Tinu, Adevarul; Marius Petrean,Curierul National; Alexandru Stroe, Cronica Romana; Janos Gyarmath, RomaniaiMagyar Szo. From Hungary: Jozsef Martin, Magyar Hirlap; Ervin Tamas,Nepszabadsag; Istvan Wintermantel, Magyar Nemzet; Andrej Kiss, Nepszava.Other participants were Maria Koreck, Ferenc Melykuti, Livia Plaks and LarryWatts, PER staff.

Following the meeting Curierul National (Romania) and Magyar Hirlap(Hungary) undertook a jointly sponsored poll of the Romanian electorate, andplan an exchange of editorials.

Hungarian Prime Minister Meets with PER

Prime Minister Gyula Horn met with PER President Allen H. Kassof in Budapeston October 21. The closed-door consultation was also attended by StateSecretary Csaba Tabajdi and Ferenc Melykuti of PER's Budapest office. Amongother matters, the Prime Minister expressed his support for a PER initiativewhich is expected to bring together the region's government officials,opposition politicians, and minority representatives to explore theconnection between majority-minority relations and regional security issues,and to seek new means to enhance multilateral cooperation.

Grant From The Pew Charitable Trusts Renewed

PER has received a renewal of its grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts foranother two years. The grant covers PER's work in Slovakia and Hungary.


The Media and the Roma in Central and Eastern Europe

The Roma and the media in Central and Eastern Europe were the focus ofattention when representatives of the Romani and mainstream media met forthe first time in a landmark seminar in Prague from September 19 to 22.Their purpose was to analyze the problem of negative images and stereotypesof the Roma in the media and to promote exchanges of experience betweenmainstream and Romani media. Journalists from Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland,Romania, and Slovakia, as well as Roma activists from the Czech Republic andother countries in the region, took part. Roma participants were deeplyconcerned over negative stereotyping in the mass media throughout theregion.

Discussions centered on cooperation between Roma and mainstream media, andon practical aspects of media operations. Workshops were co-chaired by JefimFistejn, editor-in-chief of Lidove Noviny (Czech Republic) and JarmilaBalazova, Cesky Rozhlas (Czech Republic); Konstanty Gebert, Gazeta Wyborcza(Poland) and Orhan Galjus, editor, Patrin (Slovakia).

Roma participants suggested that mainstream journalists need to spend moretime in Roma communities if they are to report accurately and withsensitivity. Mainstream papers were urged to consider internships foraspiring Roma professionals at their newspapers. The Romani press wascautioned that it needs to be more business-like and entrepreneurial, andthat excessive dependence on government subsidies is no substitute for realcompetitiveness in trying to reach an audience.

The seminar was co-sponsored by PER and the Organization for Security andCooperation in Europe/ Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights(OSCE/ODIHR), and was hosted at OMRI (Open Media Research Institute). Alsocooperating were the Romani journal Patrin, ROI (Roma Civic Initiative) andDZENO (Foundation for Restoration and Development of Traditional RomaniValues) of the Czech Republic. Ambassador Jenonne Walker hosted a receptionat the US Embassy Residence.

Roma/Gypsies at the European Parliament and OSCE

In July, the European Parliament hosted a roundtable discussion on theplight of the Roma/Gypsies in Europe. Experts on the Roma, as well as Romarepresentatives from many European countries, discussed practical steps tobe taken in the political, social and economic fields in order to eliminateethnic discrimination, poverty and social marginalization.

The PER Roma Advisory Council was represented by Nicolae Gheorghe (Romania),Andrzej Mirga (Poland), Orhan Galjus (Slovakia) and Marcel Courtiade(France). PER was represented by Executive Director Livia B. Plaks. At theconclusion of the discussion, a declaration was issued: "BrusselsDeclaration/The Roma--A Truly European People". Among other issues it urgesthe European Commission and the member states of the Union to make the needsof the Roma/Gypsy community an issue of policy.

The new PER-sponsored intern at the Organization for Security andCooperation in Europe/Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights(OSCE/ODIHR) is Rumyan Russinov from Bulgaria. Mr. Russinov, the fourthintern sponsored by PER in the past two years, is studying the image of theRoma in the mainstream media of Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, the CzechRepublic, and Hungary, and its effects on inter-ethnic relations. He isDirector of the Human Rights Project in Bulgaria.

Social Policies and Programs for the Roma/Gypsies: Are They Working?

Policy-makers, analysts, and program leaders from Central and Eastern Europegathered in Sofia, Bulgaria, on October 17-20 to evaluate social policiesand programs for the Roma/Gypsy communities in Central and Eastern Europe.

Representatives of the Bulgarian presidency, government, parliament, andRoma organizations and Roma representatives and government officials fromCentral and Eastern Europe, members of the PER Roma Advisory Council(PERRAC) and PER's staff met to consider, compare and evaluate theeffectiveness of different government policies for solving social problemsof the Roma; how to improve intra-community relations in areas with Romapopulations; and to identify private, governmental, and internationalsources of funding and assistance for Roma community development projects.Officials from the Council of Europe and OSCE also attended.

The meeting was opened by the Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and closed bythe President of the Bulgarian Parliament. A representative of thepresidency also took an active part in the workshop.

Participants visited Roma settlements in Radnevo, Sofia, Plovdiv, and Slivento witness the work of local Romani organizations.

PER will publish a report on the meeting.


PER in Bulgaria

The Beginning

A visitor to Bulgaria in March 1990, when PER began its work there, couldsee vivid evidence of how interethnic tensions were complicating the post-communist transition.Bulgarian demonstrators massed daily in front of theMinistry of Education to denounce a Government decision to allow Turkishlanguage instruction during after school hours. In ethnically mixedlocalities like Kurdzhali, Bulgarians and Turks were locked in bitterstruggles for political power. Large segments of Bulgarian public opinionwere alarmed by the founding of a Turkish ethnic party, the Movement forRights and Freedoms (MRF). They considered this to be a violation of theconstitution. They were resentful that Bulgarian Muslims had been allowed totake back their Muslim names. Underlying their fears was the suspicion thatsuch measures would strengthen the position of Turkey in Bulgaria.

For their part, the ethnic Turks in Bulgaria, who had suffered during thelast years of the communist government from a relentless program ofBulgarization, now sought to organize against potential new assaults ontheir community and sense of self-identity.

From PER's first conversations with officials and representatives of theBulgarian majority and the Turkish community, it was clear that theinterethnic tensions were the result, among other factors, of seriousmisconceptions, ignorance on both sides and lack of mutual understanding.PER saw as its most urgent task the creation of objective information forpolicy-makers.

Field Research Launched

Later that year, PER asked Dr. Ivan Ilchev of Sofia University, adistinguished historian of the Balkans, to put together teams of researchersand young assistants from the university and from the Academy of SciencesInstitutes of Sociology, Economics, Ethnography, and Folklore Studies. Thenew teams went out to Bulgarian regions with ethnically or religiously mixedpopulations to undertake two major projects.

The first was to compile the oral history of the so called "greatexcursion", or exodus, of the Bulgarian Turks in 1989, capturing therecollections of the Bulgarian Christians who had witnessed it and theBulgarian Turks who participated. Among the most important discoveries: bothTurks and Bulgarians blamed politicians for the rift between the two groups,claiming that the relations between actual neighbors were generally good.(Closer scrutiny revealed that the matter was not so simple: respondents tosuch surveys, in Bulgaria and elsewhere, typically paint somewhat idyllicpictures to cover underlying tensions. But their perception of politiciansis nonetheless telling).

The second was to track political trends in the Moslem population in theWestern Rhodope mountains. The PER teams found some potential for Moslemfundamentalism in the region, and a danger that religious feelings, combinedwith the psychological and identity insecurities of the region'sBulgarian-speaking Moslems (Pomaks) would be exploited for political endsboth by the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and its political opponents.This 1992 forecast, unfortunately, has come true, as the current nationalpolitical dispute over the Pomaks attests.

The research teams presented their conclusions at a widely attendedconference at Sofia University in December 1992--one of the first of itskind in Bulgaria--which was the subject of wide coverage in the press.

The field research was also the subject of a special meeting organized inSeptember 1992 by PER and the Radio Free Europe Institute in Munich.Bulgarian researchers, Institute experts, and visiting specialists discussedand evaluated the research. A summary was published in the Radio Free EuropeResearch Report.

PER's field research afforded an additional bonus, providing practicaltraining for the university students who were recruited as researchassistants. Many of them came into direct contact for the first time intheir lives with members of ethnic or religious minorities, putting asidetheir fears and prejudices to visit Turkish and Roma (Gypsy) households andshedding some negative stereotypes in the process. Several participantsprepared their M.A. theses from materials gathered during the fieldresearch, or launched new careers. One of the most notable graduates of thePER field experience is G. Blagoev, who became Bulgarian NationalTelevision's leading analyst of ethnic, national and religious problems inBulgaria and in the Balkans. Other PER field work graduates work as expertson ethnic problems at the Presidency, the Council of Ministers, and variousnon-governmental organizations, or have become distinguished scholars.

In 1993, the basic results of the research were published in Bulgarian andEnglish editions. Copies of the Bulgarian language edition of the volumewere distributed to members of the Bulgarian parliament and to governmentofficials. The book is widely cited in scholarly and political publications.The English language edition, the first of its kind, has also been much indemand, and is sold out.

The Vlach Project

In 1993-1994, PER turned its attention to the Vlachs, a small group livingon the south side of the Danube. The Vlachs, akin to the Romanians, havealways been considered to be fully integrated within Bulgarian society. Atthe beginning of the 1990s, a new consciousness among some Vlachs was inevidence. Some alleged that this had been encouraged by Bucharest (which hasdenied the charge) and cited it as a case where group identity, hithertoquite diluted, was revived or even created under the influence of externalfactors.

Several teams of PER researchers tried to evaluate the changes that recentyears have brought in Vlach villages. A report on their findings waspublished in a Bulgarian-language volume, and a summary of policyimplications was circulated to the government and the presidency. One of themain conclusions is that the Bulgarian state needs to encourage the Vlachs'efforts at cultural identification. The practical measures proposed,however, would require new funding for the Vlachs at a time when governmentbudgets are severely constrained.

The Roma

In 1992, a one-year experimental course in Roma/Gypsy studies was introducedat the University of Sofia (Department of History, Ethnology Program) withthe assistance of PER. The two-semester course, taught by two leadingBulgarian specialists, Elena Marushiakova and Vesselin Popov, was followedby a field research trip and collecting of field material by the students.For the first time in Bulgaria, university students could take acollege-level course on the history and culture of the Roma, one of thecountry's biggest minorities.

PER Sofia has supported a landmark study of the Bulgarian Roma (Gypsies),funding the work of professors Elena Marushiakova and Vesselin Popov, whopublished a major volume in Bulgarian in 1993. The study has been widelyreviewed, and has just been issued in an English language edition.

In order to promote the training of new specialists in the Roma field, PERprovided a scholarship for a young Bulgarian anthropologist, Ilia Iliev, towork with Professor Thomas Acton, a leading Roma specialist at GreenwichUniversity in Great Britain. PER also maintains close relations with theRoma Foundation in Plovdiv, and is working on a program to encourage theauthorities to allocate some arable land from state-owned resources to needyRoma families who are prepared to earn their living in agriculture.

Conflict and Absence of Conflict in South-Western Bulgaria

The problem of why ethnic conflict erupts in some settings and not in othersis an important one for policy-makers and analysts alike. To shed light onthis question, PER launched a three-year comparative study of two localitiesin the Western Rhodopes: Iakoruda and Devin. In recent years Iakoruda hasearned a reputation as a focal point of ethnic unrest while Devin, though inmost respects quite similar, has generally been calm. Teams of economistsand ethnographers have stayed for prolonged periods in the two localitiesfor in-depth research. Their preliminary findings, which have been submittedto the presidency and the government, point to a complex set of objectiveand attitudinal factors, for example the degree of diversification in thelocal economy, the proximity of tourist centers, and whether there arepersonal disputes between community leaders. A report that was presented inOctober 1995 at a conference at Spa, Belgium, organized by the EuropeanScience Foundation and the Council of Europe, is to be published. Theprojects are scheduled for completion in late 1997.

New Directions

By 1996, the ethnic situation in Bulgaria had somewhat stabilized, with onlyoccasional outbreaks of ethnic tension. The MRF has lost its capacity "totip" the Bulgarian parties and now is just another of the four politicalgroups represented in Parliament. The official Turkish position has notproved to be as aggressive as some politicians in Bulgaria feared. As forthe Roma question, authorities increasingly view it as a social, rather thanan ethnic, issue. At the same time, the eruption of violent conflictselsewhere in the Balkans has offered a distraction from domestic issues. PERhas used this hiatus to take on several broad regional questions.

Jointly with the Center for Minorities and the Government Committee forBulgarians Living Abroad, the PER office in Sofia participated in a programto follow the migration patterns in the Balkans in the last few years. In1995, a group of experts visited several localities in Turkey whereBulgarian Turks now live. Their purpose was to assess the emigrants' currentattitudes towards Bulgaria and to see whether these populations might beused as a bridge to improve relations between the two countries.

PER has also encouraged the international contacts of rising and influentialBulgarian politicians. In 1993, Bulgarian representatives participated at aPER-sponsored meeting in Moscow devoted to interethnic issues in Russia, andto relations between Russia and its neighbors in the context of East-Westrelations. In 1995, a Bulgarian representative took part in a PER meeting inBelgrade discussing the problems of national minorities in new Yugoslavia.

The latest PER project in Bulgaria was a meeting in October 1996, thatbrought together Roma leaders and government representatives from the regionin order to assess the experiences of programs of practical assistance anddevelopment for the Roma communities in Central, Eastern,and SouthernEurope. The Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and the Chairman of the NationalAssembly, as well as members of the government and the presidency,participated.

PER plans a meeting of young Balkan political leaders for 1997 to begin abroad-ranging discussion of geopolitical problems of the Balkans at the turnof the century.


Ivan Ilchev and Duncan Perry, "Bulgarian Ethnic Groups: Politics andPerceptions," RFE/RL Research Report, Vol. 2, No. 12, March 19, 1993, pp.35-40.

The Ethnic Situation in Bulgaria: Research in 1992, Sofia, 1993.

Elena Marushiakova and Vesselin Popov, Gypsies in Bulgaria, Frankfurt, 1996.