Nation-State and Minority Types of Discourse ; Problems of Communication between the Majority and the Islamic Minorities in Contemporary Bulgaria

 Ethnic problems may be investigated via either or both of two types of discourse -- 'nation-state discourse' and 'minority discourse'. The first type constitutes a declarative, diachronic-oriented type of discourse, centred around easily perceivable semiotic codes (language, history, tradition, religion). These codes are invested with qualities which relate to the existence and sustainability of the nation-state. As a consequence the defence of such codes is experienced as a defence of the nation-state. By contrast a 'minority type' of discourse does not, in principle, centre on nation-state semiotic codes. In Bulgaria, the discourse of the Islamic communities of the country (Turks, Pomaks, Turkish Gypsies) revolves, by and large, around issues of integration and accommodation, especially of either a demographic and/or economic character. The paper surveys domains that display a dose interaction between the nation-state institutions and the Bulgarian minority communities, namely the mass media, national holidays, educational bodies, army and police. It is argued that a careful and critical appraisal of existing attitudes with respect to these domains is necessary if ethnic conflicts, most likely to emerge during the present atmosphere of post-totalitarian changes, are to be avoided.

The study of ethnic relations relies on two types of discourse: 'nation-state discourse' and 'minority discourse'. In the present paper, the minorities under investigation are the Islamic minorities of, the Bulgarian Turks and the Pomaks, and the Gypsy minority.


I. Nation-state discourse

Current nation-state thinking, as far as Bulgaria and the wider Balkan region is concerned, seems to be characterized by a preoccupation with well-entrenched nationalistic stereotypes. A very central motif here may be said to be that of unity, the central underlying contention being that if the nation is not united and homogeneous ('one') it will bring itself to ruin. These sentiments reflect a view of the country ('us') as surrounded by potential aggressors ('them') who are only waiting for signs of inner weakening to strike. For obvious historical reasons Turkey is considered as precisely such a potential aggressor.

This 'us-them' national identity framework is well reflected in school-books of history and literature and has a lasting effect on the popular culture of the country. A resurgence of such sentiments is activated cyclically on days of national fervour, such as the newly established public holiday of March 3 (Day of Liberation from the Ottoman Rule), May 24 (Day of Slavonic Writing), June 2 (Day of the Heroes Who Had Fallen for the Liberty of the Country). In the context of post-totalitarian changes religious holidays (Christmas, Easter), as well as a host of smaller Christian festive days, receive an emphatic coverage by the mass-media. An illustration of the popular feelings on such days is provided by a series of short street-interviews carried out on March 3, 1992. In answer to the question 'What must we do as Bulgarians?', most people spontaneously replied in the following manner: 'We must be one -- one and unified as in a bundle (n1) so that we remain strong; otherwise we shall bring ourselves to ruin and disappear as a nation.'(n2)

The 'unity is strength' concept has many consequences. From the point of view of ethnic tension and minority problems perhaps the most important consequence is what Ludanyi describes as 'the confusion of the legal status of citizenship with the psychological and cultural bonds of nationality'(n3), an idea which can be traced back to the French Revolution(n4). In other words, one's role as a loyal citizen of the nation-state is conflated with the emotional fervour associated with the nation-state culture.

The implication of this for academic research in the Balkan area is that it has tended to marginalize ethnic minority research or to force it into a certain mould that agrees with the official policy of the nation-state. If such research is seen to run contrary to the nation-state ideology and the nationalist feelings that characterize this ideology, it is perceived as treacherous. The term by which such aberrant behaviour is often described is 'nihilistic'.

Therefore, it is no surprise to observe how researchers have aimed to 'scientifically prove' that the nation is homogeneous and 'one', and that diversity is detrimental to state interests. To this end linguists (dialectologists) would prove that a language spoken by a minority is, in fact, only a dialectal variation of the language of the majority; historians would produce data confirming common origin; ethnographers would prove that traditions, folk-songs, and the every-day culture reveal an affinity with the majority, etc. Of this fact any Balkanologist is only too well aware; almost the entire output of the regional academies of sciences provides supporting evidence for this fact. The situation is probably best described by Sarides in connection with the problematic issue of Pomak(n5) identity:

'Little is known whether the Pomaks consider themselves an ethnic or a religious minority which would like to develop its own written language or whether they want to be what the respective neighbouring countries are claiming. An answer to these questions will be wanting as long as most authors are interested in 'proving' scientifically the policy of their respective governments rather than in finding out the self-view of the Pomaks.'(n6)

In a similar vein, a semiotic code, portraying diversity, would be regarded as endangering the interests and 'wholeness' of the nation-state and as such be overtly or covertly treated as expressing disloyal social behaviour. This attitude with respect to semiotic codes reached a culmination in the so-called 'Period of Rebirth' of 1971-1989 during which the use of Turkic-Arabic personal names was banned and fines were imposed against those who continued to use their original names. During that period, people were forced to rename themselves, to discard their ethnic clothing as well as their religious and secular ethnic practices, rites and traditions(n7).

In the atmosphere of democratic changes which has prevailed over the last two years, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, and this has resulted in a complete and even exaggerated semiotic liberalization. Were it not for the fact that such liberally-oriented somersaults had also occurred on a number of previous occasions over the last 80 years(n8), this development could be interpreted as constituting a lasting breakthrough of Bulgarian ethnic policy. The fact of the matter, however, is that a government decree allowing a return to Turkic-Arabic names and the use and teaching of Turkish, can well be followed by a ban, should a shift of majority opinion occur with a next government.

Relevant to this is the way in which in the context of current local political debates one of the constant ways in which Socialist (ex-Communist) Party ideologues try to erode the position of the present Democratic government of the country is by accusing it of 'national nihilism' and treason. This line of rhetoric is illustrated by the following quotation. The author laments the fact that members of the Islamic minorities, including the Pomaks, were allowed to use the Turkish language, a fact that is interpreted as leading to the disintegration of the country:

'The loss of these 200,000 Bulgarians (the Pomaks -- Y.K.) is not only yet another amputation on the body of the nation -- a body already drained of its blood -- but is also turning the Rhodopes where they predominantly live, in a true Turkish fortress. This creates favourable conditions for the emergence of a new Cyprus and for Turkey's securing a bridgehead for an advance into Europe and, at first, into the Mohammedan regions of the disintegrating Yugoslavia: into the Sandzhak, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.'(n9)

It is this kind of rhetoric and its underlying logic that best illustrates what may be called the 'nation-state type of discourse'. One of its main characteristic features is that it centres on the vital importance of a given semiotic code--language in this case--taking for granted that if a minority semiotic code were given freedom of expression, this alone would lead to the disintegration of the 'body' of the state, and, therefore, constitute an amputation on that body. In the above passage this notion is taken beyond its logical extreme: if the Pomaks are allowed to study Turkish, the Turks will invade the Rhodopes and via Yugoslavia will advance into Europe. It is in this way that the traditional fear of the former expansionist Ottoman Empire is re-awakened. It is obvious how this kind of discourse tends to reduce culture to easily identifiable features. As Smith observes, national feelings tend to 'reduce nationalism to some kind of more intelligible variable'(n10); a very intelligible variable here is language.

The role of language for the preservation of the vitality of a cultural community can hardly be contested. At the same time it is highly doubtful that it can be regarded as a defining feature of a nation-state(n11). Such doubts are especially pertinent in the case of the Balkan region, where a serious linguist would prefer to think in terms of a series of dialects with 'fuzzy' boundaries, rather than in terms of different languages with sharply cut-off edges; at least, as far as the Slavonic dialects are concerned.

To put it simply, behind this thought schema lies the assumption that if two groups of people speak different languages, they automatically should be seen as belonging to two different nations. Language borders also mark national borders. If the language of one nation crosses the border into another, that is seen as an act of aggression.

The Macedonian issue highlights this dialectic: do the Macedonians speak a different language from the Bulgarians, in which case they constitute a different nation, or do they merely make use of a Bulgarian dialect, in which case Macedonia is not a different nation?

Macedonia's conflict with Greece over the name of the newly independent country is another example of the connection between a nation-state defining feature, its semiotic expression, and the perceived security of the state. In this particular debate over the name of the former Yugoslavian republic it is claimed by the Greek side that the republic has no right to the name of Macedonia which belongs, as it were, to Greece -- the Macedonian Kingdom of Alexander the Great is considered a Greek national historical 'property'. Therefore if that name were to be appropriated by the former Yugoslavian republic, the latter may eventually also feel justified in annexing Greek Macedonia. The emotional grit of the cognitive link between the semiotic expression of the nation-state and the security of the state is illustrated by the following reaction of a reader of The European:

'Your article 'EC Must Move Soon in Balkan' (5 March) ignores history and attaches little value to legitimate action in this area. Other than expansionist ambition there is no historical justification to the pseudo 'Macedonian Nation' of the southern Slavs. Any move by the EC, or any member state, to recognise this pseudo-state will almost certainly be taken as a green light to resume such activity. (…) But Greek security concerns must be addressed before the Community can truly act as a community.'(n12)

It is when a defining feature -- be it language, the historical past, traditions, or religion -- and its semiotic expressions are linked to the security of the nation-state, that the latter takes measures to defend itself. And hence it often so happens that after the academic, who has established the 'truth' about the defining features, comes the policeman who imposes fines, arresting and imprisoning those who use the 'wrong' semiotic code. In the case of Bulgaria, the ban placed on Turkish names during the 1971-1985 period provides a potent illustration of the practical application of the logic described above; indeed, an extreme realization of the above mode of thought.


II. Minority discosure 

Under the above conditions ethnicity will seek expression through other available semiotic codes; through a reinterpretation of older existing ones; or, finally, via a cluster of mutually supportive modes. The complexity of each specific situation which calls for the development of a minority discourse is aggravated by the way in which a minority paradigm easily borrows elements from the nation-state paradigm; as a result, what initially may have began as a 'subjective' reaction to the 'us-them' dialectic, may actually acquire a character that could be described as an objective variation of the nation-state type of discourse(n13). A few examples are here necessary to clarify this point.

Harsh measures, directed towards the radical eradication of one or more ethnic modes of expression, may, finally, only succeed in limiting the use of such modes to in-group circles, and ultimately the family. A semiotic system that goes underground, as it were, becomes part of a secretive illegal behaviour. Such was the case with the continuing use of Turkic-Arabic names amongst the Pomaks in the period 1971-1989; or, the secret use of Turkish by the Bulgarian Turks (1984-1989). Phenomena that relate to such 'clandestine ethnicity' constitute what may be called a 'dormant ethnicity'. In times of oppression ethnicity is kept dormant -- mainly through the family -- until circumstances allow its resurgence This may be observed with all minority communities, but is best seen in the confessional behaviour of the Russian Nekrasov (Lipovane) community in the North-East(n14).

The reinterpretation of an existing code is illustrated by the manner in which members of the Islamic minorities chose Bulgarian names during the anti-minority campaign periods (Pomaks,-1971-74; Turks, 1984-5). The method is as complex as it is spontaneous. In essence it consisted in selecting those Bulgarian names from the official name-list which displayed a maximum affinity with the original Turkic--Arabic name. This affinity could be phonemic (Yusein-Yulian); syllabic (Hasan-Asen); or lexical (Sevdi-Sevdalin)(n15). The final result of this selection process is the emergence of Bulgarian names with specific Islamic 'markers' which Bulgarians would refrain from using. In this way, a certain semiotic code is reinterpreted using the signifiers of the official one. A kind of mimicry is thus achieved(n16).

One of the most worrying phenomena in the area of troubled majority--minority relationships is the promotion of an essentially defence-mechanism to the status of a nation-state defining feature; in the minority case, an ethnicity-defining feature. An illustration is again provided by the Pomaks: their present preoccupation with Turkish, which some of them are defining as their own language, represents, in effect, a search for an identity which is based on nation-state features: own language, own religion, own traditions. The promotion of real or imaginary features to the status of nation-state symbols is part of the folkloristic repertoire of any minority culture and numerous examples can be provided in support of this thesis: the Vlachs and their claims to be the descendants of the Romans is one such case in point (n17); that of the Gypsy folkloristic accounts of history another. The Balkan nation-states are indeed themselves especially fond of promoting myths to the status of national history. One need only mention Romania's preoccupation with its Roman past, the claims of Greece on the Macedonian Kingdom of Alexander the Great, and Bulgaria's treatment of the dim history around Cyril and Methodius; notwithstanding that Thracian roots are used to refer to dubious ethnic origins by nearly all Balkan countries (n18).

A discussion of the differences in the treatment of the notion of ethnicity by the nation-state, on the one hand, and by minority cultures--on the other, has to take into account the asymmetry between the participants of what one would eventually like to consider a constructive dialogue; this asymmetry is only partly determined by numeric differentials.

To describe in a satisfactory manner this form of asymmetry one has to start by pointing out the difference ,between the majority and minority culture in terms of 'markedness' -- it is a well-known fact that where majority and minority cultures come into contact, it is usually the minority that is perceived by both sides as the 'marked', and hence most visible, member of the pair. For low-prestige minorities, such as the Islamic minorities in Bulgaria, this inevitably implies that one's ethnicity is experienced in a way which, in broad terms, may be described as psychologically uncomfortable. Moreover, this discomfort in the experience of one's ethnicity is part of everyday life, in so far as a member of a minority culture is constantly reminded of his or her ethnicity.

In a climate of hostility and suspicion, this is a highly undesirable situation from the point of view of the minority. Probably the most extreme case of 'marking' occurred during the Nazi period when Jews were compelled to carry the badge, to be renamed as Isaac or Sarah according to gender, and to have their passports stamped with a big J(n19).

In a context in which an ethnic marker becomes negatively loaded two mutually contradictory tendencies emerge. On the one hand there is a critical and apprehensive attitude to 'visibility' v/a the codification and display of ethnic features before the majority: a typical example is the case of the Gypsies who are, as a rule, suspicious of even well-meant attempts to uncover their mysterious identity; an extreme case is provided by the 3 million Japanese Burakumin minority -- 'Japan's Invisible Race' -- who reportedly hide their identity completely if and when they decide to live amongst the majority, and who would, moreover, resort to suicide if that identity is ever revealed(n20).

Yet, when ethnic-codes are openly attacked the discriminating measures may be bitterly opposed to the extent that the defence of ethnic semiotic codes becomes intensive. Such was, for instance, the case of the Bulgarian Turks who left the country in 1989 over the issue of names; 300,000 left at the time, with 100,000 returning shortly afterwards.

Both of the above tendencies comprise reactions and as such are a function of the attitudes of the majority and of the discriminative measures imposed by the nation-state. In other words they are defence mechanisms triggered off by attitudes and acts of behaviour of the dominant group. In this sense, both extreme hermetism and exaggerated ethnic pride have, in effect, the same source, namely the aggressive, or what is felt as aggressive, behaviour of the dominant group and its state institutions.

A typology of ethnic phenomena has, finally, to take into account the way in which a minority perceives the majority. This is a factor of very high relevance. The divergence of behaviour between those minorities which do not perceive the majority as aggressive and those who fear aggression from the dominant group is quite striking. One way this difference manifests itself is in the use of internal migration. Threatened minorities tend to create enclaves unlike accepted minorities whose patterns of mobility tell an entirely different story. Along these lines, it is possible to distinguish in the case of Bulgaria, between rural minorities such as the Romanian-speaking Danube population or the Karakachans(n21) who have fully participated in urban migration, and the rural minorities of the Turks and the Pomaks which, on the contrary, tend to stay in the villages and to gradually increase the ethnic density of large rural enclaves. Related to this is also the demographic behaviour of both of these Islamic minorities which requires careful study. In the context of the present paper this type of behaviour may be considered as a spontaneous community statement; a statement which does not however use visible semiotic codes of the nation-state type, but, instead, the resources of demographic ethnomethodological expression.

To put it concretely, the first main feature of threatened ethnic behaviour is the relatively larger size of the family, as well as a marked endogamous tendency. The size of the Islamic family contrasts emphatically with that of the Bulgarian one, as well as with that of minorities which do not perceive themselves as threatened. On the average, the size of the family of a threatened minority community is twice that of a non-threatened one -- be that the majority or a non-threatened minority community.

It should here be noted that the higher birth-rate of the Islamic families creates, in its turn, a lot of resentment amongst the majority, which, eventually, fuels feelings of anxiety. This anxiety is reflected in popular fears of an approaching 'biological takeover' but also in the resentment felt regarding more conventional issues, such as the higher child benefits associated with larger families as well as the use of the existing social and health services. Needless to say, the response of the majority triggers off once again the defence mechanisms of the minority. The whole Bulgarian case is, therefore, a good illustration of the reflexive and self-perpetuating character of what can be called a conflict spiral.

As already indicated, the second main feature of Islamic demography is the tendency to form massive rural enclaves. At present there exist two very extensive concentrations of Islamic population (mainly Turkish) in the Eastern part of the country - in the North-East (around Razgrad) and in the South-East (around Haskovo-Kirdzhali). Of roughly 600,000 Bulgarian Turks nearly 80% are concentrated in these two areas. Likewise, more than 90% of the 270,000 strong Pomak population are concentrated in the Rhodopes.

The Islamic enclaves - their vitality and growth -- reflect a desire to find security and well-being in gathering together and enjoying the virtual exclusion of the Bulgarian element from the enclave. This latter process has been largely self-propelled: the urban migratory trail of the Bulgarians encouraged the incoming Turks to stay on and continue to come.

In Bulgaria, this natural inversion of populations is now evident. In some of these enclaves, which overall still constitute a comparatively small number, the administrative power lies in the hands of Bulgarians, usually those who were heavily implicated in the Process of Rebirth, and who, in many cases, took the property of the Turks who left during the summer of 1989. In other areas the administration is in the hands of the ruling Turkish ethnic party -- the DPS -- as the smaller partner in the ruling SDS--DPS coalition(n22). It is here that ethnic population movements and ethnic conflict have received a previously non-existent political colouring. The Bulgarian minority in these rural enclaves supports, by and large, the Bulgarian Socialist (ex-Communist) Party. Their complaints against 'Turkish oppression' constantly fuel the nationalistic fervour in the country. It is significant to note that the most dramatic developments along these lines took place as a reaction to the liberalization of semiotic codes. Thus the nationalistic demonstrations in Sofia in January 1990 followed the decision in December 1989 to allow the Islamic population of the country to regain their Turkic-Arabic names. The most dramatic event -- the proclamation of a Bulgarian 'Razgrad Republic' in the North-Eastern Islamic enclave (November 1990) -- followed the further liberalization of the names: the decision via an Act of Parliament (November 15, 1990) to allow the Islamic population to drop the Slavonic -OV/-OVA suffix from their surnames (i.e. instead of Ali Osmanov, Ali Osman). Demonstrations also marked the decision of the Ministry of Education to allow the teaching of Turkish in Bulgarian state schools to those students whose mother language is Turkish. This decision provoked such reaction on the part of the Bulgarian population in the enclave areas (especially in Razgrad and Kurdzhali) that it has yet to be successfully implemented to this day. The reaction was especially bitter with respect to the Pomaks -- their desire to study Turkish was interpreted as Turkish expansionism.

It can be seen by the above brief account of local demographic and other minority culture reactions that the development of this conflict spiral bears all the classical features of nationalist developments, as described by Smith (1981): a progression from isolation to separatism and finally, if possible, to irredentism. In the Bulgarian case, the last two phases have not yet been reached, but, as in all countries of the Peninsula, they are of great concern for the national governments. The ethnic war raging in the former Yugoslavia, as well as the emergence of ethnic conflicts in other parts of the previous Eastern Bloc and the former Soviet-Union, make such concerns very topical.

As already discussed, the conflict spiral can be said to revolve around the central axis of a feeling of insecurity in the first instance. In the Bulgarian case this is exemplified in the by-now stereotyped sense of threat from Turkey from the outside, and that of the Islamic minorities on the inside. Yet, at the moment the situation is further aggravated by a multitude of factors. Amongst them: the removal of the Warsaw Pact shield for Bulgarian security; the general economic decline in the country; the chaotic situation in former Yugoslavia; the rising nationalism in Western Europe (France, Belgium, Germany); and, finally, the emerging central role of Turkey with respect to the Islamic republics of the former Soviet-Union. It would therefore seem to be the case that, to a certain extent, the removal of that feeling of threat lies beyond the competence of the Bulgarian state. What is well within the competence of the nation-state, however, is to help slow down the revolving of the conflict spiral, perhaps even to arrest its motion. This, it is my contention, can only be achieved through dialogue.


III. Dialogue: Form and Content

As I have tried to point out in this short paper the problems of communication between the nation-state and the threatened (or insecure) minorities are connected, in the first place, with the variance in language use. The nation-state, speaking through the mass-media, over which it has nearly total control(n23), maintains a kind of discourse centred around issues such as language, history, religion, and traditions. As it has already been pointed out the insecure minorities are ill-equipped for openly arguing over such issues. Moreover, an open argument would inevitably involve the issue of political representation and perhaps even call forth autonomist tendencies which would, in turn, make the nation-state's own insecurity rise to pitches of nearly hysterical nationalistic outbursts (e.g. the demonstrations of January 1990; the Razgrad Republic). A debate, therefore, carried out on this level would not only involve unequal partners, but also be connected with a point on the spiral from which there is little return.

The insecure minorities prefer to stay semiotically 'invisible', at least until they have attained a measure of political confidence. Although the DPS has had a crucial political role after the elections of October 1991 its leadership is being very careful lest the nation-state be rubbed the wrong way, democratic as it may be. To put it simply, the two sides are carefully watching each other before the next move.

If it is accepted that a constructive dialogue cannot be attained unless the atmosphere of apprehension and suspicion is overcome, the question arises as to the possible ways in which conflict-generic insecurity may be diminished. Certainly, a crucial factor in this respect is the general political and economic situation of a country. Nonetheless, counter-measures in the field of majority--minority communication can prove significantly more relevant. In what follows some concrete steps in this direction will be outlined.

III.1. Information about the minorities

One such step is to overcome the effect of the 'secrecy syndrome'. Inspired by the fear that a possible recognition of the existence of a minority will lead to separatist tendencies on the part of that minority, the Balkan nation-state has typically employed a policy of denying minority existence. As a result finding reliable information about a given minority has become a very difficult task. Literary sources are rare and biased. There is a tendency to concentrate on historical rather than contemporary definitions. Reference books with data do not exist; it is therefore not easy to establish how many people belong to a given minority, where they live, what demographic tendencies they exhibit etc.

From this point of view it is certainly the case that as a first step a general reference book on the minorities in the country may actually begin to break the seal of secrecy around this issue(n24). Such a publication would, in the first instance, recognize in a tangible form the very right of a minority to exist. Another beneficial effect would be the possible erosion of the fixation upon the Turkish community as the sole source of anxiety and concern by revealing the rich array of local cultures. A very important message here is that minorities, minority languages and minority traditions do not represent a threat for the state, but, on the contrary, should be regarded as part of the national wealth, and as a national resource(n25).

III.2. Terminology

An issue which is immediately related to the previous one is that of terminology, and, in the first place, ethnonyms. In wishing to deny existence to many minorities, the Bulgarian administration has tended to use a repertoire of taboos and euphemisms in referring to these minorities. Thus, until very recently, words like Turk, Gypsy and Pomak were absent from all publications and mass-media coverages. With reference to the Bulgarian Turks, a rich array of terms has instead been used: 'Bulgarian citizens with Turkish ethnic consciousness', 'The so-called 'Bulgarian Turks", or simply 'Bulgarian Turks' are a few examples. The official designation of the Pomaks has been 'Bulgarian Mohammedans', but in the Bulgarian Encyclopedia (1974) we find them under 'Islamized Bulgarians'. The term 'Pomak' certainly presents difficulties, as it is felt to be a derogatory term by many Pomaks if used by the outgroup. Similar difficulties are presented by the classification of the various Gypsy groups. The popular division into 'Bulgarian', 'Turkish' and 'Vlach' Gypsies is imprecise and has little academic currency(n26). Similar problems exist, even if to a lesser extent, with the designation of the Romanian-speaking population along the Danube, but also the Bulgarian Catholics of Plovdiv and the Shiite Muslim group of the Aliani, as well as with the Gagauz and the Lipovanes.

A reference book on minorities should aim to find a reasonable solution to the above problems. It is beyond the scope of this paper to outline how this could be done, but it is clearly the case that any naming or classification reference scheme should make use of a 'fuzzy boundary' rather than of an 'either-or' binary opposition classification method. Classic concepts of cognitive linguistics, such as 'best example of a category'; 'nucleus (prototype) and periphery'; and 'family resemblances' may provide positive signifiers.

III.3. The mass media

At the moment there is no visible presence of the minorities in the mass-media, whatever classificatory principle is employed. This is most strongly felt in the programmes of the Bulgarian Television and of the Bulgarian Radio.

The absence of minority programmes in the mass-media becomes especially apparent during times of national fervour, such as the official national holidays, the celebration of which, as has already been pointed out, often leads to feelings of bitterness and resentment amongst the minorities, given the exclusionary character of their celebration. Needless to say, minority programmes should be promoted, and the exclusionary celebration of national holidays avoided.

III.4. Army and police

While it may be said that the classification of minority groups is an academic problem which awaits its solution, it has to be recognized that for decades the military in the country have had to resolve this problem for their own needs and in their own interests. An examination of this topic can provide fascinating material. At the moment, it still remains largely unexplored(n27).

The practical issues that confronted the Bulgarian military authorities in the past hinge on the 'reliability' of ethnic elements in the army. Following the defeat of the country in the First World War the 'unreliable' minority conscripts were sent into the Construction Corps which was at the time created.

The attitude of the military is still reflected in the relevant part of the Law for General Military Service which is still valid. According to this Law and the regulations concerning the Construction Corps, the latter are manned by the following three categories of conscripts: (1) the so-called OGVS which is an acronym for 'persons with restricted abilities for military service';(2) persons with proven anti-social or antinational activities, i.e. people who have received sentences for criminal or political offences; (3) representatives of ethnic minorities; (4) others. It is worth adding here that under the cryptically brief fourth heading there used to fall a large variety of people, deemed as potentially unloyal to the Communist Regime -- mainly the sons of former political opponents(n28).

The Construction Corps have a history of their own which is yet to be told. For lack of space let it be briefly said here that the Corps are predominantly engaged in major construction works, such as the building of railway lines, roads, industrial sites, mines, etc. Service at the Construction Corps is long -- originally for three years and then for two -- and involves heavy physical labour. It can be safely said that service in the Corps used to have until very recently a discriminatory if not a punitive character(n29). It has also to be said that the bulk of the Corps was manned by Group (3) of the Military Law quoted above, that is, members of ethnic minorities. Of these Gypsies constituted the predominant part with the Turks closely following. It is significant that Pomaks came further down the list. The hierarchy presented here cannot be -- regrettably so -- supported by objective statistical data.

The second problem that the military had to face was the demographic asymmetry in the draft pool. In this connection, Nelson observes: 'Instead of constituting 13/15% of draft-age young men, the Turk/Pomak element is about 30% of the conscript pool.'(n30) The manner in which the military resolved this problem was again through the Construction Corps: the great mass of Gypsies (whom Nelson does not mention), Turks and a proportion of the Pomaks would be assigned to the Construction Corps, while the Bulgarians to combat units. As a result of this policy it is nearly impossible to find Gypsy or Turkish officers either in the army or in the police(n31).

The message of the Construction Corps is clear: there are certain minorities, which are officially treated as unreliable and as mainly fit for building roads; i.e. for being used as a cheap labour force. Needless to say, the lumping of ethnic minorities with criminal and political offenders de facto equalizes minority Islamic status with that of a criminal. Notwithstanding that, in so far as members of ethnic minorities are concerned, this policy only serves to add fuel to ethnic resentment and ethnic hate.

On the other hand, any account of the military and police policies vis-à-vis minorities of the Bulgarian state would be very one-sided had it not also considered the way this forced conscription became the source of specific accommodation mechanisms on the part of the two minorities. By sending the 'unreliable' minorities into the Construction Corps, the army extended the isolationist enclave mechanism of minority defence into the military domain. Secondly, and very importantly, the young men of these minorities received practical skills and professional qualification in the Corps -- as construction workers, drivers, crane-, bulldozer-, tractor-operators, engineers, etc., which, in many cases, provided their main source of income after the completion of the military service, and, combined with agricultural income, ensured the success of the mixed Islamic economy(n32). With the removal of totalitarian structures and a hopeful return to a normal economy, the Islamic minorities will also find that their ethnomethodological 'language' will have to adjust to new realities(n33).


III.5. Education

At the moment ethnic studies are not at all envisaged as part of either secondary- or higher-school education programmes. Concentrating on the secondary-school it has to be said that it is compulsory for all Bulgarian citizens from the age of 7 to 18 to follow programmes supervised and approved by the Ministry of Education. In those subjects which relate to ethnic topics and problems, education is nation-state in spirit: there is a heavy bias for extolling nation-state glorious exploits as well as the suffering of the Bulgarian people under Ottoman rule. In general the programmes followed the doctrine of 'bringing up students in a spirit of patriotism and love for the Socialist State'. At the moment, the latter part of this dictum is being revised; but there is still no sign of a critical approach to the former. A second basic deficiency of the present educational system is that it provides no acquaintance with the ethnic realities and the ethnic problems of the country or the region.

When minority students confront this sort of education their feeling of belonging to a negatively-marked group is reinforced. This is especially so in the case of the Gypsy and Islamic youth. Folkloristic in-group accounts of history attempt to counter-balance the effect of the Bulgarian school, instilling a general suspicion to anything written in a 'Bulgarian book'. The overall effect can be summed up as a strong motivation for an 'us-them' division between a given minority and the majority, and a feeling of threat and insecurity. In this way the educational system in its present state can be seen as potentially inciting conflict.

III.6. The Political Context: International Relations

The heavily protected borders between Bulgaria and Greece, and Bulgaria and Turkey, turned the border areas, in the course of the last four decades, into regions of frequent and specific contact between the authoritarian nation-state and the Islamic minorities. The case of the Pomaks, who live along the greater part of the border with Greece, is particularly relevant(n34). The main feature here is again -- as in the previous case of the army -- a tendency to accommodate to essentially disruptive measures and eventually turn them to one's own advantage. As a result a kind of symbiotic relationship has evolved in the course of time which has now been awakened to a new and very uncertain reality.

The building of the border began in the late forties after the Civil War in Greece (1949). The Soviet doctrine of border defence was employed with two very important characteristics: (a) the deploying of border-troops in the border-zone, and (b) the use of the local population as a kind of 'demographic shield' running for 30 kms in depth from the actual border-line. To ensure the loyalty of the population in this area a series of punitive measures were enacted during 1949-51. These consisted in sending 'unreliable elements' to hard labour camps (Pernik) and deporting entire villages into the interior of the country. These measures coincided with the enforced collectivization of land and property(n35). As a result, the traditional culture, economy and life-style were heavily disrupted -- suffice to briefly mention that they depended heavily on seasonal migration to the Aegean for trade and stock-breeding. The same measures virtually destroyed the semi-nomadic culture of the Karakachans.

The Communist Government developed a number of mining centres in the Rhodopes (Madan, Roudozem) which provided employment for the Pomak population. The Bulgarians left for the towns and gradually the border areas turned into enclaves, and, in fact, into institutionalized 'closed zones'. Any foreign element was immediately reported, caught, questioned, etc. It has recently come to light that 105 people were killed while trying to cross the border(n36).

To keep the population from emigrating from these areas the government provided economic incentives ('border benefits') which were largely used for building rather spacious and well-furnished houses. Additional income was provided by employment in workshops in the villages, in many cases extensions of the textile, wood-processing or armament industry. All in all it may be said that the border population attained a standard of living during the years of totalitarian rule which by far surpassed the traditional standards of the region.

With the collapse of the Communist regime and the rapidly changing economic realities the situation in the border areas deteriorated very quickly. The recovering of the previous regional harmony remains a hazy prospect and may be very slow in occurring. In view of this the flow of emigrants to Turkey is again rising.

From the point of view of a successful dialogue between majority and minority cultures in a country like Bulgaria it is important to realize the importance of a discourse not based on nation-state concepts in areas and situations such as the one presented above. Not showing any great concern for issues connected with identity-supports such as language, religion and traditions, the Pomaks slowly adapted to the realities of a situation which had disrupted a life-style and culture with a history of centuries. From their point of view it was inexplicable and utterly devoid of logic why the authorities should decide to enforce them to change their names in two successive campaigns: 1962-64 and then in 1971-74; with a following campaign for the Turks in 1984-85. In spite of nationalistic apocalyptic forecasts of the type quoted above, it may be justifiably argued that it is strategies of survival in a difficult situation, and not nation-state semiotics, that are of primary concern for the local population. Semiotic codes become topical only if attacked directly (as in 1962-64; 1971-74; 1984-85) or if employed for political purposes, as was the case during the last couple of years.


As in all other domains of institutionalized contact between nation-state institutions and 'negatively-marked' minorities, a critical reappraisal of existing attitudes and approaches is more than necessary if a lasting effort to alleviate ethnic problems is to bring any results. Such efforts would inevitably involve the domain of secondary-school and higher education, the mass-media, the policy to national holidays and other festive occasions, the army and the policy force, the border areas and other existing enclaves. By way of conclusion it has to be said that the main thrust of such a critical reappraisal should be in the direction of alleviating conflict-genetic situations and of reducing feelings of insecurity.

The projection of such feelings is first and foremost a problem that concerns the communication between the two relevant sides: the nation-state culture of the majority and the respective minority culture. I have tried to show in this paper that in the local context nation-state cultures are heavily preoccupied with semiotic codes of a 'visible' character--language in the first place--which can provide 'proofs' of the homogeneity and historical origin of the nation-state. By contrast, the minorities -- the negatively-marked ones -- are concerned with ethnomethodologies of survival, especially at the present very critical period.

It has been suggested that their identity is being reflexively and very dynamically formed in the process of ethno-methodological reactions to heavily imperative current situations; nation-state type semiotic concerns become topical only if attacked or exploited 'from above'. It is thus the case that two kinds of discourses have come to exist; it is within the competence of the majority to help introduce the necessary corrections in view of such a situation. More specifically the veil of secretiveness has to be lifted, and concern for regional rather than nation-state values should assume a greater significance.

To this end attention has to be turned to synchronic accounts of current problems, rather than to diachronic 'proofs' of nation-state rights. This also calls for turning away from nation-state romanticism and myths. Finally, it has again to be said that Balkan ethnic conflicts between majority and minority communities stem to a significant extent from a feeling of insecurity the nation-states themselves experience. In this sense, a long-term solution requires a much wider effort for bringing a sense of stability and security to this much-troubled part of Europe.


The field-studies that have provided the experience and data necessary for the completion of this paper were financially supported by the Open Society Foundation and partly by the Academic Foundation, both of Sofia, Bulgaria.

For the last version of the paper the author owes a sincere debt of gratitude to Liana Giorgi who has generously helped to reorganize the text into a more compact and precise form.


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(n1.) The 'bundle' (fascia) is a reference to an early school-reader story about the Proto-Bulgarian Khan Koubrat and the way in which he illustrated to his sons how they should aim to always present a unified front.

(n2.) Radio Sofia, 'Horizon' Programme 3/03/92.

(n3.) Ludanyi, 1992.

(n4.) Ibid. Also Heckmann 1991

(n5.) The Pomaks (according to the official discourse, the Bulgarian Mohammedans) comprise a local pre-Ottoman population converted to the Islamic religion between the 15th and 19th century. Their number is today estimated around 270,000. They live mainly in the area of Rhodopes (cf. Poulton 1991, pp.105-129). Pomak identity remains largely undefined. According to the majority opinion they are Bulgarians who were converted to the Islamic religion but who do not constitute a separate ethnos. Pomak opinion tends to differ, depending largely on the political persuasion of a given group. A gradient, in this respect, seems to exist: at one end the tendency is to want to identify with the 'Turks': at the other with the Bulgarians. These extremes are also reflected in anthroponymic behaviour, as well as in values. On this subject see Konstantinov et al. 1991.

(n6.) Sarides 1990, p. 59

(n7.) Cf. Poulton 1991, pp. 105-153; Also Konstantinov et al. 1991, pp. 23-33.

(n8.) Konstantinov 1991.

(n9.) Zora, 28/1/1992.

(n10.) Smith 1971, pp.149-150

(n11) As for instance claimed by Appel and Muysken: 'We can state that there exists no categorical, necessay relation between language and ethnicity'; Appel and Muysken, 1987, p.15

(n12.) The European, 19-25/3/1992.

(n13.) The terms 'objective' and 'subjective' are here used in the sense of Appel and Muysken, op.cit. The objectiveist (definition) claims that the ethnicity of a group is defined by its concrete cultural institutions and patterns: a distinctive language, distinctive folktales, food, clothing, etc. The 'subjectivist' approach adheres to a view, according to which a shared 'us-feeling' may accrue amongst individuals who differ considerably in clothing, religion or even language. (p.13).

(n14.) Cf. Anastasova, 1992.

(n15.) The first name in these pairs being the Turkic-Arabic one, and the second the Bulgarian. For a full account cf. Konstantinov et al. 1991: 60--78.

(n16.) For 'marker names' see Alhaug and Konstantinov 1991.

(n17.) Cf. Winnifrith 1987, p.57.

(n18.) A very recent development in this respect has been the proclamation of the Albanian minority party in the Republic of Macedonia (PDP) that they desire to found a pan-Albanian state, to be called Illyria (Demokratsia, 8/04/92).

(n19.) Cf. Adler 1978, p.132

(n20.) Yoshino and Murakoshi 1977, pp.48-50.

(n21.) Besides the already mentioned Romanians and Karakachans, one has to list here the urban minorities of the Jews and the Armenians, the very dispersed Russians, and the town-living Greeks (Provdiv, Bourgas).

(n22.) Following the last parliamentary elections of October 13, 1991, the distribution of seats in the Bulgarian government are as follows: 'The Union of Democratic Forces (SDS)': 110 seats; 'The Movement for Rights and Freedom': 24 seats; 'The Bulgarian Socialist (ex-Communist) Party': 106 seats. The respective percentages are 46, 10 and 44.

(n23.) The newly elected (via Parliament) Chairman of the Bulgarian Television, Mr. Asen Agov, has indicated in a press interview that he is considering a programme in Turkish to be broadcast by the Haskovo Regional Television as well as by networks for North-East Bulgaria: 'If the politicians decide, I am prepared to ensure that the technical infrastructure that would be necessary becomes immediately available', he said (24 Chasa), 3/04/1992, P.6.

(n24.) An Encyclopedia of Minority Cultures in Bulgaria is currently being prepared by the Bulgarian Society for Regional Cultural Studies.

(n25.) Cf. Nelde 1992.

(n26.) Cf. Igla et al., 1991, p.118.

(n27.) As an exception should be counted Nelson; Nelson 1990, pp.13-20.

(n28.) Cf. Konstantinov 1991a, p.99.

(n29.) According to information received from the Ministry of Defence, the practice of manning the Construction Corps with mainly members of ethnic minorities has at present been discontinued (following the transition phase in November 1989).

(n30.) Nelson 1990, p.19.

(n31.) There are reports that Gypsy policemen have been appointed at the Gypsy quarter of Stolipinovo in Plovdiv, following civil disturbances in the area between Gypsies and Bulgarians.

(n32.) Cf. Ethnicheskiyat Konflikt 89, 1990, pp. 229, 291.

(n33.) For a study of types of electoral behaviour amongst the Pomaks, see Konstantiniv, 1992.

(n34.) For the Bulgarian-Greek border, see Drury 1991.

(n35.) Cf. Konstantinov et al. 1991, pp.44-49

(n36.) Demokratsiya 11-12/04/92.


By Yulian Konstantinov