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Bulgaria: Analysis From Washington -- Minority Media And National Integration

Washington, 6 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A recent survey of the national minority press in Bulgaria highlights both the ways that such media can help to mobilize ethnic communities and also the contribution they can make to the integration of these groups into the broader society.

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee together with a Bulgarian marketing agency last week published the results of the survey of the ethnic press in Bulgaria. It analyzed 19 ethnic publications -- seven Roma, three Armenian, two Wallachian and Romanian, two Jewish, two Russian, two Turkish, and one Macedonian -- for the period from May 1999 to May 2000.

Only one, "Evrena" the newspaper of the Armenian community, was self-supporting. And one significant minority, the Turkish community, generally relied on publications from abroad rather than generating its own output.

The authors of the survey reached three general conclusions, each of which appears to be applicable to the ethnic minority press in other countries as well.

First, the authors found that the publications of those groups which are the most integrated into Bulgarian society had the largest print runs per capita. Papers directed at the Jewish community, for example, commonly produce one issue each month for every two Jews in the population, whereas there is only one issue of a Roma newspaper for every 10 Roma citizens over the same period.

This "circulation paradox," the authors of the survey suggest, reflects cultural differences among the groups and also the important role that the ethnic press can and does play in helping to integrate communities into the broader society.

Some members of the dominant community view the ethnic press as a threat to national unity, but the survey suggests that it plays the opposite role. As the authors of the study note, the prevailing opinion among ethnic groups in Bulgaria is that the ethnic publications directed at them should be issued in both Bulgarian and their own native tongues, an arrangement that would appear to promote national consolidation.

Second, the survey's authors concluded that the newspapers of such minorities will need subsidies from either community groups or the government to continue. Because such groups are small, they seldom can attract the advertising or subscription income needed to support them. Even the one self-supporting newspaper in the survey was able to cover only 80 percent of its costs through advertising and newspaper sales.

Consequently, the national government and other institutions of the majority national community may have a compelling interest in providing subsidies to ensure that these newspapers of ethnic minority communities not only will continue to appear but even to grow in influence.

And third, the authors of the survey pointed out that those communities which do not have a strong domestically produced ethnic press are more likely than others to turn to publications from their co-ethnics abroad. They specifically cited the case of Bulgaria's 800,000 Turks, the ethnic minority which in the past has presented some of the largest challenges to Sofia.

The Turkish language paper with the largest circulation has a print run of only 7,000, "too small" the authors of the survey argue for the enormous community it serves. As a result, ethnic Turks in Bulgaria turn to "Yumit" and "Zaman," subsidiaries of Turkish newspapers produced in Turkey.

The survey's compilers noted that Bulgarian Turks accept these newspapers from abroad "as ethnic publications," but precisely because the focus of these papers is on Turkey rather than on Bulgaria such media outlets may promote separatist or even irredentist feelings rather than generate the kind of integrationist feelings that the domestic ethnic press appears to do.

Bulgaria is far from the only country in Eastern Europe and in the post-Soviet area that is wrestling with the problems of ethnic minorities and the ethnic press. The conclusions of this survey suggest that other governments, some of which have been openly hostile to the non-majority press, may want to reconsider their views about the role that minority media play.