Bulgaria | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2005

2005 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Bulgaria joined NATO in March 2004 and concluded its membership negotiations with the European Union (EU). Its troop presence in Iraq made it a target for a double kidnapping in July.

Bulgaria became independent from the Ottoman Empire in 1878. After originally siding with Germany in World War II, Communist Todor Zhivkov ultimately persuaded a none-too-reluctant army to side with the Russians. A Communist government was established in Bulgaria after the Soviet Red Army swept through the country towards the end of 1944. From 1954 to 1989, Zhivkov ruled the country. His 35-year reign ended when a massive pro-democracy rally in Sofia was inspired by the broader political changes sweeping across Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s.

In the post-Communist period, the main political actors in the country have been the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) and the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). The BSP dominated parliament from 1989 to 1997, and the UDF was in power from 1997 to 2001. The UDF was credited with significant success in privatizing and restructuring most of the state economy as well as winning an invitation for EU membership talks.

In 2001, Bulgaria's former king, Simeon II, returned from exile and formed the National Movement for Simeon II (NDSV). Promising quicker integration into Europe, Simeon attracted a large segment of the electorate. In the 2001 elections to Bulgaria's parliament, the NDSV won 120 of the 240 seats; the UDF, 51; the Coalition for Bulgaria (which includes the BSP), 48; and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), 21. The NDSV formed a coalition with the MRF after failing to gain an outright majority. By 2003, however, there were signs that Simeon's popularity was beginning to wane, with his NDSV winning only 7 percent of the votes cast in that year's local elections.

Despite the weakness of the government, Bulgaria has made substantial progress towards joining the EU. It completed its formal negotiations in 2004, and a positive report from the EU in October 2004 confirmed a target date of 2007 for admission.

Bulgaria joined NATO in March. Although it does not have a large defense program, it has almost 500 troops in Iraq. Two Bulgarian civilians were kidnapped and beheaded in Iraq in July, but the government maintained its troop presence there.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Bulgarians can change their government democratically. The unicameral National Assembly, composed of 240 members, is elected every four years. Georgi Parvanov of the BSP was elected in November 2001 to a five-year term as president, defeating incumbent Petar Stoyanov. Prime minister and former king Simeon II leads the NDSV, the largest party in government.

The constitution forbids political groups that act against national integrity, call for ethnic or religious hostility, or create secret military structures. In the 2001 elections, 54 parties and coalitions were registered, most representing local interests. The NDSV, the UDF, the BSP (which is trying to move away from its Communist past), and the centrist Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) were the only parties with enough votes to be represented in the National Assembly. However, in March a new party, called New Time, was formed by 10 NDSV defectors.

The Turkish minority in Bulgaria is almost exclusively represented by the MRF. In contrast, no party represents the Roma (Gypsy) minority, despite attempts to create one.

Although the government has attempted to build a framework against corruption, overall levels have not changed significantly. Organized crime and corruption in government and business continue to be problems, and deficiencies in the legal system prevent the government from effective prosecution of perpetrators. Bulgaria was ranked 54 out of 146 countries surveyed in the 2004 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. At the same time, the government operates with relative openness.

The constitution guarantees freedom of the press, although international observers believe that the government still exerts undue influence over the media, and many journalists complain of feeling harassed about their reporting. Defamation is a criminal offense, and sentences can be severe. A Romanian journalist was arrested in Bulgaria in November for filming with a concealed camera, which is a crime. The head of Bulgarian National TV was dismissed in March after being accused of allowing biased reporting on state broadcasts. Internet access is not restricted.

Freedom of religion is generally respected in Bulgaria. The government has in recent years made it difficult for "nontraditional" religious groups to obtain registration permits allowing them to be active. Those groups considered traditional are the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Islamic, and Jewish communities. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church has been divided for 12 years between those who support Bishop Maxim, appointed by the Bulgarian Communist Party 30 years ago, and those who support Bishop Inokentii, who was canonically elected. The Bulgarian government favors the former, and it further institutionalized this preference through the 2002 Confessions Act - essentially a law on religion that makes Bishop Maxim the only representative of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and thereby withdraws the right of Bishop Inokentii's priests to preach. The Council of Europe and others have criticized the act for restricting freedom of religion. Moreover, in July, Bulgarian police raided as many as 250 churches of the synod of Bishop Inokentii, expelling and arresting their priests and in some cases appointing priests from Bishop Maxim's synod in their place. Technically, the Inokentii priests were illegally occupying the property, which had been granted to the other synod.

The government does not restrict academic freedom.

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respects these rights. The government prohibits the formation of groups that propagate ethnic, religious, or racial hatred, or that advocate achieving their goals through the use of violence. There have been reports that the government has denied ethnic Macedonians and other groups less favorable to the government the right to hold public gatherings. The rights of trade unions are respected.

The judiciary is legally guaranteed independence and equal status with the executive and legislative branches of government. Rights groups claim that the judicial system suffers from problems including corruption, inadequate staffing, low salaries for magistrates, and a perceived unwillingness to prosecute crimes against ethnic minorities, charges that the government denies. In 2003 and 2004, parliament passed amendments to the constitution designed to improve judicial independence and effectiveness.

Torture and inhumane treatment are reportedly less common than before, but they remain problems in Bulgaria and are allegedly not investigated thoroughly. The election by the Supreme Judicial Council of Konstantin Penchev to the Supreme Administrative Court in March raised criticism; Penchev is a legislator for the ruling party, and there were reports of interference by the prime minister. In 2004, the Council of Europe reported an improvement in treatment of minorities in Bulgaria. However, the Roma population remains subjected to discrimination, police violence, and segregation.

Women hold about one-quarter of the seats in parliament. Trafficking of women for the purpose of prostitution remains a serious problem, although the Act for Combating Trafficking in People became effective in January. Domestic violence is a continual concern. A 2004 poll found that one man in four beats his wife, while a local nongovernmental organization published a separate survey showing that one in five Bulgarian women is the victim of some form of spousal abuse.