Mr. Petko Draganov,
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria
World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination,
Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
DURBAN, SEPTEMBER 2001
Mr./ Mrs. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to start by joining the previous speakers in thanking the Government of the Republic of South Africa for its hospitality, excellent organization of the event and especially for the enormous efforts it has invested in making this Conference happen. I take this opportunity to express my most deeply felt condolences on the loss of the South African people with the passing away of Govan Mbeki - a hero not only of South Africa but also of the fight against racism.
I would also like to express our gratitude to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and to Mrs. Mary Robinson personally for their remarkable work in overcoming the difficulties on the road to this forum.
I feel particularly privileged to address on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Bulgaria the Third World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance for at least three good reasons:
First, it was about time after an 18 years pause to approach comprehensively the issues related to racism, in all their complexity, taking into account all important developments in today's world where apartheid is no longer a reality, a world which has become much more humane and democratic than it used to be a decade ago. The tremendous and profound changes that have taken place provide a new environment for addressing the problems of racism and related intolerance.
Second, it seems that in the dawn of the new millennium the nations of the World need to give a strong signal that they can deal with some of the difficult topics of our time in one voice. This Conference is called upon to prove that there can be common solutions to common problems and we can effectively fight one of today's most disgraceful phenomena, using universal approaches.
Third, for a country like Bulgaria it is of utmost importance to show that today we are able to face problems on which we have been silent for years. Every state has its own national or regional record on racism. Bulgaria addresses the problems related to intolerance with openness and responsibility, motivated by the universal values we have subscribed to by signing the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination and all other relevant international universal and regional instruments.
Let me highlight just a few of the Bulgarian's Government's views with regard to the complex issues we are dealing with at the World Conference.
First. This Conference is mainly about the future. As Secretary General Kofi Anan put it before the Commission on Human Rights, we should not get lost in the past. We acknowledge the necessity to address past practices, but they should not continue to haunt us forever. I assume there are various views on this. How far back in history should we go then? Have the political judgments on the past not already been passed a long time ago? What matters today is what our future will look like, do the countries that are most in need have the resources to bridge the divides. To the best of its abilities, Bulgaria is extending a friendly hand to developing countries in traditional fields of cooperation like education, health and other aspects of social life. Focusing on underdevelopment is the way to fight the consequences of racism.
Second. How specific can we afford to be at the Third World Conference against racism? In my opinion, a World Conference needs to send universal, rather than regional messages. There seems to be an abundance of international mechanisms designed to handle regional political issues. So, let us not expand our foreign policy agendas onto racism. Racism is first and foremost a human rights issue and it should be addressed in the context of the human rights instruments. Any different approach could very well be to the detriment of the victims of contemporary racism themselves. Bulgaria favours being less region- or country-specific in the messages that we adopt.
What in our opinion could be a major input of the Conference is the clear identification of all those groups that are affected by racism and its current manifestations. We should be able to recognize existing imperfections in various parts of the world. But let us try to adopt a general approach while reflecting the sensitivity of regional problems and vulnerable groups, building on the accumulated experience of the last twenty years.
No one has a perfect record and I would not be honest if I told you today that Bulgaria had all of its problems solved. The Bulgarian nation has been able to give an example of active anti-racism, when during the years of the Holocaust the country prevented the Bulgarian Jews from being deported to concentration camps in spite of strong outside political and military pressure. The world would be a much better place if we, the peoples, could unite in a similar manner against the manifestations of racism and intolerance today.
Building a culture of respect for our differences is a process. Bulgaria has embarked on this path by way of advancing our negotiations on accession to the EU. The new Government intends to do its utmost to finalize these negotiations during its term of office.
The Republic of Bulgaria is party to all relevant universal and regional instruments related to racism, including the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Framework Convention of the Council of Europe for the Protection of National Minorities. The standards of the treaties, ratified by the National Assembly, have priority over any domestic legislation, which might contravene them.
The Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria, the provisions of which are directly applicable, establishes the principle of nondiscrimination and equality of citizens before the law. The principle is further elaborated in the national legislation and is valid for the entire legal system of the country.
The Bulgarian society has been known for the existing tolerant interethnic relations, a vital prerequisite for peace, and we are trying to represent a successful model in this regard for the entire Balkan region. Ethnic stability is a key to security anywhere and we continue to be a
major factor of stability. To give you an example, several ethnic and minority groups are again represented at the level of ministers in our new cabinet.
Bulgaria attaches great importance to the respect of the rights of persons belonging to minorities and believes that the situation of various specific groups in the society and particularly of minorities is a test for the democratic development in every country. A practical step in this regard was the establishment of the National Council on Ethnic and Demographic Issues at the Council of ministries, a body for consultation and coordination between government institutions and nongovernmental organizations with the priority objective of designing and implementing the national policies for resolving ethnic problems. The Council has developed a specific "Framework Programme for the Equal Treatment of Roma in the Bulgarian society" in close cooperation with the experts of major Roma organizations. Experts of Roma origin have been appointed to the Council of Ministers, government agencies, and to most of the district, regional and municipal organizations.
The Commission on Human Rights and Religious Denominations in the Bulgarian parliament, the National Council on Ethnic and Demographic Issues, the numerous NGOs, some of which present here, constitute a guarantee for the promotion of a culture of tolerance in the Bulgarian society. Some of the existing structures will be reinforced in the near future.
I wish to stress the importance of international cooperation in this regard. Government funding can never be adequate and we will continue to appreciate support from the European Union PHARE programme, the Council of Europe, the World Bank.
In closing let me appeal to all of you to forget our differences and honour the victims of racism through a strong commitment to the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
I thank you!