Despite the effort to differentiate the Muslim minorities from one another, by the mid-1950s, a growing number of Tatars, Pomaks and Muslim Roma started to self-identify as Turks. This could be explained with the Tatars’ and Roma Muslims’ attendance in Turkish minority schools. For the Pomaks, it can be ascribed to their shared cultural affinities, religious beliefs, and rites with the Turks, which were reinforced in response to the suppression of traditional Islamic practices and attires. Fears of Turkish separatism brought about an abrupt shift in the treatment of Muslim minorities. In line with the nationalist policies that emerged from 1956 onwards the cultural and religious rights of the Muslims were additionally curtailed in the 1960s and 1970s. Furthermore, in the early 1970s the authorities launched a drastic strategy of eradicating ethnic differences under the guise of constructing a homogenized socialist nation. Conspicuously, the 1971 Constitution no longer mentioned national or ethnic minorities (or minorities of any kind) and used the concept of “Bulgarian citizens of non-Bulgarian origin” instead. Those citizens had the right to study (but not to be educated in) their mother tongue. In line with the new political course, by the mid-1970s, all Turkish schools were summarily closed down and the Turkish-language publications were restricted. The notorious name-changing campaigns marked the apex of Communist Party’s turn to an explicit nationalist agenda. The traditional Turco-Arab names of the Pomaks, Muslim Roma, and Turks were forcefully changed to Bulgarian ones in the 1970s and 1980s. Particularly brutal was the assimilation of the Turkish-speaking population in 1984-85. The assault on the names of the Turks was supplemented by a ban on Turkish-language publications and the public use of the Turkish language as well as by severe measures against religious practices and distinctive clothing such as the feredje and the shalvari of Turkish women. The assimilation was cynically called a “rebirth process” in the official political and media discourse. It was portrayed as a return of the Turks to their “Bulgarian roots”, lost through their Islamization under Ottoman rule. Over 350,000 Turks left the country for Turkey (and almost half of them returned after the fall of communism).
Ina Merdjanova. Rediscovering the Umma.The Communist Regime and the Turks.
Don’t forget me. Perhaps I was not anything special to you. The kind of an unimportant comedy love, a book that just ends immediately easy to forget, a day on the middle of holidays, a gift you liked but not the kind "oh God, it was exactly what I wanted.“ I believe I was one of those you don’t tell your friends about because you don’t know "how it goes”. When I was calling, you never did the impossible to stay free and talk with me. We made love, you embraced me but even these you seemed to do with annoyance not with pleasure and love. But please don’t forget me. For me it has been like one of those unknown films found unintentionally on a night and you fall in love with them. It was like one of those books in which you underline every expressions, keep every note, one of those books who make you tell everyone the story they’re about. You have been like the first day of vacation after many months of work. The gift I always wanted, the kind of gift than makes every other one pointless. Everyone knows about you, even my 80 years old neighbor, my cat, the birds. I had to tell everyone. My hands always shaked everytime you would write me. I made love with you because without it I would die… you understand the difference?! Now I’m writing my last letter because I don’t want you to fall asleep under the blanket of my love. It might seems enough but it isn’t. It’s not enough. And I want you to fall in love. But please don’t forget about me. And wish me on my next birthday, ask me how I am, occasionally. Don’t forget me.
It appears that Islam in the Balkans does not offer readily exportable solutions for Western European Muslims but rather a rich experience to learn from. In words of Bougarel, studying the experience of Balkan Muslims “as non-sovereign Muslim minorities in Europe - and the way their politcal, religious and intellectual elites responded to this challenge enables a better understanding of the specific features of Balkan Islam and its potential contribution to the emergence of a European Islam”.
Undoubtedly, Muslim scholars from the region have made important contributions to debates on how to reconcile Islam and European modernity, by engaging issues such as secularism, science, the status of women, the modernization of education and religious institutions, and the reform of Shari’a. It seems that those theoretical and practical contributions can offer a major input to the discourse on a “European Islam.” Yet, until now, the flow of intellectual exchange has been mainly from Western Europe to the Balkans, rather than the other way around. While authors such as Tariq Ramadan and Yusuf al-Qaradawi are translated to local languages and referred to in academic writings and public debates in the Balkans, most of the writings of significant Balkan authors remain largely unknown to the Muslim publics in the West; this is despite the fact that some of their works have been published in English, German and French. After a public lecture by Tariq Ramadan in Sarajevo in 2009, I was told by local scholars that “Ramadan did not know about Bosnian Islam, did not refer to Bosnian Muslims, whereas most of the topics he discusses in his books were subject of debate here one hundred years ago.” There is an overwhelming feeling that the intellectual legacy of Muslim response in the region to challenges of European modernity “has still to be systematized, studied and presented in major European languages”.
Rediscovering the Umma: Muslims in the Balkans between Nationalism and Transnationalism, Ina Merdjanova