On October 20, 2005, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on the OMO Ilinden - PIRIN lawsuit against Bulgaria. The Court ruled that the March 2000 decision of our Constitutional Court to ban this party constituted a violation of Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (citizens’ freedom of association). Elated by this ruling, OMO Ilinden - PIRIN activists decided to reinstate their organization by re-establishing it under the new Political Parties Act. It should be noted that in its previous version, the Act stipulated that only 50 founding members were required for the registration of a party. After amendments to the Act, this number was increased tenfold and 5,000 members need to be recruited within three months from the date of the constituent assembly. It is not until then that the new party may present itself to the Sofia City Court and request registration. On June 25, 558 founders held the constituent assembly of the new OMO Ilinden - PIRIN in the town of Gotse Delchev. On September 20, five days before the expiration of the three-month deadline, the party submitted a registration request to the Sofia City Court, declaring 5,302 members in addition to the 558 initial ones. Following a series of ups and downs, the hearing was scheduled for October 18. At the hearing, the prosecutor submitted around 90 pages of documents that were to prove that the party had been established in violation of the law and therefore should not be registered. OMO Ilinden - PIRIN’s lawyer, Yonko Grozev, was given 30 minutes (!) to get acquainted with the documents submitted by the prosecutor and to formulate his position. On November 9, the Sofia City Court denied registration to the party; on the following day, this decision was appealed before the Supreme Court of Cassation. Then, at the end of November, the greatest “witch hunt” after November 10 began. A check was conducted of all 6,000 members of the party, so that the findings would justify the conclusion that OMO Ilinden PIRIN should not exist as a legal entity. Not because the party is “separatist and threatens Bulgaria’s territorial unity and integrity”, but because it is a fraudulent organization that has unlawfully established itself. Obviously, after the ruling at October 20, 2005 another ban by the Constitutional Court would be embarrassing, to say the least. That is why new means had to be tried. It should be noted that usually, having established discrepancies in the registration documents, the court would instruct the applicant party to eliminate the deficiencies and would 1 OBEKTIV
provide a timeline to that effect. As it is known, though, the OMO Ilinden - PIRIN case is not an ordinary one. The operation began around November 10, 2006 and by the end of the month, covered the whole country. No one knows the exact number of people summoned by the police but they were definitely hundreds, maybe even thousands. All of them were interrogated with special questionnaires. The operation was widely publicized in the media. There is a special detail, though. The grounds for conducting the operation, i.e. the prosecutor’s order issued by I. Slavevska, a prosecutor with the Sofia City Prosecution Office, was shown neither to the leadership of the organization, nor to great majority of the interrogated persons. Was the Prosecution scared of its own document? Didn’t the interrogators, i.e. the plainclothes and uniformed police officers, know that they had to show people the grounds for summoning them to the police? There was not a single case in which the police had told the interrogated that they might use the services of a lawyer during the interrogations. The two who brought their lawyers with them were simply not interrogated; they were told that the summons had nothing to do with their membership in the dangerous party. Imagine now the situation of a peaceful resident of one of the remote villages in the Blagoevgrad region. S/he has never had any dealings with the police. The arrival of plainclothes and uniformed officers in the village (to serve summons to appear “for reference” at the police department in Gotse Delchev, Sandanski, Petrich, Blagoevgrad or elsewhere) cannot go unnoticed. In these places, everything is seen and everyone knows everyone. Wouldn’t such a person be scared? Wouldn’t the other village residents regard him/her with suspicion? And as it becomes clear that all these “inconveniences” are caused by their membership application to OMO Ilinden - PIRIN, wouldn’t some of these people think that “a bent head doesn’t get chopped off” and state and sign that they are not members, that they have been “cheated”, that they do not know anything about such a party, etc. Obviously, this is the purpose of a wide-scale scare. The ones that are checked first and with greatest publicity are the young members, the women and the elderly, whose experience has taught them that the state can do everything, even take away their livelihood, i.e. their pensions. In other words, everyone who is more likely to yield to police pressure and give up on their organi-
zation. For example, M.A*. from Sandanski was picked up by a car from his workplace and brought to the police station to give explanations. This happened in front of many witnesses. The same happened to M.B. from Blagoevgrad and many, many others. There are registered cases in which elder and visionimpaired people had to sign a document they were unable to read (e.g., N.P. from Petrich). Then, if you have nothing else to do, try to prove that you have signed a membership cancellation statement without knowing what you were signing! Some people were asked where they worked and what was their occupation, whether they knew what party they were members of, why they decided to become members. After such questions, how could an ordinary person not think that there was some danger, that “it’s no use kicking against the pricks”. Wouldn’t there be people who would prefer to give up? In some cases (e.g., K.P. from a Petrich village) the police manipulated people by exploiting the difference between words such as request and application. They would ask the person if s/he had filled in a membership request. Should the answer be “yes”, they would say that the question was actually whether a membership application had been filled. Then, the person would answer “no”, and the officer would write on the form that the person had not filed an “application” (question No. 2 on the police questionnaire). The conclusion is clear: the OMO people are liars, it is obvious that X.Y. has not submitted an application. Try proving that you have actually submitted a request after this. Here is an important detail. The person would be asked whether s/he had attended the meeting at which his/her membership was approved. S/he would say “no”. However, under the OMO Ilinden - PIRIN statute, attendance of a meeting in person is not a mandatory the admission of new members! People were also asked who they had given their membership requests to, who their membership guarantors were, whether they had been abroad during the respective period, etc. At the same time, to become a member of this party one only needs to agree to its statute and goals and to sign the respective request. All these catches were aimed at extracting answers that could later be used to suggest that the person had been mislead, did not know what s/he was doing, etc. * The names of the persons whose statement are quoted are kept with Obektiv’s editorial team.
In addition, some people were threatened. Take K.N. from Petrich, for example. She was told that the party was illegal and that its members would be jailed. So she answered “no” to all questions on the form. Yet another “proof” of fraud by the OMO Ilinden - PIRIN leadership. B.A., an elderly female resident of a Targovishte village, was threatened that her stubborn insistence on being “Macedonian” would have negative repercussions on her daughter. In many cases, the police officers acted as agitators. 17 members from a village near Sandanski were summoned to the police station where it was “explained” to them that the party was “illegal” and were urged to find a way of leaving it. What was the outcome of all this? The police collected approximately twenty declarations of members stating that they had never agreed to become members. If the “fraudulent actions” of the party leadership were as extensive as the press claimed - based on police information, of course - would not the number of these declarations be much higher? Or maybe, all of the almost 6,000 members were “bought” by a foreign country and that was why they persisted in covering the “fraudulent actions” of their leadership? OMO Ilinden - PIRIN’s leadership itself identified 55 cases of wrong address registrations (some of the errors were ridiculous), 11 cases of wrong personal identification numbers, 8 cases of missing personal identification numbers. There were also three (3) minors. Clearly, the stories of “bought” signatures are made up. If nothing else, it would be unserious for people who had spent years in communist jails because of their persistence in self-identifying as Macedonians to employ such blatantly obvious tricks. By the way, there were claims in the media that a Roma man from Gotse Delchev had recruited one hundred members by paying them 30 lv. per person. The investigation of these claims, initiated under case No. 1928/2006, was terminated “due to lack of evidence that a crime has been committed”. To conclude, it should be noted that at the time this text was written (January 25, 2007), the Supreme Court had not ruled on the OMO Ilinden - PIRIN complaint, defying all deadlines. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee is conducting its own investigation of the circumstances surrounding the unprecedented police operation and the interrogations of hundreds of members of a political party. Its findings will be published shortly. OBEKTIV 2