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News 27 Nov 17

Sofia Claims Kosovo’s Gorani as ‘Bulgarian Minority’

Encouraged by Albania’s recent recognition of a Bulgarian minority, Bulgaria hopes for a similar result in Kosovo – although the Gorani community is claimed also by Serbia and Macedonia.

Mariya Cheresheva
Gorani in the Kosovo town of Dragash. Photo: Gabriela Sommerová - https://jasutu.exposure.co/, CC BY-SA 4.0

Bulgaria is pushing for official recognition of a Bulgarian minority in Kosovo, not only as a follow-on to the recent recognition of a Bulgarian minority in Albania, but as part of “regular state policy”, the head of the State Agency for Bulgarians, Petar Haralampiev, told BIRN on Friday.

He added that on Wednesday, a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee for Bulgarians living abroad was attended by members of the Gorani community in Kosovo who claim a Bulgarian identity – for whom Bulgaria intends to claim the status of a Bulgarian ethnic minority in Kosovo.

“Bulgaria was among the first countries to recognize Kosovo as a state. We want Bulgarians in Kosovo to be recognized as a minority so we can help them live better and have better opportunities to learn their mother tongue and preserve their culture,” Haralampiev said.

“Bulgaria can help Kosovo with its European integration. Kosovo can strongly benefit from Bulgaria’s support,” he added.

On October 13, following pressure from Bulgarian politicians and MEPs, Albania’s parliament passed a Law on National Minorities recognizing nine minorities, including a Bulgarian one.

It thereby granted the communities of Bulgarian origin in the areas of Mala Prespa, Golo Bardo and Gora equal rights with other minorities in Albania. Bulgarian leaders hailed it as a “restoration of historic justice”.

Haralampiev, who is a member of a minor coalition partner in the Bulgarian government, the nationalist “United Patriots”, said that the Gorani living in Kosovo are “brothers, sisters, cousins and blood relatives” of the ethnic Bulgarians in Albania and deserved the same rights.

Based on talks with the alleged Bulgarian minority in Kosovo, he claimed that over 50,000 people living in the area, or who have migrated to bigger cities or Western Europe, keep their Bulgarian identity while also remaining loyal to the Kosovo state.

The Gora region comprises nine villages in Albania, 19 in Kosovo and two in Macedonia whose inhabitants speak a Slavic tongue similar to Macedonian and Bulgarian.

The Gorani are believed to have moved to the area between the 11th and 13th century. It is thought that they were Bogomils, a neo-Gnostic Christian sect that emerged in the First Bulgarian Empire. The word “Bogomil” translates as “dear to God.” They later converted to Islam but retained their Slavic speech.

The bilingual community has called the Gora region home for centuries. However, over the last two decades, the community has been tempted by several offers of citizenships from neighbouring states. 

In the early 1990s, Serbia claimed the Gorani were a Serbian minority, partly because it strengthened Serbia’s claim to Kosovo, which it was then fighting to retain.

 Macedonia also offered the Gorani citizenship. The Bulgarians were next. Many Albanian Gorani took up the offer, and applied for Bulgarian passports, seeking a new life in the European Union, of which Bulgaria is a member.

Vesselka Toncheva, an ethnologist in the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences who has extensively studied the Bulgarian minority in Albania, says the term “Bulgarian minority in Kosovo” is a new one.

“The picture is unclear. If we follow the link with the recognition of the Gorani as a part of a Bulgarian minority in Albania, and transfer the same model to Kosovo, we face many uncertainties,” she warned.

She conceded that the Gorani included people who identify as Bulgarian, but added that the influences of Macedonia and Serbia also existed.

“In the Gorani villages, you will hear that they are ‘gorani’ or ‘fellow villagers’. And that’s it. The regional identity of the Gora region, locked between the Shar, Korab and Koritnik mountains, is the one kept in the community,” she noted.

The head of the agency for Bulgarian living abroad, however, is certain that that a Bulgarian minority will be recognized “soon”, in line with Kosovo and EU legislation. “This is not a secret, it will happen very soon,” he said.

However, the deputy-chief of the Committee on Policies for Bulgarians living abroad in the Bulgarian parliament, Manoil Manev, who comes from the leading GERB party, sounded more cautious about the imminent recognition of a Bulgarian minority in Kosovo.

He confirmed to BIRN that a meeting was held with members of the community on Wednesday, calling it “introductory”, aimed at getting familiar with the problems of a people claiming a Bulgarian identity in Kosovo.

But Manev also said that the claims of the alleged minority have yet to be explored by missions of the state agency to Kosovo, and added that the claim for recognition in Kosovo was largely a matter of self-initiative on the part of the locals, who have now to collect the necessary number of signatures, in line with Kosovo law. 

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