On Religious Freedom in Bulgaria

Reply-To: minelres-l@riga.lv
Sender: minelres-l@riga.lv
From: MINELRES moderator <minelres@mailbox.riga.lv>
Date: Sun, 3 May 1998 09:53:07 +0300 (EET DST)
Message-Id: <354CA11E.80304EC2@mailbox.riga.lv>
Subject: On Religious Freedom in Bulgaria

From: MINELRES moderator <minelres@mailbox.riga.lv>

Original sender: Panayote Elias Dimitras <dimitras@ceu.hu>

On Religious Freedom in Bulgaria

Tel.: 32 2 219 88 80
Fax: 32  2 219 02 85
Section "Religious Intolerance and Discrimination"
April 21, 1998
HRWF- While the Bulgarian government strives to comply with
international provisions for religious liberty, the Orthodox Church
continues to fuel intolerance of the people and media toward
Protestant churches and other religious minorities.

Prior to the last parliamentary election in April 1997, about 30
religious groups had been denied registration and were unable to exist
legally. Since then, the neo-communists have lost control of
Parliament and a new democratic coalition has come to power. Last
year's report of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) stressed an
improvement toward religious pluralism.

A major breakthrough came when the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance, a
member of the World Evangelical Fellowship, was officially registered
in Bulgaria after a five-year struggle.
However, the BHC report complained about extreme religious intolerance
and furious media campaigns against some Protestant churches and other
religious minorities.
Theodor Angelov, chairman of the Union of the Evangelical Baptist
Churches, recently published a more detailed report about the climate
of intolerance that persists in the media and civil society.

"A noisy and hostile campaign against sects mainly aims to discredit
the evangelical movements. In the last four years, tens of newspaper
articles, radio and TV broadcasts have accused us of being dangerous
to society. All evangelical churches without exception - Methodist,
Congregationalist, Baptist, Pentecostal and Lutheran - have been
called sects," the Angelov report stated.

Angelov stressed, "As a minority, we were pictured as a channel
opening the country to harmful foreign influence, and as such, we were
discriminated against."
As a result, it is extremely difficult to build an evangelical church
today. The Methodist church in Varna is one example. In 1945, it was
confiscated and turned into a puppet theater. Given a new construction
permit in 1995, it began to rebuild. Then in 1997, the local
authorities ordered the work stopped. The almost completed church
building is now being plundered.
In Velingrad, the local authorities stopped the construction of an
evangelical church four years ago. So did the municipal authorities of
Sofia with an orphanage being built by the Baptist church.

"Since 1990, Protestants have been faced with fierce opposition when
trying to build churches, while hundreds of new mosques have been
erected without major problems," Angelov wrote in his report.

"The law provides that religions may create their own theological
schools to educate religious ministers. So far, no permission for the
establishment of such a school or institution has been given to an
evangelical denomination," Angelov also said.
Moreover, the Orthodox clergy has stirred up public opinion against
evangelism campaigns. Priests have organized, and sometimes even led,
raids and protests against conferences held by Protestant churches.

Emil Cohen, managing director of the Bulgarian Tolerance Foundation,
told Compass Direct at a March conference in Krakow, "A spirit of
intolerance and defiance has been promoted. Fear has been instilled
against evangelical churches as if they were dangerous for Bulgarian
traditions and even for national security. Because of this climate,
pastors have been denied all access to the media. We can fear that
religious confrontation may develop further, spreading outside the
Orthodox Church and reaching all levels of society."

According to government statistics, Orthodox believers represent 85
percent of the population. They are followed by Muslims, Armenians,
Jews, Catholics and finally Protestants (1 percent).

Willy Fautré
Greek Helsinki Monitor &
Minority Rights Group - Greece
P.O. Box 51393
GR-14510 Kifisia
Tel. +30-1-620.01.20
Fax +30-1-807.57.67
e-mail: office@greekhelsinki.gr

MINELRES - a forum for discussion on minorities in Central&Eastern

Submissions: minelres-l@riga.lv  
Subscription/inquiries: minelres@mailbox.riga.lv 
List archive: http://www.riga.lv/minelres/archive.htm