Minorities in Bulgaria

LOST REPUBLIC

"Tomrush is a picturesque village, with grey-roofed houses clustering on the side of a steep ravine; but its beauty has been marred by the wholesale destruction of the surrounding forest," James Bourchier, a reporter for The Times, wrote in the early 20th Century. The village is just a few kilometres from Plovdiv, in the northern Rhodope, but to get there Bourchier had to cross the border into the Ottoman Empire, escorted by Bulgarian soldiers.

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SOFIA'S TEMPLES PART 2

They are all over Sofia; some with shining domes, some old and crumbling, and some housed in inconspicuous grey buildings. Through the many places of worship in Sofia you can trace back the history of the city for nearly two millennia, although many were only built during the last 150 years and bear the marks of wars and Communism.

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SOFIA'S TEMPLES, PART 1

They are all over Sofia; some with shining domes, some old and crumbling, and some housed in inconspicuous grey buildings. Through the many places of worship in Sofia you can trace back the history of the city for nearly two millennia, although many were only built during the last 150 years and bear the marks of wars and Communism.

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GYPSY ROSE

Most Bulgarians will proudly assert that for centuries their predecessors have peacefully lived side by side with neighbours of various nationalities such as Turks, Armenians and Greeks. "We were the ones – the only ones in Europe – to have saved the Jews from the Holocaust," they claim. "We are a nation of ethnic and religious tolerance!"

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WHO ARE THE POMAKS?

The wind of change does not blow with equal force everywhere. When you replace your old Walkman with the latest iPod, you make a small change in your standard of living. When someone who is not Spanish or Greek begins using Mañana or σιγά σιγά when talking business, this is a change in their way of thinking. However, when you change your religion, this fundamentally alters your whole life – the new religion is a new way of viewing the world.

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FAITH AND ROSES

You can almost feel the sap rising in the grass, flowers and foliage in the meadow. Spring is at its height and summer is just around the corner. The crust of the spit-roasted lamb is brown. The fat dripping onto the flames returns to the air as aromatic smoke, which mixes with the hubbub produced by the crowd who have gathered in the open to celebrate 6 May in the same way as their ancestors did – with songs, dancing and roast lamb.

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LIFE IN THE GYPSY GHETTO

"Don't take pictures or you will get thrashed." This is how you could be greeted if you dare to take out a camera in the Roma ghetto in Sofia's Krasna polyana district. The council flats, which house thousands of gypsies, became famous in 2007 when their inhabitants rioted in the streets of the neighbourhood, armed with clubs and knives. The official version was that there had been a clash with some skinheads in the local café. Informally, people talked about the unrest having been caused intentionally for political benefit.

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GYPSY VS ROMA

A year ago, Roma divas shook Sofia with heart-wrenching songs. No, it wasn't a Goran Bregovic concert, but a meeting of the Roma Inclusion Decade. It represented a musical and ideological triumph for the politically correct "Roma" in their battle against the pejorative "Gypsy". It was also a lofty moment for George Soros, who pledged to help the Roma cause and take on prejudiced locals. "Like me?" I think as I search my bag for my purse. Damn! My purse has been snatched!

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MINORITIES REPORT

Most Bulgarians encounter problems dealing with their insurance companies. They may have miserable experiences with the state health and pension systems. But, usually, in spite of these and other complaints, it's the Roma or Turkish minorities who become the scapegoats for their woes. Several factors influence discriminatory attitudes in Bulgaria. One of the most insidious is the stirring up of intolerance by populist politicians and opinion makers, who exploit traditional prejudices.

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TO VEIL OR NOT TO VEIL

"She probably studies medicine," a young man says to his friend as their eyes appreciatively follow the pretty girl in a headscarf as she crosses Dzhumayata, Plovdiv's central square.

This presumption is probably correct as the Medical University in Plovdiv attracts students from Turkey who don't feel they can comply with the ban on wearing headscarves in educational establishments in their native country.

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RAMADAN 2006

The Muslim month of fasting called Ramadan, or Ramazan in Turkish, began on 24 September. Muslims believe that on one of the days toward the end of the month - the 25, 27 or 29, it is not known exactly which - the Prophet Muhammad received the first revelations of the Qur'an from Allah.

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