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When Boyko met Mehmet February 5, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Bulgaria, Turkey, Turkish minority of Bularia.
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Politicians stoke ethnic animosities, but soap operas defuse them

BASHING Bulgaria’s 750,000  plus strong Turkish minority (almost 10% of the total population of 7.6m) is a favourite cause of Ataka, a xenophobic party that won 12% of the vote in the 2009 European election. Last year it demanded the scrapping of Turkish-language news bulletins on public radio and television. In December the idea gained surprising support from the prime minister, Boyko Borisov. Ataka’s demand for a referendum would defuse the issue, he claimed, somewhat bafflingly. Campaigners geared up for a fight and opposition politicians said they would raise the issue in the European Parliament. Mr Borisov has since backed down, saying he will leave it for others to decide.

The Turkish TV and radio slots are guaranteed by law, but the outcome of a referendum, if one were held, is not in doubt. Most Bulgarians see the country’s Turkish legacy (both linguistic and ethnic) as the unwelcome consequence of colonial oppression. The party representing Bulgaria’s Turkish minority, a fixture in most coalition governments since 1989, is widely criticised by anti-corruption campaigners. Occasional chauvinist remarks by politicians in Ankara hit a raw nerve. The Bulgarians still want billions in compensation for deportations carried out in 1913. The Turks remember more recent deportations by the Bulgarians, in the late 1980s.

Few of Bulgaria’s ethnic Turks hear about any of these things on news bulletins supposedly aired for their benefit. Along with much of the rest of the population, they are watching commercial television, which uses the same slots to screen wildly popular Turkish-produced soap operas. Some Bulgarian families now even name their children after characters in such sugary epics as a 100-episode love story of Mehmet and Indji. Travel agents report booming business from Bulgarian tourists who want to visit the restaurants, villas and tryst spots frequented by the star-crossed duo.

About 1.4m Bulgarians travelled to Turkey last year. Such visits may be a better guide to the future than Ataka’s populism. Mr Borisov’s own trip to Ankara at the end of January to see the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, brought many smiles and much talk of a “new beginning” in relations. The two countries have agreed to establish new energy and transport links, which could lessen Bulgaria’s dependence on imported Russian gas. Bulgarians may find that it is easier to befriend Turks in Turkey than at home.



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