|Tuesday, 9 March 2021|
BULGARIA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993
AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE: JANUARY 31, 1994
Bulgaria is a parliamentary republic ruled by a democratically elected government. President Zhelyu Zhelev, former chairman of the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), was elected in January 1992 to a 5-year term in the country's first direct presidential elections. After a UDF government fell in October 1992, and the UDF and Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) each failed to form a government, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), mainly representing the ethnic Turkish minority, nominated centrist economist Lyuben Berov as its candidate for Prime Minister. Lacking a stable parliamentary majority during 1993, Berov was forced to depend on the BSP, heir to the Bulgarian Communist party structure, for much of his support.
The UDF, formerly the largest parliamentary bloc, was weakened by internal divisions in 1993. A UDF-supported hunger strike by a Member of Parliament (M.P.), aimed at bringing down the Berov Government and forcing the President to resign, ended when President Zhelev gave provisional support to the idea of earlier-than-required parliamentary elections in 1994. The BSP adopted a policy designed to reduce further the President's already circumscribed powers and to reassert itself as the strongest force in the three branches of government.
Most security services are the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior, which controls the police, National Security Service (civilian counterintelligence), internal security troops, border guards, and special forces. The President oversees the National Intelligence Service (foreign intelligence). There were few accusations of illegal wiretapping in 1993, compared to previous years. Some allegations that police used excessive force, particularly against Gypsies, were substantiated by domestic and international human rights groups. Human rights groups made credible assertions that a police bill passed in December gives police forces excessively broad powers of search and entry without first obtaining a warrant.
The transition to a market economy continued, albeit slowly and against political and social resistance. Restitution of shops and houses that were confiscated by the communists in the 1940's has put capital into the hands of many ordinary Bulgarians, helping fuel rapidly growing consumer goods and service sectors. However, privatization of state-owned industry moved slowly, as did the breakup of state-organized collective farms. Bilateral agreements with members of the European Free Trade Association entered into force, and a bilateral investment treaty with the United States concluded in 1992 was expected to enter into force in 1994. Bulgaria reached preliminary agreement with its private creditors to restructure $10 billion of defaulted commercial debt, but had not concluded a standby agreement with the International Monetary Fund by year's end.
Bulgaria's human rights performance continued to be generally good in 1993. Freedom of press, assembly, religion, speech, association, and travel were respected, with some significant exceptions. Although the Government made some efforts to address the specific difficulties of minority groups and to investigate alleged human rights violations, xenophobia, nationalism, and antiethnic expression increased noticeably among the population at large. Gypsies (Roma) continued to be the target of police beatings and other excessive force; the Government investigated only a few such incidents. Constitutional provisions against ethnically based political parties continued to pose a potential threat to the legality of the MRF and to prevent the participation of parties representing Gypsy interests. Western missionaries and some Bulgarian religious groups reported harassment.
The Government dismissed several key figures in the state-owned media for so-called antigovernment activity. Parliament passed an anti-Communist "lustration" bill (see Section 1.a.), upheld by the Constitutional Court, which resulted in a significant number of dismissals in the scientific and academic communities. Parliament also annulled census results in two towns in the southwest, on the questionable basis that citizens there had beeen pressured into declaring themselves ethnic Turkish. Overall, little progress was made toward passing legislation needed to implement the rights enshrined in the Constitution or toward establishing a clear judicial basis for addressing human rights complaints.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial KillingThere were no confirmed reports of political or extrajudicial killing in 1993. Three prisoners who killed a guard while escaping were recaptured and reportedly beaten to death. The Government and a human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) are investigating the incident. One policeman was convicted of wrongful death in the shooting of an ethnic Turkish individual who lived in the Gypsy community, although his conviction was overturned by a higher court.
One Bulgarian human rights group alleged that the 1992 death of MRF deputy Svilen Kapsuzov in an automobile accident was a case of political murder. No direct evidence of murder emerged during the trial, although circumstantial evidence lent some credence to the charge. The driver of the car which struck Kapsuzov's car, reportedly a former state security agent, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. A parliamentary commission charged with investigating the case neither confirmed nor dismissed the allegations.
Many observers expressed concern about the fatal shootings by police of two Iranians suspected of being involved with a drug ring and of being responsible for the earlier death of two policemen. The shootings, and the Ministry of Interior's handling of the brief investigation which followed, led some observers to question whether the intent of the police was to apprehend the suspects or to seek revenge for the deaths of their fellow officers.
b. DisappearanceThere were no reported instances of disappearance.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or PunishmentThe Constitution expressly prohibits torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, forcible assimilation, and subjection to medical, scientific, or other experimentation without consent.
A number of credible reports described police beatings of Gypsies during arrest and mistreatment during incarceration. In one particularly egregious case, police arrested on suspicion of attempted theft a 33-year-old male Gypsy and brutally beat him during interrogation. Doctors later told local human rights representatives that his injuries--several broken ribs on both sides of his chest--most probably resulted from kicks. Doctors later surgically removed part of the victim's lung and kidney. The Government is conducting an investigation. In another case, a 14-year-old Gypsy was severely beaten upon arrest; the local prosecutor's office declined to initiate an investigation. To date, no police have been convicted and punished for brutality against minorities.
In April in the town of Novi Pazar, a force of more than 50 police arrived at approximately 4 a.m. without a written search warrant and forcibly entered a number of homes in search of suspected criminals. Police were dressed in plainclothes or camouflage uniforms, and some wore masks. According to witnesses, the police failed to identify themselves. Witnesses reported that police indiscriminately beat men, women, and children of the Gypsy community. Fifty arrests were made. The Government initiated no investigation of the incident. By the end of the year, all but six of the detainees had been charged with minor crimes and released on bail or on their own recognizance.
A Ministry of Interior investigation into a similar case in Pazarjik in 1992 was concluded in 1993. The Ministry announced it had found no evidence of serious transgressions but declined requests to release the report for examination by independent observers.
Conditions in some prisons are substandard, although they do not appear to threaten life or health, and overcrowding problems eased in 1993. Prisoners' complaints received media coverage and in some cases resulted in improved treatment. The Government cooperated with requests by NGO's to monitor prison conditions.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or ExileThe Constitution provides for access to legal counsel from the time of detention. Judicial authorities must rule on the legality of a detention within 24 hours. Defendants have the right to visits by family members, to examine evidence, and to know the charges against them. Charges may not be made public without the permission of the chief prosecutor. Pretrial detention is limited to 2 months under normal circumstances, although this may be extended to 6 months at the discretion of the chief prosecutor, who may also restart the process.
Approximately 30 percent of Bulgaria's 8,000 prison inmates are in pretrial detention (see Section 1.c.). In the event of a conviction, time spent in pretrial detention is credited toward the sentence. The Constitution provides for bail, and some detainees have been released under this provision, although bail is not widely used.
Neither internal nor external exile is used as a form of punishment.
e. Denial of Fair Public TrialUnder the Constitution, the judiciary is granted independent and coequal status with the legislature and executive branch. The court system consists of regional courts, district courts, the Supreme Court, and the Constitutional Court. A Supreme Court of Cassation, provided for in the Constitution, has not yet been established. The Constitution stipulates that all court hearings shall be public unless the proceedings involve state security or state secrets. There were no reported complaints about limited access to courtroom proceedings. Defendants have the right to know the charges against them and are given ample time to prepare a defense. They are considered innocent until proven guilty and are guaranteed the right of appeal which is widely used. Defendants in criminal proceedings have the right to confront witnesses and to have an attorney, provided by the State, if necessary, in serious cases.
The Constitutional Court rules on matters of constitutionality. The Supreme Court serves as a court of appeal for cases not directly constitutional in nature. Military courts handle cases involving military personnel and some cases involving national security matters. The Constitutional Court does not have specific jurisdiction in matters of military justice.
Most observers agreed that the judiciary, while generally independent, struggled with continuing problems in 1993. Judicial salaries were relatively low, and many positions remained unfilled, creating a heavy backlog of cases and sparking complaints that pretrial detention was excessively lengthy. Partly as a legacy of communism, and partly because of the court system's structural and personnel problems, the public at large has little confidence in the judicial system. Many credible legal experts from Parliament, as well as voices on the Constitutional Court, condemned attempts, spearheaded by the BSP in late October, to amend the current law on the judiciary while a reform judiciary law was already in its second reading. These experts noted that the amendments would establish intrusive legislative branch control over the tenure of judges in office. They noted further that the proposed amendments' qualifications for service as Chief Prosecutor or as a member of the High Judicial Council, the judiciary's policymaking body, required such a long term of prior legal service that only jurists and judges who had served during the era of former Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov would be eligible. Observers objected as well to the irregular way in which the BSP and its supporters voted the amendments out of committee in the absence of a quorum for the vote. The amendments passed a first reading the early November. They may be subsumed under the reform judiciary law.
A number of criminal cases against former Communist leaders were carried forward in 1993. Some observers characterized these indictments as part of the democratization process, while others viewed the trials as politically motivated. Todor Zhivkov appealed his 1992 conviction for abuse of power involving personal expense accounts and state privileges. In August he was indicted on a charge of embezzlement for giving grant aid to Communist regimes in other countries; 10 other former leaders, including former Prime Minister Andrei Lukanov, were also indicted in the "Moscow case." Some human rights observers criticized these indictments, asserting the activities in question were political and economic decisions, not criminal acts. The Chief Prosecutor responded that the transfer of funds had been carried out without parliamentary approval and was thus illegal. In another case, former Prime Minister Georgi Atanasov and former Minister of Economy and Planning Stoyan Ovcharov were convicted of embezzlement of state funds and sentenced to 10 and 9 years in prison, respectively. The Supreme Court upheld these convictions, and both men went to prison.
The first indictments relating to the forced assimilation and expulsion of ethnic Turks in 1984-85 and 1989 were handed down, and a trial began for five defendants who were members of the security services. The Chief Prosecutor asked Parliament to strip BSP MP Dimitur Velev of his immunity in this case, but Parliament declined. Former dictator Zhivkov, former Prime Minister Atanasov, and former Interior Minister Dimitur Stoyanov were indicted and are scheduled to go on trial in February 1994. Another criminal trial was launched in connection with the notorious prison camps set up by the Communists after they came to power in 1944. The defense claimed that the statute of limitations had expired and two of the five original defendants have died, but proceedings in a regional court continued against the remaining three. Finally, two former Communist party leaders were convicted of failing to inform the public of health dangers related to the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident and received short prison terms.
The Constitutional Court upheld the controversial 1992 lustration act, the Law for Additional Requirements toward Scientific Organizations and the Higher Certifying Commission, or "Panev law". Under this law, former secretaries and members of Communist party committees are barred from positions as academic council members, university department heads, deans, rectors, and chief editors of science magazines. Several hundred people reportedly lost positions under this law. Some of these acknowledged past Communist associations, while others were dismissed for refusing to sign a declaration saying they had had no such associations. The Panev law applies a presumption of collective guilt that is clearly in conflict with international human rights standards.
The Penal Procedural Code gives prosecutors the right to remove appointed and elected officials with little satisfactory recourse. A local prosecutor removed the mayor of Satovcha from office on charges he had falsified documents and abused his administrative powers by intimidating Pomaks (Muslims of Slavic ancestry) into changing their names from Slavic to Turkish versions. The charge of intimidation was later dropped, and the mayor appealed his suspension to the court. The appeal was unsuccessful, and in November he was formally indicted.
Human rights groups complain that local prosecutors and magistrates sometimes fail to pursue vigorously crimes committed against minorities. Bulgaria has no political prisoners, although it appears that political motives lie behind some indictments of former Communist leaders.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or CorrespondenceThe Constitution stipulates inviolability of the home, protects the freedom and confidentiality of correspondence, and provides for the right to choose one's place of work and residence. A bill regulating police activities was passed and went into effect in December. Several human rights groups made credible charges that the new law, which allows police under some circumstances to enter homes without first obtaining a warrant, was unconstitutional because it provided excessively broad powers of search and entry. Compared to previous years, there were few charges of illegal monitoring of correspondence or telephone conversations during 1993.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and PressThe Constitution prohibits censorship of the press and mass media. The variety of newspapers published by political parties and other organizations represented the full spectrum of political opinion. Foreign newspapers circulated without hindrance, and Turkish-language newspapers appeared regularly. A Gypsy-language paper stopped publishing for financial reasons. One exception to freedom of the press was the confiscation of newspapers published by the illegal ethnic Macedonian group UMO-Ilinden (see Section 2.b.). Some self-censorship exists among journalists who must conform to what are often heavily politicized editorial views. In other cases, large financial groups that hold interests in several nominally independent newspapers intervened directly to control editorial content.
A new Penal Code article makes it a crime to publish information about the activities of internal security police. Although not invoked during 1993, the article represents a potential stifling of press freedom.
Television remains a state monopoly under parliamentary supervision. Two channels broadcast in Bulgarian, while a third broadcasts Russian programming. Foreign government radio programs such as British Broadcasting Corporation and Voice of America had unrestricted access to commercial Bulgarian radio frequencies. Television and radio news programs present opposition views but are generally seen as being biased in favor of the Government. There are no formal restrictions on programming. Some political groups complained that coverage was one-sided, although they acknowledged that their representatives were interviewed regularly. Opinion polls rate television as the most credible news source. Both television and radio provide a variety of news and public interest programming, including talk shows and public opinion shows.
The Berov Government fired a number of high-level media and communications figures. Some of the firings were in retaliation for what it described as antigovernment political activity, while others were a clear attempt to impose stricter controls over the political content of broadcasts. Among those dismissed were Stefan Sofianski, head of posts and telecommunications, Acen Agov, General Director of National Television, and Ivo Indjev, director of the Bulgarian Telegraph Agency. When the High Court ruled that, as a government employee, Indjev could only be fired by Parliament, Parliament voted to remove him legislatively. The cumulative effect of these firings was to raise questions about the Berov Government's commitment to freedom of the electronic media.
Approximately 30 independent radio stations are licensed in Bulgaria. Some Turkish-language broadcasting takes place. Radio transmitter facilities are owned by the Government. Applications were solicited to operate cable television and radio throughout the country.
Private book publishing remained lively in 1993, with more than 50 publishers in business. Academic freedom, with the notable exception of the Panev law described in Section 1.e., continued in 1993.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and AssociationThe Constitution provides for the right to peaceful and unarmed assembly. Permits are required for rallies and assemblies held outdoors, and most legally registered organizations were routinely granted permission to assemble. However, several religious groups reported difficulties obtaining permits for outdoor assemblies. The Sofia municipality reportedly denied an evangelical group a march permit in September on the grounds the march might spark violent protests by those opposed to "foreign" religious groups. Some religious groups also had difficulties renting assembly halls to which they had previously had access. Vigorous political rallies and demonstrations were a common occurrence during 1993 and took place without governmental interference.
Bulgaria, as a member state of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, has undertaken to respect the right of individuals and groups freely to establish their own political parties or other political organizations. Despite this undertaking, there are constitutional and statutory restrictions on such activity that limit the right of association and meaningful participation in the political process. For example, the Constitution prohibits organizations that threaten the country's territorial integrity or unity or that incite racial, ethnic, or religious hatred. In 1990 the Government denied registration as a legal organization to a Macedonian rights group, UMO-Ilinden, on the grounds it was separatist, and also denied a subsequent appeal. Police forcibly broke up attempts by its members during 1993 to hold public meetings. One of UMO-Ilinden's leaders, George Solunski, was arrested in June on a charge of attempted murder following an incident in which he allegedly fired a shot at a political opponent. The murder charge was later dropped, and Solunski was charged instead with "hooliganism" and possession of a small amount of ammunition in his house without a permit. He remained in pretrial detention at year's end, which is uncommon for the charge. TMO-Ilinden, a related cultural group which was legally registered and operated freely in 1992, had its registration suspended at the Chief Prosecutor's request. The suspension was justified on the basis that elements of the group's statutes failed to conform with the law, although the Chief Prosecutor's public statements suggested it was actually because of the group's alleged separatist activities.
The Constitution forbids the formation of political parties along religious, ethnic, or racial lines. It prohibits "citizens' associations" from engaging in political activity. These restrictions were used in 1991 to challenge the legitimacy of one of the three leading political parties, the MRF, which has a mainly ethnic Turkish constituency but which is working to broaden its appeal and electoral base to become a national party. A Constitutional Court ruling in 1991 preserved the party's legal status, but the Court's decision was taken with less than the full bench. Some legal observers believe the Court's ruling was definitive, while others think the MRF remains vulnerable to a new challenge to its legal status.
A Gypsy party, also denied registration in 1991 on the grounds it was ethnically based, chose not to challenge this stricture in 1993. A party which professes to represent the interests of Bulgaria's Pomak population was registered as a political party, although its legal status may also be open to challenge.
c. Freedom of ReligionThe ability of some religious groups to operate freely came under attack in Bulgaria in 1993. Early in the year, there was wide public support for the decision of the Berov Government to deny entry to a planeload of Swedish evangelists who arrived at Sofia airport without visas. In the wake of that incident and extensive press reporting which painted lurid and often inaccurate pictures of the activities of non-Orthodox religious groups, missionaries began to report harassment. Specific problems included difficulties in obtaining visas and residence permits and, in one case, a bomb threat against the opening of an evangelical Bible college. Hare Krishna followers, physically assaulted in the street and the subject of threats, reportedly had difficulty obtaining adequate police protection. A neighborhood organization in Sofia has petitioned for their eviction. M.P.'s from both the UDF and BSP supported this call.
The Constitution designates Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the "traditional" religion of Bulgaria. Religious bodies must register with the Directorate of Religious Affairs, or with the courts as a citizens' association. No group was denied registration, and more than 30 are officially recognized. A number of major religious bodies, including the Muslim and Jewish communities, receive government financial support. There were no restrictions on attendance at religious services or on private religious instruction. A school for imams, a Muslim cultural center, university theological faculties, and religious primary schools operated freely. Many new mosques were constructed, especially in the southern regions. Bibles and other religious materials in the Bulgarian language were freely imported and printed. Muslim, Catholic, and Jewish publications were published on a regular basis.
The 1992 schism in the Orthodox Church appeared to move toward resolution in 1993, as the Government drew back from involvement in the controversy which erupted under the previous government.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and RepatriationFreedom of movement within the country and the right to leave it are constitutionally enshrined and not limited in practice. Every citizen has the right to return to Bulgaria, may not be forcibly expatriated, and may not be deprived of citizenship acquired by birth. A number of former political emigrants were granted passports and returned to visit or live in Bulgaria. Bulgaria concluded agreements with Poland and Germany for the repatriation of thousands of Bulgarians illegally resident in those countries.
Bulgarian law provides for granting asylum to persons persecuted for their opinions and activities based on standards in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Parliament in April approved an amendment to remove geographical restrictions on Bulgaria's ratification of the Convention and the Protocol. To date, Bulgaria has received few requests for asylum and more often serves as a transit point for third-country nationals seeking to travel to the west. Official estimates of the number of illegal aliens resident in Bulgaria, ranging from 12,000 to 30,000, appear to be exaggerated. A Bureau of Territorial Asylum and Refugees was staffed and funded in 1993 and was to begin processing applications for refugee status by early 1994. Approximately 100 persons fleeing the conflict in the former Yugoslavia are resident in Bulgaria and have received assistance from the Government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their GovernmentCitizens have and exercise the right to change their government and head of state through the election of the President and members of the National Assembly, but restrictions on parties based on religious, ethnic, or racial identities have the effect of circumscribing access to the political process (see Section 2.b.). The most recent parliamentary elections took place in October 1991, when more than 40 parties and coalitions participated. At the same time, Bulgarians voted in the first multiparty elections for local government since the Communist era. In January 1992, incumbent (appointed) President Zhelyu Zhelev was elected in Bulgaria's first direct presidential elections.
A parliamentary commission charged with an investigation into the 1991 elections failed to reach a consensus. UDF members of the commission complained that vote fraud had taken place. Other members of the commission disputed this charge, and independent election observers opined the supporting evidence was inconclusive.
The Constitution provides for unicameral parliamentary elections by secret ballot. The 240 parliamentary deputies are elected by a proportional system from party lists. Their term is for 4 years, although the Constitution provides for earlier elections if Parliament is unable to agree on a government. Suffrage is universal at the age of 18.
A distinct separation of powers exists between the Government (Prime Minister and Cabinet) and the President, who is Chief of State. The President has limited powers and is elected for a term of 5 years. During 1993, as part of ongoing political disputes, some BSP figures, as well as hard-line elements within the UDF, complained that the President had exceeded his constitutional powers. Another challenge to the President's power took place during the summer when the UDF mounted a series of anti-Presidential strikes, but there were resolved through peaceful negotiation.
There are no restrictions in law or practice on the participation of women in government. A number of women hold elected and appointed office at high levels, including approximately 15 percent of parliamentary seats.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human RightsAn increasing number of local and international human rights groups operated freely in Bulgaria in 1993. A Bulgarian chapter of Helsinki Watch founded in 1992 was formally affiliated with the international organization in 1993. This group should not be confused with the self-proclaimed Helsinki Watch headed by Rumen Vodenicharov, a member of the 1990-91 Grand National Assembly, whose group has a strongly nationalistic flavor. Another group, the Helsinki Citizens Alliance, actively investigated police-Gypsy clashes and developed a working relationship with the Ministry of the Interior. In general, the Government cooperated well with NGO's and human rights groups, although such groups often encountered difficulty working with local authorities.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social StatusThe Constitution provides for individual rights, equality, and protection against discrimination. In practice, some instances of discrimination still exist, particularly against Gypsies.
WomenMost organizations defending women's interests are closely associated with political parties or have primarily professional agendas. One nationwide group, the Women's Democratic Union of Bulgaria, is heir to the women's group which existed under the Zhivkov dictatorship. This group addresses itself primarily to creating employment opportunities for women. The Constitution forbids privileges or restrictions of rights on the basis of sex. However, women face discrimination both in terms of recruitment and the likelihood of layoffs. Official figures show the rate of unemployment for women to be 2.6 percent higher than that for men, and this gap appears to be widening. Some observers believe the Labor Code provides relatively limited protection for pregnant women and women with small children, although the labor inspection unit of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare has issued a written directive bolstering this protection. While women are equally likely to receive university education, some single mothers report difficulty in finding housing, either for financial reasons or because their needs are perceived to be less compelling than those of men.
The courts prosecute rape, although it remains an underreported crime because some stigma still attaches to the victim. The maximum sentence for rape is 8 years; convicted offenders often receive a lesser sentence or early parole. Marital rape is a crime but rarely prosecuted. There are no figures on the occurrence of domestic violence, and no evidence, either anecdotal or otherwise, that it is either pervasive or increasing. No organizations or government agencies exist specifically to provide support to victims of domestic violence.
ChildrenThe Government appears to be committed to protecting children's welfare. It maintains, for example, a sizable network of orphanages throughout the country. Government efforts in education and health, however, have been constrained by serious budgetary limitations. The vast majority of Bulgaria's approximately 1 1/2 million children are free from societal abuse. Some Gypsy children, particularly those who were homeless or abandoned, were beaten by "skinhead" groups. The Helsinki Citizens' Alliance initiated a program to work with Gypsy children. There were reports, so far unsubstantiated, that police sexually abused Gypsy minors; to date, there has been no response to the reports and no investigation. Some Gypsy minors were reportedly forced into prostitution by family or community members.
National/Racial/Ethnic MinoritiesEthnic Turks and Gypsies make up the two largest minorities, each constituting between 6 and 9 percent of the population. The overwhelming majority of ethnic Turks are Sunni Muslims, although there are scattered Shi'ite villages in the eastern Balkan range and Rhodope mountains; relations are amicable between the two communities. Pomaks constitute the other sizable minority, comprising about 2-3 percent of the population. Sometimes referred to as Bulgarian Muslims, Pomaks are a distinct people of Slavic descent whose ancestors converted to Islam; most are Muslim, although a handful have become atheists or converted to Christianity.
Economic migration to Turkey continued, although at a reduced pace due to increased border controls implemented by Turkey. The MRF, supported by the Podkrepa trade union confederation, launched a series of strikes in the fall, protesting low purchase prices for tobacco. While some MRF leaders accused the Government of using economic means deliberately to drive ethnic Turks out of the country, the Government's decision to retain control of tobacco purchasing appeared to be motivated by a desire to obtain revenues. The Ministry of Labor prepared plans to relieve unemployment in hard-hit minority areas in the south and northwest, but these plans had not been put into operation by year's end.
There are no restrictions on the practice of Muslim religious traditions, the speaking of Turkish in public, or the use of non-Slavic names. A government-funded program which paid administrative costs for those who wished to take Turkish-version names ended in November. Some ethnic Turks protested that the program should be extended, but this appears to be an administrative rather than a human rights issue. Voluntary Turkish-language classes continued and expanded in areas with significant Turkish-speaking populations, and more than 400 teachers graduated from Turkish training in institutes in Kurjali and Shumen. By year's end, only 17,000 ethnic Turkish students throughout the country were believed to be without access to Turkish-language classes. Most complaints about language classes by ethnic Turks stemmed from a desire either to have more hours per week of such classes or to make them compulsory in largely ethnic Turkish areas.
The results of a census conducted in December 1992 caused controversy. Those who consider themselves ethnic Macedonians complained they were unable to identify themselves as such on the census form. Others, especially members of the BSP and the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO), accused members of the ethnic Turkish community of "forcible Turkification," i.e., pressuring members of the Muslim community to declare themselves ethnic Turks and take Turkish names. On the basis of an investigation into these charges, Parliament in September annulled census results in two towns in the southwest. Independent observers found community and peer pressure but no evidence of forcible Turkification. There were credible reports that some Muslim religious figures refused to bury Muslims with Slavic names, which some observers saw as an encroachment on religious freedom.
In the 1992 census, approximately 3.4 percent of the population identified itself as Gypsy (Roma), although the real number is believed to be much higher since many individuals of Gypsy descent tend to identify themselves as ethnic Turks or ethnic Bulgarians to the authorities. Gypsy groups continued to be divided among themselves, although a newly formed federation had some success in presenting national Gypsy issues to the Government. As individuals and as an ethnic group, Gypsies faced apparently rising levels of discrimination. Several local citizens' groups with antiethnic agendas attacked Gypsy clubs and neighborhoods. Many newspapers routinely attribute crimes to Gypsies before any formal investigation has taken place. The quality of Gypsy housing is relatively poor, with many houses still lacking water, electricity, and sewage facilities. Gypsies reportedly encounter difficulties applying for social benefits. Rural Gypsies are discouraged from claiming land to which they are entitled under the law dividing up agricultural collectives. Domestic and international human rights groups substantiated a significant number of reports of police mistreatment of Gypsies upon arrest and during incarceration. These included severe beatings that resulted in serious injuries (see Section 1.c.).
The Government is beginning to recognize the discrimination Gypsies face. The Ministry of Labor launched a pilot work-literacy program in Plovdiv, and the Ministry of Education introduced a Gypsy-language schoolbook into a number of schools in areas with Gypsy populations. The Ministry of Interior launched an investigation into allegations of police brutality in Stara Zagora. The Council of Ministers agreed to set up a special governmental council on Gypsy problems. A number of Gypsy police were hired, 10 in Plovdiv alone. The first teachers received Roma-language training, although this program lagged far behind its Turkish-language counterpart and ran into significant local opposition.
Thousands of Bulgarians, mainly in the southwest, identify themselves as Macedonians, most for historical and geographic reasons. Members of the two organizations which purport to defend the interests of ethnic Macedonians, UMO-Ilinden and TMO-Ilinden, are believed to number in the hundreds (see Section 2.b.).
Workplace discrimination against minorities continued to be a problem, especially for Gypsies. Employers justify such discrimination on the basis of their relatively low training and education levels. Supervisory jobs are generally given to ethnic Bulgarian employees, with ethnic Turks, Pomaks, and, particularly, Gypsies often being among the first to be laid off.
During compulsory military service most members of minorities are shunted into labor units in which they often perform civilian as well as military construction and maintenance instead of serving in normal military units. Only a few ethnic Turkish officers, and reportedly no Gypsy officers, serve in the armed forces.
People with DisabilitiesDisabled persons receive a range of financial assistance, including free public transportation, reduced prices on modified automobiles, and free equipment such as wheelchairs. The Government in 1993 worked with the Union for Handicapped Persons to launch a pilot project to improve access to rail transportation. Handicapped persons have access to university training and to housing and employment, although no special programs are in place to allow them to live up to their full employment potential. To date, little effort has been made to change building or street layouts to help blind or otherwise handicapped persons. Also, policies under the previous regime that deliberately separated mentally and physically handicapped persons, including children, often placing them in institutions and workplaces remote from the larger cities, have persisted.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of AssociationThe 1991 Constitution guarantees the right of all workers to form or join trade unions of their own choice. This right appears to have been freely exercised in 1993. Estimates of the unionized share of the work force range from 30 to 50 percent. This share is shrinking as large firms lay off workers, and most new positions appear in small, nonunionized businesses.
Bulgaria has two large trade union confederations, the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria (CITUB), and Podkrepa. CITUB, the successor to the trade union controlled by the former Communist regime, now appears to operate as an independent entity. Podkrepa, the independent confederation created in 1989, was one of the earliest opposition forces but is no longer a member of the UDF. The two confederations work together on some tactical issues, particularly in the country's tripartite body, the National Social Council, which includes employers and government. Podkrepa's founder, Dr. Konstantin Trenchev, continued to play an active role in union and political affairs despite being indicted in a criminal investigation concerning a fire in the former security service headquarters.
Military, police, energy production and supply, and health sectors are defined as essential services, and workers in these sectors are restricted from striking. The National Social Council played a major role in political life in 1993, determining pension levels, the minimum wage, and cost-of- living adjustments. It also considered legislation which had an impact on labor and agreed on a split of union property between the two main labor confederations.
The Labor Code passed in December 1992 recognizes the right to strike when other means of conflict resolution have been exhausted, but political strikes are forbidden. Only one major national strike took place in 1993, a miners' strike called in December which had not been resolved at the end of the year. A teachers' strike was resolved with some concessions by the Government, as were local strikes by arms production workers and transport workers. Legal actions initiated against some unions in 1992 on the grounds that their activities violated the constitutional prohibition against political activities by citizens' associations (defined to include trade unions) were still pending at year's end. Until the limitations of this constitutional clause are more clearly defined, either by legislation or judicial precedent, inappropriate attacks on legitimate union activities will likely continue.
On a first reading, the International Labor Organization's (ILO) Committee of Experts expressed satisfaction with the Labor Code's provisions barring job discrimination. Noting two Constitutional Court rulings which found that legislation excluding Communist party officials from elective positions on the boards of banks and excluding employment in a management position of a Communist organization as counting for pensionable services were in violation of Convention 111, the COE requested further information on lustration proceedings, on measures directed at compensating ethnic Turks for abuses under the previous regime, on efforts taken to improve the economic condition of minorities, and on measures to promote equality of workplace opportunity between men and women. The Committee on Freedom of Association rejected CITUB's contention that a 1991 law confiscating the assets acquired by Communist organizations since 1944 violated the principles of freedom of association, but stated that this should not include voluntary contributions paid by CITUB members since 1990 and urged the Government to settle the trade union assets question in consultation with the trade unions. There are no restrictions on affiliation or contact with international labor organizations, and Bulgarian unions actively exercise this right.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain CollectivelyThe Labor Code institutes collective bargaining, which was practiced both nationally and on a local level. Only Podkrepa and CITUB are authorized to bargain collectively. This led to complaints by smaller unions, which may in individual workplaces have more members than either of the two large confederations. Smaller unions also complained that they were excluded from the National Social Council.
The Labor Code's prohibitions against antiunion discrimination include protection against dismissal as a form of retribution for a period of 6 months. While these provisions appear to be within international norms, there is no specific mechanism for resolving complaints, and the burden of proof in such a case rests entirely on the employee. There were no cases in which an employer was found guilty of antiunion discrimination and required to reinstate workers fired for union activities. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions charged that the revised Labor Code does not provide effective protection against acts of antiunion discrimination. It also categorized the "national representation" requirement as constituting a substantive violation of the right to organize and criticized the provision making negotiation of individual contracts possible regardless of existing collective agreements. The same obligation of collective bargaining and adherence to labor standards prevails in Bulgaria's export processing zones which, at year's end, appear to exist only on paper.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory LaborThe Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Some observers suggested that the practice of shunting military draftees who are members of minorities or conscientious objectors into work units that sometimes work on civilian construction projects could be considered a form of forced labor (Section 5).
d. Minimum Age for Employment of ChildrenThe Labor Code sets the minimum age for employment at 16; the minimum for dangerous work is set at 18. Employers and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare are responsible for enforcing these provisions. Child labor laws are enforced well in the formal sector. Some underage employment occurs in the informal and agricultural sectors, although the practice is neither widespread nor systematic.
e. Acceptable Conditions of WorkThe National Social Council adjusted the minimum wage on several occasions in 1993, although not enough to keep pace with inflation. At the end of the year it stood at approximately $45 (1,434 leva) a month. Inflation in 1993, estimated at 65 percent, dramatically increased the cost of living. The minimum wage is not enough for a single wage earner to provide a decent standard of living for a family. The Constitution stipulates the right to social security and welfare aid and assistance for the temporarily unemployed.
The Labor Code provides for a standard workweek of 40 hours, with at least one 24-hour rest period per week. Enforcement is the responsibility of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare. Enforcement is effective in the state sector but much weaker in the emerging private sector.
Bulgaria has a national labor safety program with standards established by the Labor Code. The Constitution states that employees are entitled to healthy and nonhazardous working conditions. The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare is responsible for enforcing these provisions. Under the Labor Code, an employee has the right to remove himself from a work situation which presents a serious or immediate danger to life or health without jeopardizing continued employment. In practice, refusal to work in situations with relatively high accident rates or associated chronic health problems would result in loss of employment for many workers. Conditions appear to be worsening owing to budget stringencies and a growing private sector in which labor inspectors have not yet made a concerted effort, due in part to the difficulty in locating the many small unlicensed businesses which do not pay taxes and do not have other links to government entities.