At about 9% of the population, Bulgaria’s Muslim minority is the EU’s largest. The minority group is made up of Turkish-speaking “Bulgarian Turks,” of Bulgarian-speaking Muslims commonly known as Pomaks and of a sub-group of the Roma minority.
Given that Bulgaria was for 500 years a part of the Ottoman Empire, gaining independence only in 1878, the country’s national identity has developed, to a large extent, by setting itself apart from “the Turks” and employing anti-Turkish rhetoric. This us-them, anti-Turkish attitude remains the bastion of Bulgarian nationalist sentiment even today.
The country’s nationalist parties are also taking aim at the Roma community of 400,000. The device appeals to the many Bulgarian voters who are highly prejudiced against the Roma minority. City neighborhoods are increasingly divided according to ethnicity, writes Petya Kabakchiewa, dean of the sociology department at Sofia University.
Half of Bulgaria’s citizenry would prefer not to have Roma neighbors – nor neighbors of African, Arab or Chinese descent for that matter, Kabakchiewa notes. A survey shows that less than 30% would like to work in a company co-managed by Roma, though more than 70% wouldn’t mind Roma cleaners in their firm.
The xenophobia inherent in Bulgarian nationalist platforms resounds with more than 20% of the voters. It is also accompanied by agitation against migrants and, increasingly, against refugees.
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Evil Bulgaria, DW seems to be saying (note the inevitable reference to “us-them”). But they sound like other European countries to me. They have longer experience with Islam and Roma, that is the main difference.