Bulgaria | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Bulgaria's political rights rating improved from 2 to 1 due to the consistent holding of free and fair elections and the inclusion of an ethnic-based political party in the ruling coalition.


In a surprising victory in the June elections, the National Movement for Simeon II (NDSV) won half of the 240 seats in parliament, upsetting the two-party balance that had dominated Bulgarian politics since 1990. By July, Simeon Saxe Coburg, the former king, was named the next prime minister. Simeon II is the first monarch in any Eastern European country to win political office since the collapse of communism. By the end of 2001, public confidence in NDSV dropped considerably, having failed to make good on its election promises. Another surprising victory in November was for Georgi Purvanov, the leader of the Socialist Party and presidential candidate for the Coalition for Bulgaria alliance, who won the presidential election runoff against incumbent President Petar Stoyanov.

In February, the constitutional court had ruled that the exiled King Simeon II, a Madrid-based businessman, was not eligible to run in the presidential elections because the constitution requires a candidate to have lived in the country for five years. However, the court did not prohibit Simeon from running for a parliamentary seat. Simeon II was expelled from Bulgaria with his family, at the age of nine, after a rigged referendum in 1946 did away with the monarchy. He launched the National Movement for Simeon II in April, declaring that the party's intent is not to restore the monarchy, but to move ahead with reforms, including improving living standards, concentrating on reforms necessary to achieve full membership to the European Union (EU) and NATO, and increasing foreign investment. After a Bulgarian court refused to register the NDSV, Simeon II signed a coalition agreement with the Party of Bulgarian Women and with the Movement for National Revival, Oborishte, in order to ensure his party's registration for the parliamentary elections.

Occupied by the Ottoman Empire from 1396 to 1878, Bulgaria achieved full independence in 1908. Long-standing territorial ambitions led to Bulgaria's alliance with Germany in both world wars, before the Soviet invasion in 1944 and subsequent establishment of a Communist-led government. From 1954 until 1989, the country was ruled by Communist Party leader Todor Zhivkov, who resigned in the wake of a mass pro-democracy rally in Sofia and the political changes that were sweeping across Eastern Europe. In the October 1996 presidential election, Petar Stoyanov of the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) defeated Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) candidate Ivan Marazov in two rounds of voting. With the exception of a short-lived, UDF-led government elected in 1991, Bulgaria's parliament continued to be dominated by former Communists until 1997.

Sparked by a deepening economic crisis and growing crime and corruption, a week of mass street demonstrations in November 1996 succeeded in forcing the ruling BSP to agree to early parliamentary elections the following year. One month later, Zhan Videnov, prime minister and BSP leader, resigned. In the April 1997 vote for the national assembly, the UDF and its allied factions won 52 percent of the vote and 137 of the 240 seats. UDF leader Ivan Kostov was named prime minister.

Prior to the general elections, public confidence in the UDF coalition had been undermined by low living standards, high unemployment, and scandals. The government survived a no-confidence motion in February after the opposition accused the government of failing to combat rising violent crime. Despite these setbacks, the UDF, the first political coalition to serve a full four-year term in office since the fall of communism, succeeded in privatizing and restructuring most of the state economy as well as winning an invitation for EU membership talks.

Bulgaria was elected by the United Nations General Assembly to a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council and will hold that seat from 2002 to 2003. Earlier in the year, the EU lifted visa requirements for Bulgaria and the European enlargement commissioner, Guenter Verheugen, declared that Bulgaria might complete EU accession talks by 2004. In April, the Bulgarian parliament ratified a memorandum that allowed NATO troops permanent access to its territory. Following the September 11 attacks in the U.S., the parliament ratified a treaty signed with the U.S. that permitted U.S. troops to pass through or stop in Bulgaria for the duration of the campaign to combat international terrorism.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Bulgarians can change their government democratically. The president is elected for a five-year term, and the unicameral national assembly, composed of 240 members, is elected every four years. In the 2001 parliamentary elections, the NDSV won 120 of the 240 seats; the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), 51; the Coalition for Bulgaria, which includes the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), 48; and the Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), 21.

The NDSV formed a coalition with the MRF after failing to gain an outright majority. The involvement of ethnic Turks in the ruling coalition means that many Bulgarians have accepted a multiethnic government, which is a positive development. The 1999 local and the 2001 parliamentary and presidential elections were regarded as free and fair by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The constitution guarantees freedom of the press. Journalists of the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) protested in February against the nomination of Ivan Borislavov as general director. The journalists claimed his appointment by the National Council for Radio and Television was politically motivated. In April, the Bulgarian supreme court cancelled his appointment, but BNR dismissed many of the protesting journalists and replaced them with journalists loyal to the ruling UDF coalition. The situation intensified at the end of March when police barred journalists from their studios and seven leaders of the protest were sacked. In October, the parliament replaced the National Council for Radio and Television with the Electronic Media Council. The members of the Electronic Media Council were selected by parliament and President Petar Stoyanov.

The constitution permits the formation of trade unions, and the 1992 Labor Code recognizes the right to strike and bargain collectively. Bulgaria's two largest unions are the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (CITUB), a successor to the Communist-era union, and Podkrepa, an independent federation established in 1989. The constitution does, however, forbid the formation of political parties along religious, ethnic, or racial lines. In February 2000, the constitutional court declared the United Macedonians Organization (Ilinden-PIRIN) party unconstitutional, violating party members' right to associate. The European Court of Human Rights declared in October that the ban on the minority-based political party is contrary to human rights.

While freedom of worship is generally respected, the government restricts this right for some non-Orthodox religious groups. Organizations whose activities have a religious element are required by law to register with the council of ministers. Some groups, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, have endured harassment and interference in their activities; however, there were no reports of direct harassment against any religious groups in 2001. In November the Tolerance Foundation issued a press release in response to the U.S. State Department's annual Religious Freedom report, stating that "the deep attitudes...of the Bulgarian ruling elite are against the enlargement of the scope of religious freedom in Bulgaria."

The judiciary is legally guaranteed independence and equal status with the executive and legislative branches of government. However, corruption, inadequate staffing, and low salaries continue to hamper the system. Excessive physical force and discrimination by law enforcement officials towards the Roma (Gypsy) population continue to remain a serious problems. Efforts started in September 2000 to desegregate Romani schools and integrate Romani children into the national education system in Vidin, Bulgaria, continued in 2001.

Freedom of movement within the country and emigration rights are generally respected. Private property is formally protected and private property rights are respected in practice.

Women now hold 63 of the 240 seats in parliament, having doubled their membership since the last general elections. Trafficking of women for prostitution remains a serious problem.