In the streets of Sofia - © Belish/Shutterstock

In the streets of Sofia - © Belish/Shutterstock

A recent report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) takes stock of the fight against discrimination in Bulgaria. Progress has been registered in recent years, but many problems remain unresolved

06/12/2022 -  Francesco Martino Sofia

What emerges from the latest report on Bulgaria by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, an independent body created by the Council of Europe, is a picture of lights and shadows, with significant improvements, but also numerous and persistent gray areas.

The study, completed in June 2022, but made public in October, starts off on some positive notes, recording progress compared to the previous report dating back to 2014. Various developments have been recorded in Bulgaria in recent years and praised by ECRI. First of all, the consolidation of the activities of the Commission for the protection against discrimination , a public institution created in 2005, which in the last five years has finally received a more adequate economic endowment, allowing the opening of new offices in the area, today reaching 24.

Among the actions against hate speech, the most significant, also from a symbolic point of view, was the ban on holding the controversial "Lukov Marsh", a demonstration held annually on February 18 in the capital Sofia by ultra -nationalists and neo-Nazis in memory of General Hristo Lukov, member of the pro-Nazi wing of the Bulgarian army, killed by communist partisans in 1943. After years of heated controversy, in 2020 the Supreme Administrative Court banned the nightly torchlight procession that crossed the streets of the city centre, clearly referencing the choreography of the Third Reich.

Some innovations have also been seen in the field of the fight against discrimination against the LGBTI community, with an effort to create a synergy between civil society actors and institutions: in 2019, such effort culminated in the inclusion of NGOs active in the defence of LGBTI rights in training of police bodies aimed at recognising and repressing hate crimes.

Of central importance for Bulgaria, home to one of the largest Roma populations in the EU, is certainly the fight against discrimination on ethnic and racial grounds. Efforts aimed at integrating the Roma community, which remains highly discriminated and marginalised, have been made in the field of education: in preschools, for example, Bulgarian classes have been introduced for children of different mother tongue.

The practice of employing a mediator in the areas of healthcare, education, and job search is increasingly frequent and widespread: an approach that has shown positive results especially during the toughest periods of the Covid-19 pandemic, when it was essential to overcome the wall of widespread distrust of the community towards public institutions.

After the positive notes, however, the ECRI also raises numerous and strong criticisms against the government in Sofia. Despite the commission's repeated requests, for example, no monitoring mechanism has been created by the Bulgarian institutions to monitor or counter incidents of racial or anti-LGBTI discrimination. There is also a lack of in-depth studies capable of providing a complete picture of the situation with respect to sexual minorities in the country.

That the LGBTI community remains subject to numerous episodes of discrimination, including violence, is demonstrated by the numerous attacks suffered in Sofia by the LGBTI centre "Rainbow Hub". The last one featured Boyan Rasate, leader of the far-right political organisation "Bulgarian National Union", who devastated  the centre together with a group of his militants in October 2021.

After the attack, 11 foreign embassies in Sofia – including those of the United States, France, and the United Kingdom – signed a joint letter of protest. A few months later, Rasate was found guilty of "violating public order" and sentenced to a fine .

Also in the field of discrimination on ethnic and racial grounds, the ECRI report can only note the persistence of structural marginalisation of the Roma community in Bulgaria, which according to estimates now makes up for around 10% of the country's population. In recent years, attacks and assaults against the community have continued.

Despite progress in the field of education, the school dropout rate among young Roma remains very high, especially when compared to the rest of the population, while the percentage of Roma persons with secondary and university education (respectively 9% and 0.5%) remains much lower than the average. Employment percentages are also concerning to say the least: if in 2021 the general unemployment rate stood at around 5.4%, in areas with a strong Roma presence, such as the Stolipinovo district in Plovdiv, it largely exceeded 80%.

In recent years, the situation has been made even worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, and by the subsequent prevention and containment measures carried out by the Sofia authorities, which have particularly affected workers in the Roma community, often employed in precarious jobs and in the informal economy.

On the topic of ethnic, sexual, and workplace discrimination, the first reflections on intersectionality have begun in Bulgaria in recent years, so far limited to the more aware sectors of civil society, but yet to be embraced by the institutions and the public opinion.

Among the pioneers, from this point of view, is Bulgarian NGO Amalipe, which in September 2022 organised one of the first seminars  on the subject with the aim of introducing young Roma people to the basics of intersectional discrimination, with particular reference to women and members of the Roma LGBTI community.

Trade unions have also contributed to starting a discussion on intersectionality in Bulgaria. In particular, in 2021, the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria (KNSB), one of the main trade unions in the country, actively participated in a campaign led by the European Trade Union Confederation to call for a stronger European-level directive  on pay transparency, and to push for a gradual alignment of the wages of women – especially those part of discriminated or marginalised groups or communities – with those of men at the European level.


This material is published as part of the project “INGRID. Intersecting Grounds of Discrimination in Italy", co-financed by the European Commission in the framework of the REC (Rights, Equality, Citizenship) 2014-2020 programme. The content of this article represents the point of view of the authors only and is their sole responsibility. The EC takes no responsibility for the use that may be made of the information contained therein. Visit the page of project INGRID

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