Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2016, 12:25 GMT

Nations in Transit 2009 - Bulgaria

Publisher Freedom House
Author Rashko Dorosiev, Georgy Ganev
Publication Date 30 June 2009
Cite as Freedom House, Nations in Transit 2009 - Bulgaria, 30 June 2009, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

by Rashko Dorosiev and Georgy Ganev

Capital: Sofia
Population: 7.7 million
GNI/capita: US$11,100

The data above was provided by The World Bank, World Bank Indicators 2009.

Nations in Transit Ratings and Averaged Scores

Electoral Process2.
Civil Society3.753.503.
Independent Media3.503.253.253.503.503.503.253.503.503.75
National Democratic Governancen/an/an/an/an/a3.503.
Local Democratic Governancen/an/an/an/an/a3.503.
Judicial Framework and Independence3.503.503.503.503.
Democracy Score3.583.423.333.383.253.182.932.892.863.04

* Starting with the 2005 edition, Freedom House introduced separate analysis and ratings for national democratic governance and local democratic governance to provide readers with more detailed and nuanced analysis of these two important subjects.

NOTE: The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year.

Executive Summary

In the 19 years since the collapse of communism in 1989, Bulgaria has succeeded in consolidating its system of democratic governance with a stable Parliament, sound government structures, an active civil society, and a free media. Over this period, a number of general, presidential, and local elections have been held freely, fairly, and without disturbance. Power has changed hands peacefully. In 2004, the country officially became a NATO member. On January 1, 2007, Bulgaria became a full member of the European Union (EU), completing its integrationist agenda, which dominated political discourse within the country over the period of transition. However, the development of the political events during 2008 has shown that despite these indisputable achievements, many efforts are still needed to make Bulgarian democracy irreversible and vital. Many essential issues still need to be addressed including the reform of the judiciary, fighting corruption and organized crime, and last but not least, measures that might restore people's trust in democracy and bring them back into politics.

National Democratic Governance. The Bulgarian government has faced serious problems in several policy spheres in 2008. Several scandals broke out in the first part of the year, revealing that mismanagement of European Union (EU) funds had led to numerous irregularities and corruption. As a result, payments under several EU funded programs were suspended. In June 2008, a leaked OLAF (European Anti-fraud Office) report linked several members of the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party and the incumbent president Georgy Purvanov to misuse of EU financial assistance. A government appointed minister responsible for the management of the European funds made some positive headway, but further efforts are needed, especially as Bulgaria is at risk of losing EU financial assistance to some programs due to missed deadlines. Owing to the government's inability to effectively manage its financial assistance in the form of EU funds, failure to enact much needed judicial reforms and address widespread corruption, the rating for national democratic governance decreases from 3.00 to 3.25.

Electoral Process. Apart from interim local elections in a few municipalities, no elections were held in Bulgaria in 2008. With low public interest, the interim local elections featured no real engagement of political ideas and the races were reduced to a competition of personalities. At the same time, the popular perception of widespread corruption among politicians remained strong. At the local level, a growing ambition among business interests to gain control over local authorities and local decision-making processes, which perhaps contributes to the phenomenon of vote buying, poses a potentially serious challenge to the Bulgarian democratic system. There are no considerable changes to indicate either an improvement or a decline in the electoral process rating for Bulgaria, which remains unchanged at 1.75.

Civil Society. Over the last 19 years, Bulgaria has managed to develop a vibrant civil society. However, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) sector has yet to develop sustainable fund-raising mechanisms. Many NGOs established after 1989 followed donor-set agendas, which did not necessarily overlap with the goals and objectives of the civil society that these NGOs were meant to represent. Many foreign donors withdrew from Bulgaria after the country joined the European Union, and many Bulgarian organizations readjusted their activities to fit new, European funding agendas. Furthermore, European funding is distributed by the state, which puts NGO independence at risk should preference be shown to those NGOs that are supportive of government policies and programs. Bulgaria's rating for civil society remained unchanged at 2.50.

Independent Media. Print media in Bulgaria are generally free from state interference. Libel is still a criminal offense in the penal code, but in most cases the courts interpreted the law in favor of journalistic expression. According to several international organizations monitoring media development and performance, Bulgarian media are not fully independent from direct economic and indirect political interests. An alarming trend has developed with law enforcement agencies interfering in media independence, and cases of violence against journalists. In August 2008, the State Agency for National Security (SANS) investigated and shut down the Internet news portal, Dangerous News, which contained information about alleged relations between SANS and individuals linked to organized crime. A journalist thought to be behind the news portal was beaten shortly thereafter, and most suspect that the attack was related to his work. It was later revealed that SANS had carried out a separate investigation of several Bulgarian media outlets and even Members of the Parliament with the vague justification of alleged leaking of classified information. Owing to these cases of law enforcement agency interference in media independence, and the violent attack against a journalist, the country's independent media rating worsens from 3.50 to 3.75.

Local Democratic Governance. During 2008 the Bulgarian municipalities received several major opportunities to develop their governance capacities. First, beginning in 2008 municipalities set local tax rates at their discretion within nationally defined limits. Second, due to a package of reforms on secondary education, municipalities were better equipped to decide whether and how to participate in the financing of municipal schools. Third, European Union structural funds allowed municipalities numerous opportunities to formulate development projects and obtain generous funding. While positive structural developments in the area of local governance continue in Bulgaria in 2008, their results remain to be seen, which justifies retaining the local democratic government rating at 3.00.

Judicial Framework and Independence. The judicial system faced mounting pressure to undergo reforms from Bulgarian civil society, media, and through various bodies of the EU. Yet, the official bodies of the Bulgarian judiciary have thus far reacted and commented to reports, criticisms and recommendations in a manner that suggests that opposition to reforms will continue from within the judicial system. The increased pressure to reform the Bulgarian judiciary, and ongoing resistance from within the system justifies worsening Bulgaria's rating for judicial framework and independence from 2.75 to 3.00.

Corruption. In 2008, a series of small steps were made towards improving the institutional framework for fighting corruption. A major corruption scandal related to conflict of interest in the road agency triggered freezing major capital transfers to Bulgaria, and was added to a list of corruption-related problems already undergoing investigation regarding Bulgaria's use of European funds. The events and information which transpired during 2008 indicate that actual corrupt practices and networks in Bulgaria are more deeply embedded and serious than previously thought, warranting a downgrade in Bulgaria's corruption rating from 3.50 to 4.00.

Outlook for 2009. The regular general elections slated for June will be a key event in 2009. Public opinion polls from the end of 2008 suggest that the political formation Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) has the most likely chance to win. Whatever form the new government takes, it will face several crucial policy challenges related to improving the management of EU assistance funds, fighting organized crime and corruption, enacting judicial reform, and responding to the global financial crisis.

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