Bulgaria’s population, both urban and rural, has been growing steadily for the past ten years. The country’s demographics is changing, too. Bulgars, who were a powerful nation once, are now divided into several groups: North Caucasians, South Caucasians, Central Caucasians and Black Turkmen. This new diversity has resulted in many newly developed language groups, all speaking a variation of Bulgarian language.
Bulgaria’s borders with three other former Soviet satellite countries ( Armenia, Turkey and Georgia) have resulted in Bulgaria’s expansion southward. It’s borders with Turkey are also becoming more porous. Will this influx of Turkish immigrants result in future balkanization of the country? That remains to be seen.
Most modern Bulgars live in Sofia (the capital city), however there are several ethnic minority groups in other parts of the country. The Sorbs, the Ingushians, the Kamenetz-bys and the Georgians (formed from the remnants of the Khazar peoples) make up about 15% of the population. The language they speak is similar to Russian, though some words are distinguishable. The same is true for the minority Albinism. The main language is Slavic.
The government has adopted a policy of encouraging the survival of these minorities. A minority list was recently published, giving recognition to many peoples who suffered during the partitions. This may be a policy aimed at boosting tourism, but the implications go far beyond that.
Most of Bulgaria’s lawyers are Muslims. This might be a reason why the government has not reacted more strongly against Turkish demands for linguistic rights. Many lawyers argue that the laws guaranteeing minority rights in Bulgaria are no longer relevant because the constitution already gives those same rights. Many Muslims in the country, however, feel the same way. Any move by the government to enforce its interpretation of Shari’a law could spark further unrest.
Bulgaria’s Muslims are also vulnerable to abuses. They have been subject to beatings on a regular basis, and the authorities have done little to help them. The younger generation is particularly susceptible. Many have been arrested and beaten or detained without trial on trumped up charges. Lawsuits are also frequently filed against them, on allegations that they had participated in the banned Pussy Riot affair or were involved in any terrorist activities.
Many minorities live in small and hideous poverty. Many families earn their bread by trapping other people in the mountains or woods and selling them in the market. These are poor communities, which lack even the most basic public facilities. Access to electricity and water remains difficult, and currency devaluation has made the currency worthless, forcing many to leave the country altogether.
Bulgaria is a divided country in many ways, yet it is still possible to be united. Migrants should not be exploited in any way. The government must protect all minorities, including Muslims, against abuse and violence, whether right or left-leaning or radical. It must also ensure that all persons – irrespective of colour or religion – have equal rights. Bulgaria is not a perfect country, but it does stand out as one of the few in the region that treats all its citizens well.