Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1991

Two years after the overthrow in November 1989 of Communist
dictator Todor Zhivkov, Bulgaria is a constitutional republic
ruled by a democratically elected government. Formed after
free multiparty elections in October, the Government of Filip
Dimitrov succeeded a transitional coalition regime led by
former nonparty judge Dimitur Popov, which had replaced the
all-Socialist (ex-Communist) government brought down by a
general strike in November 1990. In these second post-
Communist parliamentary elections, the Union of Democratic
Forces (UDF) won 110 seats to 106 for the Bulgarian Socialist
Party (BSP) and 24 for the Movement for Rights and Freedoms
(MRF) , which largely represents the Turkish minority. In the
first direct presidential elections in January 1992, President
Zhelyu Zhelev, former UDF Chairman, was elected to a 5-year
term with about 53 percent of the vote.
Reforms of the security apparatus continued in 1991. The
Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, national security
service, internal security troops, border guards, and special
forces, sought to modernize its anticrime services and bring
its practices into line with European human rights standards.
The Ministry established a new service to combat organized
crime and drug trafficking. Although both the intelligence
service, under control of the President, and the Interior
Ministry claimed that all monitoring of opposition and other
political figures had ceased, an apparent listening device was
discovered in the office floor of UDF Deputy Prime Minister
Dimitur Ludzhev in September.
The economy underwent enormous turmoil in 1991 as "shock
therapy" reforms were implemented to move it from a command
system toward a free market. Most prices were freed on
February 1, leading to price rises of up to 10 times in many
basic consumer items. Chronic fuel and energy shortages led to
frequent blackouts through the winter and interrupted
deliveries of many goods. Overall production fell dramatically
in 1991. However, the economic transition also progressed.
Privatization of state enterprises was begun, a new land law
provided for the return of agricultural land to its prewar
owners beginning in the autuirai of 1991, and foreign investment
was encouraged by new laws allowing full foreign ownership of
firms and full repatriation of profits. Many small businesses
began to appear, especially in the service sector.
Bulgaria's overall human rights performance continued to
improve in 1991. Freedom of press, assembly, religion, speech,
association, and travel were generally respected. Particularly
in rural areas, however, many people continued to fear that the
former state security persisted in monitoring citizens'
activities, although there was little precise evidence. The
Grand National Assembly, elected in 1990, adopted a new
Constitution in July 1991. Treatment of ethnic minorities
improved, although discrimination and inecjuities remain. The
issue of Turkish-language instruction in the schools sparked
nationalist protest and counterprotest by ethnic Turks (see
Section 5). Also controversial was an attempt to use legal
bans on ethnic- and religious-based political parties to
prevent the MRF, with a predominantly ethnic Turkish
membership, from running a list of candidates. The
Constitution prohibits registration as a political party of any
organization formed on "ethnic, racial, or religious lines."
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of such killings in 1991.
      b. Disappearance
There were no reported instances of disappearance in 1991.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
There were no reports of such practices.
The new Constitution expressly prohibits torture; cruel,
inhuman, or degrading treatment; forcible assimilation; and
subjection to medical, scientific, or other experimentation
without consent. There were unconfirmed charges, generally
from patients, that psychiatric treatment is still used as a
form of punishment. These charges appear to stem from residual
fear of former practices, and there was no concrete evidence
that such practices continued in 1991.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution guarantees access to legal counsel from the
time o£ detention. Judicial authorities must rule on the
legality of a detention within 24 hours. There were no reports
of arbitrary detentions. Neither internal nor external exile
has been employed as a form of punishment since 1990. A new
penal code has not yet been completed by Parliament.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Under the Constitution ratified in July, the judiciary has
independent and coequal status with the legislature and the
executive. The Constitution stipulates that "all courts shall
conduct their hearings in public, unless provided otherwise by
a law." Closed trials may be held in cases involving state
security or to preserve state secrets. Defendants are
considered innocent until proven guilty, may not be compelled
to confess, and may not be judged guilty solely on the basis of
a confession.
Due process was generally observed during 1991, although some
human rights groups expressed concern about the unfair
treatment of former dictator Todor Zhivkov during his trial on
charges of fraud and misappropriation. Zhivkov was placed
under house arrest in 1990 and was not allowed access to the
foreign press until shortly before the commencement of the
trial. The trial itself initially attracted significant media
attention, provoking concerns about anti-Zhivkov bias in the
proceedings. Temporarily adjourned in May due to the poor
health of the defendant, the trial was resumed in late October.
The Constitution established the Constitutional Court, based on
Western European models, to decide matters of constitutional
import. Military courts handle all cases involving military
personnel and some cases involving national security matters.
The Constitutional Court does not have specific jurisdiction in
matters of military justice. While there has been no major
Structural reform in the military courts, there have been major
personnel changes effected by the President as Commander in
Bulgaria's remaining political prisoners were released in
January. There remain five prisoners whose cases are
questioned by some human rights groups but who are not
generally considered political prisoners. These include three
ethnic Turks sentenced for terrorist acts and a former
government minister imprisoned for fraud and embezzlement.
There is no internal or foreign exile.
f . Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
The Constitution stipulates the inviolability of the home,
protects the freedom and confidentiality of correspondence, and
provides the right to choose one's place of work and
residence. Police may not legally conduct a search without the
permission of a judge or prosecutor. There were no reported
violations of this requirement.
Charges persisted in 1991 that the intelligence services
continued in some instances to monitor correspondence and
telephone communications, as was common before the fall of the
Zhivkov regime. Such allegations were strengthened in
September when a listening device was reportedly discovered in
the office of Deputy Prime Minister Dimitur Ludzhev, a member
of the opposition UDF. According to experts, the device was
not operational at the time but was fully capable of
operation. It has not been determined when the device was
planted. Opposition leaders alleged, without specific
evidence, that conversations were also being monitored in the
headquarters of the UDF and the Podkrepa trade union.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Freedom of speech and a free and independent press flourished
in 1991. Nearly every political party and many smaller, local
organizations published newspapers representing the full
spectrum of political opinion. The MRF and the Chief Mufti's
office both regularly published papers with editions in both
Turkish and Bulgarian, and one national weekly is published
half in Bulgarian and half in Turkish. Censorship of the press
and mass media is prohibited by the Constitution. Newsprint,
which was previously available only from the Government or with
hard currency, was sold for local currency to any organization
with sufficient funds. However, it proved prohibitively
expensive for many smaller opposition organizations, which thus
had difficulty publishing their own papers.
Bulgarian radio and television remained state monopolies under
the supervision of the National Assembly but were generally
operated independently. The news directors of both radio and
television came under fire from the BSP for allegedly being
biased in favor of the opposing parties. Both radio and
television expanded news and public interest programming during
1991 and introduced a much greater variety of programming. The
Assembly has not yet passsed legislation concerning the media.
Two private radio stations that attempted to broadcast early in
1991 were shut down on the grounds that no legal provisions yet
existed for their licensing.
Private book publishers proliferated during 1991, numbering
over 50 by late in the year. Academic freedom continued to
increase as university rectors and other academic leaders were
replaced by persons less closely associated with previous
Communist policies.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly cind Association
The right to peaceful and unarmed assembly is provided for by
the Constitution. No permit or notification is required for
meetings held indoors. Permits are required for rallies and
assemblies held outdoors. Except in rare instances when public
order was thought to be threatened, legally registered
organizations were routinely granted permission to assemble.
Political rallies and protest demonstrations were a common
occurrence in 1991.
The Constitution protects the right to free association in
general terms but forbids the formation of political parties
defined along religious, ethnic, or racial lines. An
additional clause in the electoral law prohibits any
organization that is not legally registered as a political
party from running an independent list of candidates in
parliamentary or local elections. These restrictions were
challenged when Ahmed Dogan, the leader of the MRF, which is
largely composed of ethnic Turks and which won 23 parliamentary
seats in the 1990 elections, attempted to register the party
for the October elections. The courts rejected the
registration, but the Central Electoral Commission ruled that
the registration of the MRF for the parliamentary elections in
1990 was a permanent registration, thus permitting it to
participate. The constitutional ban on ethnic- and
religious-based political parties seems to conflict with
Bulgaria's commitments within the Conference on Security and
Cooperation in Europe.
The "Roma" union, an organization dedicated to protecting the
rights of Gypsies, was denied registration as a political
party, and the Supreme Court upheld the decision in July. The
courts determined that, because it sought to protect the rights
of a specific ethnic group even though its membership was open,
the organization qualified as an ethnic-based party and could
not be registered. It became an observer in the UDF in
September but was not offered any places on the UDF candidate
lists for the elections. Participating in a coalition with a
smaller party, it failed to get any representatives elected to
The Constitution also prohibits "citizens' associations,"
including trade unions, from pursuing political objectives or
engaging in political activities. This restriction has not yet
been tested to determine the extent of limitations it will
place upon organizations' activities.
      c. Freedom of Religion
Religious freedom continued to expand throughout 1991. The
Constitution states that Eastern Orthodox Christianity is the
"traditional" religion of Bulgaria, but all of the major
religious bodies receive some degree of governmental financial
support. The Government is committed to restore a number of
churches and mosques, and the Ministry of Finance allocated a
sizable sum to the restoration of Sofia's synagogue, which is
reportedly the largest in Europe.
The former committee on religious affairs in the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs was replaced by the Directorate for Religious
Affairs within the Council of Ministers. The Directorate's
mandate included reforming the Government's policies toward
religious institutions- and its relations with them. Many
churches applied for and were granted registration, including
the Hare Krishna Society, the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints, and a number of other Protestant groups.
The return of church property confiscated by the State under
the Zhivkov regime began in January with the return of Rila
Monastery, one of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church's most revered
monuments. Former church property will also be affected by the
new land law, which limits the amount of agricultural land that
churches may own. One contentious issue was the Directorate's
refusal summarily to remove church leaders appointed by the
Communist regime, including members of the Orthodox Church's
Holy Synod, the Chief Mufti, and the pastor of at least one
Protestant church. These persons were considered compromised,
and many reformers sought their removal. The Directorate
refused to intervene, however, insisting that such matters were
internal church affairs and should no longer be decided by the
Although the question of allowing voluntary religious
instruction in the schools has not yet been decided, there are
no restrictions on private instruction. There is now a school
for imams and a Muslim cultural center, two universities have
theological faculties, and religious primary schools opened in
September. There are no restrictions on attendance at
religious services.
Bibles and other religious materials in the Bulgarian language
were both freely imported and printed in Bulgaria. Mosques
still suffer from a severe shortage of Korans and other printed
religious materials in Bulgarian, although the difficulty
appears to stem from administrative and financial shortcomings
rather than governmental interference. The Chief Mufti
published a newspaper in both Bulgarian and Turkish, and the
Faith and Culture publishing house began publication of a
Catholic newspaper. A newspaper directed at Bulgaria's small
Jewish community was regularly released in both Bulgarian and
Hebrew. Missionaries of various faiths appear to operate
unhindered throughout the country.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Freedom of movement within the country and the right to leave
the country are constitutionally enshrined and not limited in
practice, except in rare cases determined to affect national
security. The only such reported instance in 1991 was the
withholding of the international passports of several members
of the Macedonian rights group I linden. In 1990 the
organization was judged to be separatist, and therefore
illegal, and several of its members had their passports
confiscated while attempting to cross the border into Yugoslav
Macedonia. At least three of them were reportedly unable to
obtain new passports in 1991.
The requirement for exit visas was abolished in January.
Thousands of Bulgarians left throughout the year in search of
economic opportunities in the West. Every citizen has the
right to return to Bulgaria, may not be forcibly expatriated,
and may not be deprived of citizenship acc[uired by birth. An
increasing number of former political emigrants were granted
passports and returned to visit or live in Bulgaria.
Bulgaria receives few applications for asylum, more often
serving as a temporary refuge for third country nationals
seeking to enter Western Europe. New procedures were
established for handling asylum applications, limiting the
length of time in which the Government must respond to all
requests. Bulgarian law provides for the granting of asylum to
persons persecuted for their opinions or activities in defense
of internationally recognized rights.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Bulgarian citizens have the right to change their government
through the election of members of the National Assembly and
the President. That right was exercised on October 13 when,
after several postponements, multiparty elections were held for
the Assembly and for local government bodies. Over 40
individual parties and coalitions and a number of independent
candidates participated. Only three parties gained more than
the minimum 4 percent of the national vote required to win
parliamentary seats. The UDF won a plurality with 110 seats,
while the BSP won 106 and the MRF 24. The election was
generally observed to have been free and fair, despite some
administrative problems, including those affecting the
electoral rolls in ethnic Turkish areas. The first direct
election of a president, which is for a 5-year term, must be
held within 3 months of the National Assembly elections.
Parliamentary elections are to be held by secret ballot every 4
years, and 240 deputies are elected by a proportional system
from party lists. Suffrage is universal over the age of 18. A
distinct separation of powers exists between the Government
(Prime Minister and Cabinet) and the President, who is the
Chief of State. A continuous 5-year residency requirement
prevented former Tsar Simeon from returning from exile to run
as a presidential candidate.
While opposition groups operated freely, they remained
disadvantaged by a lack of resources, while the Socialists
(former Communists) retained the majority of their property
from 45 years of single-party rule. However, in mid-December
the BSP minority in Parliament was unable to prevent the
passage of a bill confiscating all property obtained from the
state by Communist organizations between 1945 and 1989.
Opposition leaders also complained of persistent fear of old
party structures in rural areas which may have given the BSP a
campaign advantage in those regions. (For the challenge to the
electoral participation of the MRF, see Section 2.b.)
There are no restrictions on the participation of women in
government or politics.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Both local and international human rights groups were active in
Bulgaria in 1991. The Independent Society for the Defense of
Hiaman Rights and the Bulgarian Association for Free Elections
and Human Rights issued reports, hosted international
observers, and held a niomber of seminars. Both organizations
have worked to become truly independent monitors of human
rights developments in Bulgaria. Members of international
human rights organizations consulted with Bulgarian
parliamentarians on drafting the new Constitution and were
active in monitoring the Zhivkov trial and the rights of ethnic
minorities. Bulgaria hosted a visit by the chairman of the
U.N. Human Rights Commission and was an active participant in
both U.N. and European human rights forums.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
While the Constitution guarantees individual rights and
equality, representatives of Bulgaria's ethnic Turkish and
Gypsy minorities did not believe it went far enough in
protecting their rights. In particular, they sought specific
recognition of ethnic and national minorities and their group
rights. Parliamentarians from the MRF and Manush Romanov, a
UDF deputy representing the Gypsy union "Roma," joined the
opposition walk-out of Parliament in late spring due to what
they saw as insufficient guarantees of minority rights.
The Government made progress in redressing the grievances of
ethnic minorities, particularly those acts of discrimination
perpetrated during the forced assimilation campaign of
1984-89. All official restraints have been removed from the
practice of Muslim religious traditions, the speaking of
Turkish in public, and the use of non-Slavic names.
The Government took initial steps to redress longstanding
complaints of ethnic Turkish families who were forced to sell
their homes when they fled to Turkey in 1989 and later returned
to find they were unable to recover their property. Over a
thousand families are reportedly still without housing. A
group of women representing the affected families staged a
relay hunger strike in a central Sofia square for several
months until the Council of Ministers issued a decree in August
requiring all government bodies still in possession of such
property to return it to its original owners. The decree also
provided opportunities for families to purchase housing at the
former prices and obtain credits at reduced interest rates to
build or purchase new apartments. The decree, which is not yet
in effect, is considered by many ethnic Turkish activists to
provide insufficient relief.
Some nongovernmental discrimination persisted. The
Constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to study
their mother tongue in addition to the obligation to study
Bulgarian. In March a Government plan to introduce 2 hours per
week of voluntary, extracurricular Turkish- language classes in
public schools sparked strikes and protests throughout those
regions with a mixed Turkish and Bulgarian population.
Nationalist groups stridently objected to any teaching of
Turkish, while ethnic Turks led strikes against the schools,
protesting the "experimental" and limited nature of the
classes. On November 8, the Ministry of Education, acceding to
the demands of the ethnic Turks, reinstituted voluntary
Turkish-language classes, and most ethnic Turkish boycotts
ended. Some Bulgarians accused the MRF of attempting to
"turkify" parts of the Bulgarian population, that is the Pomaks
(ethnic Bulgarian Muslims), by forcing them to learn Turkish
although Bulgarian is in fact their mother tongue.
Discrimination against minorities became an important issue as
Bulgaria began to suffer massive unemployment for the first
time. Ethnic Turks, Gypsies, and Pomaks claimed they were
usually among the first to be laid off in any factory
closures. They suffer widely from exclusion from positions of
responsibility. Supervisory jobs are generally given only to
ethnic Bulgarian employees. Muslims and Gypsies were
reportedly offered only the most inferior housing in many
cities. During their periods of compulsory military service,
male Muslims and Gypsies are generally given the worst
assignments. Construction troops, which undertake a variety of
civilian as well as military building and maintenance projects,
are largely composed of minority conscripts of ethnic Turkish
or Gypsy descent. However, ethnic Bulgarians claimed to face
similar discriminatory treatment regarding dismissal from
employment in areas where they formed the minority ethnic
The large community of Vietnamese guest workers also came under
increasing pressure as unemployment rose. A riot sparked by an
argument between a Vietnamese man and a taxi driver brought a
massive response from the police and resulted in the deaths of
two Vietnamese men from police fire as well as several
injuries. There were also several minor conflicts between
Gypsy and Vietnamese communities involved in black market
activities. After the first incident, the Government undertook
to return to Vietnam the majority of some 13,000 Vietnamese
workers before the expiration of their contracts.
Several organizations purport to defend women's rights and
interests, including a number of small political parties
supporting both the UDF and the BSP. The Constitution forbids
the granting of privileges or the restriction of rights on the
basis of sex. Women are not generally discriminated against in
education or employment. No statistics are available on
violence directed against women.
 Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
According to the Constitution, all workers may form or join
trade unions of their own choosing. Many members of the civil
service have organized themselves into trade unions. Bulgaria
has two large trade union confederations, the Confederation of
Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria (KNSB), and Podkrepa. The
KNSB is the successor to the trade union integrated with the
former Communist Party and is ostensibly independent of the
BSP. Podkrepa, the independent confederation created in 1989
and one of the first opposition forces, has continued to
strengthen and broaden its base. There are few restrictions on
trade union activities, and both confederations operated freely
in 1991. While the new Constitution prohibits trade unions
from undertaking political activity, Podkrepa, through its
chairman Dr. Konstantin Trenchev, continued to play an active
role in the UDF. Both confederations supported candidates in
the parliamentary elections and were active critics of various
government policies.
The law recognizes the right to strike, as does the
Constitution, when other means of conflict resolution have been
exhausted, but political strikes are forbidden. There were
numerous strikes throughout the year, including symbolic
strikes, rotating or "relay" strikes, and sit-ins. Some of
these were called to protest the new Constitution and delays in
the elections, but those accused of engaging in a politically
motivated strike were not prosecuted. The largest and most
disruptive action was a 2-week nationwide miners' strike called
by Podkrepa in August. The dispute was eventually settled when
the Government agreed to concessions on wages and job security.
There are no restrictions on affiliation or contact with
international labor organizations, and Bulgarian unions now
actively exercise this right.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
During the first half of 1991, wages were set by the Trilateral
Commission involving the Government, employers, and trade
unions. Collective bargaining was to have been instituted in
July, but as privatization and demonopolization of state
enterprises had not progressed significantly, negotiating
partners were not always clearly identifiable, and the
Commission is still involved in negotiating wage agreements at
the national level,
Bulgaria's Labor Code, which at present does not address
antiunion discrimination, is expected to be amended in 1992.
Some newly established export processing zones exist on a small
scale. There do not appear to be any special restrictions on
worker rights in these zones.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and
there were no reported violations.
d. MinimujTi Age for Employment of Children
According to the Constitution, school attendance is compulsory
up to the age of 16. The Labor Code also sets the minimum age
for employment at 16, and at 18 for dangerous work. Employers
and the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare enforce these
provi'sions. There is an increasing incidence of children
engaged in street trading in central Sofia where a number of
informal bazaars have become fixtures.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
A national minimum wage was set by the Trilateral Commission
and periodically adjusted as inflation and devaluation of the
currency dramatically increased the cost of living. The
minimum wage is not sufficient for a single wage earner to
provide a decent standard of living for a family. The
Constitution stipulates the right to social security, welfare
aid, and assistance for the temporarily unemployed.
The legal code provides for a standard workweek of 42 1/2
hours. Enforcement is the responsibility of the Ministry of
Employment and Social Welfare. The Trilateral Commission also
actively oversaw enforcement of most provisions relating to
working conditions.
Bulgaria has a national labor safety program with standards
established by the Labor Code, and the Constitution states that
workers and employees are entitled to healthy and nonhazardous
working conditions. The generally poor state of much
industrial equipment, which is often outdated and lacking spare
parts, complicated enforcement of safety regulations.