Semi-Consolidated Democracy
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 58.33 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 4.50 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
58 100 Semi-Consolidated Democracy
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic. See the methodology.

header1 Author

  • Angel Petrov

header2 Status Changes in 2023

  • No changes in 2023.

header3 Executive Summary

In 2022, Bulgaria’s political crisis worsened, overshadowing the brief hope for resolution that emerged when a four-way government replaced the president-appointed interim cabinet in December 2021. The governing coalition, the first since 2014 not led by former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s GERB party, came to power pledging to tackle the COVID-19 and energy crises, inflation, corruption, and the judiciary’s problematic performance. However, its efforts were hindered by continuous bickering among the four partners, which intensified with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Kiril Petkov’s government faced immediate challenges with no grace period. The first two months saw outbreaks of COVID-19’s Omicron variant and a populist wave against a vaccine certificate in a country where around 30 percent were vaccinated in early 2022.1 The Vazrazhdane (Revival) party, skeptical of the virus and the European Union (EU), tried to storm the National Assembly (Bulgaria’s unicameral parliament) in January in protest of these measures. Miscommunication and partisan displays among the coalition partners—Prime Minister Petkov’s We Continue the Change (PP), There Is Such a People (ITN), Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), and Democratic Bulgaria (DB)—complicated delicate reforms imposed at the end of the previous year, such as a price cap on energy. Tensions escalated further over appointments to top jobs at some state institutions, such as the central bank.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 exacerbated these divisions. PM Petkov’s PP and DB stood firmly with Ukraine, ITN expressed some reservations, while the BSP rejected EU sanctions on Russia. Eventually, Bulgaria supported the EU-imposed restrictions but sought an exemption from the embargo on oil imports. It also stopped receiving Russian gas, which accounted for 80 percent of its supplies, sparking outrage from the BSP and other pro-Russian officials.

A dispute over allocations to the Regional Development Ministry, combined with the North Macedonia policy and EU bilateral negotiations, brought the government to the point of collapse. In June, ITN cited these two issues as the basis for pulling its ministers from the government, removed Assembly Speaker Nikola Minchev (PP), and backed a no-confidence motion against the government filed by GERB. The opposition backed both actions, and the inability of the remaining partners to reconcile resulted in the fifth election since April 2021.

A caretaker government was appointed by President Rumen Radev, who had been on a collision course with PM Petkov and his allies (except ITN). Under his watch, the interim administration reversed many appointments made by Petkov’s government: sixty officials in one month. Radev advocated for a restrained approach towards Ukraine, while the caretaker cabinet did not rule out continued work with Russia’s state-owned energy corporation, Gazprom.2 Radev’s disagreement with Petkov, even extending to appointments at the top of Bulgaria’s state utility, Bulgargaz, led former coalition partners to accuse him of favoring opponents, primarily ITN, ahead of the elections.

In the subsequent elections, GERB regained the top position after having lost two votes (July 2021 and November 2021), while the former winner PP came in second. The results lacked a clear majority due to party polarization. Confrontation continued, as it took three days to elect an assembly speaker, and no majority was in sight as of December 31, 2022. President Radev announced he would manage the mandate procedure’s timetable to prevent elections before March if all three attempts to form a government failed.3 The vote also marked the rise of the openly pro-Kremlin Revival, which doubled its party support to 10 percent, and the parliamentary debut of Bulgarian Rise, a party of the former caretaker PM Stefan Yanev. As Defense Minister under Kiril Petkov, Yanev had quit under pressure for refusing to call the military action in Ukraine a war (using the Kremlin’s term “special operation” instead), but later “softened his rhetoric.”4 With another election likely, a parliamentary majority amended the electoral code again, scrapping mandatory machine voting and making it optional. DB and PP claimed that this change allowed for paper voting, facilitating vote buying and electoral fraud.

One positive development was the rise of civic activism to help Ukrainian refugees. Reporters without Borders stated that the government’s “grip on the press”5 had waned since Borisov’s departure from power, ending more than a decade-long practice of using some outlets “for political influence.”6 However, a concerning incident occurred when Revival leader Kostadin Kostadinov walked out of his own post-election press conference after a reporter he had ordered out of a public press club refused to comply. He subsequently submitted “foreign agents” legislation to curtail the activities of independent media and nongovernmental organizations.

The judiciary also continued to suffer from political polarization. PM Petkov and some of his allies were bent on removing Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev, but attempts to do so through the main judicial body, the Supreme Judicial Council, failed. The ruling majority successfully abolished the specialized court and prosecution system, arguing that it served elite political and economic interests (particularly of GERB) rather than justice. European Prosecutor Laura Kövesi spoke of a record number of corruption complaints from citizens, including abuse of EU funding in agriculture, healthcare, and infrastructure. The National Assembly’s failure to appoint judges to the Constitutional Court, or to pick new members of the judiciary’s Inspectorate and the Supreme Judicial Council, amid political confrontation, could continue to create legal chaos.

No definitive progress was marked in fighting corruption or in amending the relevant legislation as planned, but the new legislature made an effort to pass EU-required changes at a parliamentary committee level before year’s end. Additionally, several major scandals that erupted during the year had yet to be properly investigated. In March, police briefly detained former prime minister Borisov and other GERB members, claiming the move had been linked to an alert from the European Prosecutor, but this was subsequently refuted and Borisov released without charges.

In foreign policy, despite internal political conflicts, Bulgaria successfully adopted a proposal to unblock North Macedonia’s accession talks with the EU; the proposal was submitted by France as the rotating EU presidency (January–June 2022) but based on an agreement between Sofia and Skopje. The governing coalition faced criticism for this move, with President Radev and ITN accusing PM Petkov of betraying Bulgaria’s national interests. However, Petkov’s approach was successful in reaching agreement on the toughest sticking points on the bilateral level and in securing EU support. The deal ended up as a rare display of consensus between PP and the parties it styled as arch-rivals, particularly GERB and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), since the latter two backed the so-called “French proposal” in the National Assembly just days after having ousted the government through the no-confidence motion. Confusion within the coalition parties about how to proceed with the proposal caused Petkov to throw the final decision to the assembly unexpectedly. Nevertheless, the proposal was adopted.

In December, Bulgaria was denied entry to the border-free Schengen area, with the Netherlands citing long-standing corruption, organized crime, and rule-of-law issues. Austria also argued that the country was not yet “ready” and needed help from the EU given the arrivals of migrants via its land border with Turkey.7

The year 2023 is expected to hold at least8 two elections, parliamentary in the spring and local in the fall, creating further political uncertainty and likely hindering decision-making. Debates around possible referendums on adopting the euro and switching to a presidential system could further exacerbate the country’s political tensions.

  • 1The figure has barely changed at the moment of writing this text.
  • 2Regardless of the caretaker cabinet’s declared goals to keep all doors opened, the long-term gas-supply contract with Gazprom expired as 2022 ended, with no renewal in sight as of 31 December 2022.
  • 3That meant extending the procedure into 2023. All the three mandates having failed in January, Radev scheduled the vote for April 2.
  • 4Yanev, however, worked to position himself as kingmaker, toning down his rhetoric, and his party had been seen as a possible choice for receiving the third (and last) mandate and trying to build a majority, but it was not picked by Radev for the task.
  • 5Polarisation to the west, war & propaganda to the east, Reporters without Borders, 2 May 2022. https://rsf.org/en/classement/2022/europe-central-asia
  • 6Bulgaria (country file), Reporters without Borders, 3 May 2022. https://rsf.org/en/country/bulgaria
  • 7While the years-long delay of Bulgaria's entry into the Schengen area testifies to Bulgaria's long-standing corruption and rule-of-law issue hampering the fight against organized crime, the relation between acceptance into the area and Bulgaria's performance is not a straightforward one. On the one hand, the Netherlands and Austria were the only opponents of Bulgaria's entry, while many others (including Germany and France) were in favor. As conversations of the author of this report with European diplomats have indicated, the two countries are also acting out of considerations relating to domestic politics. The European Commission, an advocate for Bulgaria's entry, called the decision “unfair”, arguing it had set more additional conditions in front of the country.
  • 8At least one party leader, DB co-chair Hristo Ivanov, has assumed there will be another early election in the autumn, alongside the local election. Прогнозата след третия мандат: Избори напролет и още едни наесен, но 2 в 1 [The forecast after the third mandate: elections in spring and again in autumn, but 2-in-1], Mediapool.bg, 16 January 2023. http://bit.ly/3DH3qBj

header4 At-A-Glance

In Bulgaria, national governance is democratic but faced persistent polarization in 2022, hindering efforts to combat corruption and vested interests and causing a deadlock during a time of war and impending economic crisis. While elections are generally free, issues like vote buying and corporate voting have tainted past election cycles. Despite modest success at curtailing these practices, established parties still create an environment of mistrust over election results. The civic sector, although growing in recent years, struggled to make an impact due to the country’s hyper-partisanship and lack of political compromise, leading to a fourth election in seven months. The media face continued challenges, such as nontransparent allocation of public funding and self-censorship, with independent outlets facing unprecedented attacks due to the country’s frequent political changes. Local self-governance is dogged by years-long debate over the decentralization of cash-strapped municipalities, who struggled to deal with emergencies and faced financial risks in 2022 as a result of utility price hikes. In the justice system, reform efforts clashed with polarization and infighting within the governing coalition throughout the year. For the same reasons, anticorruption efforts stalled, delaying indictments of high-profile politicians involved in serious wrongdoing.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 4.254 7.007
  • COVID-19 tested the governing coalition’s stability and legitimacy amid increasing political polarization, pitting it against the ultranationalist and Euroskeptic party Revival, a newcomer to the National Assembly, whose supporters tried to storm the parliamentary house in mid-January to protest against the COVID-19 vaccination1 certificate requirement.2
  • The looming war in Ukraine caused divisions within the government.3 Tensions ran high among ministers, with Defense Minister Stefan Yanev opposing the deployment of NATO-led troops in Bulgaria after Prime Minister Kiril Petkov announced that the country was ready to accept troops at the end of January. Yanev subsequently resigned in February after refusing to recognize Russia’s actions in Ukraine as a war.4
  • While President Rumen Radev, PM Petkov, and political parties, including the Russia-friendly Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the National Assembly failed to adopt a common statement or response.5 A few days later, the BSP blocked the nomination of Todor Tagarev to succeed Yanev as defense minister due to his tough stance on Russia.6 Support for Ukraine became a contentious issue within the coalition, with the BSP opposed to sending arms and There Is Such a People (ITN) sending mixed messages.7 Even Petkov’s party, We Continue the Change (PP), wavered in its positions.8 However, all coalition partners supported Bulgaria’s alignment with joint EU decisions on Ukraine.
  • North Macedonia caused significant rifts within the government, as ITN and BSP opposed Petkov’s intention to remove Bulgaria’s veto on North Macedonia’s EU integration process. Initially, ITN and its leader, Slavi Trifonov, believed the veto would be lifted without sufficient benefits. Trifonov ordered his ministers to quit the government in June, citing the dispute with North Macedonia and “the fact there is no money left in the country anymore,” referencing the disbursal of billions in funding to the ITN-controlled Regional Development Ministry.9 Petkov and other experts characterized the North Macedonia dispute as a cover-up for shady construction financing deals with the ministry. 10 The ITN-appointed foreign affairs minister, Teodora Genchovska, later backed the EU’s so-called French proposal, which included constitutional amendments to protect the Bulgarian community.11 The proposal was voted on in June, with votes from the opposition GERB and Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) playing a decisive role in its overwhelming acceptance.12
  • During the year, the country’s government appointment process created divisions within the coalition,13 particularly when the head of Bulgaria’s energy watchdog was removed by the Constitutional Court, causing uncertainty during an energy crisis.14
  • Despite ruling for seven and a half months, the coalition failed to deliver key reforms, including a draft law revoking penalties for criticizing authorities and broad anticorruption measures.15 In June, ITN pulled out of the coalition and triggered a no-confidence motion, setting the stage for another election since no party could form a new majority.16 President Radev formed an interim cabinet, the third in just over a year.
  • President Radev deepened the inter-government polarization and dysfunction by criticizing both the opposition and ruling authorities on key issues, such as food prices, energy shortages, the North Macedonia dispute, and ongoing appointment failures.17 The coalition partners, in return, accused Radev of attempting to influence security and law enforcement agencies.18 In December, the president rejected the BSP’s intention to challenge the newly adopted parliamentary decision to send weapons to Ukraine before the Constitutional Court.19 This decision caused clashes with PP and Democratic Bulgaria (DB), who supported military aid to Ukraine.
  • The October elections reshaped the political landscape but stalled meaningful reforms, despite modest progress on anticorruption legislation passed by the National Assembly in a first reading. GERB returned to the top for the first time since April 2021, narrowly beating out PP. Yet the possibility of another election loomed as accusations flew between GERB, PP, and other parties, creating a de facto new election campaign. The parties struggled to agree on legislation. Tensions escalated during the three-day process to elect an assembly speaker, with Vezhdi Rashidov (GERB) eventually securing enough support. Despite this victory, GERB’s cabinet proposal was rejected in December, and the second mandate was scheduled for 2023.20
  • The anticorruption bill and a move to send weapons to Ukraine, which had been voted down under the previous parliament, were among the few instances of successful motions in the new legislature.21 However, another bill—a disputed electoral reform—left the body divided.
  • 1“Anti-vaccine protesters try to storm Bulgaria's parliament,” Reuters, 12 January 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/anti-vaccine-protesters-try-storm-….
  • 2Tsantsarova, Mariya. За кои депутати ваксините са “експериментална течност”, а всъщност са имунизирани? [Which MPs consider vaccines “experimental liquid” despite having been vaccinated?], bTV, 9 January 2022. https://bit.ly/3g21Elm
  • 3Fault-lines within the government itself, however, were evident from the beginning as Hristo Ivanov, a co-chair of DB, spoke of possible early elections just one month into the coalition. See: Ficheva, Ralitsa. Новият стар лидер на “Да, България” Христо Иванов допусна предсрочни избори (обновена) [Yes, Bulgaria’s new and old leader Hristo Ivanov assumes there could be early elections], Dnevnik.bg, 29 January 2022. https://www.dnevnik.bg/4307355
  • 4Yanev, a former defense attaché to the United States, went as far as to cite Putin's decision to avoid the word “war” to justify its actions. In January, as Defense Minister, Yanev joined an anti-NATO demonstration to support his stance against deployment of NATO-led troops in Bulgaria. Yanev had made clear he was voicing a personal position. Read more: Военният министър... на антинатовски протест [The Defense Minister...at an anti-NATO protest], ClubZ, 04 January 04, 2022. Available at: https://bit.ly/3yrYayR
  • 5Парламентът не може да се разбере за обща позиция за атаките на Русия в Украйна (допълнена) [Parliament cannot agree on a common position on Russia's attacks on Ukraine (updated)]. Dnevnik.bg, 24 February 2022. https://bit.ly/3utDDrD http://bit.ly/3utDDrD Президентът за нападението над Украйна: Това е абсолютно недопустимо в 21 век (The President on the Attack on Ukraine: This is absolutely unacceptable in the 21st century), Lex.bg, 24 February 2022. http://bit.ly/3RjwcNZ
  • 6Ignatova, Plamena. БСП бламира Тагарев за министър на отбраната [BSP blocks Tagarev as Defense Minister], ClubZ, 01 March 2022. https://bit.ly/3gIk4IO http://bit.ly/3gIk4IO
  • 7Populist ITN, while backing some of PP and DB's proposals and sending delegates to a visit by Petkov to Kyiv, had opted to send mixed messages to its electorate, often citing “the people” in its policy considerations. The failed motion to send arms to Ukraine was an example, with ITN voting against it. А Market Links poll suggested in April 2022 that only 16 percent of Bulgarians approved such a step. See Stoynev, Veselin. България рано или късно ще изпрати оръжия на Украйна [Bulgaria will send arms to Ukraine, sooner or later], Deutsche Welle, 5 April 2022. http://bit.ly/3YqLVNS
  • 8For instance, when Parliament voted down a bill that would have helped send weapons to Ukraine, the BSP and ITN both voted against, despite ITN leader Slavi Trifonov having called on his MPs to support the move. PP also voted against. However, the BSP did back another bill allowing for Bulgaria to provide maintenance for Ukrainian equipment, unlike pro-Kremlin Revival. In April, the BSP set the provision of military aid to Ukraine and lifting the veto on North Macedonia as “red lines” for it to stay in the government. Later on, in June, Petkov decided to expel 70 Russian diplomats, an unprecedented number for Bulgaria, sparking an outcry from both the BSP and ITN alike. Gelovska, Elena and Fileva, Lora. Военната помощ към Украйна ще е само за ремонти, или защо и БСП гласува “за” [Military aid to Ukraine will be solely aimed at maintenance, or why BSP also voted it up], Dnevnik.bg, 04 May 2022. https://bit.ly/3yMJOJA. Парламентът гласува срещу изпращане на оръжия в помощ на Украйна [Parliament votes against sending weapons to Ukraine], Ima Takav Narod party, 04 May 2022. https://bit.ly/3D32zv5
  • 9Слави Трифонов: Слагам край на агонията. ИТН напусна управлението (видео) [Slavi Trifonov: I am putting an end to agony, ITN quits the government], OffNews.bg, 08 June 2022. https://bit.ly/3VvBDLE
  • 10Paunovski, Georgi. Премиерът: Открити 2.5 млрд. лв. в незаконни строежи изкараха тематаСеверна Македония [PM: BGN 2.5B found in illegal construction put forward the North Macedonia issue], Dnevnik.bg, 15 June 2022. https://bit.ly/3D3P8ee
  • 11Contrary to Genchovska's initial position, the final agreement contained more concessions to Bulgaria than to North Macedonia. Once it had been backed by Parliament, it was subject to little dispute, including from President Rumen Radev.
  • 12GERB’s U-turn on North Macedonia was a reminder of the tactical, and not ideological, nature of the dispute, even if it created certain political tensions home and abroad. While the debate seemed marked by “divisions” among the political actors, namely parties in governmenr/in the opposition and President Radev, differences in their approach stemmed largely from the different choice of messages to the public following the peak of the veto crisis – in the autumn of 2020, then PM Borisov’s government said it would block Skopje’s EU parth under pressure from his nationalist coalition partner VMRO. Subsequently, with the next election months ahead, mainstream parties all hardened their stances on North Macedonia, leaving VMRO, for which that was an essential topic, out of the government. Prior to that, and beyond the peaks of tensions, North Macedonia is not among the priorities of Bulgarian voters. However, in autumn 2020 had fostered the impression that the majority of voters wanted the veto to stay.
  • 13One example was Parliament’s failure, in April, to elect a central bank governor due to lack of consensus over ITN's candidate, Lyubomir Karimanski, after PP launched a rival bid with candidate Andrey Gyrovi. Although Gyrov withdrew, other parties did not back Karimanski. See: Fileva, Mariya. Парламентът не избра Каримански за шеф на БНБ [Parliament fails to pick Karimanski as BNB chief], Bulgarian National Radio, 15 April 15, 2022. Available at: https://bnr.bg/post/101632687
  • 14In the Parliament's last days, the Constitutional Court declared the election of the head of the energy regulatory body, KEVR, void due to complaints by GERB of flawed election procedures, adding to uncertainty during a looming energy crisis. The previous head was later voted back into office to avoid further instability. See: НА ЖИВО Депутатите решиха: Връщат Иван Иванов за шеф на КЕВР [Live: MPs decide: Ivan Ivanov brough back as KEVR head], Marica.bg, 28 July 2022. https://bit.ly/3CHAF6x
  • 15One possible explanation lies in PP's lack of experience, but also in the fact that, under the parties' coalition agreement, the four entities were to submit only legislation they had worked on jointly. See: Zehirova, Zlatina. Последният ден: Какви (не) ги свърши парламентът [The last day: what has Parliament (not) done), Dnevnik.bg, 29 July 2022. https://www.dnevnik.bg/4374576
  • 16Veselinova, Yordanka. Първият успешен вот на недоверие е факт: Кабинетът ''Петков'' падна (видео) [The first successful no-confidence motion came to fruition: The Petkov government is out], Offnews.bg, 22 June 2022. https://bit.ly/3gcU8Ez
  • 17In 2020 Radev had joined protesters in central Sofia and had implied Borisov and Geshev were “mobsters,” and a year later appointed Petkov caretaker Economy Minister. Footage of the protest is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eg7UQJu7O3Q&t=1s
  • 18Georgiev, Andriyan. Христо Иванов негодува от силното влияние на Румен Радев в сектор сигурност в правителството [Hristo Ivanov resents Rumen Radev’s strong influence in the government’s security sector], Dnevnik.bg, 06 March 2022. https://bit.ly/3CFqijkhttp://bit.ly/3CFqijk https://bit.ly/3CFqijk
  • 19Radev argued that Parliament's move envisaged the ratification of an international treaty and that made it impossble to refer to the court, once the ratification had been published by the Official Gazette. At the same time, by not concurring with the BSP and Revival's assessment, he refused to take the side he had taken until the moment by staunchly rejecting help for Ukraine. Nikiforova, Reni. Сезирането на Конституционния съд след ратификация на международен договор е невъзможно, заяви президентът Румен Радев (Referral to the Constitutional Court after the ratification of an international treaty is not possible, President Rumen Radev said), Bulgarian News Agency, 23 December 2022. http://bit.ly/3XQrY30
  • 20GERB’s proposal featured a renowned doctor as a Prime Minister nominee, but the lineup was drafted without the party showing a sign it commanded a majority in the Parliament. Zehirova, Zlatina and Ficheva, Ralitsa. Първият мандат не успя: Само ГЕРБ, ДПС и “Български възход” поискаха Габровски за премиер (The first mandate failed: only GERB, DPS and Bulgarian Rise demanded Gabrovski become Prime Minister), Dnevnik.bg, 14 December 2022. http://bit.ly/3x1aV2B
  • 21Zehirova, Zlatina. Парламентът гласува за военна помощ за Украйна, но без БСП и “Възраждане” (Parliament votes in favour of military aid to Ukriane, but without the BSP and Revival), Dnevnik.bg, 3 November 2022. http://bit.ly/40hv3Le
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 5.506 7.007
  • The October election reshaped the political landscape without securing a clear majority. Former PM Borisov’s GERB reclaimed the top spot, switching places with Kiril Petkov and Asen Vasilev’s PP. Revival, a pro-Russian party, significantly doubled its support, from 4.86 percent in November 2021 to more than 10 percent in October 2022. That came, in part, at the expense of the BSP, whose voters are considered “the most Russophile” in Bulgaria.1 The new party, Stefan Yanev’s Bulgarian Rise,2 narrowly crossed the parliamentary threshold with 4.63 percent.3
  • The Central Election Commission (CEC) recorded Bulgaria’s lowest voter turnout since 1989, amid unsubstantiated claims of machine voting,4 voter apathy, and efforts to combat vote buying contributing to the plausible explanations.5 Except for voters in neighboring Turkey, voting abroad also saw limited participation, with an estimated6 1 million eligible voters having cast fewer than 180,000 ballots.7
  • In the previous parliament, only 57 out of 240 MPs (23.8 percent) were women; for the October 2, 2022, elections, less than 30 percent of candidates were women, with a similar share elected.8
  • The OSCE/ODIHR’s interim election report acknowledged smooth voting procedures overall but highlighted concerns over misuse of administrative resources, including allegations of vote buying and pressure on voters.9 The report also found that “the president and the provisional government took a prominent part in the pre-election campaign with critical statements towards the previous government’s decisions.” While it is not illegal, such involvement could disrupt a level playing field. The president’s critical statements in prime-time newscasts were found to disadvantage certain parties, according to the OSCE/ODIHR.10
  • Some parties sought to question machine voting,11 which was used in the July and November 2021 elections.12 Despite opposition from major parties, GERB filed an amendment in April to allow for a paper-ballot vote, which was met with resistance. Following the October 2 vote, former PM Borisov alleged “tampering with the machines”13 and called for experts from all parties to inspect the machines’ source code.14 On December 2, lawmakers, in a marathon session, made machine voting optional. They also introduced new rules where results from machine voting would be based on receipts printed by the machines rather than software data.15 Machine voting had been made mandatory in 2021 to remove documented irregularities and tackle vote buying. The reintroduction of paper voting was seen as an attempt to bring back old practices and marked another change in election rules just months before a new vote, the second such instance in just a year and a half.
  • President Radev vetoed the amendments,16 but a majority of lawmakers managed to override him.17
  • According to the OSCE/ODIHR report, there were accounts of “potential vote-buying” and other troublesome practices such as “pressure on public and private sector employees, particularly in economically vulnerable communities.”18 The police conducted nationwide operations against vote buying before the election, resulting in six instances of announced charges.19 Caretaker Interior Minister Ivan Demerdzhiev alleged GERB and the DPS as the top vote buyers without providing evidence.20
  • CEC data suggests that turnout in predominantly Roma areas of the country was at a record low. For example, in one station that had 300 votes in the previous election, the number fell below 50.21 Roma residents have been traditionally excluded from voter lists, as noted in previous OSCE/ODIHR reports. The current report also highlights the lack of attention to minority-related issues during the campaign22 and the absence of policies for their integration in most electoral platforms. Roma voters are described by the observer mission as “still vulnerable to intimidation and attempted vote-buying.”
  • 1While Russia was not a key topic in the election, it holds sway among parts of the electorate, particularly people who are elderly, more socially conservative, etc. The BSP’s participation in a government that backed sanctions on Russia over the war in Ukraine helped Revival, whose leader advocated for also minding the «Russian point of view». When Gazprom halted supplies to Bulgaria, the two parties competed in their calls to negotiate with the Russian energy giant, and thoroughly rejected sending arms. “Алфа Рисърч:” Избирателите на БСП са по-големи русофили от тези на “Възраждане” [Alpha Research: BSP voters are bigger Russophiles than Vazrazhdane], Dnevnik.bg, 30 June 2022. https://bit.ly/3CEl7Ar
  • 2Yanev’s party began as a rather national conservative force around a former minister who had quit refusing to call the Ukraine war a war. However, even in the last days of the campaign, he subsequently softened its conservative and nationalist rhetoric in an effort to become a kingmaker, pinning hopes on receiving the third mandate from President Radev and standing out as a moderating force. As of the date of publication of this report, his expectations had not materialized. However, different public figures, from lawmakers to analysts, widely mentioned, on and off-the-record, Yanev’s party as one of those who could get the third mandate. One example can be found here: Райчев: Нинова би могла да вкара БСП в подкрепено от ГЕРБ правителство [Raychev: Ninova could push BSP into a GERB-backed government], Mediapool, 24 October 2022. http://bit.ly/3X3qa5l
  • 3ERB-SDS - 25;33 percent; PP - 20.20 percent; MRF - 13.75 percent; Revival - 10.18 percent; BSP - 9.30 percent; Democratic Bulgaria - 7.45 percent; Bulgarian Rise - 4.63 percent. ITN, which had been in the previous coalition, failed to pass the 4-percent threshold for entering Parliament, at 3.83 percent. Обобщени данни от избор на народни представители [Summarized data from the election of MPs], Central Electoral Commission. https://results.cik.bg/ns2022/rezultati/index.html/. Parties' stances vis-a-vis the war in Ukraine do not appear to have influenced substantially voters' preferences. The share of the two parties explicitly rejecting the EU's policy, the BSP and Revival, was just above 15 percent in November 2021 and around 19.5 percent in October 2022, lower turnout and a more than double figure for protest votes (more than 35 000 voted “I do not support anyone” in November 2021 but they increased to 87 618 in October 2022).
  • 4In an analysis in November 2022, the Institute for Public Environment Development has rejected any link between turnout and machine voting, having listed several issues as a possible explanation for the observed drop in the past year-and-a-half: citizens being tired of constant voting; lack of political compromise due to politicians' inability to form a government; some voters being discouraged by the pandemic; attempts to eradicate vote-buying. Institute for Public Environment Development. Каква беше активността в секциите с машини и хартиени бюлетини? [What was the turnout in polling stations with machines and paper ballots], Open parliament, 7 November 2022. http://bit.ly/3YqKfUw
  • 5CEC reports lowest voter turnout since 1989, Bulgarian National Radio, 03 October 2022. https://bnr.bg/en/post/101714847?page_1_4=5
  • 6Konstantinov, Mihail. Гласуването в чужбина – митове и факти [Voting abroad — myths and facts], Trud.bg, 17 August 2022. https://bit.ly/3D3gqBvhttp://bit.ly/3D3gqBv
  • 7Избори за народни представители, 02 октовври 2022, извън страната [Parliamentary elections, 2 October 2022], Centralhttps://results.cik.bg/ns2022/rezultati/32.html Electoral Commission. https://results.cik.bg/ns2022/rezultati/
  • 8INTERNATIONAL ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION. Republic of Bulgaria, Early Parliamentary Elections, 2 October 2022. STATEMENT OF PRELIMINARY FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS. OSCE/ODIHR. https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/6/c/527526.pdf
  • 9INTERNATIONAL ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION. Republic of Bulgaria, Early Parliamentary Elections, 2 October 2022. STATEMENT OF PRELIMINARY FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS. OSCE/ODIHR. https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/6/c/527526.pdf
  • 10The President is generally expected to be neutral, given his role to “embody the unity of the nation” as enshrined in the Constitution’s Chapter 4, Article 92 (1). At the same time, heads of states have generally chosen to side with certain politicians or social groups in times of protests or social turmoil over the past years. This also included Radev’s predecessor, Rosen Plevneliev, who sided with protesters back in 2013. See: Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria. Available at: https://www.parliament.bg/en/const
  • 11In April 2021, machine voting was made compulsory in all polling stations with more than 300 voters.
  • 12Although OSCE/ODIHR did not identify any problems with machine voting beyond interlocutors’ concerns it may not be accessible to ealderly voters, some of the established parties, such as GERB, the DPS and the BSP (the latter having pushed for machine voting itself) explained their position by either pointing to possible software manipulations or inability of parts of the electorate to cope with the devices. INTERNATIONAL ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION. Republic of Bulgaria, Early Parliamentary Elections, 2 October 2022. STATEMENT OF PRELIMINARY FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS. OSCE/ODIHR. https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/6/c/527526.pdf. Rizova, Desislava. Спорната точка за връщането на хартиените бюлетини отново влезе в НС (Обзор) [The controversial item on paper ballots is back to Parliament], bTV, 6 July 2022, https://bit.ly/3CE91aj
  • 13After the election, Borisov alleged a record protest vote (some 80,000 people voted “I do not support anyone”) did not seem to be a genuine result, despite the fact that fewer and fewer Bulgarians seemed to be willing to go the repetitve, and inconclusive, polls, a trend indicated the the dropping turnout, Борисов твърди: “машините са пипани, 100 percent.” Не можело над 80 000 да не подкрепят никого [Borisov claims: «machines are rigged, 100 percent». Alleges it’s impossible for 80 000 not to back anyone], Club Z, 10 October 10, 2022. Available at: https://clubz.bg/128326
  • 14On election day, there had only been several reports of malfunctioning machines, including an unusual error message. Only a few dozen polling stations had to switch to paper ballots due to issues with the machines, out of 9369 stations equipped with machines: Гласуване с хартиени бюлетини в 23 секции заради проблеми с машините [Voting continues with paper ballots in 23 stations due to problems with machines], Dnevnik.bg, 02 October 2022. https://bit.ly/3TkiY3G. That notwithstanding, the BSP used Parliament's rostrum to sow mistrust in machines, alleging Petkov had promised an MP to give him the codes if the party renounced paper voting. Свиленски: Петков ни предложи да оттеглим закона и ще ни даде кодовете на машините [Svilenski: Petkov offered us to withdraw the law in exchange for giving us the machine codes], bTV, 25 November 2022. https://bit.ly/3XMBd4M
  • 15Zehirova, Zlatina. “Събрахте се” и “Дай Боже”: За над 40 часа ГЕРБ, ДПС и БСП окончателно прекроиха изборните правила [“You're here” and “Hopefully”: In more than 40 hours, GERB, the DPS and the BSP finally overhauled the electoral rules], Dnevnik.bg, 1 December 2022. http://bit.ly/3HpIos0в. In addition, manual counting in polling stations, while monitored on camera, will allow for errors and (according to critics) manipulation as it will be done three times: one of receipts, one for paper ballots, and one to sum them up.
  • 16Radev argued the changes were turning the voting process into voting with a paper ballot printed by the machine, with the law also allegedly disclosing the voters' identity - for example, if there is a polling station where only one voter opts for either machine or paper voting. Президентът наложи вето на промените в Изборния кодекс (The President vetoed the amendments to the Electoral Code), Mediapool.bg, 14 December 2022. http://bit.ly/40985Wm
  • 17Yanev, Simeon. https://news.bg/politics/125-glasa-preodolyaha-vetoto-varhu-hartiyata-v… [125 votes override the veto on paper in the Electoral Code], News.bg, 23 December 2022. http://bit.ly/3jkfgdS
  • 18Ibid.
  • 19Шестима души са с повдигнати обвинения за търговия на гласове [Six people are indicted over vote trading], DarikNews.bg, 03 October 2022. http://bit.ly/3eIgKMx https://bit.ly/3eIgKMx
  • 20Drumeva, Ina. Демерджиев: Очаквам прокуратурата да стигне до организаторите на търговията с вот [Demerdzhiev: I expect the Prosectutor’s office to get to the organizers of vote trading], Dnevnik.bg, 04 October 2022. http://bit.ly/3EJrEwg https://bit.ly/3EJrEwg
  • 21“Мижав интерес”: Рекордно ниска избирателна активност в ромските секции [Meager interest: Record low voter turnout in Roma voting stations], Dnevnik.bg, 04 October 2022. https://bit.ly/3yNSDmx No official data is submitted regarding ethnic voting as there are no official minorities under the constitution.
  • 22The Constitution stipulates right to self-identification but does not define minorities.
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 5.506 7.007
  • A January 2022 poll by Alpha Research revealed that only one in seven Bulgarians trusted nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), while nearly half did not.1 Foreign funding was cited as the key reason for this lack of trust,2 potentially influenced by years of attacks against the NGO sector from various actors.3
  • The most significant attack on NGOs came from the pro-Kremlin Revival party. In October, after an incident involving a journalist from Dnevnik.bg (see “Independent Media”), Revival submitted a “foreign agents” bill that resembled the Russian version used to silence antigovernment voices.4 Although the bill was not put to a vote, it proposed sanctions and prohibitions on activities within the education system and state institutions for “foreign agents,” regardless of whether the entities register as such or are labeled by institutions.5 Even single donations from abroad for private purposes could result in the receiver being labeled as a “foreign agent.”6
  • In November, the National Assembly approved a bill introduced by interim Justice Minister Krum Zarkov that removes penal provisions for private individuals who insult or slander authorities.7 The previous ruling coalition had failed to adopt the same legislation.8
  • Far-right politician and one-time presidential candidate Boyan Rasate was charged with “indecent acts grossly violating public order” in January for assaulting an LGBT+ center in October 2021. Rasate had caused bodily harm and material damage by destroying the premises and hitting a person. Although he was acquitted of bodily harm, he was convicted of hooliganism and fined BGN 3,000 ($1,500).9
  • In August, the Commission against Discrimination ruled that the decision by the mayor of Voyvodinovo (in Southern Bulgaria) to expel all Roma residents from a neighborhood in January 2019 was an act of discrimination and failed to consider risks involved in forcing out families during the winter.10
  • The OSCE/ODIHR report on the October 2 elections mentioned “several instances of inflammatory rhetoric against Roma and other ethnic communities during the campaign.”11
  • In the first months of the war on Ukraine, NGOs, civic groups, entrepreneurs, and other entities took proactive measures to assist refugees where the government’s response was slow.12 Some civic initiatives collaborated with the Sofia municipality, Plovdiv municipality, and others to improve the crisis response,13 including distributing collected aid. Despite officials’ good intentions, the civic sector emerged as a prominent force during the refugee crisis when institutional responses faltered due to limited state capacity.14 One example involved a bitter dispute over accommodating refugees in seaside hotels.15
  • While some demonstrators supported Russian diplomats and embassy officials expelled in June,16 large protests against Russia’s war on Ukraine were organized by the civic sector in Sofia and other cities. One notable protest in May gathered tens of thousands of people in the capital.17 However, despite ongoing pro-Ukraine protests in 2022, these did not evolve into a mass movement, and politicians advocating for their demands, such as sending weapons, refrained from co-opting the demonstrations.18
  • 1More than a third did not share their opinion.
  • 2Мнозина българи не се доверяват на НПО сектора, “защото се финансира от чужбина”, Dnevnik.bg, January 13, 2022. Available at: EOzvbJ
  • 3These include Borisov’s former coalition partner, VMRO, whose leader Krasimir Karakachanov put forward a law on NGOs declaring their foreign funding in 2020 which, however, was not passed. While it does not pose an immediate threat, The trend carries the risk of increasing the public’s support for proposals restricting and/or stigmatizing their work.
  • 4Какво е “чуждестранен агент” в САЩ, FactCheck.bg, October 07, 2022. Available at: o
  • 5Какво е “чуждестранен агент” в САЩ, FactCheck.bg, October 07, 2022. Available at: https://bit.ly/3S31w2o
  • 6Съвсем по руски тертип: “Възраждане” внесе законопроект за “чуждестранни агенти”, Dnevnik.bg, October 31, 2022. Available at: https://bit.ly/3ELMBVI
  • 7The measure is particularly important, being one of the steps included as commitments to the European Union under the country's national post-COVID Recovery and Resilience Plan (See Judiciary and Corruption), along with other changes to ensure protection of citizens filing complaints about alleged violations. The bill in question removed both the minimum threshold fines for insult and slander to natural persons and the ones for insult and slander to officials. At the same time, penalties were toughest for racist and xenophobic acts. The respective thresholds were as follows BGN 1000 (more than USD 500) for insults and BGN 3000 for slander of natural persons; BGN 3000 for insults and BGN 5000 for slandering officials.
  • 8That was meant to be a response to a number of rulings from ECHR which suggested that the penalization of such acts amounted to an instrument for silencing critics. “Скандално и срамно”: Управляващите не успяха да намалят наказанията за критика към властта, Dnevnik.bg, June 09, 2022. Available at: https://bit.ly/3VCHO0g.
  • 9Осъдиха Боян Расате за нахлуването в офис на ЛГБТ, връщат му паричната гаранция, Bulgaria on Air, June 24, 2022. Available at https://bit.ly/3
  • 10The move was a result of a fight between Roma residents and a Bulgarian commando, which had prompted then Deputy Prime Minister Krasimir Karakachanov (VMRO-BND) to declare that “Gypsies became extremely impertinent.”See more: КЗД: Прогонването на ромите от с. Войводиново през 2019 г. е дискриминация, Marginalia.bg, August 04, 2022. Available at: https://bit.ly/3MD4EAO. An unusual angle on Bulgarians-Roma relations in the country came from a survey published in April by polling agency Alpha Research among Jewish citizens of Bulgaria. It shows that 83 percent of Jewish respondents consider these relations “rather bad”, against a nationwide share (regardless of nationality) of 43 percent. By contrast, some 83 percent of Jewish respondents and 73 percent nationwide consider relations between Bulgarians and Jews “good” or “very good”. At the same time, the same survey showed 70 percent of Jewish respondents consider levels of hate speech in Bulgaria problematic, while only 37 percent among Bulgarians do.
  • 11One particular instance OSCE/ODIHR referred was a section on nationalist VMRO-BND party's website titled “The Gypsy Question” where new content on “Gypsies” was added during the campaign. INTERNATIONAL ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION. Republic of Bulgaria, Early Parliamentary Elections, 2 October 2022. STATEMENT OF PRELIMINARY FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS. OSCE/ODIHR. Available at: https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/6/c/527526.pdf
  • 12That rise in civic activism was observed despite resentment among part of Bulgarians, displayed on social media, against false claims (spread online) that Ukrainian refugees would get a four-digit mount of money monthly, more than some Bulgarians, from the state. See Yulzari, Kristiyan. Бежанците от Украйна нито ни заразяват с опасни болести, нито ни взимат парите [Refugees from Ukraine neither infect us with dangerous disease nor take our money away], 04 June 2022. https://bit.ly/3YtMJS5
  • 13Different initiatives, such as BG4UA (set up by businesspeople and other volunteers) and the BCause Foundation among others engaged in fundraising for the newcomers to ensure easier integration, education and psychological support. Some of these initiatives teamed up with Sofia Municipality, Plovdiv Municipality and others to improve the response to the crisis. Неправителствени организации, бизнесът и Столична община с общи действия в подкрепа на бежанците от Украйна. Sofia Municipality. https://bit.ly/3Tf1Tbx
  • 14Examples of these activities can be found on the Bulgaria for Ukraine website, set up shortly after the war began, which also contained useful information for those who had arrived from Ukraine, in Bulgarian, English and Ukrainian. These examples show that Bulgarian authorities had intended to help, but their institutional and financial capabilities were limited. https://ukraine.gov.bg/bg/news/
  • 15At the end of May, Deputy Prime Minister Kalina Konstantinova (PP) terminated a refugee relocation program, harshly criticizing some refugees, who, in her words, had been supported by the state even though they didn't need it, arguing Bulgarians also had problems. She subsequently apologized. Калина Константинова се извини на бежанците от Украйна и отказа “уроци по хуманност” от ГЕРБ, Svobodna Evropa, June 02, 2022. Available at: https://www.svobodnaevropa.bg/a/31880236.html
  • 16Протест в София срещу решението за експулсирането на руските дипломати, News.bg, June 30, 2022. Available at https://bit.ly/3
  • 17Десетки хиляди на шествие в центъра на София срещу руския фашизъм (на живо; стрийм), Offnews.bg, May 09, 2022. Available at: Qh
  • 18Nor did politicians opposing a more pro-Ukrainian stance try to create a rival wave of protests. Revival’s rally against sending arms to Ukraine, when Parliament gathered to vote in November, was only attended by hundreds if not dozens За около 2 часа стигна енергията на Възраждане за протест срещу българско оръжие за Украйнa
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 3.504 7.007
  • In January 2022, Atanas Chobanov, editor-in-chief of the investigative platform Bird.bg, reported that the United States Embassy had informed him of an “immediate threat” to his life.1 Chobanov linked the threat to his investigation into a U.S. lobbyist’s relations with Bulgarian companies whose owners are tied to MP Delyan Peevski (DPS), sanctioned by the United States the previous year under the Magnitsky Act. Chobanov sent a recording of the conversation to the prime minister’s chief of staff and was invited to a parliamentary hearing. However, the U.S. Embassy issued a statement rebuking the unauthorized recording of the conversation. The Prosecutor’s Office said it was looking into the claims, but there was no follow-up and the case fell from public attention.2
  • In January, the Sofia City Court ruled against news website Mediapool.bg in what was described by some as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP). Mediapool and journalist Boris Mitov were taken to court by former Sofia City Court chair Svetlin Mihaylov, who contested the use of the word “scandalous” in an article about his reelection bid. Mihaylov argued that the article was trying to portray him as immoral and corrupt. A higher-instance ruling was pending at year’s end.3
  • Three out of five members of the Council on Electronic Media (CEM), Bulgaria’s media watchdog, were appointed in 2022 to fill expired mandates. Two were voted in by the National Assembly, prompting yet another tussle within the governing coalition.4 President Radev completed the lineup5 by picking Gabriela Naplatanova, raising speculations about her ties and alignment with Radev’s interests.6 The CEM appointments reaffirmed concerns about its politicization since three were made by the assembly and two by the president.7
  • CEM made an unsuccessful attempt to pick the next Bulgarian National Television (BNT) general director. Despite facing numerous calls for his resignation for alleged progovernment bias since taking over in 2019,8 incumbent Emil Koshlukov decided nevertheless to run for reelection. However, neither he nor any other candidate garnered enough support in the June vote, leaving Koshlukov as acting general director until a new procedure is organized.9
  • In October, Revival leader Kostadin Kostadinov organized a press conference at a public press club, where Ralitsa Ficheva, a Dnevnik.bg journalist, was present. Kostadinov insulted10 the news portal and other media outlets, referring to them as “foreign agents,” and asked Ficheva to leave. After her refusal, Kostadinov left himself, followed by other journalists. Days earlier, Kostadinov’s party had secured the fourth spot in the general elections. Some observers debated whether to isolate or confront Kostadinov and Revival on-air, but no substantial outcome emerged.
  • The European Commission’s annual rule-of-law report11 criticized the lack of clear rules for transparent allocation of public funding to the media. The commission highlighted the need for regulation of state advertising, especially for ads purchased through media agencies or other intermediaries.12
  • As of May 2022, the previous years’ changes in ownership at Bulgaria’s top TV stations and newspapers, involving acquisitions by PPF and United Group, had yet to positively impact media quality in the country.13
  • 1A municipal councillor made the same statement later.
  • 2Прокуратурата се самосезира заради заплахите към Атанас Чобанов, Bulgarian National Radio, January 10, 2022. Available at: https://bnr.bg/post/101583768
  • 3Предупреждение: Ако журналист нарече съдия Светлин Михайлов “скандален”, това струва 60 000 лв., Mediapool.bg, January 07, 2022. Available at: https://bit.ly/3yNaA4u
  • 4ITN's Yordanov labelled DB's pick, Prolet Velkova, “a representative of cancel culture”. “Има такъв народ” нападна “Демократична България” заради избора на Пролет Велкова за член на СЕМ, Dnevnik.bg, May 05, 2022. Available at: https://bit.ly/3VCT2SL
  • 5Out of five CEM members, three are normally appointed by Parliament and two by the President.
  • 6Двама фаворити за шеф на БНТ, решават жените на Радев, Marica, June 27, 2022. 
  • 7Naplatanova replaced Betina Zhoteva, who was picked by the previous President, Rosen Plevneliev.
  • 8След три опита: Няма нов директор на БНТ, Кошлуков остава до нова процедура (обновена в 13:57 ч.), Dnevnik.bg, June 29, 2022. Available at: https://bit.ly/3VAxjdZ. Determining a Director General is essential for the BNT, which has been facing a drop in interest and trust over the past years, alongside financial and structural problems.
  • 9Костадинов нарече медии “чуждестранни агенти” и избяга от въпросите на “Дневник”, Dnevnik.bg, October 05, 2022. Available at: https://bit.ly/3MHQJK6
  • 10He called Dnevnik, alongside sister media outlet Capital, the website Mediapool.bg and Club Z magazine, “yellow-brown wastepipes of the US Embassy” funded by foreign entities.
  • 11López Aguilar, Juan Fernando. MOTION FOR A RESOLUTION to wind up the debate on the statements by the European Council and the Commission pursuant to Rule 132(2) of the Rules of Procedure on the rule of law and fundamental rights in Bulgaria (2020/2793(RSP)). European Parliament, 2 October 2020. https://bit.ly/3HmPbmq
  • 12Lyubomir Karimanski of ITN also noted in January that decentralization was meant to be a fact by the summer, through a decision on what percent taxes could be kept by local authorities. ITN was also crucial for the plan, as it controlled the Regional Development Ministry at the time. The percentage of state-sponsored advertisement in the media is difficult to gauge, but a registry with the Culture Ministry, to which the media are required to submit financial statements, suggest sealing contracts with certain media outlets with the declared purpose of advertising is a regular practice. https://mc.government.bg/object.php?p=699&s=745&sp=0&t=0&z=0&po=9032
  • 13The newspapers were previously linked to MP Delyan Peevski, who was blacklisted by the United States in 2021 and whose appointment to national security agency DANS sparked nationwide protests in 2013.Big TV stations bTV and NOVA, owned by the PPF and United Group respectively, have not changed in terms of coverage, content and format, much of their programming remaining sensationalist amd focussed on short, “talking-heads” slots centered around the political crisis. There is no tangible increase in the number of investigations. Newspapers previously owned by Peevski have not risen to prominence and have retained their sensationalism. One possible explanation could be that the content is being produced by roughly the same journalists, occasionally switching between the two stations or between them and public broadcaster BNT. Furthermore, despite RsF's assurances of loosening government grip on power, some observers suggest that little has changed in the way of media freedom, with Bulgaria climbing up 21 spots only due to changes in methodology. Защо България се изкачва в класацията за медийна свобода? [Why Bulgaria is climbing up the media freedom ranking?] DW, 03 May 2022. http://bit.ly/3X1Srtj
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 4.755 7.007
  • In 2022, Kiril Petkov’s government addressed1 the years-long decentralization debate in Bulgaria,2 initiating work in February on a model for funding municipalities that would allow for increased budget autonomy and an ambitious green transition. This came after the previous caretaker government in 2021 had announced a decentralization plan for the National Assembly to take up. Municipalities have long argued that the current centralized model hampers their ability to solve local crises and issues, a source of division among politicians for decades.3 Earlier in the year, Petkov’s PP proposed administrative reform, including reducing the number of municipalities (currently at 266) and adding a two-term limit for mayors and municipal council members.4 The Association of Municipalities responded cautiously, suggesting a “public debate” before proceeding with such a reform. Some mayors expressed skepticism or even indirect criticism towards these proposals.5
  • Despite assurances of billions in funding for municipalities in a government budget overhaul, the subsequent draft law unveiled in June did not match the promised allocations. Nor did it seem to include a newly announced sewage and road maintenance program to the tune of BGN 500 million.6
  • The energy crisis significantly affected local administrations, with at least 74 municipalities (nearly 25 percent) fully dependent on gas to heat schools, kindergartens, healthcare facilities, and social institutions.7 Some public transport also requires natural gas, and municipality association officials warned of potential disruptions to public life8 during peak heating season if bills could not be paid. By the end of August, the municipalities’ gas costs had risen by 260 percent.9
  • In October, municipalities requested a 21 percent budget increase for the following year and urged for changes in energy purchasing rules due to gas and electricity price hikes. Despite their strained funding, local administrations are treated as industrial customers, forcing them to buy electricity on the liberalized market, where prices are higher. The municipalities suggested legal amendments to change this status,10 but MPs voted to continue with the 2022 budget in 2023.11
  • Local authorities’ fiscal dependency on the central budget was evident yet again as police set up anti-vote-buying check points12 in many spots across the country, including firewood trading points.13 Media reports described this as an especially effective strategy during the year, given the rising energy prices and fears among many who expected a particularly cold winter.14
  • The flooding in Karlovo and Plovdiv municipalities affected thousands of people and once again exposed poor infrastructure maintenance and inadequate crisis management in the country. Debate resurfaced over the balance of power and competences between local and state administrations, considering disparities in resources, capacities, and political will, but no conclusive resolution was reached.15
  • 1Петков: Стартираме проект за децентрализиран модел на финансиране на общините, Nova, February 11, 2022. Available at: eGvxHz
  • 2For decades, this dependency has been essential for governments to exert control on municipalities according to party affiliation and/or loyalty of local authorities.
  • 374 общини у нас се отопляват изцяло на газ - какви мерки подготвят за зимния сезон
  • 4Няма пари за общините в актуализацията на бюджета, Mediapool.bg, June 07, 2022. Available at: https://bit.ly/3yPliHP. Municipalities have maintained for years the current centralized model hampers their ability to solve local crises and issues. The topic has divided politicians for decades, with some have arguing that decentralization would be detrimental to smaller, less developed regions, while kickstarting growth in more advanced ones. Others believe the move would allow local authorities to finance their own projects and compete to draw potential inverstors, according to their own needs.
  • 5Montana's five-term mayor Zlatko Zhivkov used Joseph Stalin's “No person, no problem,” in an apparent reference to the idea to cut down the number of municipalities. The second-term mayor of Pleven, Georg Spartanski, advised Petkov against thinking of the local authorities as thugs and criminals. Read more: Реформа в местната власт: Предлагат кметовете да управляват само два мандата. bTV, June 06, 2022. Available at: http://bit.ly/3EGdkmx and Няма пари за общините в актуализацията на бюджета, Mediapool.bg, June 07, 2022. The former government had said in February that it would create a special work group inspecting municipalities that demanded help to pay for their electricity. In ex-Economy Minister Aleksandar Nikolov's words, the goal was to make sure lack of funding was not linked to non-transparent public procurement.
  • 6Няма пари за общините в актуализацията на бюджета, Mediapool.bg, June 07, 2022. Available at: https://bit.ly/3yPliHP
  • 7https://bit.ly/3VnDoKe74 общини у нас се отопляват изцяло на газ - какви мерки подготвят за зимния сезон?,[74 municipalities use only gas for heating: what measures are they preparing for the winter season?] Bulgarian National Television, 9 September 2022. http://bit.ly/3hTZqFS
  • 8Gas supplies to Bulgaria dwindled as the country relies on 80% for its gas needs. The Interconnector Greece Bulgaria (IGB), which is seen as an alternative source of gas, was opened in October but its future deliveries cannot make up for the quantities lost after Gazprom halted supplies.
  • 9С 260% са нараснали разходите на общините за газ [Mucipalities’ gas costs increased by 260%], Kmeta.bg, 25 August 2022. https://bit.ly/3T4xjRL. A crackdown on the “firewood-against-votes” scheme is difficult in Bulgaria, according to experts. And, while they believe the scheme does not affect the election outcome, some suggest it is a systemic and widespread practice. More at Tarkoleva, Lora. Здравко Бакалов: Купуване на гласове срещу дърва трябва да се докаже на място със служител и потърпевш [Zdravko Bakalov: Vote buying against timber has to be prooved on the spot with an employee and a victim], Bulgarian National Radio, 24 June 24, 2021. https://bnr.bg/horizont/post/101488298/ Available https://bnr.bg/horizont/post
  • 10Общините искат увеличение на бюджетите си с 21% догодина [Municipalities demand a 21% budget increase next year], Mediapool.bg, 13 October 2022. https://bit.ly/3MClDDs The former government had said in February it would create a special work group inspecting munipalitices that demanded help to pay for their electricity. In ex-Economy Minister Aleksandar Nikolov's words, the goal was to make sure lack of funding was not linked to nontransparent public procurement.
  • 11Yanev, Simeon. Депутатите удължиха бюджета в 2023 г. на първо четене [Lawmakers extended the budget into 2023 on a first reading], News.bg, 29 November 2022. http://bit.ly/3VnDoKe Канал за мигранти стана повод за поредно напрежение между МВР и прокуратурата (обновена), Dnevnik.bg, April 02, 2022. Available at: /4331950
  • 12Vote-buying is, traditionally, thought to target low-income societal groups and low-income regions with higher unemployment where, often outside Bulgaria’s biggest cities or biggest municipalities. In such towns and villages, the party ruling at a local level is important for the local economy as it is seen as one of the few levers for creating economic opportunities.
  • 13http://bit.ly/3F4de9CТри дни преди изборите: Нова серия акции срещу купуването на гласове (СНИМКИ/ВИДЕО) [Three days before the election: a new series of operations against vote buying (PHOTOS/VIDEO)], Dariknews.bg, 29 September 2022. https://bit.ly/3TbwJlh
  • 14A crackdown on the “firewood-against-votes” scheme is difficult in Bulgaria according to experts. And, while they believe the scheme does not affect the election outcome, some suggest it is a systemic and widespread practice. More at Tarkoleva, Lora. Здравко Бакалов: Купуване на гласове срещу дърва трябва да се докаже на място със служител и потърпевш [Zdravko Bakalov: Vote buying against firewood must be verified on site with an employee and a claimant present, Bulgarian National Radio, 24 June 2021. https://bnr.bg/horizont/post/101488298 Искането за оставката на Гешев беше посрещнато с аплодисменти, прокуратурата видя погазване на правото, Dnevnik.bg, January 14, 2022. Available at https://bit.ly/3
  • 15Fileva, Lora. Комплексни: какви са причините за наводненията в Карловско и Пловдивско [Complex: the reasons for the floods in Karlovo and Plovdiv regions]. Dnevnik.bg, 06 September 2022. https://bit.ly/3Vxqmuj.
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 4.254 7.007
  • Throughout the year, there was an ongoing verbal and administrative tug of war between the prosecution and its critics in the executive and the presidency. Limited instances of high-level cooperation, such as the dismantling of a Russian spy network and expulsion of two Russian diplomats in March, underscored this dynamic.1
  • Within PM Petkov’s government, divisions deepened over how to reform the judicial system. This topic is especially sensitive given the need to adopt legislation as a condition for the disbursement of EU funds under the post-COVID Recovery and Resilience Plan, since the majority of the required changes relate to judicial reform.2
  • In January, the ruling coalition unanimously proposed the removal of Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev from office.3 A joint parliamentary statement suggested that Geshev’s removal was due to a lack of efficient investigations against high-level corruption, his ties to political leaders, and an unlawful raid of President Radev’s staff offices in 2020, among other reasons.4 Geshev argues that the move distracts from other problems and infringes on the separation of powers.5
  • In February, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Justice Minister was entitled to demand the Chief Prosecutor’s removal before his seven-year term had expired.6 In July, however, the Supreme Judicial Council voted against removing Geshev, stating no wrongdoing on his part. The Justice Ministry subsequently proposed enabling criminal proceedings into alleged wrongdoing by the Chief Prosecutor, but the proposal was not voted on since the parliament was dissolved.
  • The judicial and prosecutorial reforms planned by the four-way coalition remained in the early stages since the parliament was dissolved in August.7 Months earlier, Boyko Rashkov, then interior minister, proposed changes8 to the penal code that would have allowed investigators from the Interior Ministry to launch pretrial proceedings independently, without sanction from the prosecution.9 However, these amendments were not put to a vote by the Assembly as the government collapsed.10
  • Political polarization prevented the Assembly from appointing judges to the Constitutional Court to fill its vacancies.11 This has the potential to affect the voting and basic functioning of Bulgaria’s top court.12 The appointment of a new Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) Inspectorate, crucial for judicial reform and anticorruption efforts,13 also failed to materialize.
  • In September, interim Justice Minister Zarkov drafted several bills to be adopted in the Assembly by year’s end under the EU’s post-COVID Recovery and Resilience Plan. These bills aimed to boost the inspectorate’s competences, expand dispute mediation provisions, and reduce caseloads in courts, among other measures.14 However, most of these bills were postponed until 2023.15
  • In April, the ruling majority fulfilled a rare promise by voting to abolish the specialized court and prosecution system, which had long been criticized for undermining Bulgaria’s rule of law.16 The decision passed in two successful readings, unlike the previous three parliaments that only held first-reading votes.17 The government maintained that the specialized prosecution was inefficient,18 while some coalition members accused it of protecting oligarchic interests instead of tackling high-profile corruption and organized crime cases as intended. Chief Prosecutor Geshev challenged the decision before the Constitutional Court, claiming it would disrupt ongoing criminal proceedings led by the specialized prosecution since they would be handed over to other courts. However, his motion was rejected by the Constitutional Court in July.19
  • 1Bulgaria expels two Russian diplomats over alleged espionage ring, Euronews, March 22, 2022. Available at: http://bit.ly/3F4de9C
  • 2These include: - boosting the Inspectorate's competences - expanding mediation provisions to include a number of disputes and remove caseload from courts, among others; - digitalization of Bulgaria's property registry; - expanding the eligibility for free legal assistance in administrative and extrajudicial proceedings; - expanding mediation provisions to comprise a number of disputes, some divorce cases included, a move that could remove caseload from Bulgarian courts; - providing protection to people filing claims of violations and irregularities or publicy announcing them; - reducing libel and insult penalties.
  • 3Part of the elite considers Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev a behind-the-scenes actor of vested interests under whose watch corruption and lawlessness allegedly thrived in the GERB era.
  • 4Former Justice Ministerr Nadezhda Yordanova (DB) later submitted a motion for Geshev's removal which also stated he had turned a blind eye on police violence at the 2020 anti-government protest and alleged irregularities in the prosecutor's office's work on several high-profile cases, given systemic findings by EU institions of issues in the work of the Chief Prosecutor. БИПИ напомня на депутатите да изберат двама съдии за КС, [Bulgarian Legal Initiatives Institute reminds MPs to pick two Constitutional Court judges], News.bg, 25 August2022. https://bit.ly/3CFGKjJ
  • 5Позиция на ръководството на ПРБ [Position of the Prosecutor's Office of the Republic of Bulgaria], Prosecutor's Office of the Republic of Bulgaria, 14 January 2022. https://prb.bg/bg/news/55833-pozitsiya-na-rakovodstvoto-na-prb
  • 6Решението на КС, че правосъдният министър може да иска оставката на главния прокурор е публикувано в Държавен вестник [The Constitutional Court’s ruling that the Justice Minister can demand the Chief Prosecutor’s reisgnation is published in the Official Gazette], Bulgarian National Radio, February 15, 2022. Available at: https://bnr.bg/post/101601295
  • 7Legislation introducing a mechanism for holding the Chief Prosecutor liable was only proposed by the Justice Ministry in December (the Council of Europe's Venice Commission had given them the go-ahed a month earlier), but was not put to a plenary vote until the end of 2022. See: Drumeva, Ina. Министерският съвет одобри механизъм за разследване на главния прокурор [The Council of Ministers approved a mechanism to investigate the Chief Prosecutir], Dnevnik.bg, 21 December 2022. http://bit.ly/3Yizcgc Bulgaria. Opinion on the draft amendments to the criminal procedure code and the judicial system act. European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission), 24 October 2022. https://bit.ly/3RCwgsE
  • 8The broad competences of the Chief Prosecutor, including the monopoly on launching investigations, have also been criticized in the EU's 2021 rule-of-law report.
  • 9https://www.24chasa.bg/bulgaria/article/11360220 Бойко Рашков призова да бъде решен въпросът с промените в НПК [Boyko Rashkov calls for issue with Criminal Code changes to be solved], Bulgarian National Television, 27 June 2022. https://bit.ly/3S9RfRS
  • 10While Rashkov and PP's critics saw that as an attempted power grab, it would have addressed legitimate concerns about the Prosecutor's Office's overarching competences, including the ones on lack of accountability on investigations (lack of oversight on its decisions whether to launch pre-trial proceedings, among other issues). See: Karaboev, Petar. Суперправомощията на главния прокурор тревожат Европа [Europe is concerned over the Chief Prosecutor's super-competences], Dnevnik.bg, 20 July 2021. http://bit.ly/3HqC6IJ
  • 11https://bnr.bg/horizont/post/101630578/There are three quotas at the Constitutional Court - for the President, for Parliament and for judicial officials.
  • 12БИПИ напомня на депутатите да изберат двама съдии за КС [Bulgarian Legal Initiatives Institute reminds MPs to pick two Constitutional Court judges], News.bg, 25 August 2022. https://bit.ly/3CFGKjJ
  • 13Changes to the inspectorate’s competences, which were part of the Natioanal Resilience and Recovery Plan, were only adopted in a fist reading beyond the scope of this report and are aimed at boosting the fight against corruption.
  • 14AFFAIRE I.G.D. c. BULGARIE (Requête no 70139/14), European Court of Human Rights. https://bit.ly/3yN2mK2
  • 15A notable exception was the anti-corruption bill which created a new watchdog, but the vote in on 7 December was only a first reading, the second one being slated for 2023 (See Corruption).
  • 16Bulgaria’s Failed Specialized Criminal Justice Experiment, Verfassungsblog, 29 April 2022. http://bit.ly/3E8eRT9
  • 17Депутатите закриват спецправосъдието [Lawmakers close the Specialized Judicial Authority], 24 Chasa, 14 April 2022. https://www.24chasa.bg/bulgaria/article/11360220 http://bit.ly/3s0CxCr
  • 18Закриване на спецправосъдието влиза за окончателно обсъждане в комисия на НС [Abolition of the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office enters Parliament for final debate], Bulgarian National Radio, 12 April, 2022. https://bnr.bg/horizont/post/101630578/
  • 19Geshev argued the conditions of re-appointment of magistrates could be seen as infringement on the judiciary and contravene the constitution.
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 3.754 7.007
  • Bulgaria aimed to adopt improvements to anticorruption legislation in 2022, including reforms to the Commission for Anti-corruption and Illegal Assets Forfeiture (KPKONPI), as a condition to receive BGN 1.4 billion ($696 million) the following year under the EU’s post-COVID Recovery and Resilience Plan.1 The bill, accepted on a first reading in two versions (one submitted by the caretaker cabinet and one by PP),2 stipulated a division of KPKONPI into two entities: one investigating corruption and the other managing forfeited illegal assets, with investigative powers that would allow it to appeal any refusals by the prosecution to launch investigations.3 The two “rival” bills differ slightly, particularly in the selection process for the watchdog’s members, requiring lawmakers to choose one or the other approach in 2023.4
  • In January 2022, Sotir Tsatsarov, Geshev’s predecessor and former chairman at KPKONPI, announced his resignation.5 The coalition had committed to replacing him due to long-standing corruption concerns, alongside Geshev, but could not agree on Tsatsarov’s successor, who was meant to help reform KPKONPI.6
  • In March, former PM Boyko Borisov and other key officials of his GERB party were arrested.7 Initially, police claimed it was related to complaints filed by Bulgarian citizens with European Public Prosecutor Laura Kövesi. Borisov’s lawyers spoke of suspicions of blackmail based on claims by fugitive businessman Vasil Bozhkov, who is on a U.S. blacklist. The following day, Borisov was released without charges. GERB characterized this move as a government crackdown on the opposition, intensifying tensions between PP and GERB. The Sofia Administrative Court later declared Borisov’s arrest unconstitutional due to inadequate evidence for a warrant.
  • In March, the European Commission called for Bulgaria to reimburse €28.7 million in subsidies due to suspected EU fund scams involving the construction of guest houses (meant for tourists but actually used by local elites for personal travel). The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) found that half of the inspected guesthouses (377 of 746) that received EU funding did not fulfill the fund’s goals of diversifying local and regional economies and creating employment.8
  • In April, a thorough inspection of food imports into Bulgaria via the Kapitan Andreevo border crossing with Turkey took place, followed by a government decision in May to terminate the phytosanitary control contract with Evrolab 2011, a company that had performed the task for a decade. The government accused Evrolab of having a monopoly on truck inspections and being involved in a massive corruption scheme, concerning tens of thousands of trucks at the busiest border crossing in Europe, also the largest entry point for Turkish goods into the EU. However, after a thorough investigation and complaints by the company, the Supreme Administrative Court ordered in July9 that Evrolab be reinstated. Both Deputy Agriculture Minister Ivan Hristanov10 and food safety agency director Hristo Daskalov faced allegations of being offered bribes to allow Evrolab to continue its work, and the interim government subsequently dismissed Daskalov for allegedly violating electoral legislation in his bid for the National Assembly.11

Author: Angel Petrov is a journalist on the International News Desk of Dnevnik.bg, a Bulgarian news website, with a focus on the Balkans, Middle East, and post-Soviet space. He is the former editor-in-chief of Sofia News Agency, an English-language news service on Bulgaria and previously the Balkans. He has written for the Financial Times, Al Jazeera, and Balkan Insight, and was part of BIRN’s Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence in 2019.

  • 1Bregov, Ivan. Двата антикорупционни законопроекта – прилики и разлики] The two anti-corruption bills — similarities and differences], Dnevnik.bg, 15 November 2022. https://bit.ly/3VEeLbV. How exactly the legislative framework would be changed was left to national legislatures. However, the amendments in question were the bone of contention among parties for much of 2022. The coalition itself was also divided, with ITN raising objections on issues such as the reform of the anti-corruption commission. ITN and the other coalition partners initially displayed unity about the changes, until they began fueling tension in the summer. PP alleged that the question of investigative powers had been a source of tension between ITN and blamed the delay on the party, even citing the disagreement as the reason ITN quit the coalition later that summer.
  • 2PP’s draft was also adopted in a first reading by the previous Parliament, but its dissolution left no time for the second reading. Subsequently, a “rival” bill was introduced by Justice Minister Krum Zarkov in September, before the new Parliament was assembled, which also backs the split of KPKONPI and the addition of investigative functions. However, under the new proposal, one out of five members would be appointed by the President (while two others would come from courts and two would be voted by Parliament). PP has firmly rejected the President's involvement. According to this bill, the new body would only deal with high-level corruption (and high-level officials) but will not deal with conflict-of-interest cases.
  • 3Chernokova , Radostina. Реформа в КПКОНПИ е основен приоритет в парламента [Anti-corruption watchdog reform is a key priority of Parliament], Bulgarian National Radio, 22 March 2022. https://bit.ly/3CEtSu3. ITN had stated that it believed KPKONPI could become a repressive tool against those currently in power once they are out of office. 1 A subsequent version of the caretaker government was at first rejected by the PP, which tabled a “rival” bill in Parliament, both having being voted in at Parliament’s anti-corruption committee in mid-November. The bills match the above description and do not differ substantially, with Zarkov's including a smaller number of officials as subjects to KPKONPI probes in order to create a more efficient commission.
  • 4Drumeva, Ina. Парламентът гласува за нов антикорупционен орган, без “бухалки” и “чадъри” [The Parliament voted on a new anti-corruption watchdog, without “batons” and “umbrellas”], Dnevnik.bg, 7 December 2022. http://bit.ly/3JufcTl
  • 5Tsatsarov reportedly aimed to avoid being dismissed by Parliament after having been deprived of his access to classified information (it was restored as Tsatsarov was preparing to leave office). https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/bulgarias-anti-corruption-chief-re…
  • 6Among obstacles to forming a new coalition after the no-confidence vote stemmed from PP's insistence that Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov be appointed by Parliament head of KPKONPI, which some parties firmly rejected. The key officials in question included former Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov and long-serving ex-chair of Parliament's finance committee Menda Stoyanova, alongside his PR representative Sevdelina Arnaudova.
  • 7Бойко Борисов, Горанов и Менда Стоянова са задържани при акция на МВР, Dnevnik.bg, March 17, 2022. Available at: https://www.dnevnik.bg/4325582
  • 8ЕК очаква България да върне още 28,7 млн. евро заради къщите за гости, Investor.bg, March 14, 2022. Available at: https://bit.ly/3yNrpwg
  • 9"Безусловно и незабавно". Съдът възстанови частния контрол на "Капитан Андреево", Svobodna Evropa, July 19, 2022. Available at: https://www.svobodnaevropa.bg/a/31950364.html
  • 10Petkov alleged Hristanov had been threatened and was assigned protection.
  • 11Шефът на БАБХ Христо Даскалов е уволнен. Той твърди, че е заради "Капитан Андреево" [The head of the Bulgarian Agency for Food Safety has been fired. He claims it was because of Kapitan Andreevo], Svobodna Evropa, 06 October 2022. https://www.svobodnaevropa.bg/a/32067995.html

On Bulgaria

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

See More
  • Global Freedom Score

    79 100 free