Human Rights in Bulgaria in 2018

    Adela Katchaounova, Antoanetta Nenkova, Diana Dragieva, Dilyana Angelova, Iveta Savova, Iliana Savova, Krassimir Kanev, Nadejda Tsekulova, Radoslav Stoyanov, Raya Raeva, Slavka Kukova, Stanimir Petrov, Yana Buhrer Tavanier

Throughout 2018, Bulgaria was governed by the coalition government of the pro-European centre-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) and the United Patriots. The latter are a coalition of three small extremely nationalist neo-totalitarian parties: Ataka, National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB) and Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Bulgarian National Movement (VMRO-BND). These three parties are publicly known for systematically instigating hate, discrimination and violence against the Roma, Muslims, migrants and the LGBTI communities.

As a whole, the capacity of both the ruling and the opposition parties to discuss and solve serious human rights issues in Bulgaria was at a record low in 2018. This, however, did not result in significant negative legislative changes in the first half of the year, when Bulgaria took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. Certain negative trends emerged in the second half of the year. Racist and xenophobic instigations, targeted mostly at the Roma and muffled during the presidency, proliferated at the end of 2018. The parties from the United Patriots coalition, and more notably VMRO-BND, were the main source of origin. In mid-November, NFSB chair Valeri Simeonov resigned as deputy prime minister after weeks of protests organised by parents of disabled children in connection with defamatory comments he had made about them and their children in October.

The judiciary failed to serve as a corrector of negative trends in the field of human rights in 2018. This became especially evident in the Constitutional Court decision of 27 July 2018, in which the court found the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention) inconsistent with the Bulgarian Constitution. This unjustified decision followed a campaign of lies and manipulations against this international treaty organized by conservative political and social circles in the course of several months. With this decision, the Constitutional Court, which on many past occasions had demonstrated a lack of capacity to discuss human rights, showed not only that it had failed to understand the very essence of the Istanbul Convention, but also that it succumbed to populist attitudes.