CSOs react to sustained vilification of civil society in Bulgaria

Association

CSOs react to the smear campaign against Bulgarian civil society

On 15th January 2020, 62 Bulgarian civil society organisations sent a joint letter to the institutions of the European Union to inform them about the ongoing campaign to denigrate civil society in the country. The letter mentions the attacks which civil society are subjected to and signals a coordinated attack on organisations receiving funding from abroad, specifically from the Active Citizens Fund of the EEA Financial Mechanism which has been essential for the survival of many civil society organisations in EU member states.

The Citizen Participation Forum, who also separately confirmed the existence of a coordinated smear campaign by government against NGOs, said that civil society had been looking for strategies to counter the negative narratives, one of which is by being proactive to get more people to know and support what they do in simple language.

Peaceful Assembly

Driver instructors protest in Sofia

In mid-January 2020, new regulations for qualifying for a driver's license in Bulgaria sparked protests. More than 400 driver instructors protested the new regulations, which they say will increase corruption and will not contribute in any way to road safety - one of the reasons touted by the Education Ministry for adopting the new regulations. The regulations propose an increase in the number of driving hours for learners to qualify to take the final exam, and also require that each training vehicle be equipped with video and GPS equipment. According to the Ministry of Education, this would provide proof that candidates did in fact complete the required hours and would prevent the doctoring of candidates’ training experiences.

The protesters, who were also backed by the Institute for Road Safety NGO, said that the new requirements were only put in place to maximise the profits of certain companies, and pointed out that the problem lay in the poor evaluation of those who take the exams and not in the number of hours needed to qualify to undertake the final examination.

Residents protest water shortage in Pernik

In January 2020 residents from the city of Pernik, located 30 kilometres west of the Capital, gathered in front of government buildings to protest severe water shortage that has continued for months. The residents attributed the shortage to corruption in the public institutions responsible for the proper management of water supply.

Earlier in the month, the Minister of Environment and Water resigned after being accused of mismanagement and prioritising water supply to industrial agents at the expense of domestic water consumption. Without urgent measures, 82,000 residents of Pernik will be directly affected.

Expression

Council of Europe denounces hate speech and hostility towards minorities, deteriorating media freedom

In December 2019, after a five-day visit to Bulgaria, the Commissioner of the Council of Europe for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, urged authorities to firm up efforts in promoting and protecting the rights of certain minorities, such as the Roma and members of the LGBT community.

He noted with concern the demonstrations organised by extremist groups, the hate speech and hostility towards minority groups, and pointed to the need for a political and cultural shift as regards the treatment and image of minority groups in Bulgaria. Mijatović expressed concern at the government’s inaction in instances of hate speech by some high-level politicians and called on authorities to strongly and publicly condemn incidents of hostility aimed at minorities.

Mijatović also expressed concern at the state of media freedom in the country, noting in particular the political influence over media outlets, harassment of journalists and use of defamation suits. He emphasised that:

“Citizens need a free, investigative and independent press in order to be able to participate more actively in the democratic fabric of society. Journalists should be free to play their crucial role without interference.”