Careful with These Turkish-Language News, Politicians
Who could have imagined just a few weeks ago the issue of to have or not to have Turkish-language news would be reintroduced to public attention? In a matter of days strange ideas filled the air: from replacing news with cultural programs or moving them further in schedule (currently at 16:00 EET on the Bulgarian National Television's national channel BNT1) to airing them on the BNT's regional programs.
The first time broadcasting of news in Turkish was hosted by BNT1 was on October 2, 2000. The first time they were recently questioned occurred when a member of the nationalist coalition Patriotic Front (PF), an alliance supporting Bulgaria's government, reminded to reporters that had been a key idea in the coalition's election platform.
The liberal Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), a party dominated by ethnic Turks, sharply retorted with its leader Lyutvi Mestan saying any action against the news bulletin would open a rift along ethnic lines.
Surprisingly, it is not only the PF that staunchly backs the idea. Deputy Prime Minister Rumyana Bachvarova, a member of senior coalition partner GERB, also embraced the plan on Friday thus giving it a full legitimacy as an intention of the government. Bachvarova said news in Turkish did not have much impact and cultural programs are needed instead.
Earlier during the day, a PF lawmaker was even on the brink of starting a fight with Mariya Stoyanova, a member of the Council for Electronic Media (CEM), over whether Turkish-language news should be rescheduled or aired by the Bulgarian National Television's regional program. Iskren Veselinov, a nationalist MP, even labeled news in Turkish "a stupid, expensive and unnecessary thing." He underscored what he perceives as the main goal of a national media outlet: to unify the nation and point out common things. He even made a reference to the Radio and Television Act, adopted in the 1990s, which says "it [the national media outlet] should enhance usage of the Bulgarian language and make it more popular."
Stoyanova responded by citing an article of Bulgaria's Constitution promoting the right of minorities to use their mother tongue. She warned against broaching the potentially "explosive" subject which, in her words, has to be left in the hands of media-regulation experts.
She seems to be right at a first glance: such a sensitive issue in a country which has long been boasting about ethnic peace (and portraying itself as an island of ethnic peace in Southeast Europe) should be passed to the CEM to decide, or at least to propose.
However, this simple truth does not make up for another simple, and surprising, fact.
Both Stoyanova and Veselinov described the "inefficiency" of Turkish-language news in Bulgaria, with the expert claiming their timing does not allow most people to see them. After all, who (especially from the active population) could afford being home at 16:10 during business days to watch TV?
A non-Bulgarian observer unrelated to Bulgarian politics could then ask, “Why didn’t the CEM voice this stance earlier?” Perhaps this is not the best way to use the occasion generously given by politicians. "Why don't Turkish people express disgruntlement for themselves?," might be the next question. After all, it is for them that the news were added to BNT1's schedule. In fact they have done so; but a higher-level representation is needed in Bulgaria if people's demands are to be heard.
Why, then, didn't the DPS, which virtually represents most of the ethnic Turks (they have been voting for it overwhelmingly in decades) object to this timing? Why doesn't the party agree now changes are needed to the schedule? Why doesn't it even comment on the issue?
It is easy for anybody to lash at the DPS, and many politicians and experts do. At the same time the party is in a terrible deadlock, because if it purports to represent the ethnic Turks' specific demand, it risks being pointed at: "Look, citizens of Bulgaria. This party only speaks of Turks. It is an ethnic party, isn't it?"
Such a comment would be extremely dangerous if made in public by a ruling party which would like to dispose of any claims of "influence from the DPS"; by a junior partner trying to position itself as staunch enemy of the "status quo" (allegedly related to a notion of DPS being "a criminal organization", in the Reformist Bloc's words); or by the PF, a party which needs nationalism to survive. All of them would (and in fact have always had) a good reason to evoke Article 11 (4), which explicitly bans all parties set up on an ethnic, religious or racial basis.
But if the article is applied, God knows where Bulgaria is going in terms of ethno-religious stability. Paradoxically, this would be "dividing Bulgarians along ethnic lines", the event DPS's leader Mestan fears and which in fact everyone should fear.
It is just as easy to say the bulletin can be moved to prime time to allow Turkish-speaking Bulgarians access to its content. In reality, this could hardly be carried out. Though the following reason has not been officially stated, the decision to set it just after the 16:00 regular bulletin is aimed at making it as inconspicuous as possible.
Having the news broadcast far ahead of prime time was convenient for those who programmed the news in the end of 1990s in order to prevent politicians and other powers-that-be from inciting ethnic intolerance in a raucous democracy that had left the Revival Process far behind just ten years before. Given the occasional outbursts of xenophobia of some compatriots (and also of certain groups of citizens in any society), one could not avoid imagining someone "proud of being an ethnic Bulgarian" returning from work, sitting down to watch TV and getting angered in a primitive, embarrassing way.
By touching the subject of "changing the Turkish-language news," both politicians and media experts are playing with fire. Another solution should be sought, one not introducing radical changes to the schedule. Besides, there are actually viewers at 16:00: pensioners, housewives, adolescents not yet at work. This is something of an audience, isn't it?
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