The BHC secured a second court decision confirming that a former Bulgarian deputy prime minister engaged in racist harassment

The Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) upheld a second ruling by the Sofia City Administrative Court, which found that Krassimir Karakachanov, former chairman of the VMRO-BNM party, had committed discriminatory harassment through his anti-Roma statements in the village of Voyvodinovo in January 2019. At the time, Karakachanov held the positions of Minister of Defence and Deputy Prime Minister.

This development followed two previous decisions by the national equality body, the Commission for Protection from Discrimination (CPD), which initially ruled that there was no discrimination in Karakachanov’s statements in January 2020. However, in June 2021, the SAC sent the case back for reconsideration, stating that discrimination was indeed present.

After the remand, the CPD took a full two years to conduct new hearings on the case and once again declared it open for adjudication.

In September 2023, the CPD reaffirmed its position that Karakachanov had not discriminated based on ethnicity. However, the Sofia City Administrative Court nullified this decision in December 2023, citing a direct contradiction with the SAC’s reasoning in 2021. Following an appeal by Karakachanov, the case is once again before the SAC.

With its recent decision, issued at the end of last week, the SAC has ruled that the CPD should reconsider the case for the third time. The SAC explicitly instructed the CPD to take into account the reasoning of the first instance court and finally determine that Krassimir Karakachanov had committed discrimination.

The complainants in this case are the Roma human rights organization Unity and its chairman, Acho Yordanov.

Adela Kachaunova, an attorney at law and co-chair of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC), which provides legal assistance to the complainants, commented, “This case is quite unusual. In January 2019, a deputy prime minister violated the law, as confirmed twice by the SAC. However, the specialized national equality body, the CPD, failed to recognize blatant discrimination. The prolonged proceedings are concerning, especially given that this is not a complex case. It’s puzzling why there has been such a delay, rendering any potential punishment meaningless.”

Kachaunova further emphasized, “The CPD is a specialized administrative body, and efficiency in proceedings is expected. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case. For five years now, an elementary issue of discriminatory speech by a senior politician remains unresolved. This isn’t the only problem with the committee’s work—it faces difficulties not only in applying substantive law but also in adhering to procedural rules. Additionally, the committee’s membership has expired, necessitating immediate replacement and a thorough review of its work.”

She pointed out, “The stereotyping of Roma as criminals is an endemic problem in Bulgaria, with extreme nationalist parties like VMRO-BNM being among the main propagators.”

The Voyvodinovo case unfolded in January 2019 when, following a crime committed by two identified and convicted youths, the Roma residents of Voyvodinovo were collectively punished with expulsion due to mass protests against them in the village. In relation to these events, the European Court of Human Rights found that the Bulgarian authorities had violated Article 8 in conjunction with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (pertaining to discrimination in the exercise of the right to private and family life). The Strasbourg Court explicitly highlighted the statements made by Deputy Prime Minister Karakachanov during these events.

The BHC also recalls that in June 2023, the CPD found that the VMRO-BNM party engaged in discriminatory harassment by maintaining a section on its website entitled “The Gypsy Question.” This decision is now in effect.

The BHC provided legal assistance in both of these cases.