eurel     Données sociologiques et juridiques sur la religion en Europe et au-delà


  • 20 November 2018 : Proposal to subsidize theology in university education

The Ministry of Education and Science proposed the students in some fields of studies not to pay university taxes. These fields are Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, Educational Studies, and Theology. If the choice of the first four is determined by the shortage of professionals in these spheres, the motives for the last one are not clearly stated. In addition, the universities in Bulgaria offer only programs in Orthodox Theology. The other religions in Bulgaria have no university level theological training recognized by the state authorities.

Source : “The Ministry of Education and Science proposes the state to subsidize the university education in the field of Theology” [Vissheto obrazovanie po teologiya da stane bezplatno, predlaga Ministerstvoto na obrazovanieto], published by on 17 October 2017 (in Bulgarian).

  • 13 November 2018 : Amendments of the religious denominations act in Bulgaria : discussion (May-October 2018)

In the beginning of May 2018, two religion-related draft laws were registered in the Bulgarian Parliament. The first of them (No. 854-01-34/04.05.2018) is supported by the political party GERB (Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria), i.e. the currently leading political force in the country, as well as by two parties in opposition, namely the BSP (Bulgarian Socialist Party) and DPS (the Movement for Rights and Freedom). The second one (No. 854-01-35/09.05.2018) is proposed by the Patriotic Front – an alliance of three small nationalist formations that became a key partner in the present ruling coalition in Bulgaria. It consists of the NFSB (National Front for the Rescue of Bulgaria), VMRO (a political party named after the historical Internal Revolutionary Macedonian Organization that fought for the liberation of Macedonia between 1893 and 1944), and “Ataka” (a party that used to demonstrate aggressive behavior towards the Muslims in Bulgaria and launched sharp criticism against the EU policy of defense of the rights of homosexual citizens).

Both projects aim to tighten the state control over the participation of foreign religious ministers in the administration and activities of the religious denominations in Bulgaria, the foreign donations to the local faith communities, the (mis)use of religion for political ends, the management of the finances of religious communities, the rules for the registration of new religious organizations, the procedures for opening religious schools, etc. In this regard, the first draft law envisions more moderate measures and sanctions than those of the draft authored by the Patriotic Front. Another difference is the Patriotic Front’s reference to the so-called “religious radicalism”. According to its draft law, religious radicalism embraces “activities, sermons, texts, statements or appeals of religious organizations that

a. refute the secular character of the state, put under question the rule of law, replace civil law with an alternative one or give priority to a different type of law [i.e. religious one] ;
b. contradict the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and associated international acts ;
c. set people against each other on grounds of religion or faith [but the difference between religion and faith is not clarified] ;
d. preach, promote, or justify religious terrorism and religious war(s) ;
e. use symbols or signs of terrorist organizations, and cooperate with them”.

The Patriotic Front also regards the proposed amendments as steps against the “politicization of religion”, defined as “an infringement of the principle of separation between the political power and religion that endangers the national security, and as a misuse of any religious denomination, its ruling bodies, churches and prayer houses, traditions and rites for political ends by a religious institution or a political organization”.
Elaborated without consulting the local religious denominations and their central administrations, both documents provoked a wave of criticism. From late May to early October, the central administrations of the faith communities in Bulgaria lodged a series of complaints against both draft laws. All of them agreed that the proposed amendments

-  contradict the principle of separation of the religious institutions and the state (Bulgarian Constitution, Art. 13.2) ;
-  infringe the constitutionally protected freedom of religion (Art. 37) ; and
-  fail to take into consideration the judgments of the Bulgarian Constitutional Court, interpreting the religion-related constitutional texts (No. 5 of 11 June 1922 ; No. 2 of 18 February 1998).

In addition, the religious leaderships stressed that many of the proposed amendments had already been addressed in other special laws, e.g. the Criminal Codex, the Law on Counteraction to Terrorism, the Law on the Measures against the Financing of Terrorism ; the Law on the Governance and Functioning of the National Security Defense System, the Law on the National Security State Agency, the Law on the Intelligence Service State Agency, the Law on the Measures Preventing Money Laundering, Law on the Limiting of Cash Payments, etc.

It was also pointed out that some of these ‘innovations’ present a return to normative acts and practices from the communist times which had been removed from the Bulgarian legislation after the fall of communism, e.g. the communist ban on the contacts of the local religious denominations with organizations abroad without the permission of the State authorities (1949 Law on Religious Denominations, Art. 22).

At the same time, the different religious communities placed the focus of their criticism on different texts in the proposed draft-laws.

The Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, representing the majority religion in the country, emphasized the immunity/inviolability of its properties on the grounds of canons created in the first centuries of Christianity. It claimed that everything it has received through donations, inheritance, testaments, etc. has become the Church’s eternal property and that no secular institution has the right to take away these possessions. At the same time, it also demonstrated a selective attitude to the proposed changes in the State financial policy to religious organizations. The Synod agreed with the audit of the expenditure of the subsidies from the state budget, but refused to submit any accounts about the Church’s incomes from its own properties. In this regard, it is important to mention that the Church’s incomes from own resources used to be audited by the State before the communist regime. Besides, after the fall of communism, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has received back all its economic assets that were nationalized by the atheist state. As a result, the Church became the second biggest owner (after the State) of arable lands and forests in the country. It also restored its property rights over the Church candle industry and many office buildings, situated in the centre of Bulgarian cities. Besides, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church protested over the State control over donations from abroad. Yet, until nowadays, there is no public register of the Orthodox Church’s properties, neither does it present public accounts of its incomes and the corresponding expenditures. Furthermore, in the case of the amendments regarding the donations to religious communities, it is important to mention that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church can receive such donations not only from its communities in diaspora, but also from other Orthodox Churches, e.g. the Russian Orthodox Church started making such donations upon the establishment of the communist regime in Bulgaria. Finally, the Holy Synod welcomed the idea of Orthodox priests being paid by the State budget, but was discontent with the proposed upper limit of the State subsidy.

According to it, under this rule the Orthodox Church will receive less money per capita than the other religious denominations eligible for such subsidies.
In its turn, the Chief Mufti’s office paid special attention to the use of the phrase “religious radicalism” and pointed to the lack of such term and definition in the international acts relating to religion. It also protested against the planned amendments as ones that endanger the future existence of the Higher Institute for Islamic Studies in Bulgaria, e.g. the Chief Muftiate disagrees with the envisioned new competence of the State Directorate on Religious Denomination to certify the diplomas issued by religious schools.

Finally, all religious minorities, except the Muslim one, criticized the introduction of a new criterion for the eligibility of religious communities to receive state subsidies. According to it, only the religious denominations which have a number of adherents higher than 1% of the Bulgarian population will receive financial support from the State. In this regard, they also commented that during the 2011 census, the Bulgarian citizens were not obliged to declare their religious affiliation, mother tongue, and ethnic self-identification, therefore, the religious communities had no idea that the census data would be used for the estimation of the corresponding State subsidy.

On 11 October 2018, during the first parliamentary discussion of the two draft-laws, the parliament took decision to have them mechanically unified into a new draft law. Registered under No. 853-14-10, it will be the subject of further debates in the Bulgarian Parliament.

Used Sources :
1. Draft Law proposed by deputies from the Political Party “Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria” (GERB), the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS). Registered under No. 854-01-34 on 4 May 2018. The webpage also contains links to the statements of the different religious communities on this draft law.
2. Draft Law proposed by deputies from the United Patriotic Front consisting of the National Font for the Rescue of Bulgaria (NFSB), VMRO (a political party named after the historical Internal Revolutionary Macedonian Organization that fought for the liberation of Macedonia between 1893 and 1944), and the Political Party “Ataka”. Registered under No. 854-01-35 on 9 May 2018. The webpage also contains links to the statements of the different religious communities on this draft law.
3. United Draft Law on the amendment of the Religious Denominations Act. Registered under No. 853-14-10 on 19 October 2018.

D 13 novembre 2018    ADaniela Kalkandjieva

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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