|Monday, 6 April 2020|
BULGARIA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994
AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE: FEBRUARY 1995
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 1992 to a 5-year term in the country's first direct presidential elections. Prime Minister Lyuben Berov, who headed the government after the fall of the UDF government in 1992, lacked a stable parliamentary majority during 1993 and 1994 and was forced to depend on the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), heir to the Communist party, for much of his support. Nevertheless, he resigned in September. When the sitting parliament failed to form a new cabinet, President Zhelev dissolved the Parliament, called for new parliamentary elections in December, and appointed a caretaker Government for the interim. Results of the December 18 elections gave the BSP an absolute majority in Parliament.
Most security services are the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior, which controls the police, National Security Service (NSS--civilian counterintelligence), internal security troops, border guards, and special forces. The President oversees the National Intelligence Service (foreign intelligence). In June Parliament passed a bill regulating NSS activities. There were some allegations of police abuse toward Roma.
The transformation of a centrally planned economy into a market-oriented system has been retarded by continued political and social resistance. The service and consumer goods sectors in private hands continued to grow, but progress in the privatization of large and medium-sized state enterprises was very slow. Integration with Western security and economic structures continued, and an association agreement with the European Union entered into force. The Government reached agreement with its commercial creditors to restructure $8 billion of defaulted commercial debt, concluded a standby agreement with the International Monetary Fund, and negotiated structural adjustment loans with the World Bank.
The Government generally respected freedom of speech, press, association, assembly, and travel, but xenophobia, nationalism, and antiethnic expression grew markedly among the population at large. Government actions and the rising level of public intolerance significantly interfered with the activities of some non-Eastern Orthodox religious groups. Police beatings of Roma during arrest continued, albeit on a reduced scale; there were no reports that the Government tried and convicted any of the perpetrators. Private citizens increasingly attacked Roma and other minority groups. The Constitution's provisions against ethnically based political parties continued to hamper political expression. Parliament, over President Zhelev's objections, passed a judicial reform bill which could have resulted in removal from office of the sitting Chief Prosecutor and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a move eventually blocked by a Constitutional Court decision.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial KillingAccording to human rights observers and journalists, the body of a Pazardzhik resident who died while in police custody following an August roundup of suspected criminals in that town showed traces of beating on the head and body and burn marks on the genitals. The man died 2 days after his detention during the roundup, which was carried out by police from Sofia and several other regions of the country. Police and one human rights group have initiated an investigation.
On September 25, a detainee died 1 day after being taken into custody by the regional police department of Pleven. The death is attributed to anemia, embolism, and hematoma on the death certificate; however, a witness told a human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) that the body displayed facial injuries. The family of the deceased plans to pursue the case by requesting an investigation, and police have indicated that they would be cooperative.
A police investigation of a 1993 incident in which police allegedly beat three escaped prisoners upon recapture, initiated in January by the Sofia prosecutor's office, was referred to the National Investigative Service in September for further investigation. Two of the prisoners in that incident were reportedly beaten to death. The police have generally refused the requests of human rights groups to make reports of its investigations public. The climate of impunity that the Government allows to prevail is the single largest obstacle to ending such abuses.
b. DisappearanceThere were no reported instances of disappearances.
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.
There continued to be a number of credible reports, although fewer than during 1993, that police beat Roma upon arrest or during other confrontations. Human rights groups also complained of police brutality directed at non-Roma citizens. To date, the Government has failed to convict and punish any police personnel for brutality against civilians.
Conditions in some prisons are substandard, although they do not appear to threaten life or health. Prisoners' complaints continued to receive media coverage, which 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 the Chief Prosecutor may extend this to 6 months and may also restart the process.
About 30 percent of Bulgaria's approximately 8,500 prison inmates are in pretrial detention. 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 or punishment.
e. Denial of Fair Public TrialThe Constitution grants the judiciary independent and coequal status with the legislative and executive branches. The court system consists of regional courts, district courts, and the Supreme and Constitutional Courts. A 25-member Supreme Judicial Council appoints judges who, after serving for 3 years, are assured of tenure, except under limited, specified circumstances.
The Constitutional Court is empowered to rescind legislation it considers unconstitutional, settle disputes over the conduct of general elections, and resolve conflicts over the division of powers between the various branches of government. Of the 12 justices on the Constitutional Court, whose term of office is 9 years, a third are elected by the National Assembly, a third appointed by the President, and a third elected by judicial authorities. 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.
The Constitution stipulates that all courts shall conduct hearings in public unless the proceedings involve state security or state secrets. In one case, the defense lawyer for indicted mayor Yusuf Djudjo complained he had been given inadequate access to witnesses (see below). Defendants have the right to know the charges against them and are given ample time to prepare a defense. The right of appeal is guaranteed and 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.
In June Parliament passed a judicial reform bill which established separate Supreme Courts of Cassation (civil and criminal appeal) and Administration. Nearly all observers welcomed the law's comprehensive reforms as improvements in the judicial system, consistent with the Constitution. However, several elements proved controversial, particularly one establishing the requirement that high-level judicial figures, including the Chief Prosecutor, the Director of the National Investigative Service, and the Presidents of the Supreme Courts have not only 15 years' experience within the legal system but also 5 years' experience as a judge, prosecutor, investigator, or law researcher with academic rank. In effect, this requirement disqualified anyone who had not held such positions under the Communist regime, including sitting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Ivan Grigorov and Chief Prosecutor Ivan Tatarchev. Parliament by a majority vote overruled President Zhelev's objection to this provision. The President then petitioned the Constitutional Court for a ruling. The Court held that Grigorov and Tatarchev could not be removed from office, but that the experience requirement was otherwise valid and would apply to future selections for these posts.
Most observers agreed that the judiciary, while generally independent, struggled with continuing problems in 1994. In addition to the confusion created by the reform bill, it is plagued by relatively low salaries, many unfilled positions, and a heavy backlog of cases which sparked complaints that pretrial detention is excessively lengthy. Partly as a legacy of communism, and partly because of the court system's structural and personnel problems, most citizens have little confidence in their judicial system.
A number of criminal cases against former leaders for alleged abuses during the Communist period were carried forward in 1994. In January a Supreme Court panel upheld the 1992 conviction of former dictator Todor Zhivkov for abuse of power involving personal expense accounts and state privileges. Zhivkov's sentence was upheld by one review panel but remains suspended pending further supervisory review by the Supreme Court. A second case begun in 1993 involving a charge of embezzlement for giving grant aid to Communist parties in other countries (the "Moscow case") moved forward slowly. In another case, 43 former high-level Communists were indicted in 1994 for having given grant aid during the 1980's to then friendly governments in the developing world such as Cuba, Angola, and Libya. Some human rights observers criticized these and previous indictments, asserting the activities in question were political and economic in nature, not criminal acts. The Chief Prosecutor responded that the transfer of funds had been carried out without parliamentary approval and was thus illegal. President Zhelev in August pardoned on grounds of ill health former Prime Minister Georgi Atanasov, convicted in 1993 of embezzlement of state funds, and he was released from prison. Former Minister of Economy and Planning Stoyan Ovcharov, convicted on the same charge, remained in prison.
Little progress was made in a case begun in 1993 concerning the forced assimilation and expulsion of ethnic Turks in 1984-85 and 1989. Human rights groups complain that local prosecutors and magistrates sometimes fail vigorously to pursue crimes committed against minorities. In a trial relating to the notorious death camps set up by the Communists after they came to power in 1944, 3 defendants were charged with the murder of 14 camp inmates. A key witness in the case was murdered in September, and some speculated that her murder was intended to frustrate the prosecution of the case. Police authorities initiated an investigation. The trial, itself, has been delayed further while replacements are found for two jurors.
A controversial 1992 "lustration" act ("Law for Additional Requirements Toward Scientific Organizations and the Higher Certifying Commission") known as the "Panev law" continued in effect in 1994. 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. By one conservative estimate, a total of 1,637 people have lost positions in academic institutions alone due to application of the Panev Law. The Act applies a presumption of collective guilt that conflicts with international human rights standards.
In October 1993, a local prosecutor removed Satovcha mayor Yusuf Djudjo from office on charges that he had falsified official documents and abused his administrative powers by intimidating Pomaks (Muslims of Slavic ancestry). The charge of intimidation was later dropped for lack of evidence, but Djudjo was convicted in 1994 on the charge of falsifying documents and given a suspended sentence. An examination of the documents in question suggests that the changes made were minor and without significant ethnic implication, e.g., changing the name "Asan" to "Hasan," or "Ibraimova" to "Ibrahimova." Despite protests by Djudjo's lawyer that he had inadequate access to witnesses, the Supreme Court upheld Djudjo's conviction. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, protested that the proceedings showed clear bias against the defendant. They also complained that provisions in the Penal Procedural Code give prosecutors the right to remove appointed and elected officials, who have little satisfactory recourse.
Bulgaria has no political prisoners, although it appears that political motives lie behind some indictments of former Communist leaders on a variety of charges.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or CorrespondenceThe Constitution provides for 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. Parliament passed a bill in June regulating the activities of the NSS, which is responsible for civilian counterintelligence. The law allows the Interior Minister to authorize electronic surveillance for up to 24 hours without informing other government agencies, if he determines there is imminent danger to national security. Some human rights groups asserted that the Government has carried out unjustified surveillance of religious groups and of the outlawed Macedonian group UMO-Ilinden (see Section 2.b.). Labor leader Krustyo Petkov charged that security services monitored union activities during the period before a threatened general strike in May.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and PressThe Constitution prohibits censorship of the press and mass media, and the Government generally respected this prohibition. The variety of newspapers published by political parties and other organizations represented the full spectrum of political opinion, and foreign newspapers circulated without hindrance. A notable degree of self-censorship exists in the press among journalists who believe they must conform to what are often heavily politicized editorial views. Large financial groups hold controlling interests in many nominally independent national dailies and in some cases intervened directly to control editorial content.
Following an October 1993 newspaper article which accused a high-level prosecutor of using his position to acquire an apartment at a low price, the Chief Prosecutor issued a warrant to begin an investigation of the case. The Union of Bulgarian Journalists and human rights groups complained the warrant did not specify charges and amounted to an effort to intimidate the press. On March 31, the Sofia Regional Court terminated the case for technical reasons, effectively closing the case. In November, the press reported, the Chief Prosecutor's Office began a preliminary proceeding against the editor in chief of the Bulgarian Socialist Party's daily newspaper, charging him with insulting the President in an earlier article. The President said that he did not need the "protective measures" taken by the Chief Prosecutor's Office, and the Deputy Chief Prosecutor characterized the action as only an "examination" rather than a preliminary proceeding. Nevertheless, some observers thought the incident might have a negative effect on freedom of the press in Bulgaria.
Most television broadcasting is in state hands and under parliamentary supervision. Two channels broadcast in Bulgarian, while a third broadcasts Russian programming, and a fourth broadcasts a mixture of Cable News Network, international, and French-language programming. Bulgaria's first private television channel received a license in 1993 and began limited broadcasting in July 1994. Foreign government radio programs, such as those of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the 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 by media journalists. Both television and radio provide a variety of news and public interest programming, including talk format and public opinion shows.
More than 30 independent radio stations are licensed in Bulgaria. The Government twice required Radio Aura of the American University in Blagoevgrad to stop broadcasting, and it complained of harassment; the Government correctly asserted that the station was broadcasting beyond its licensed area of operations and had never gone through the procedure to obtain an appropriate license. Other private stations complained that their licenses unduly restricted the strength of their transmissions in comparison to state-owned stations. Some Turkish-language broadcasting takes place. The Government owns all radio transmitter facilities.
Private book publishing remained active, with more than 50 publishers in business. With the notable exception of the Panev law described in Section 1.e., there was continued academic freedom.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and AssociationThe Constitution provides for the right to peaceful and unarmed assembly. Permits from municipal authorities are required for rallies and assemblies held outdoors, and most legally registered organizations were routinely granted permission to assemble. Many non-Orthodox religious groups reported difficulties obtaining permits for outdoor assemblies as well as for renting assembly halls. Vigorous political rallies and demonstrations were a common occurrence and took place without government interference.
Bulgaria, as a member state of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, has undertaken to respect the rights of individuals and groups freely to establish their own political parties or other political organizations. Despite this undertaking, there are constitutional and statutory restrictions that limit the right of association and meaningful participation in the political process. For example, Article 44 of the Constitution prohibits organizations which threaten the country's territorial integrity or unity or that incite racial, ethnic, or religious hatred. It barred a Macedonian rights group, UMO-Ilinden, from legal registration since 1990 on the grounds that it espouses separatist views. Police in 1994 forcibly broke up its attempts to hold public meetings. TMO-Ilinden, a related cultural group, had its legal registration suspended in 1993 at the request of the Chief Prosecutor. George Solunski, leader of this group, was arrested in June 1993 on a charge of attempted murder for allegedly firing a shot at a political opponent. The murder charge was dropped, but Solunski was kept in pretrial detention on a charge of hooliganism until January 1994. The case remains open.
The Constitution forbids the formation of political parties along religious, ethnic, or racial lines and prohibits citizens' associations from engaging in political activity. These restrictions were used in 1991 to challenge the legitimacy of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), which has a mainly Muslim constituency. A 1991 Constitutional Court ruling preserved the party's legal status. Some observers believe the Court's ruling was definitive, while other believe the MRF remains vulnerable to a new challenge to its legal status. Its right to compete in the National Assembly elections held on December 18 was not challenged.
A Roma party, denied registration in 1991 on the grounds it was ethnically based, chose not to challenge this stricture in 1994. A party which professes to represent the interests of Bulgaria's Pomak (Muslim of Slavic descent) population was registered as a political party. To date, its legal status has not been challenged.
c. Freedom of ReligionThe ability of a number of religious groups to operate freely came under attack in Bulgaria in 1994, both as a result of government action and because of a rising tide of public intolerance. Dozens of articles in a broad range of newspapers depicted lurid and inaccurate pictures of the activities of non-Orthodox religious groups, attributing teen suicides and the breakup of families to the activities of these religious groups.
The Government refused visas and residence permits for missionaries, and some came under physical attack in the street and in their homes. A skinhead group attacked the Bulgarian Church of God in Ruse during a religious service, seriously injuring eight people. Members of the Mormon Church complained of continued acts of harassment, with limited, indifferent police response.
Credible charges of police complicity were raised by a human rights organization and the press in the April 15 shooting death of Yordan Tsolov, an Orthodox priest in Surnitsa. Reports differ as to why a police officer shot at the priest, but a human rights organization cited eyewitness accounts that material facts about the case were misreported. To date, no criminal proceedings have been initiated.
Parliament passed amendments to the Families and Persons Act, tightening registration requirements for groups whose activities had a religious element. More than 75 groups which had originally registered with the courts as civil organizations were given 3 months to apply for reregistration through the Religious Affairs Directorate. After review by the Directorate and the Council of Ministers, more than two-thirds of them were denied legal registration. Among those turned down were a Bulgarian chapter of Gideon International, Jehovah's Witnesses, and several Muslim groups. Human rights groups protested this action as unconstitutional on the grounds that it was an executive branch revocation of a judicial branch action and that it denied religious freedom. Gideon International and some other groups are reapplying, which they are free to do.
Human rights groups credibly charged that the NSS had conducted surveillance and infiltration of religious groups, including those legally registered. A teacher in Karlovo was fired on the grounds that she had proselytized students, although she claimed she had mentioned her adherence to Jehovah's Witnesses only after normal school hours.
The Constitution designates Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the "traditional" religion of Bulgaria. A number of major religious bodies, including the Muslim and Jewish communities, receive government financial support. For those religious groups that were able to maintain their registration, 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, primarily in the southern regions. Bibles and other religious materials in the Bulgarian language were freely imported and printed, and Muslim, Catholic, and Jewish publications were published on a regular basis.
The schism which opened in the Orthodox Church in 1992 persisted in 1994.
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, with the exception that some areas along the border are off limits both to foreigners and Bulgarians not resident therein. 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 pursued agreements with Poland and Germany for the repatriation of thousands of Bulgarians illegally resident in those countries.
Bulgarian law provides for the granting of asylum to persons persecuted for their opinions or activities based on standards in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Estimates of the number of illegal aliens resident in Bulgaria range from 15,000 to 30,000. Bulgaria often serves as a temporary refuge for third-country nationals seeking to travel to the West. Approximately 600 refugees have applied for asylum. A Bureau of Territorial Asylum and Refugees, established in 1993, is preparing to process applications for refugee status. Protests by skinhead and local citizens' groups, however, have frustrated the Bureau's plans to establish a refugee processing center in the Sofia area as of November 1, and attempts to locate centers at alternate sites in the country have likewise failed.
Approximately 100 to 150 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; an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 more have not registered officially and are staying with friends and relatives.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their GovernmentCitizens have the right to change their government and head of state through the election of the President and of the members of the unicameral National Assembly, although restrictions on political parties based on religious, ethnic, or racial identities have the effect of circumscribing access to the political process (see Section 2.b.). President Zhelyu Zhelev was elected in 1992 in the first direct presidential elections.
The most recent parliamentary elections took place in December 1994 when more than 40 political parties and coalitions participated and approximately 75 percent of the electorate voted. The Bulgarian Socialist Party won an absolute majority of the 240-seat Parliament, which is to be convened no later than 1 month after its election, according to the Constitution. International observers commented that the vote was conducted in accordance with free and democratic election procedures and in a peaceful, well-organized fashion. However, CSCE and other observers voiced concern about the unequal access to the mass media for all political parties, particularly to television.
The Constitution provides for 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 preterm 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 Council of Ministers) and the President, who is Chief of State. The President has limited powers and is elected for a term of 5 years.
There are no restrictions in law on the participation of women in government. A number of women held elected and appointed office at high levels; the Prime Minister of the preelection caretaker Government and a Deputy Prime Minister, who also served as Finance Minister, were women. However, women held only 15 percent of the seats in the most recent Parliament and no Cabinet-level positions in the Berov government.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human RightsLocal and international human rights groups operate freely. Among these is the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, founded in 1992 and formally affiliated with the international Helsinki organization in 1993. A separate group, called Helsinki Watch, is not affiliated with the International Helsinki Federation. Another group, the Human Rights Project, actively investigated police-Roma clashes and made efforts to work with the Ministry of the Interior and local officials. The Government did not interfere with the work of NGO's and human rights groups, although it was often reluctant to provide information or active cooperation.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social StatusThe Constitution provides for individual rights, equality, and protection against discrimination, but in practice discrimination still exists, particularly against women and Roma.
WomenThe Constitution forbids privileges or restrictions of rights on the basis of sex. However, women face discrimination both in terms of recruitment for employment and the likelihood of layoffs. Official figures show the rate of unemployment for women to be higher than that for men, and this gap appears to be widening. While women are equally likely to attend university, some single mothers report difficulty in finding housing, either for financial reasons or because their needs are perceived to be less compelling. Women, in the main, continue to have primary responsibility for child-rearing and housekeeping even if they are employed outside the home.
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 shorter sentence or early parole. Marital rape is a crime but rarely prosecuted. Human rights and women's groups say that domestic abuse is a serious problem, but there are no figures, official or otherwise, on its occurrence. Courts and prosecutors tend to view domestic abuse as a family rather than criminal problem, and in most cases victims of domestic violence take refuge with family or friends rather than approaching the authorities. No government agencies provide shelter or counseling for such individuals, and there are no active programs to address the problem.
Many of the approximately 30 women's organizations in Bulgaria are closely associated with political parties or have primarily professional agendas. Of those which exist mainly to defend women's interests, the two largest are the Women's Democratic Union of Bulgaria, heir to the group that existed under the Zhivkov dictatorship, and the Bulgarian Women's Association, which disappeared under communism but has now reemerged and has chapters in a number of cities.
ChildrenThe Government appears to be committed to protecting children's welfare. It maintains, for example, a sizable network of orphanages throughout the country. Groups that exist to defend the rights of children charge that an increasing number of children are at serious risk because the Government's social insurance payments fall farther behind inflation and are often disbursed as much as 6 months late.
The vast majority of some 2 million children are free from societal abuse, although skinhead groups beat some Roma children, particularly the homeless or abandoned. Some Roma minors were forced into prostitution by family or community members; there was little police effort to address these problem of discrimination.
National/Racial/Ethnic MinoritiesEthnic Turks and Roma make up the two largest minorities, each constituting from 6 to 9 percent of the population. Pomaks constitute the other sizable minority, comprising 2 to 3 percent of the population. Sometimes referred to as Bulgarian Muslims, Pomaks are a distinct group of Slavic descent whose ancestors converted from Orthodox Christianity to Islam. Most are Muslim, although a handful have become atheists or reconverted to Christianity.
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 defense bill before Parliament sparked controversy when deputies proposed language that would make use of the Bulgarian language mandatory in the military. MRF leaders charged this might lead to harassment of Turkish- speaking military recruits. An eventual compromise in the text of the draft bill made Bulgarian the official language of the military; the Minister of Defense stated publicly that recruits who wished to speak Turkish among themselves were free to do so.
Voluntary Turkish-language classes, funded by the Government, continued and expanded in areas with significant Turkish- speaking populations. Some ethnic Turkish leaders, mainly in the MRF, demanded that Turkish-language schooling be made compulsory in ethnic Turkish areas, but the Government resisted this. Government regulations issued in September specify that pupils may begin study of a non-Bulgarian mother tongue in the first grade rather than in the third grade, as had been the case previously.
BSP and nationalist figures, as well as members of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, continued to accuse some members of the ethnic Turkish community of "forcible Turkification," i.e., pressuring Pomaks to declare themselves ethnic Turks and take Turkish names. Independent observers found community and peer pressure but no evidence of forcible Turkification. Reports continued in 1994 that some Muslim religious figures refused to perform burial services for Muslims with Slavic names, a practice which some observers saw as an encroachment on religious freedom.
In the 1992 census, approximately 3.4 percent of the population identified itself as Roma. The real figure is probably at least twice that high, since many persons of Roma descent prefer to identify themselves to the authorities as ethnic Turks or Bulgarians. Roma groups continued to be divided among themselves, although several groups had some success presenting Roma issues to the Government. As individuals and as an ethnic group, Roma faced sharply rising levels of discrimination.
A troubling new development in 1994 was a series of attacks by private citizens on Roma communities. The most serious attack took place in February in the village of Dolno Belotintsi. After a Roma conscript who had deserted his military unit apparently committed a murder, inhabitants of the town launched a series of attacks upon some 20 Roma families who lived there. Roma houses were broken into and destroyed, and a group of men wielding guns and farm tools forced about 30 Roma, including children and aged persons, to carry out a forced march to a neighboring town and back. Despite repeated complaints by the victims during the 2 days of attacks, local police and prosecutors took no action. Amnesty International and Bulgarian human rights groups have charged that the Government violated the human rights of these Roma by failing to provide them adequate protection. The home of one family was burned to the ground, and the family was housed in inadequate temporary quarters at the end of the year. The other families eventually returned to their homes.
Roma encounter difficulties applying for social benefits, and rural Roma are discouraged from claiming land to which they are entitled under the law dividing up agricultural collectives. Most Roma children are directed at age 12 into special schools for "vocational training" which severely limit their subsequent employment prospects.
Overall, there were fewer reports of police mistreatment of Roma than in 1993, but many more instances in which private citizen groups attacked Roma. In some cases police were accused of standing by and deliberately failing to intervene. A police investigation into 1993 allegations of police brutality in Stara Zagora concluded there was no inappropriate police behavior, although the American chapter of Helsinki Watch, Amnesty International, the Human Rights Project, and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee all concluded that police had behaved with brutality.
Recognizing the discrimination that Roma and other minorities face, the Council of Ministers set up an interagency Ethnic Affairs Council chaired by a deputy prime minister. The Ministry of Education continued its program to introduce Roma-language schoolbooks into schools with Roma students, albeit slowly. Roma police were hired in some localities, and some teachers received Roma-language training, although this program lagged far behind its Turkish-language counterpart and ran into significant local opposition.
Workplace discrimination against minorities continued to be a problem, especially for Roma. Employers justify such discrimination on the grounds that most Roma have relatively low training and education. Supervisory jobs are generally given to ethnic Bulgarian employees, with ethnic Turks, Pomaks, and Roma among the first to be laid off.
During compulsory military service, most Muslims and Roma are shunted into labor units where they often perform commercial as well military construction and maintenance rather than serving in normal military units. The MRF protested this practice, as did human rights groups and labor observers who cited it as a violation of International Labor Organization (ILO) accords. There are only a few ethnic Turkish and reportedly no Roma officers in the military.
Thousands of Bulgarians, mainly in the southwest, identify themselves as Macedonians, most for historical and geographic reasons. Active 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.).
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. As in other areas, however, budgetary constraints mean that such payments have fallen behind. Handicapped individuals 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 physically handicapped persons. The policy under the previous regime of deliberately separating both mentally and physically handicapped persons, including very young children, and often placing them in homes and workplaces remote from the larger cities, remains unchanged.
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, and this right appears to have been freely exercised in 1994. 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, operates as an independent entity. Podkrepa, an independent confederation created in 1989, was one of the earliest opposition forces but is no longer a member of the UDF.
The 1992 Labor Code recognizes the right to strike when other means of conflict resolution have been exhausted, but political strikes are forbidden. Workers in essential services such as the military, police, energy production and supply, and health sectors are prohibited from striking. Students and miners went on strike in 1994 but won no major concessions from the Government. Legal actions initiated against some unions in 1992 on the grounds their activities had violated the constitutional prohibition against political activities by citizens' associations (defined to include trade unions) were still pending in 1994. Until the limitations of this constitutional prohibition are more clearly defined, either by legislation or judicial precedent, there remains the potential for inappropriate attacks on legitimate union activities, although no such attacks took place in 1994.
The Labor Code's prohibitions against antiunion discrimination include a 6-month period of protection against dismissal as a form of retribution. While these provisions appear to be within international norms, there is no mechanism other than the courts for resolving complaints, and the burden of proof in such a case rests entirely on the employee.
The ILO in 1993 requested further information on lustration proceedings, measures directed at compensating ethnic Turks for abuses under the previous regime, efforts taken to improve the economic situation of minorities, and measures to promote equality of workplace opportunity between men and women. At the end of 1994, the ILO was still reviewing the information provided to it by the Government and had not yet issued opinions or recommendations.
There are no restrictions governing 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 nationally and on a local level. Both CITUB and Podkrepa complained, however, that while the legal structure for collective bargaining was adequate, many employers failed to bargain in good faith or to adhere to concluded agreements. Because most large firms are still state owned, the unions demanded that the Government enforce collective bargaining procedures. The Government responded that since state-owned firms were independently managed, the appropriate recourse was through the courts, not the executive branch.
Only Podkrepa and CITUB are authorized to bargain collectively. This restriction led to complaints by smaller unions, which may in individual workplaces have more members than either of the two large confederations. One of these smaller unions, the National Trade Union, lodged a formal complaint with the ILO. Smaller unions also protested their exclusion from the National Social Council.
There were no instances 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 continued to charge that the revised Labor Code does not provide effective protection against acts of antiunion discrimination. It also asserted that the "national representation" requirement for participation in the National Social Council violated the right to organize, and criticized a 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 the export processing zones, which at year's end appear to exist largely on paper.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory LaborThe Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Many observers agreed that the practice of shunting minority and conscientious-objector military draftees into work units which often carry out commercial construction and maintenance projects is a form of forced labor (see Section 5).
d. Minimum Age for Employment of ChildrenThe Labor Code sets the minimum age for employment at 16 years; 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. Underage employment in the informal and agricultural sectors is increasing as collective farms are broken up and the private sector continues to grow. However, the practice does not yet seem to be either widespread or systematic.
e. Acceptable Conditions of WorkThe national monthly minimum wage was adjusted three times in 1994 and stood at year's end at approximately $33 (2,143 leva). Pensions, unemployment, and child benefits were raised by about 25 percent during the year. Inflation in 1994 was estimated at 100 percent and dramatically increased the cost of living. The minimum wage is not enough to provide a wage earner and family a decent standard of living. The Constitution stipulates the right to social security and welfare aid assistance for the temporarily unemployed, although in practice such assistance was often either late or not disbursed.
The Labor Code provides for a standard workweek of 40 hours with at least one 24-hour rest period per week. The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare enforces both the minimum wage and the standard workweek. Enforcement has been generally effective in the state sector, although there are reports that state-run enterprises fall into arrears on salary payments to their employees if they incur losses. Enforcement of work conditions is 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 in many cases are worsening owing to budget stringencies and a growing private sector over which labor inspectors have not yet achieved effective supervision.