Information on whether the unified citizens's number, the serial number or any other feature in internal passports identify the holder's ethnicity, particularly whether they indicate Roma ethnicity, and on whether internal passports issued in 1984 contain information on ethnicity [BGR26949.E]

In telephone interviews on 4, 5 and 12 June 1997, the president of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee provided the following information, which represents his personal viewpoint.

The communist government of Bulgaria required that internal passports explicitly indicate ethnicity, but this requirement ceased in the mid-1960s. In the mid-1980s (there were previous occurrences of obligatory name-changing) the Bulgarian authorities pressured or forced many Moslems to change their Islamic names to more Bulgarian- or Slavic-sounding names. The name-changing campaign in the mid-1980s primarily affected ethnic Turks, but also Pomaks and ethnic Roma, as approximately 50 per cent of Bulgaria's Roma are Islamic. In the mid-1980s, a mark placed on page 13 of the internal passport indicated that the holder had changed a previous name to a more Slavic- or Bulgarian-sounding name. After legislation passed in 1990, such marks were no longer inserted in internal passports. People who were previously obliged to alter their names were permitted as of 1990 to revert to their original Islamic names. Those who did so were issued new internal passports that displayed their Islamic names. Approximately 70 per cent of the Turks and 50 per cent of the Roma forced to change their names reverted to their Muslim names in the early 1990s. The remaining Turks and Roma kept their Slavic- or Bulgarian-sounding names and retained their internal passports with the marks on page 13. The president added that a mark on page 13 of an internal passport does not explicitly indicate ethnicity, but it indicates that the holder is Islamic.

The president added that a visual inspection of an internal passport is insufficient to indicate the holder's ethnicity, as the unified citizen's number, serial number and other features of the internal passport do not explicitly indicate ethnicity. However, the police are able to use the two above-mentioned numbers and the police archives to trace the background of the holder, and are able to determine whether the holder had a previous name, and by extension, to know the holder's ethnicity.

The president added that the personal name in an internal passport does not normally reveal the holder's ethnicity. Only a small number of well-educated Bulgarians can correctly deduce Roma and Turkish ethnicity by examining the names in the internal passports. However, most people in Bulgaria recognize Islamic names and know that Islamic names are primarily held by ethnic Turks, and to a lesser extent, ethnic Roma and Pomaks. The non-Islamic Roma have Bulgarian-sounding names, and Roma ethnicity cannot be deduced by examining their names.

The president added that in the 1980s and 1990s, no personal documents explicitly indicated ethnicity. However, ethnicity could occasionally be inferred from documents indicating the place of birth, as it is common knowledge that some villages and small towns are exclusively inhabited by one ethnic group.

Corroborating or additional information on the above-mentioned topics could not be found among the sources consulted by the DIRB.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the DIRB within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Sofia. 12 June 1997. Telephone interview with president.

_____. 6 June 1997. Telephone interview with president.

_____. 5 June 1997. Telephone interview with president.

Additional Sources Consulted

CSCE Digest [Washington]. Monthly.

Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) Reports.

News from Helsinki Watch [New York]. Monthly.

Transition [Prague]. Twice monthly.

Uncaptive Minds [Washington]. Quarterly.