THE WESTERN PARTS

(Materials prepared under the project on the "Social charter of the Bulgarian ethnic minority in Serbia including analysis of the social, demographic, economic and human issues of the population inhabiting the border area" by the SOLIDARITY Humanitarian Organization with the sponsorship of the Open Society Foundation, Belgrade)

The border area examined in the project was seceded from Bulgaria as a defeated country after World War I by force of the Peace Treaty of  Neuilly signed on 27 November 1919 and ceded to the Serbo-Croatian-Slovenian Kingdom. It comprises a territory of 1500 square km inhabited by a Bulgarian population of 120 000; here belong 120 villages, one urban centre, Tsaribrod, and two market centres - Bossilegrad and Transka Klissura, 1 high school, 6 primary schools, 116 elementary schools attended by 7892 pupils, 45 churches and 42 priests. Drawn in an unprecedented manner, the boundary runs across villages, graveyards, courtyards, and even houses. As many as 25 villages were thus divided, such as Strezimirovtsi, for example, 60 per cent of which lies in Serbia and 40 per cent in Bulgaria. The school, the church, and the graveyard remained in Serbia. The rest of the place, in Bulgaria. Other divided villages are Gruintsi, Ressen, Ribartsi, Zheravino, Mlekomintsi, Kostrashevtsi, Palya, Klissura, Petachintsi, Vrabcha, Bachevo, Dolna Nevlya, etc. Then no wonder that the people living near the border have suffered a great deal. A border-inspired fear is deeply rooted in them. This frontier proved to be one of the most difficult to cross in Europe, at least for the ethnic Bulgarian population inhabiting the border region.

The borderline drawn by the Treaty of Neuilly led to the geographic, ethnic, and economic isolation of the border area inhabitants. This is especially true of the residents of the Bossilegrad vicinity surrounded by all sides by mountains, gorges, and inaccessible roads. In order to reach Vranya, the local people have to pass through the Khaidoushki Preslap mountain heights (1950 m above sea level), while the residents of Klissoura and the nearby villages have to cross the Vlassina Mountains (1270 m above sea level). The poor roads and transport communications have been another obstacle.

 

Frescoes in the St. Archangel Church (18th c.)
the village of Bolevdol

Another great difficulty which people living in the border region are faced with is linked to the hampered cultivation of the land, which had remained on the other side of the border. Along no line has the native population had grounds for cherishing any illusions about its own future.
Moreover, until the early 1990's, the international community disregarded the plight of ethnic Bulgarians in Serbia. In the course of decades, for ideological reasons, their mother country, too, had not dared to mention in public the fate of its compatriots living in Serbia. As if they had not existed. As if they were no one to her.

In the Serbo-Croatian-Slovenian Kingdom the Bulgarian minority had lost its basic ethnic rights. Later, within the framework of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia its rights were restored, but the assimilation it was subjected to increased. It saw a migration of unprecedented size. Entire villages and regions were depopulated. The people began to look for jobs in the interior of the former Yugoslavia and particularly in Serbia. In Tsaribrod, a town of long urban and artisan tradition, the number of the population began to shrink. It came to that in the period of 1948-1981 the Tsaribrod municipal area was left by 7 910 individuals. During the same period between 3 000 and 5 000 ethnic Bulgarians migrated to the Nis neighbourhood from the village of Bozhitsa near Bossilegrad. All this, of course, was not the consequence of an easy life! The farther away from the border, the better for us, was the guiding motto of the people leaving their native places.

Since 1990 some changes have taken place in the situation of the Bulgarian ethnic minority in Serbia. Both the international community and the motherland have turned their eyes to its conditions. It is only too late for the migrants to return to their native places, for the localities are economically underdeveloped, the villages have been depopulated, the school buildings have been destroyed, the roads are still poor...

The number of the disadvantaged becomes higher with every passing day, social aid is insufficient; most of the businesses in the Tsaribrod and Bossilegrad regions face bankruptcy; the retired people receive the lowest pensions in the country; every fourth resident of the Bossilegrad municipality is over 60 years of age and in both municipalities the mortality rate is higher than the birth rate.

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