Tolerance and Cultural Diversity Discourses in Bulgaria: Bulgarian Ethnic Model-Parallel Cohabitation or Multicultural Recognition?

Type Working Paper - European University Institute, ACCEPT Project, Working Paper
Title Tolerance and Cultural Diversity Discourses in Bulgaria: Bulgarian Ethnic Model-Parallel Cohabitation or Multicultural Recognition?
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2010
The following report examines issues of tolerance, acceptance and diversity challenges in
Bulgarians have been used to living in a multi-cultural environment since the times of the
Ottoman Empire. When the modern Bulgarian state was formed in 1878, Bulgarian society and
state institutions have had to face the problem of finding a balance between the accommodation
of ethnic, religious and cultural diversity in the country and the aspiration for building a
mono-national Orthodox-Christian nation-state.
All Bulgarian Constitutions and principal laws noted the existence of various ethnic and
religious communities in the country and upheld the principle of equal rights and obligations.
However, at the same time they guaranteed that Bulgarian language and Bulgarian Orthodox
Church enjoyed a privileged position. The perception of a mono-national state has resulted in
corresponding policies towards the minorities. They were accepted as a part of the Bulgarian
society, but at the same time were in practice highly marginalised.
The process of recognition of diversity and multiculturalism in Bulgarian society and of
protection of minority rights truly started only after 1989 as an inseparable part of the
democratisation of Bulgaria and its aspiration to join the EU. In addition to the political
recognition of different ethnic and religious groups, minorities were also “discovered” by the
researchers from various fields in social sciences and were quickly placed on the ethnographic
map of Bulgaria. The avalanche of studies dedicated to the ethno-cultural situation in Bulgaria
followed soon, including the first sociological studies about levels of tolerance and mechanisms
for coexistence of different communities.
Despite that, the majority population and the minorities largely continued to live side by
side. The otherness in Bulgaria is tolerated without being actually accepted. In other words,
Bulgarians and the minority groups accept the otherness, and there are numerous areas of public
life (politics, culture, economy, sports, media, etc) where members of different ethnic and
religious communities interact. At the same time, the psychological division line is preserved
and in private space, the boundaries of the formal parallel existence are seldom crossed.
In recent years, scholarly debates turned to the question whether tolerance in Bulgaria truly
exists or whether the notion of tolerant Bulgarians is basically a well-entrenched myth.
Numerous studies conducted between 1990 and 2010 show that Bulgarians perceive themselves
as very tolerant. This stereotype has been actively promoted by the media and the leading
Bulgarian politicians.

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