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News 08 Nov 17

Serbian Bulgarians Want Town's Old Name Back

Locals in the mainly ethnic Bulgarian town of Dimitrovgrad in Serbia want to restore its old name of Tsaribrod, causing controversy in neighbouring Bulgaria.

Mariya Cheresheva
BIRN
Sofia
Serbian President Alexander Vucic meeting the Speaker of the Bulgarian Parliament Dimitar Glavchev in Belgrade. Photo: Bulgarian parliament. 

Members of the ethnic Bulgarian community in eastern Serbia want the town of Dimitrovgrad – where they make up the majority of the population – to regain its old name Tsaribrod, they told a press conference in Sofia on Wednesday.

The activists from the committee for the “Western Outlands” , as Bulgaria often refers to its former territories in Serbia, and the Bulgarian cultural and information centre in Bosilegrad, another mainly Bulgarian town in Serbia, organised the event on Wednesday to mark November 8 as the "Day of the Western Outlands".

This commemorates the day in 1919 when, Bulgaria ceded border territories to Serbia as a result of the Treaty of Neuilly, imposed after the country’s defeat in World War I.

Zdenka Todorova, a member of the “Western Outlands” committee said the town had declined since Yugoslavia renamed it Dimitrovgrad in the 1950s, after Georgi Dimitrov, Bulgaria’s first communist leader and a leader of the Communist International between 1934 and 1943.

The activists insisted that since losing its old name of Tsaribrod, the town has also been subjected to assimilation by Serbia, with its streets also renamed and schools and cultural institutions shut down.

The idea to switch the name back to Tsaribrod, which has been on the agenda of the Bulgarian minority for decades, has sparked controversy in Bulgaria, however.

On 31 October, on a visit to Belgrade, the Speaker of the Bulgarian Parliament, Dimitar Glavchev, from the ruling GERB party, informed Serbia’s President, Alexander Vucic, about the wish of the people of Dimitrovgrad to restore the old name of their town.

According to the Bulgarian parliamentary press service, Vucic told Glavchev that there was no problem about this happening, “as long as this is what people want”.

However, if Serbia has remained calm, the news has provoked outrage from the Bulgarian Anti-Fascist Union, an organization linked to the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party.

This wrote to Vucic, urging him to ignore the demands “of a politician, whether or not he is the Speaker of the National Assembly”.

The Anti-Fascist Union added that Dimitrov had been the Bulgarian politician who made “the greatest contribution to the friendship of our two nations”.

The Socialist Party, GERB’s main rival, also criticised the Speaker of Parliament, saying on Friday that such demands could worsen relations between Bulgaria and Serbia.

In response, representatives of the Bulgarian minority in Serbia have condemned the Socialists’ position, calling it “not serious” and “undiplomatic”.

The issue of the “Western outlands” has left a scar in the Bulgarian history.  The territory includes the towns of Dimitrovgrad and Bosilegrad in eastern Serbia and the town of Strumica, now in eastern Macedonia.

The Treaty of Neuilly, signed on November 27 1919 at Neuilly-sur-Seine in France, established the current borders between Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, soon to become Yugoslavia.

Under the treaty, Bulgaria ceded its Aegean coastline to Greece, as well as some of its western territories to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

Under the treaty, known in Bulgaria as the "Second National Catastrophe", Bulgaria was also forced to reduce its army to 20,000 men and pay more than $400 million in reparations.

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