Bulgarian-born French Journalist Roumiana Ougartchinska: Bulgarian Expats Are Not Traitors
Interview for Novinite.com and Novinite.bg with well-known French journalist with Bulgarian roots, Roumiana Ougartchinska.
Roumiana Ougartchinska was born in Sofia, but has lived in Bulgaria only for nine years. She graduated from high school in Paris and later from the Sorbonne with a Master's Degree in Information and Communication.
In the last 15 years, Ougartchinska has been actively working in the field of investigative journalism, and has authored several books, one of which is the well-known "The Truth about the Attempt on the Life of Pope John Paul II," shedding new light on the attack, and disproving the theory of Bulgarian participation in this attack. In it, she presents little known facts about the way it was organized, which she collected after a 10-year investigation through hundreds of interviews and documents from archives in Bulgaria, France Italy, Belgium and Russia, among others.
In her work, the journalist focuses on Eastern European mafia, illegal drug trafficking channels, radical organizations from the Caucasus to Bosnia, secret services, energy wars. She recently presented in Bulgaria her latest book "KGB and Co." The journalist has also written the book "The Gas War. The Russian Threat."
All three books are were first published in France and later translated in Bulgarian and published in Bulgaria.
At the end of May 2011, Ougartchinska wrote her Open Letter to the Ombudsman, which became the start of her unwavering campaign for the voting and election rights of Bulgarian expats. Later, along with Bozhidar Chekov, she founded the Association Democratic Alternative (DA), which they presented at a press conference in Sofia at the end of September 2012.
Despite the involvement of law professor Guy Carcassonne, top French constitutional law expert, lecturer at the Paris X University – Nanterre, participant in preparing amendments to the French Constitution during the terms of Presidents Mitterrand, Chirac, Sarkozy, and advisor to current President Hollande, despite the 15 000 invitations sent to media and institutions in Bulgaria, and the free of charge participation, media attendance was disappointingly low.
Meanwhile, Ougartchinska and Chekov's presentations and the one of the Prof. Carcassonne were convincing and impressive.
In the eve of the next-week gathering of Bulgarian diaspora in Brussels, under the patronage of the Bulgarian presidential office, we decided to ask Ougartchinska a few questions.
Over a year ago you wrote an Open letter to the Ombudsman, focusing on the rights of Bulgarian citizens abroad, actually, on the violation of these rights. What was the goal of the letter?
I wrote and distributed the Open Letter to the Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria to expose not only the discrimination suffered by Bulgarians residing abroad, but also the disastrous abyss it induces between Bulgarians, which is a loss mainly for Bulgaria. The embedded in Bulgaria's Constitution ban of the participation in the rule of the country of nearly one third of Bulgarian citizens is detrimental for all of us and for the future of our country.
My goal was to provoke a public debate; to obtain first the opinion of the institution of the Ombudsman on this matter and, second - the official position of those ruling the country.
The Ombudsman reacted with much dignity to the Open Letter. He confirmed that there is indeed such discrimination and that the Constitution contradicts itself. Mr. Penchev also said that dual citizenship is not a crime to be punished by deprivation of active and passive voting rights.
How is the current legislation violating these rights?
The Bulgarian Constitution, adopted in 1991, guarantees all Bulgarian citizens equal rights wherever they are located. This is Article 26. However, Articles 65 and 93 of the Constitution, at the same time, impose restrictions for Bulgarians with dual citizenship and for Bulgarians who in the last five years have not resided in Bulgaria. This is clearly a contradiction in the Constitution. Moreover, these restrictions contradict a number of documents which Bulgaria has signed and is committed to adhere to as a democratic country - the Charter of Human Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the Lisbon Treaty, all guarantee the right of every citizen of the European Union to live and work wherever they wish, without losing their rights in their native country.
There is no issue more important for Bulgaria than its depopulation. Currently, Bulgarians abroad are an estimated three million. According to data of the National Statistics Institute, NSI, each year at least 20 000 leave the country. Recent studies have shown that another 280 000 have expressed readiness to leave.
The decision to leave home is hard to make. It is not dictated solely by the desire to make money. Chaos in the country is another reason. In order to not loose forever these people for Bulgaria, they should have parliamentary representation, similarly to other European countries.
Yes, the Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria reacted immediately by announcing an official statement in support of Bulgarians abroad and organized a round table on these issues, which took place in December last year. What happened there?
At this round-table discussion, all participants reached consensus in principle that such discrimination should not be tolerated; that it is not in line with European principles and must be changed. Regarding what exactly needs to be changed; how it is going to be changed in the respective articles of the Constitution; how the right of representation of Bulgarians abroad will be recorded - all joined around the opinion that the debate should continue.
I had great hope and optimism that we will be heard. Unfortunately, I note that the Bulgarian Parliament is passing with silence these vital issues for the nation.
Representatives of the Office of the President, of the ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria party, GERB, and of the far-right nationalist Ataka did not attend the round table. How do you explain this absence, especially of the first two, since they have repeatedly stated intentions and efforts to work with and for Bulgarians abroad?
I cannot give an answer whether deliberately or unintentionally they ignored the institution of the Ombudsman. However, representatives of the Foreign Ministry, the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, the Central Electoral Commission, and of all other parliamentary groups actively participated in the roundtable.
In January 2012, you founded the Association Democratic Alternative (DA – "Yes"). Where are you heading now, when it has become obvious that most institutions ignore the position of Ombudsman?
We founded DA to formally continue and protect the cause expressed in the Open Letter. We took part in TV and radio programs, published interviews and articles in order to inform the public to the utmost possible extend. We created a Facebook page and an official website.
The Association Democratic Alternative (DA) wants amendments to the Constitution, particularly to Articles 65 and 93, which prevent Bulgarians with dual citizenship to equally exercise their election rights – to vote and be elected. We insist on adherence to the principles of the Charter of Human Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, on a new Election Code, which would alleviate to the maximum the participation of all Bulgarian citizens in the elections process, on the inclusion in it of representatives of the entire Bulgarian civil society. We request the establishment of voting regions abroad, depending on the number of voters residing there, and the elimination of any hurdles, bans, and financial conditions for candidates from abroad.
After conversing with many Bulgarians, both in the country and people living in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the US, including by using the means provided by social networks, we began asking ourselves if we have been understood correctly? We realized the debate was not public enough. Maybe Bulgarians in Bulgaria feel it does not pertain to them, and believe this is a problem only concerning Bulgarians abroad i.e. they have left on their own will, let them deal with it on their own. However, this is a problem of our entire nation, of our entire State. First, because Bulgaria is depopulating; second, because we violate basic civil rights, and third, because those who are leaving are not some sort of a hostile emigration; they are not traitors. These are our brothers, sisters, children, relatives and friends. As a person who has lived outside my homeland for so many years, I know how difficult it is to divide a family. This is why I insist that the expats are part of our common family. We represent the voice of all Bulgarians who disagree with the "categorization" of Bulgarian citizens; we fight for the real, not the pretended European integration of Bulgaria. We oppose lobbyist circles and political pressure; our desire is only to provoke a large public debate among all Bulgarians and all institutions on the voting rights of the Bulgarian diaspora, with the ultimate goal to have amendments to our Supreme Law.
Why you (and other representatives of the diaspora) oppose the Bulgarians Abroad Act, which failed to reach the Parliament as result?
There is much talk lately about Bulgarians abroad; there is hardly another year that has been marked by that much talk. The Office of the President launched a preparation of a Strategy for Bulgarians Abroad, of policies etc., but their agenda does not include the most important issues – the issues stemming from the discrimination regarding voting rights. The Bill, edited by the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, not only omits the basic principles of equal voting rights of ALL Bulgarians, but provides for the establishment of new categories of Bulgarian citizens, which deepens the division and the discrimination among the citizens of the Republic of Bulgaria.
What is your position regarding the meeting of the Bulgarian diaspora in Brussels under the patronage of the Office of the President?
The organizer of the meeting is Emil Stoyanov, Member of the European Parliament from the ruling GERB party and brother of former President Petar Stoyanov. The exact the role of the Office of the President is not clear, nor is the agenda of the meeting. It skips the "Round Table," organized by the Ombudsman last year. We will not participate in this meeting because we believe that such an important issue should be discussed in Bulgaria, before the Bulgarian society and with its participation. However, DA is not calling for a boycott and is not condemning the participants in this meeting because some of them are trying to back our idea of parliamentary representation of the diaspora. There is one other problem as well - neither the organizers nor the participants have the necessary legitimacy to be lawmakers. Politics are not done through invitations.
What do you say to those who are afraid that "if you get what you want" it will increase the "Turkish vote" threat and to those who claim that Bulgarians abroad have no right to interfere in the election because they are defectors and do not pay taxes?
These are two different things. First, don't you notice that the "Turkish threat" pops up whenever elections are on the horizon? It is much easier to fuel ethnic hatred instead of speaking on the essence of the issues. About 400 000 Bulgarian citizens reside in Turkey. In Europe and America, they are an estimated two and a half million. Given that Turkey could win one parliamentary seat, there must be five from other parts of the world.
If Turkey could have ten Members of the Parliament, then fifty must come from other parts of the world! Let's state it clearly - Bulgarians are citizens of the Republic of Bulgaria, regardless of where they are located and should have equal rights, regardless of their origins, occupation, place of residence, etc. Therefore, the danger does not come from Turkey, but from the number of MPs from "abroad." And because the Parliament is not expandable, they will have to make room for them.
Regarding "not paying taxes," the problem has been also created artificially and its use is pure dogmatism. Nowhere in democratic countries there is such binding of taxes with civil rights. 60% of the French and 45% of the Americans are exempt from income tax. Who would attempt to deprive them from their voting rights on grounds "they do not pay?" In addition, there is an international agreement, signed by Bulgaria, to avoid double taxation. Taxes and health insurance are paid where one earns their living.
The mere fact that these principles remain unknown to the Bulgarian society is a demonstration of the need for inclusion in lawmaking of Bulgarian citizens who have gained experience and knowledge elsewhere.
This interview in Bulgarian.
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