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Discriminatory Practices Against Minorities

Discriminatory Practices Against Minorities Bulgarian Roma

The main subject of discrimination in Bulgaria are the Roma (Gypsies) (4.9% of the population). Most cases of discrimination against Roma were related to access to housing. Majority of Roma live with no access to water, electricity, far from schools and medical centres. In 2006, European Committee of Social Rights recognised this situation as violation of Roma rights, but it has not changed.

50%-70% of Roma houses are considered to be illegally built, and therefore their residents can be evicted at any moment. Roma houses have been demolished across the country: in Plovdiv (April 25 ), Varna (July 17 ), and Stara Zagora (July 21 ). Such practice is applied to illegal houses owned by Bulgarians or other ethnic minorities, but with respect to Roma this problem is catastrophic in scale.

Bulgarian energy company CEZ, serving several areas populated by Roma, had installed electric meters high on street poles. According to CEZ, this is an “anti-theft” measure, which stigmatises Roma as thieves and prevents locals from reading the meters themselves.

Romani children are segregated in schools, or placed in schools for mentally disabled. The Roma community is also discriminated in the labour market, often denied employment in hotels, coffee shops, restaurants. It is important to bear in mind that Bulgaria has the highest rate of children with incomplete education. In 2014, 13% of Bulgarian students stopped attending school – a 0.4% increase per year. Majority of those are Roma students. Bulgarian authorities are virtually inactive in this regard, particularly in the last few years, with many schools shut down.

UNESCO study conducted in 2014 revealed that 170 000 young people in Bulgaria are unemployed and do not attend any school. 51% of those people are Roma and Turks. In this regard, Bulgaria has one of the worst indicators in the EU. 59% of Roma women did not have medical insurance (compared to 22% of non-Roma). Only 15% of women and 27% of men knew about anti-discrimination laws.

Amnesty International notes that many members of Bulgarian security services consider all Roma a criminal people, thus justifying discrimination against them. Local politicians also often use coercion tactics to force Roma people to vote for the “right” candidate.

Turkish minority (8.8% of the population) are also subjected to discrimination, albeit to a lesser degree. They have problems accessing employment in the public sector, particularly in law enforcement, judiciary and prosecution. According to Movement for Rights and Freedoms party, which represents the interests of this part of the population, 5 thousand Turks have been wrongfully dismissed in the past 4 years. In addition, there is a problem with the return of religious institutions to the Muslims in Bulgaria.

On June 28, Kardzhali District Court rejected as unfounded the claim of the Office of the Chief Mufti regarding the ownership of the land and building of the local regional museum. The building has previously been owned by the Muslim community.

Bulgarian authorities do not recognise the existence of such minorities as Pomaks (Muslim Bulgarians) and Macedonians. They are not represented in the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Demographic Issues, under Council of Ministers. Roma, Turks and other minorities, despite paragraph 2, Art 36 of the Constitution, are unable to educate their children in their native language. It can be taught to children only up to 8th grade, as an optional subject. Thus, we are talking about forced assimilation. Representatives of Bulgarian authorities claim that ethnic minority children do not want to study their native language themselves, perceiving it as unpromising.

In early January, a large-scale “Bulgariasation” campaign of toponyms was launched, concerning names that remained from the period of Turkish domination. Governments of Burgas and Varna made a decision to change 215 and 350 geographic names respectively from Turkish to Bulgarian.

On October 17, Lyutvy Mestan – leader of the third-largest Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) party, representing the Turkish minority in the country – was fined for conducting an election campaign in the Turkish language.

There have been reports of discrimination of Jehovah’s Witnesses. On February 6, Kyustendil city council prohibited public religious agitation, distribution of literature and missionary activities without the consent of residents.

Karlovo authorities appealed to the central government to recognise Jehovah’s Witnesses as a “sect”.

Department of Education in Sliven rejected the request of Seventh-Day Adventists, who were asking to excuse their daughter from studying on Friday nights, as it coincides with the celebration of the Adventist Sabbath.

In 2014, 12 asylum seekers were found guilty of illegal entry into Bulgaria. In December 2013 – February 2014, instead of issuing documents confirming refugee status, authorities have been placing migrants outside specialised centres for 3-6 months while waiting for a decision. This caused several thousand of migrants to leave Bulgaria. Cases have been reported, where asylum applications have been rejected after business hours and during weekends. As a result, refugees were forced to spend nights on the street. Migrants from Africa were sometimes held under guard for up to 6 months – until they receive refugee status or until deportation. This is despite the fact that according to the law, refugees cannot be detained unless they are considered a threat to national security or public safety. Administrative Court may extend the arrest warrant for another 12 months.

There have been reports that refugees were transferred to Lyubimets or Busmansti, despite their expressed desire to apply for asylum. Leaflets and guides on antidiscrimination legislation are mostly available in Bulgarian language, in rare cases – in English. Complaints can only be submitted in Bulgarian language, which also limits access to justice.

In 2019, the Minister of Defense of Bulgaria Krasimir Karakachanov in a series of public, incl. television statements humiliated the honor and dignity of the Roma people in connection with the alleged crime allegedly committed by an ethnic Roma. The court dismissed an NGO that sued the minister on the grounds that the concept of persecution requires that the impugned speech be directed against a specific individual, however, in this case a speech was about the people as a whole. The court further held that the statements in the present case were protected by freedom of expression as long as they did not go beyond what was justifiable in the circumstances, given the circumstances of the criminal case in question. It was only in 2021 that the Supreme Administrative Court overturned this decision as unlawful.

On September 18, 2020, the Supreme Court of Cassation refused to accept for review the decision of the Sofia City Court, which rejected a civil lawsuit from minority believers against an employee and activist of one of the structures of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. A non-traditional religious group, the Sri Chinmoy Center, filed a lawsuit against a pro-Orthodox anti-minority lawyer who successfully instructed various service providers to deny minority group access to services. In particular, it was about renting premises for holding concerts and other events related to religion, religious concerts and other meetings. The lawyer achieved this by publishing and disseminating an article against a minority group and through direct interaction with service providers, trying to influence their decisions regarding leasing space to the group.

The Civil Court of First Instance ruled in favor of the minority plaintiffs, finding incitement to discrimination on grounds of opinion, ordering the defendant to cease and desist from the impugned conduct, and awarding €175 in damages to each of the two members of the minority). However, the Court of Appeal held that the same facts as found by the trial court did not constitute incitement to discrimination, as the defendant had the right to publish and disseminate his article against the minority group within the scope of his right to free Express ones opinion. Her article, according to the Court of Appeal, did not contain hate speech, therefore, it did not contain incitement (indirect, including indication) to discrimination. In addition, the plaintiffs have not shown that the defendant treated them less less favorably than others.

Plaintiffs' representatives filed a motion for an appellate review, posing a number of issues related to the appellate court's assessment of evidence, its way of applying the rule of shifting the burden of proof to facts, the interpretation of the concept of incitement to discrimination in national law, and so on. However, the Supreme Court of Cassation also ruled that the questions raised on behalf of a minority group were inadmissible because they were ill-formed or irrelevant from a general insufficiently substantiated. The court did not consider any issues of discriminatory law, but refused to consider the case on general procedural grounds (incompetently formulated grounds for cassation review).

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