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Title:  Bulgaria Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State 
Date:  March 1996 
 
 
 
 
                               BULGARIA 
 
 
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.  The Bulgarian Socialist 
Party (BSP), heir to the Communist Party, and two nominal coalition 
partners won an absolute majority in preterm elections in December 1994 
and formed a government in January.  The judiciary is independent but 
continued to struggle with structural and staffing problems.  Most 
citizens have little confidence in their legal system. 
 
Most security services are the responsibility of the Ministry of the 
Interior, which controls the police, the National Security Service 
(civilian intelligence), internal security troops, border guards, and 
special forces.  A number of persons known to be involved in repressive 
activities during the Communist regime returned to senior-level 
positions in the security services in 1995.  Some members of the police 
force committed serious human rights abuses. 
 
The post-Communist economy remains heavily dependent on state 
enterprises.  Most people are employed in the industrial and service 
sectors; key industries include food processing, chemical and oil 
processing, metallurgy, and energy.  Principal exports are agricultural 
products, cigarettes and tobacco, chemicals, and metal products.  The 
transformation of the economy into a market-oriented system has been 
retarded by continued political and social resistance.  Privatization of 
the large Communist-era state enterprises has been very slow and is the 
main reason for Bulgaria's economic stagnation.  The Government is now 
developing a mass privatization program which, if successfully 
implemented, would partially address this problem.  The service and 
consumer goods sectors in private hands continued to be the most 
vibrant.  Although all indicators point to a reviving economy this year, 
the last several years' decline has affected the employment of people 
from ethnic minorities disproportionately.  The annual per capita Gross 
Domestic Product (GDP) of $1,300 provides a low standard of living. 
 
The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, but 
problems remained in some areas.  Constitutional restrictions on 
political parties formed on ethnic, racial, or religious lines 
effectively limit participation.  There were several reports that police 
used unwarranted lethal force against suspects and minorities, and 
security forces beat suspects and inmates.  Human rights observers 
charged that the security forces are not sufficiently accountable to 
Parliament or to society and that the resultant climate of impunity is a 
major obstacle to ending police abuses.  Prison conditions are harsh, 
and pretrial detention is often prolonged.  Mistreatment  
 
 
of ethnic minorities by the population at large is a serious problem, 
and both the Government and private citizens continued to obstruct the 
activities of some non-Eastern Orthodox religious groups.  
Discrimination and violence against women and Roma are serious problems. 
 
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS 
 
Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom 
from: 
 
  a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing 
 
There were several reports of police officers using unwarranted lethal 
force against criminal suspects, as well as against members of minority 
groups whether or not suspected of any crime, resulting in three deaths.  
On February 11, a Rom was found dead in Gradets, near Sliven.  A witness 
told a human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) that a police 
officer had beaten the victim in the village center the previous day, 
and the deceased's family described numerous signs of severe beating.  
An investigation is in progress.  
 
During a March attempt to apprehend a man previously sentenced for 
committing theft, a police officer in Nova Zagora allegedly beat an 18-
year-old Rom, then shot and killed the man's 22-year-old brother when 
the older brother intervened.  Neither of the victims was being sought 
by the police.  The alleged perpetrator, a police sergeant, has been 
charged with murder resulting from excessive use of force in self-
defense.  The investigation continues. 
 
A 22-year-old male died in April while in police custody, apparently as 
a result of beating.  The deceased, an ethnic Bulgarian, had been 
arrested for alleged complicity in a burglary.  Six policemen were 
arrested in this widely publicized case; one officer, a police 
lieutenant, remains under investigation, and the national police 
director resigned. 
 
No progress was made in the case of a detainee who died while in police 
custody following an August 1994 roundup of suspected criminals in 
Pazardjik, although the Government's investigation remains open.  There 
was little progress in the September 1994 case of a detainee who died 
one day after being taken into police custody in Pleven, and there were 
no developments in the investigation of the 1993 incident in which 
police allegedly beat three escaped prisoners (two of whom reportedly 
died) upon recapture. 
 
In November Amnesty International (AI) sent a letter to the Ministry of 
Interior expressing concern about five incidents in which AI said that 
police officers opened fire on suspects in violation of U.N. basic 
principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement 
officials.  Interior Ministry data on serious police violations over the 
18 months ending March 31 show 18 deaths due to police negligence, 59 
cases of physical injury, more than 60 charges of serious offenses, and 
58 convictions of police officers on these and lesser charges during the 
period.  The Minister of Interior publicly acknowledged that police 
abuses occur and made a commitment to address the problem; a number of 
cases are under investigation.  However, the police have generally 
refused the requests of human rights groups to make investigative 
reports available to the public.  The climate of impunity that the 
Government allows to prevail is the single largest obstacle to ending 
such abuses. 
 
  b.  Disappearance 
 
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. 
 
  c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 
Punishment 
 
The Constitution expressly prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman or 
degrading treatment.   
 
Despite this prohibition, there were a number of credible reports 
describing police beating of Roma during arrests.  In January and 
February, a riot control unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs shot 
and wounded at least 3 people and beat more than 10 during an operation 
in response to illegal felling of trees near Velingrad.  All of the 
victims were Roma.  No police officers were charged or investigated. 
 
In a Sofia neighborhood in March, police reportedly beat almost 40 
Romani teenagers and young men in an incident following several 
confrontations between Roma and "skinheads."  No police officers were 
investigated, despite numerous victims' accounts and a credible NGO 
report to law enforcement and other governmental authorities.  
 
Conditions in some prisons are harsh, including severe overcrowding, 
inadequate lavatory facilities, and insufficient heating and 
ventilation.  Credible sources reported cases of brutality committed by 
prison guards against inmates; in some cases, prisoners who complained 
were placed in solitary confinement.  The process by which prisoners may 
complain of substandard conditions or of mistreatment does not appear to 
function.  The Government cooperated fully with requests by independent 
observers to monitor prison conditions.   
 
  d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 
 
The Constitution provides for access to legal counsel from the time of 
detention.  Police normally obtain a warrant prior to apprehending an 
individual; otherwise, in emergency circumstances 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 by order of the Chief Prosecutor, who may also restart the 
process.  In practice, persons are often detained for well over 6 
months. 
 
About one-third of Bulgaria's approximately 9,000 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 Trial 
 
Under the Constitution the judiciary is granted independent and coequal 
status with the legislature and executive branch.  However, most 
observers agreed that the judiciary continued to struggle with problems 
such as low salaries, understaffing, and a heavy backlog of cases.  
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.  Human rights groups complain that local 
prosecutors and magistrates sometimes fail to pursue vigorously crimes 
committed against minorities.  
 
The court system consists of regional courts, district courts, and the 
Supreme and Constitutional Courts.  The Government has not yet carried 
out several of the reforms provided for in the June 1994 judicial Reform 
Bill, including the establishment of separate supreme courts of 
cassation (civil and criminal appeal) and administration.  Judges are 
appointed by a 25-member Supreme Judicial Council and, after serving for 
3 years, may not be replaced except under limited, specified 
circumstances.  The 12 justices on the Constitutional Court are chosen 
for 9-year terms as follows:  a third are elected by the National 
Assembly, a third appointed by the President, and a third elected by 
judicial authorities.   
 
The Constitution stipulates that all courts shall conduct hearings in 
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.  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. 
 
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.  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. 
 
A number of criminal cases against former leaders for alleged abuses 
during the Communist period were carried forward.  Former dictator Todor 
Zhivkov is serving a 7-year sentence under house arrest for abuse of 
power involving personal expense accounts and state privileges.  Legal 
review of his case continues; the most recent step was a Supreme Court 
hearing on September 15.  Although the investigation continues, there 
was little progress in the case in which 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.  Investigation also continues in a case begun in 1993 
involving a charge of embezzlement for giving grant aid to Communist 
parties in other countries (the "Moscow case"), with no tangible 
progress.  Some human rights observers criticized these and previous 
indictments, asserting that the activities in question were political 
and economic in nature, not criminal. 
 
One of the primary figures in these cases, former Prime Minister and 
once senior Communist official Andrei Lukanov, brought a complaint 
against these proceedings to the European Commission of Human Rights.  
Acting on his petition in January, the Commission ruled that Lukanov's 
appeal of the procedure by which he was stripped of parliamentary 
immunity was admissible before the Commission, but has not yet issued a 
decision on the merits of the case.  Lukanov's appeals under two other 
articles of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights 
and Fundamental Freedoms were not admitted. 
 
There was no progress in a case begun in 1993 relating to the forced 
assimilation and expulsion of ethnic Turks in 1984-85 and 1989, nor in a 
trial relating to the notorious death camps set up by the Communists 
after they came to power in 1944.  Police authorities concluded their 
investigation of the 1994 murder of a key witness in the latter case in 
February without definite result. 
 
In one of its first acts, the new Socialist-dominated Parliament 
repealed a controversial 1992 lustration act ("Law for Additional 
Requirements Toward Scientific Organizations and the Higher Certifying 
Commission"), known as the "Panev Law."   
 
The law had barred former secretaries and members of Communist party 
committees from positions as academic council members, university 
department heads, deans, rectors, and chief editors of science 
magazines, applying a presumption of guilt that conflicts with 
international human rights standards. 
 
There were no reports of political prisoners. 
 
  f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home or 
Correspondence 
 
The Constitution provides for the inviolability of the home, for the 
right to choose one's place of work and residence, and protects the 
freedom and confidentiality of correspondence.  Human rights observers 
expressed concerns that illegal wiretaps may still persist but provided 
no tangible evidence. 
 
Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: 
 
  a.  Freedom of Speech and Press 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the 
Government generally respects this right in practice, although there 
were signs that it was seeking to increase editorial control over 
government-owned electronic media.  The variety of newspapers published 
by political parties and other organizations represents the full 
spectrum of political opinion, but a notable degree of self-censorship 
exists in the press among journalists who must conform to what are often 
heavily politicized editorial views of their respective newspapers. 
 
National television and radio broadcasting both remain under 
parliamentary supervision.  A September Constitutional Court ruling 
declared unconstitutional some portions of a "provisional" statute that 
had placed the electronic media under parliamentary supervision since 
1990.  In October Parliament passed legislation restoring its right to 
exercise control over the national electronic media; in December the 
Constitutional Court again struck down this provision.  In November 34 
journalists from a national radio station issued a declaration accusing 
radio management of censoring their work and threatening uncooperative 
journalists with dismissal.  A month later, seven of the journalists 
were fired, provoking widespread public concern about freedom of speech 
and the establishment of at least two NGO's to monitor the issue.  This 
ongoing dispute illustrates a growing concern about the lack of balance 
in the state-controlled news media.   
 
Some observers criticized changes in the senior leadership of the 
national electronic media and editorial control by a newly established 
board of directors of Bulgarian national radio, charging they were 
politically motivated.  In September the Constitutional Court overturned 
a provision of the July Local Elections Act which prohibited journalists 
working for state-owned media and local electronic media from expressing 
opinions on parties, coalitions, and candidates in the October 29 local 
elections. 
 
There are two state-owned national television channels and a growing 
number of privately owned regional stations.  Two channels broadcast in 
Bulgarian, while a third broadcasts Russian programming, and a fourth 
carries a mixture of Cable News Network International and French 
language programming.  Bulgarian national television has been planning 
Turkish- language programming for at least 2 years, but broadcasts have 
not yet begun.  Foreign government radio programs such as the British 
Broadcasting Corporation and the Voice of America (VOA) had good access 
to commercial Bulgarian radio frequencies, although in April the interim 
council for radio frequencies and television channels turned down a 
request by Radio Free Europe to add VOA programming on its frequency.  
After initial government approval in the fall of 1994 of an application 
to create a privately owned national broadcast television station, 
further progress has floundered, with no action being taken by the 
current Government.  Television and radio news programs on the state-
owned media 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.  Both television and radio provide a variety of 
news and public interest programming, including talk and public opinion 
shows. 
 
More than 30 independent radio stations are licensed.  Some private 
stations complained that their licenses unduly restricted the strength 
of their transmissions in comparison to state-owned stations.  Radio 
transmitter facilities are owned by the Government. 
 
Private book publishing remained lively, with hundreds of publishers in 
business.  Respect for academic freedom continued. 
 
  b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association 
 
The right to peaceful and unarmed assembly is provided for by the 
Constitution, and the Government generally respected this right in 
practice.  The authorities require permits for rallies and assemblies 
held outdoors, but most legally registered organizations were routinely 
granted permission to assemble.  However, one non-Orthodox religious 
group reported difficulties obtaining a permit for an outdoor assembly, 
and several other religious groups also had difficulty renting assembly 
halls.  In most cases, these religious groups had been denied 
registration by the Council of Ministers (see Section 2.c.).   
 
Vigorous political rallies and demonstrations were a common occurrence 
and took place without government interference. 
 
The Government has undertaken to respect the rights of individuals and 
groups freely to establish their own political parties or other 
political organizations.  However, there are constitutional and 
statutory restrictions 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.  Some observers considered the Government's refusal 
since 1990 to register a Macedonian rights group, Umo-Ilinden, on the 
grounds that it is separatist, to be a restriction of the constitutional 
rights to express opinions and to associate.  The group, which is 
seeking registration as a Bulgarian-Macedonian friendship society, was 
allowed to hold an outdoor public meeting in April, but police broke up 
attempts to hold a second public meeting in July. 
 
The Constitution forbids the formation of political parties along 
religious, ethnic, or racial lines, and prohibits "citizens' 
associations" from engaging in political activity.  Although these 
restrictions were used in 1991 to challenge the legitimacy of the mainly 
ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), that party is 
currently represented in Parliament, and its right to compete in the 
October 29 local elections was not questioned. 
 
  c.  Freedom of Religion 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the 
Government restricts this right in practice.  The ability of a number of 
religious groups to operate freely continued to come under attack, both 
as a result of government action and because of public intolerance.  The 
Government requirement that groups whose activities have a religious 
element register with the Council of Ministers remained an obstacle to 
the activity of many religious groups.  Dozens of articles in a broad 
range of newspapers depicted lurid and inaccurate pictures of the 
activities of non-Orthodox religious groups, attributing suicides of 
teenagers and the breakup of families to their activities. 
 
The Government refused visas and residence permits for foreign 
missionaries, and some came under physical attack in the street and in 
their homes.  Members of the Mormon church reported continued acts of 
harassment and assault, including some perpetrated by the police 
themselves.  The police response was indifferent despite the expressed 
concern of the Government about such cases. 
 
In February the Supreme Court ruled that a mother and supporter of the 
nonregistered community of Christ's Warriors be denied parental custody 
of her 4-year-old son because she had taken the boy to religious 
meetings of the community.  The court grounded its decision on 
"educational qualities" claiming that "it is obvious that the child's 
presence at such a public place is harmful to his mind and his health as 
a whole."   
 
At the Department of Theology of Sofia University, all students have 
been required to present a certificate of baptism from the Orthodox 
Church, and married couples to provide a marriage certificate from the 
Orthodox Church, in order to enroll in the Department's classes.  
 
Authorities initiated an investigation of the case of the April 1994 
shooting death of Yordan Tsolov, an Orthodox priest in Surnitsa, about 
which charges of police complicity were raised by a human rights 
organization and the press in 1994. 
 
Several religious groups appealed the denials of their registration by 
the Council of Ministers under a 1994 amendment to the Families and 
Persons Act.  Most of the appeals were denied by the Council of 
Ministers.  Following the Supreme Court's April decision to affirm the 
Council's denial of registration to the "Word of Life" group, the press 
reported that the group was banned and that the police would seek out 
and stop religious gatherings of the group, even if held in private 
homes.  Some observers made credible charges that the police sought to 
break up meetings of non-Eastern Orthodox religious groups which were 
denied registration. 
 
The Constitution designates Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the 
"traditional" religion.  A number of major religious bodies, including 
the Muslim and Jewish communities, receive government financial support.  
There was no evidence that the Government discriminated against members 
of any religious group in restituting to previous owners properties that 
were nationalized during the Communist regime.  For most religious 
groups which 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.  
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.  However, during 
compulsory military service most Muslims are placed into labor units 
where they often perform commercial, military, or maintenance work 
rather than serve in normal military units.  The mainly ethnic-Turkish 
Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) protested this practice (see 
Section 5).  
 
A significant proportion of Muslims considered the current Government's 
approval of the statutes of the Muslim faith and its registration of a 
new Chief Mufti and new head of the Supreme Theological Council, all 
developed at a November 1994 Islamic conference, to be government 
interference in the affairs of the community.  A rival Chief Mufti, 
elected at an alternative Islamic conference in March, appealed the 
Government's actions unsuccessfully to the Supreme Court. 
 
The schism which opened in the Orthodox church in 1992 persisted. 
 
  d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country and 
the right to leave it, and these rights are not limited in practice, 
with the exception of limited border zones 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. 
 
As provided under law, the Chief Prosecutor restricted foreign travel by 
Lukanov (see Section 1.e.) and also by Ivan Slavkov, son-in-law of Todor 
Zhivkov, due to outstanding investigations of them.  Observers 
criticized the lack of time limits on such inactive investigations and 
questioned whether the travel restrictions were not being used 
punitively. 
 
The Government has provisions for granting asylum or refugee status in 
accordance with the standards of the 1951 U.N. Convention and its 1967 
Protocol relating to the status of refugees.  Domestic and international 
human rights organizations expressed concerns over the Government's 
handling of asylum claims and reported that there may be cases in which 
bona fide refugees are forced to return to countries where they fear 
persecution.  The Bureau for Territorial Asylum and Refugees asserts 
that it gives a fair hearing to all persons seeking asylum or refugee 
status but admits that there may be cases which do not come to its 
attention before the applicant is returned to the country from which he 
or she entered Bulgaria.  The Bureau is still seeking to establish 
registration and reception centers blocked in 1994 by skinheads and 
local citizens groups and has identified some new sites for the centers. 
 
Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government 
 
Citizens have the right to change their government and head of state 
through the election of the President and of the members of the National 
Assembly, although the constitutional prohibition of parties formed on 
ethnic, racial, or religious lines has the effect of circumscribing 
access to the political process (see Section 2.b.).  Suffrage is 
universal at the age of 18.  The most recent parliamentary elections 
took place in December 1994.  President Zhelev was elected in 1992 in 
the first direct presidential elections.   
 
Local elections were held in the fall.  With the exception of the 
mayoral election in Kurdjali, all major political parties accepted the 
results and agreed that the elections were conducted in a free and 
orderly manner.  In the ethnically mixed city of Kurdjali, in a 
politically charged atmosphere, the Socialist Party challenged in court 
the narrow runoff victory of the MRF candidate, questioning the 
registration of several hundred voters.  After lengthy delays the court 
took up the case, but it has not yet ruled, and the elected mayor has 
not been allowed to take office. 
 
There are no restrictions in law on the participation of women in 
government.  A number of women hold elective and appointive office at 
high levels, including a cabinet-level post and several key positions in 
the Parliament.  However, women hold only about 14 percent of the seats 
in the current Parliament. 
 
Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigations of Alleged Violations of Human Rights 
 
Local and international human rights groups operate freely, 
investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.  At 
the initiative of several groups concerned with children's rights, the 
Government conducted a dialog with them on its compliance with the 
Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The Government was particularly 
cooperative in allowing an NGO committee to survey prison conditions.  
However, the Government is otherwise often reluctant to provide 
information or active cooperation. 
 
Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status 
 
The Constitution provides for individual rights, equality, and 
protection against discrimination, but in practice discrimination still 
exists, particularly against Roma and women. 
 
  Women 
 
Domestic abuse is reportedly a serious problem, but there are no 
figures, official or otherwise, on its occurrence.  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.  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 approach the authorities.  No government agencies 
provide shelter or counseling for such persons, although there is a 
private initiative 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 in Bulgaria, heir to the 
group which 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. 
 
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 higher than that for men.  Women 
are much more likely than men to be employed in low-wage jobs requiring 
little education, although statistics show women are equally likely to 
attend university.  Women, in the main, continue to have primary 
responsibility for child-rearing and housekeeping even if they are 
employed outside the home.  The liberal provisions for paid maternity 
leave may actually work against employers' willingness to hire and 
retain women employees, especially in the private sector. 
 
  Children 
 
The Government appears to be committed to protecting children's welfare.  
It maintains, for example, a sizable network of orphanages throughout 
the country.  However, government efforts in education and health have 
been constrained by serious budgetary limitations and by outmoded social 
care structures.  Groups that exist to defend the rights of children 
charge that an increasing number of children are at serious risk as 
social insurance payments fall further behind inflation and are often 
disbursed as much as 6 months late. 
 
The vast majority of children are free from societal abuse, although 
skinhead groups have beaten some Romani children; the homeless or 
abandoned were particularly vulnerable.  Some Romani minors were forced 
into prostitution by family or community members; there was little 
police effort to address these problems. 
 
 
  People with Disabilities 
 
Disabled persons receive a range of financial assistance, including free 
public transportation, reduced prices on modified automobiles, and free 
equipment such as wheel chairs.  However, as in other areas, budgetary 
constraints mean that such payments have fallen behind.  Disabled 
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 disabled persons.  At the end of the year, 
Parliament passed legislation requiring the relevant Ministry and local 
governments to provide a suitable living and architectural environment 
for the disabled within 3 years.  Also, policies of the Communist regime 
which separated mentally and physically disabled persons, including very 
young children, from the rest of society have persisted. 
 
  Religious Minorities 
 
Bulgarian Muslims or "Pomaks" constitute a sizable minority, comprising 
2 to 3 percent of the population.  Bulgarian Muslims are a distinct 
group of Slavic descent whose ancestors converted from orthodox 
Christianity to Islam.  Most are Muslim, although a number have become 
atheists or converted to Christianity. 
 
Reports continued 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. 
 
There were a series of acts of vandalism directed at Jewish 
institutions.  
 
  National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities 
 
Ethnic Turks comprise about 10 percent of the population.  Although 
estimates of the Romani population vary widely, several experts put it 
at about 6 percent.  These are the country's two largest minorities.   
 
There are no restrictions on the speaking of Turkish in public or the 
use of non-Slavic names.  A defense bill before Parliament renewed 
controversy over the issue of language.  The bill declared Bulgarian to 
be the official language in the armed forces and the language in which 
military duties were to be carried out.  Members of Parliament of the 
mainly ethnic-Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms tried 
unsuccessfully to amend the bill to affirm the constitutional right to 
use the "mother tongue," for example, in personal conversations and 
correspondence.  The motion was rejected, but use of the mother tongue 
is not prohibited in the military, and Turkish is freely spoken in off-
duty situations. 
 
Voluntary Turkish-language classes, funded by the Government, continued 
in areas with significant Turkish-speaking populations, although some 
observers complained that the Government was restricting the 
availability of training for teachers and discouraging the optional 
language classes in areas with large concentrations of Bulgarian 
Muslims.  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. 
 
In the 1992 census approximately 3.4 percent of the population 
identified itself as Romani.  The real figure is probably about twice 
that high, since many persons of Romani descent tend to identify 
themselves to the authorities as ethnic Turks or Bulgarians.  Romani 
groups continued to be divided among themselves, although several groups 
had some success presenting Romani issues to the Government.  As 
individuals and as an ethnic group, Roma faced high levels of 
discrimination. 
 
Attacks by private citizens on Romani communities continued to occur in 
1995.  The most serious were a series of attacks in two Romani 
neighborhoods of Stara Zagora in March and April.  A group of young men 
wielding bats and sticks reportedly damaged the property of 11 Romani 
families in March, and a group of young people wearing masks allegedly 
beat 2 Romani women on school grounds in April.  Police have identified 
the alleged perpetrators of the March incident, and an investigation is 
underway.  An arson investigation resulting from the February 1994 
incident in Dolno Belotintsi was suspended later that year because of 
the reluctance of the sole witness to testify.  A human rights NGO was 
able to gather new evidence implicating individuals in the crime and has 
asked the Chief Prosecutor to resume the investigation; no action has 
yet been taken.  Authorities often fail to aggressively investigate 
cases of assault or other crimes against Romani individuals, although 
there was some improvement in their responsiveness to inquiries of human 
rights organizations. 
 
Roma encounter difficulties applying for social benefits, and rural Roma 
are discouraged from claiming land to which they are entitled under the 
law disbanding agricultural collectives.  Many Roma and other observers 
made credible allegations that the quality of education offered to 
Romani children is inferior to that afforded most other Bulgarian 
students. 
 
The Government took some steps to address the problems faced by Roma.  
The Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology convened a forum in 
July to discuss the education of Romani children, during which 
representatives of the President's office, concerned ministries, and 
human rights organizations discussed pedagogical issues.  The Council of 
Ministers disbanded the interagency Ethnic Affairs Council established 
in 1994, replacing it with a National Board on Social and Demographic 
matters with broader responsibilities.  Some observers expressed concern 
over onerous requirements for admission of NGO's to the board.  For 
example, NGO's must have established branches in more than one-third of 
Bulgarian municipalities. 
 
The Ministry of Education continued its program to introduce Romani-
language schoolbooks into schools with Romani populations and issued 
follow-on textbooks for the program.  The program has had mixed success, 
partly due to a lack of qualified teachers. 
 
Workplace discrimination against minorities continued to be a problem, 
especially for Roma.  Employers justify such discrimination on the basis 
that most Roma have relatively low training and education.  Supervisory 
jobs are generally given to ethnic Bulgarian employees, with ethnic 
Turks, Bulgarian Muslims, and Roma among the first to be laid off. 
 
During compulsory military service most Roma (and Muslims--see Section 
2.c.) are shunted into labor units where they often perform commercial, 
military construction, or maintenance work rather than serve 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 Romani officers in the military. 
 
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.). 
 
Section 6  Worker Rights 
 
  a.  The Right of Association 
 
The 1991 Constitution provides for the right of all workers to form or 
join trade unions of their own choice, and this right was apparently 
freely exercised.  Estimates of the unionized share of the workforce 
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 Union of Democratic Forces, the main 
opposition party.  In February a third trade union confederation, the 
Community of Free Union Organizations in Bulgaria (CFUOB), was admitted 
to the National Tripartite Coordination Council (NTCC), which includes 
employers and the government (see Section 6.b.).  CITUB and Podkrepa 
filed a joint complaint to the International Labor Organization (ILO) 
against the Government's selection of CFUOB as the labor delegate to the 
1995 ILO conference.  The ILO found that the Government had unilaterally 
imposed rotation of the labor delegate among three trade union 
organizations without consulting the other two. 
 
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 are prohibited from striking.  
There was no evidence that the Government interfered with the right to 
strike, and several work stoppages took place.  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 between men and women in 
workplace opportunity.  At year's end, the ILO was still reviewing the 
information provided to it by the Government, including information 
provided this year on efforts to improve the situation of minorities.  
The ILO has not yet issued opinions or recommendations on these matters. 
 
There are no restrictions on affiliation or contact with international 
labor organizations, and unions actively exercise this right. 
 
  b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively 
 
The Labor Code institutes collective bargaining, which was practiced 
nationally and on a local level.  The legal prohibition against striking 
for key public sector employees weakens their bargaining position; 
however, these groups were able to influence negotiations by staging 
protests and engaging in other pressure activities without going on 
strike.  Both CITUB and Podkrepa complained that while the legal 
structure for collective bargaining was adequate, many employers failed  
 
to bargain in good faith or to adhere to concluded agreements.  Labor 
observers viewed the Government's enforcement of labor contracts as 
inadequate. 
 
Only the three labor members of the National Tripartite Cooperation 
Council are authorized to bargain collectively.  This restriction led to 
complaints by smaller unions, which may in individual workplaces have 
more members than the NTCC members.  Smaller unions also protested their 
exclusion from the NTCC. 
 
There were no instances in which an employer was found guilty of 
antiunion discrimination and required to reinstate workers fired for 
union activities.  International labor organizations criticized the 
"national representation" requirement for participation in the National 
Tripartite Coordination Council as a violation of the right to organize. 
 
The same obligation of collective bargaining and adherence to labor 
standards prevails in the export processing zones, and unions may 
organize workers in these areas. 
 
  c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor 
 
The 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 (Section 
5). 
 
  d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children 
 
The 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 (MLSW) 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.  In addition, children work on family-owned tobacco 
plantations. 
 
  e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work 
 
The national monthly minimum wage was approximately $38 (2,555 leva) at 
year's end.  The minimum wage is not enough to provide a wage earner and 
family with 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 is 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 MLSW is responsible for 
enforcing 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 the firms incur losses.  Enforcement of work 
conditions is weaker in the emerging private sector. 
 
A national labor safety program exists, with standards established by 
the Labor Code.  The Constitution states that employees are entitled to 
healthy and nonhazardous working conditions.  The MLSW is responsible 
for enforcing these provisions.  Under the Labor Code, employees have 
the right to remove themselves from work situations which present a 
serious or immediate danger to life or health without jeopardizing their 
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 which labor inspectors do not yet supervise effectively. 
 
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[end of document]

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