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Bulgarian PM backtracks on referendum on Turkish broadcasts January 6, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Bulgaria, Turkey.
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Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov started backtracking on the idea of holding a referendum on whether public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television (BNT) should continue a special daily news bulletin in Turkish.

“I hope Parliament will take a wise decision,” Borissov told private national Darik radio broadcaster on December 19 2009.

“I hope that both BNT and Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) can find space in their programmes to broadcast the Turkish news bulletins in the regions populated with Muslim Bulgarians” he said.

With his comments, Borissov transferred the issue to Parliament. Opponents to the idea have claimed there was no need for a referendum to be called when the issue which could be solved by Parliament.

The proposal for a referendum was an election promise from the ultra-nationalist Ataka party and was publicly endorsed by Borissov on December 15 when he said his ruling GERB party was ready to support Ataka’s campaign for a referendum on the Turkish news bulletins.

The special bulletins in the Turkish language are 10 minutes long and have been broadcasted five days a week at 5pm since 2000.

Ataka leader Volen Siderov insisted that Bulgarian was the official language of Bulgaria and that there was no place for news in Turkish on the public broadcaster.

Borissov’s decision to support the Ataka campaign met with negative reactions in the country and abroad.

First to comment was the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) party, which traditionally represents Bulgarian Muslims. The other party in opposition, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) called the referendum proposal a diversion from Bulgarians’ real problems.

Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov said Borissov had fallen into a wide trap and he (Borissov) should realize that.

Talking to Darik on December 19, Borissov said he shared Purvanov’s view that the referendum was a trap. Purvanov was also correct to say that this was not the time for holding a referendum which would not be tolerated by the European Union, Borissov said.

When asked why he supported Ataka’s idea in the first place, Borissov said he needed Ataka’s support in Parliament as GERB did not have a full majority.
Borissov said he was ready to once again support Ataka as he needed support for GERB’s strategic goals in Parliament.

“From here on I count on everyone’s common sense to avoid any ethnic tension” Borissov said.

On December 17, the Turkish foreign ministry said it was closely following the issue and hoped it could be solved through dialogue.

The same day, Borissov had a phone conversation with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the issue.

Later, the group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in the European Parliament said it would put the issue of the referendum on the January 2010 agenda of European Parliament. The MRF is a member of ALDE.

“The Bulgarian Government should come to its senses. Supporting the idea of Bulgaria’s ultra-nationalist Ataka party to hold such a referendum on a minority issues, it is only logical that the majority language will overcome,” ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt said.

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