Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

An Attempt at Modernization: The New Bulgarian Legislation in the Field of Religious Freedom

Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

An Attempt at Modernization: The New Bulgarian Legislation in the Field of Religious Freedom

Article excerpt


November of 1989 saw the beginning of radical reform in Bulgarian political life as the country began a transformation away from its prior totalitarian government. This reformation led to significantly different legislation from what existed prior to 1989. Although Bulgaria has since made great strides in becoming more democratic, recent draft laws' such as the "Consolidated Draft Law on Religious Denominations" ("Consolidated Draft Law" or "Draft Law") proves that this reformation must continue in order to truly protect the freedoms Bulgaria has enumerated especially in the area of human rights.

With Bulgaria's adoption of its 1991 Constitution came the guaranteed free practice of religion.2 Although this right is explicitly given, we can note with a dose of regret that the legislative process is still experiencing considerable difficulty in protecting this freedom and in modernizing Bulgaria's church-state system. Ironically, given the centrality of freedom of religion to human rights,3 difficulties in protecting religious freedom are greater than the difficulties encountered in protecting most other areas of the society, particularly the fields of property, restitution, commercial law, banking and a number of other areas.4

This backward attitude toward human rights appears strange when contrasted to Bulgaria's history of restrictions and abuse of human rights under Communism, which even more than market considerations was the main reason for its radical change toward democracy in the first place. The much anticipated Renaissance of concepts and practices connected with human rights was supplemented and carried out more in the field of economical ideas than in the more critical areas of furthering human rights. Nowadays, questions connected with human rights are considered secondary by almost all the political programs and ideological schemes, as if human rights issues were already completely solved or will naturally be solved by themselves. Instead, priority has been given to projects like restructuring the economy, privatization, increasing income, tax policy, and health and social insurance. Although these issues are extremely important to develop a healthy atmosphere in which to lay the foundation for accepting basic human rights, focusing on these rights alone should not be a substitute for focusing on human rights as well.

Admittedly, during the transformation from Communism, religious rights have not been completely ignored. Laws on religion adopted during the Communist past are still in force today as well as additional laws that have been passed since 1989.5 Unfortunately, most of these laws treat religion as a danger that needs to be controlled rather than a right that must be protected. The most recent Bulgarian proposal for a law on religion is the October 2000 Consolidated Draft Law on Religions.6 Three different organizations united to draft this law which, disappointingly, places considerable restrictions on the rights of individuals and groups to practice their religion! Although critical review of this draft laws by the Council of Europe makes it unlikely that the Consolidated Draft Law will be passed in its current form, it deserves careful review because of what it reveals about the Bulgarian mindset.


The relevant legal norms that address freedom of religion and belief in Bulgaria can be divided into two broad and rather inconsistent bodies of law. The first group consists of legislation which derived to a large extent from internationally adopted standards in the field of human rights. The second group of laws is composed of acts which are inconsistent with the first group and reflect the erosion of fundamental human rights commitments in Bulgaria.

The first group includes the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria, in force since 1991.9 The Constitution reflects to a great extent contemporary legal understanding of the right to religious freedom, expressly prohibiting religiously grounded discrimination. …

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