| Religious Freedom Ranking:
2 out of 5 stars: Poor
Bulgaria has progressively transitioned into a democracy since the collapse of its Communist government in 1991. Although it joined the European Union in 2007, the following year the EU announced it was suspending aid because of crime and corruption within the country.
Bulgaria has a population of 7.6 million. Orthodox Christians account for 85 percent of the population. Thirteen percent of the population is Muslim; the majority practice Hanafi Sunni Islam. Catholics, Armenian Christians, Jews, Evangelical Protestants and other minority religions constitute less than five percent of the population. There are 107 registered religious groups in the country in addition to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
While the Constitution of Bulgaria provides for freedom of conscience and religion, it also designates the Eastern Orthodox Church as the "traditional" religion and stipulates that "legal status and questions concerning the material support, the right of inner structure and self-government of different religious communities are regulated by law." (Article 53 p.3). The 2002 Denominations Act allows private religious exercise only if members of the religious community are the only people present. Public religious exercise is permitted only if it is open to people not within the religious community.
There are concerns that the government does not proactively prevent religious discrimination within the society. There are reports of intolerance from police and local authorities. Furthermore, of the $1.8 million allocated to registered religious groups, $1.4 million is allocated to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
The government of Bulgaria requires that all organizations with a religious element must register in court. The Council of Ministers, formerly responsible for the registration process, gives “expert opinions” on the groups registering if the court requests help. Traditional religious organizations which are registered with the government enjoy considerable latitude. The Orthodox Church and the Muslim and Jewish communities receive government subsidies. Religious properties nationalized by the Communist regime have been returned to their former owners. Most registered groups have been able to hold services and provide private instruction without restriction. A school for imams, an Islamic cultural center, university theological facilities and religious primary schools operate freely. Bibles and religious materials printed in Bulgarian are freely imported and printed. Muslim, Jewish and Catholic publications are published on a regular basis.
The situation for the Muslim and Orthodox communities has been complicated by divisions. In 1992, the Orthodox Church experienced a schism. In 1996, an alternative patriarch was elected. The Supreme Court ruled this election illegal and the government has refused to regard recognition to this patriarch. The 2002 Denominations Act designates the Metropolitan of Sofia as the Orthodox Church’s patriarch. A similar situation has occurred in the Muslim community. In 2008 Mustafa Alish Hadji was elected Chief Mufti, but Nedim Gendzhev appealed the elections alleging Hadji has forged documents. In 2009 the court ruled in Gendzhev’s favor and in 2010 the Supreme Court of Cassation rejected an appeal filed by Hadji. The government now recognizes Nedim Gendzhev as Chief Mufti and head of the Supreme Theological Council.
Several non-Orthodox groups have continued to complain of incidences of harassment and discrimination by government authorities. The 2002 Denominations Act states that registered groups may have local branches. Although the Jehovah’s Witnesses are registered they have received harassment from local authorities. In 2009 the police disrupted a gathering of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sandanski requesting proof of local registration.
Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims have also complained about difficulty in obtaining construction permits for new churches.
The Jewish community has reported an increasing number of anti-Semitic incidents. In 2010 a memorial to Russian Soldiers in World War II was painted with swastikas on May 9, and on the 65th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust. Schools have also been vandalized and in 2009 vandals threw several molotov cocktails at a synagogue in Burgas.The Muslim community has also reported an increase in vandalism. For example, in 2010 a mosque in Blagoevgrad was painted with swastikas. The Unification Church has also been harassed. Police are reported to routinely enter centers to conduct searches. Policemen have assaulted members, confiscated computers and mailing lists, taken money and threatened families. Because the church has no legal status, it has no legal power to redress these grievances.
The Directorate of Religious Affairs has hired Boncho Asenov, a former security official of the Communist government, who participated in repressive activities against ethnic Turks and religious minorities.
2010 US State Department International Religious Freedom Report on Bulgaria
Bulgaria - New World Encyclopedia
Bulgaria Country Profile- BBC News