Pressure and bribes for the Macedonian minority – the institutions turn a blind eye and a deaf ear
The final battleground of the historical clash between Bulgaria and North Macedonia seems to have taken place in the beautiful village of Pustec. The denunciation of the former deputy of the Albanian parliament, Vasil Sterjovski, for interference and pressure coming from Bulgaria to artificially create a minority there, despite the public facts, has so far been ignored by the Albanian authorities, despite the doubt that falls on the integrity of the process and the authenticity of information provided by citizens under pressure.
The start of the process of collecting citizens’ data within the framework of the census, which was developed by the Institute of Statistics of Albania, brought back to attention the phenomenon of receiving Bulgarian passports.
The former deputy of the Parliament of Albania, Vasil Sterjovski, chairman of the “Macedonian Alliance for European Integration” party, denounced the intervention from Bulgaria towards this minority in order to declare themselves as Bulgarians in the 2023 Census.
In October 2023, Albania started the Census process, during which the Institute of Statistics collects and processes population data, to then publish demographic, economic, etc. statistics.
Part of this process is the declaration of ethnicity, which is done on the basis of self-declaration. This is exactly where pressure is exerted on citizens in villages where there is a Macedonian minority majority, according to former MP Sterjovski.
“We knew that this time Bulgaria would use the only instrument, passports, for people to declare themselves Bulgarian”. – declares Sterovski, claiming that ” since the census process has started, even since a week ago, the Bulgarian embassy has been calling those people who have applied for a passport and asking them to declare themselves in the census as Bulgarians and speaking Bulgarian , otherwise the procedure of obtaining the passport will be stopped” .
OPEN OFFICIAL INTERVENTION
In order to understand the alleged intervention against the Macedonian minority in Pustec and beyond, Faktoje made a verification of the denunciation of former deputy Sterjovski, based on the information collected by him.
“Since the start of the census, the Bulgarian ambassador started to visit the areas where there is a Macedonian minority. On the second day of the census, they went to Golobordë to distribute gifts. They campaigned openly on the second day of the census.” – denounces Sterovski.
On September 15, three days before the start of the census process, the Vice President of Bulgaria, Ilijana Jotova, came to Albania for an official visit, who met with the Albanian President, the Speaker of the Assembly, the Deputy Prime Minister, Belinda Balluku, and the Minister of the Interior, Taulant Balla. .
In her publication on the Facebook social network, the Bulgarian vice-president says that ” she has received guarantees from the highest level that the national population census in Albania will be carried out according to the highest European standards, respecting the rights of all ethnic communities , including the Bulgarian one “.
The Bulgarian vice-president called the development of the census in Albania a “challenge” , a process she said Bulgaria will follow ” hoping that everything will be in order “.
Citizen Spas Tashev was part of the accompanying delegation of the Bulgarian president . The latter, a former advisor to the Bulgarian government, does not hold any official position today.
“This person, on September 30, 2023, published photos from the census form in Albania on his Facebook page .” – accuses former MP Sterjovski, also providing photos of the publication in question.
According to the publications denounced by Sterjovski, the companion of the Bulgarian vice president in the meetings in the Macedonian minority areas of Albania, Spas Tashev has distributed photos of the answers given by Albanian citizens in the process of the 2023 Census, data that are protected by law as personal data. sensitive and personal.
” Thank you to my friends in Albania who have sent me photos from the census responses showing that they are self-declared Bulgarians who speak the Bulgarian language. ” – read in the publication dated September 30, on the Facebook social network.
This publication is no longer available on the Facebook social network.
What is still public on the network is an article by Spas Tashev according to which ” the declaration of the ethnicity of his Bulgarian compatriots in the Albanian census will depend first of all on Bulgarian diplomacy “.
Raising claims about the risk of changing the real result, this claim also supported by Vice President Jotova, according to Tashev writes that the “problem” of registering the ethnicity of the population living on the borders of the Republic of Albania became clear in February this year, when INSTAT did a pilot test for the population census.
Tashev, who says that he has seen the results of this pilot test, says that ” at that time the members of the commissions were influenced by Skopje and in the Prespa e Vogël region only one Bulgarian was registered, although the people declared before us that they declared their affiliation Bulgarian”.
The data that Tashev refers to in this article have not been published by INSTAT.
THREATS AND GIFTS
Another form of pressure and influence that Sterjovski denounces as being exerted on the Macedonian minority is that of influence through gifts and open public threats.
“On the day of the start of the census in Albania, the Makedonia Foundation made public threats against citizens who have applied for a Bulgarian passport”. – says Sterjovski, showing the publication shared on the Facebook social network by an individual named Viktor Stojanov .
The post , which is still public on the Facebook social network, is self-explanatory. Stojanov publicly calls on citizens in Albania who want to apply for a Bulgarian passport according to origin, to declare themselves Bulgarian in the census that started on September 18.
Publications on the Facebook social network of Viktor Stojanov started at least 1 month before the start of the Census process in Albania, announcing that he will be personally in Pustec during the process.
“This person is from the extreme right of Bulgaria, chairman of the MACEDONIJA foundation in Sofia, and in recent years we have had many problems with him, especially in Pustec. He came many times, had incidents with other right-wing extremists of the ATAKA party. We have doubts that they may also be under Russian influence because we see that they openly support Russia. We have denounced this person from the beginning before the census began.” – explains Sterjovski, showing photos of public threats that Sterjovski has distributed to Albanians who apply for Bulgarian passports.
On many occasions, on the social network Facebook, Viktor Stojanov appeared distributing gifts in areas of Albania where it is claimed that the Bulgarian minority exists. The dates coincide with those of the census in Albania.
Among other things, Stojanov also shared a photo of a tablet showing the questions of the 2023 census and the answers given by the respondents. In the photo, you can see the tablet used by INSTAT for the collection of population data for the 2023 census, as well as the question on ethnicity, for which Gezimi, the citizen who gives the answers, has declared himself Bulgarian.
This, according to former MP Sterjovski, causes great pressure on those citizens who may be in the process of obtaining Bulgarian citizenship, who believe that the information they provide as an answer during the survey by INSTAT is not secret and “can be used against theirs”.
Mayor Pal Kolefski declares that this person did not come to Pustec during the census.
“I saw what he had written on social networks. We have reported this person to the Albanian Police, that during the Census process this person should not influence or be present, at least for that period. Because it had a bad effect. We filed a complaint if he could come, but he didn’t come near here at all.” – said Pal Kolefski for Faktoje.
The Alliance of Macedonians for European Integration party also filed a complaint not to allow Viktor Stojanov to enter Albania during the Census – Sterjovksi announces – but it was not taken into account by the Albanian authorities and Stojanov entered Albania unperturbed.
The credibility of the process is even more difficult when the data of the citizens of Pustec are published by the media before the end of data collection by INSTAT.
EUROPEAN STANDARD AND MINORITY LAW
According to Vasil Sterjovski, all these forms of pressure, but especially that of “finding by name” persons who have declared themselves Bulgarian or not in the census, lead to a distortion of the result. This is because the lack of trust in a regular and secret process of population census, results in the possibility of false answers.
In fact, according to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe, free self-identification within the population census and other data collection processes begins with the free decision of the individual.
A person’s free self-identification can only be questioned in rare cases, such as when it is not based on good faith. – writes the Convention of the Council of Europe. The KiE document goes on to emphasize that ” the registration of self-identification in the case of minority identity should not be imposed from outside”.
Both of these basic criteria of registration through self-identification have been violated, Sterjovski emphasizes.
Vasil Sterjovski calls this action by Bulgaria as part of its strategy for the artificial assimilation of Macedonian minorities in the region. Proof of this, according to him, is the fact that even though in INSTAT surveys the question about ethnicity has always been self-identification, in the 2011 survey no Bulgarian minority appeared in any area of Albania.
The Bulgarian minority was recognized for the first time with the changes made to the law on minorities in 2017, at a time when there was no such minority in Albania. According to this law, every area where 20% of the population belongs to a minority group has the obligation to use the language of that minority in schools, official documents, signs or notices. This is what Bulgaria will achieve, according to Sterjovski.
And regardless of the purpose and strategy chosen by the Bulgarian state, what the publications on the Facebook social network show is the influence that has been exerted on the residents of the areas where the Macedonian minority lives to declare themselves as Bulgarians in the census and the threats of not granting or removing the Bulgarian citizenship for those who have earned this right.
Based on public data, we consider the denunciation of former MP Vasil Sterjovski to be true.