1 April 1992

Doc. 6591

Report

on the application of the Republic of Bulgaria

for membership of the Council of Europe

(Rapporteur: Mr MARTINEZ, Spain, Socialist) 1


SUMMARY

      The report examines political and institutional developments, resulting in particular from the Bulgarian people's verdict of 13 October 1991, from which a centre-right majority emerged for the first time since the 2nd World War, in elections pronounced free and fair by an all-party committee of parliamentary observers.

      Special attention is given to the system of guarantees for human and minority rights by the report, which concludes that Bulgaria, a quarter of whose population of 9 million consists of ethnic and religious (predominantly Moslem) minorities, not only satisfies the conditions for Council of Europe membership, but has a vital role to play in bringing stability to the Balkan region.

I. DRAFT OPINION

1.       The Assembly has received from the Committee of Ministers a request for an opinion on the accession of Bulgaria to the Council of Europe (Doc. 6396), in pursuance of Statutory Resolution (51) 30 A adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 3 May 1951.

2.       It observes that democratic parliamentary elections held by universal, free and secret ballot were monitored by an ad hoc committee of the Assembly on 13 October 1991, when local elections, pronounced satisfactory by another Council of Europe delegation, were also held.

3.       The Assembly welcomes the European commitment expressed before the Assembly by President Zhelev on 31 January 1991.

4.       The Assembly appreciates the contribution made by Bulgaria to the work of the Council of Europe, both at parliamentary level since being granted special guest status on 3 July 1990, and at intergovernmental level since acceding to several European conventions, including the European Cultural Convention, signed on 2 September 1991.

5.       It attaches great importance to the commitment expressed by the Bulgarian authorities to sign and ratify in 1992 the European Convention on Human Rights and also to recognize the right of individual application to the European Commission of Human Rights (Article 25 of the Convention) as well as the compulsory jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights (Article 46).

6.        The Assembly considers that the Republic of Bulgaria is able and willing:

i.       to fulfil the provisions of Article 3 of the Statute, which stipulates that "every member of the Council of Europe must accept the principles of the rule of law and of the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdiction of human rights and fundamental freedoms";

ii.       to collaborate sincerely and effectively in the realisation of the aim of the Council of Europe as specified in Chapter I of the Statute of the Council of Europe thereby fulfilling the conditions for accession to the Council of Europe as laid down in Article 4 of the Statute.

7.       The Assembly therefore recommends that the Committee of Ministers, at its next meeting:

i.       invite the Republic of Bulgaria to become a member of the Council

      of Europe;

ii.       allocate six seats to Bulgaria in the Parliamentary Assembly.

II. EXPLANATORY MEMORANDUM

by Mr Martinez, in cooperation with

MM Columberg and Rathbone

C O N T E N T S

       Paragraphs

Introduction       1 - 2

I.       BACKGROUND       3 - 7

II.       THE INSTITUTIONS OF THE YOUNG DEMOCRACY       8 - 15

III.       THE HUMAN AND MINORITY RIGHTS AND THE RULE OF LAW

a.       Freedom of (bi-cultural) expression       16 - 18

b.       The judiciary and prison system       19 - 22

IV.       BULGARIA AND EUROPE       23 - 26

APPENDIX: Programme of the rapporteurs' visit

Introduction

1.       Our joint rapporteurs' fact-finding visit was greatly facilitated by the Bulgarian National Assembly's all-party special guest delegation, and its Secretariat, and by our ambassadors, of which those of Switzerland, Ambassador Harald Borner, and of Spain, Ambassador Joaquin Perez Gomez, continued the excellent tradition of support for the Assembly's activities in non-member countries, among others by the member country holding the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. Our warm thanks are due to Special guests and ambassadors alike.

2.       Our programme (see Appendix) included talks with leading personalities in the executive, legislative and judiciary, as well as with eminent representatives of two important categories for a survey of the human rights situation, namely newspaper editors and the prison service.

I.       BACKGROUND

3.       If, as has been said, Bulgaria has tended to be forgotten by Europe, this is because, during the cold-war era, rightly or wrongly, she presented the image of an uniquely willing Soviet satellite, to the extent that the possibility of full accession to the now defunct Union was discussed. The Russians had after all twice come as liberators, rather than oppressors: in 1878 after five centuries of Ottoman rule, and in 1944 to expel the Nazis, even if murderous "communisation" took place in the early post-war years. Later the respective leaders, Brezhnev and Zhivkov, gave the impression of enjoying a prolonged, if geriatric honeymoon, even if accompanied by the usual, and fateful, establishment of massive economic dependence of Bulgaria on the Soviet Union, also for energy supplies.

4.       After being long ignored, Bulgaria came most unfavourably to the notice of our Assembly in 1985 (in the months following Mikhail Gorbachev's assumption of leadership in Moscow) in connection with a crude campaign of Bulgarisation directed mainly against the country's ethnic Turkish minority. Thus Resolution 846, adopted following debate on 26 September 1985 of a report by the Committee on Relations with European Non-Member Countries, called upon the then "People's Republic of Bulgaria to put an end to the violation of the social, cultural and religious rights of the minorities in question". It is likely that the Zhivhov regime, disconcerted by the "new thinking" in Moscow, was perversely seeking popularity with the Slav majority by this campaign of blatant repression.

5.       Throughout the cold-war period "dissidence" was minimal in Bulgaria, although today's Speaker of the National Assembly, Stefan Savov - who received our delegation - was one of the brave representatives of an intelligentsia who suffered prison while many others were simply murdered during communisation.

(The historical background is comprehensively dealt with in Mr Rathbone's supplementary report).

6.       Later Bulgaria obliged the world and European organisations in particular to take highly positive note of her achievement in conducting, observed by ad hoc observation delegations of our Assembly, free and fair elections to a constituent Assembly on 10 and 17 June 1990 (see Doc. 6279 Addendum) and to the National Assembly on 13 October 1991 (see Doc. 6543 Addendum). All three rapporteurs were involved in the observation of one or the other election.

7.       The last elections indeed marked the loss of power by the (ex-Communist) Socialist party and allies after 45 years, and was later (January of this year) confirmed by the election, for the first time by direct universal suffrage, of President Zhelyo Zhelev. In all cases there was an impressively high, as well as peaceful, participation in the vote - some 80 % - a figure whose attainment would be a rare event in our member countries. Special guest status with our Assembly was granted to the Bulgarian Assembly in July 1990.

II.       THE INSTITUTIONS OF THE YOUNG DEMOCRACY

8.       The October 1991 elections brought about a peaceful transfer of power (without so much as a "velvet" revolution) to the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), a coalition of Centre-Right parties (with 110 seats) from the Socialist coalition (with 106 seats). Since the UDF is short of an overall majority, an informal alliance exists with the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (with 24 seats), a predominantly, but not exclusively, Muslim and ethnic Turkish party, including also some Slav muslims and non-muslims, including gypsies.

9.       The new, youthful and necessarily inexperienced government is only some four months into its four-year term of office, and it was very noticeable and not unnatural to our delegation that relations between the majority and opposition are at present strongly confrontational, a situation which also has its counterpart in some of our member countries. Relations are particularly strained between the Socialist party and MRF since each is seeking to outlaw the other. 53 members of the Socialist party have introduced a petition to have the MRF declared unconstitutional, whereas the latter is backing draft anti-Socialist party legislation in parliament.

10.       It is true that the constitution (analysed by Mr Columberg in his opinion), in Article 11.4, does not accept parties constitued on ethnic or religious criteria. Such a principle - which is not accepted in the majority of our countries - might have some justification as a safeguard against fanaticism, but it should be interpreted with flexibility, and certainly not at the expense of a reasonable party, committed to the protection of minorities. This matter is currently being considered by the Constitutional Court, whose President Assen Manov received us. The Supreme Court had considered that the MRF could participate in the October 1991 elections on the grounds that it had been admitted to the 1990 elections. We gained the impression that the Constitutional Court would deliver its verdict in good time, but without undue haste. Your rapporteur was also contacted by the member of the Court responsible for drafting its ruling.

11.       Our delegation, without in any way wishing to interfere with a matter that is sub judice, warned our Socialist 'Special guest' friends of the danger of seeking to exclude and isolate a national minority, which the sovereign people, in its wisdom, had voted to be represented in its governing institutions.

12.       The MRF, for its part, retaliated by contesting the Socialists' right to exist, and the UDF have drafted, and are threatening to introduce, legislation aimed at "decommunisation" by banning former communist holders of any paid office, which amounts to huge sectors of the population, from the civil service and certain key economic sectors, already the case for banking, for 5 years. Here again we warned our special guest friends that ex-Communists, too, had a "right to change" (or to conversion) which means that the organs of the Strasbourg Human Rights Convention - which all parties declare their readiness to accede to on joining our organisation - would rule against collective punishments of the sort envisaged.

13.       Time will no doubt be needed for a political "middle-ground" to be established, allowing consensus to replace confrontation. There would, however, appear to be some urgency in view of the risk of continued economic deterioration, characterised by high unemployment and debt repayment, and falling productivity.

14.       Our UDF interlocutors insist that priority has indeed been given to economic legislation (pointing to the foreign investment and banking and credit laws). The next priority are the laws, of which 3 are already adopted, on restitution of land and property to its pre-Communist owners, as being the most effective approach to privatisation, indispensable for a true change in the system. Only third priority is given to introducting laws aimed at promoting "fairness" which include declaring the sentences of the post-war "People's courts" as nul and void. Also in this category fall the various "decommunisation" drafts. The opposition, for its part, accuse the government of giving first priority in reality to measures of "reprisal", including "rehabilitation of fascists" judged by the former People's courts, rather than to the necessary structural improvement of the economy, which continues to deteriorate bringing hardship to large sectors of the population, fearful of change. They point out that the local elections on 13 October 1991 produced a majority of Socialist mayors in the countryside.

15.       It is true that the Constitution (see Mr Columberg's supplementary report) gives mainly ceremonial powers to the President. Equally important, however, is the political and moral legitimacy deriving from Zhelyo Zhelev's (like his Vice-President, the poetess Blaga Dimitrova's) direct election by the people. This cannot but strengthen their hand in their ongoing dialogue with the government, party leaders and foreign heads of state.

III.       HUMAN AND MINORITY RIGHTS AND THE RULE OF LAW

A.       Freedom of (bi-cultural) expression

16.       The three editors-in-chief we spoke to were as pluralistic - and as strongly partisan - as the political parties to which they are closely linked: Mr Kapsazov, recently appointed to edit Rights and Freedoms, which publishes both a Bulgarian and a Turkish-language edition; Mr Mutafov, the even more newly-appointed (one month ago) editor of the still embryonic Democracy (an official organ of the UFD), and Mr Stefan Prodev, the veteran editor of the former Communist party organ, and now of the Socialist paper, Duma.

17.       During our exchange of views with a group of MRF representatives, led by our special guest, Younal Lutfi, we learnt that the Movement feels that a start has been made with the reversal of the crude "bulgarisation" (including compulsory change of family names) of the mid-80s. Moreover, today there is no problem with religious freedom (Mosques are strongly in evidence as an element in Sofia's multicultural heritage). But much, we were told, remains to be done in the field of Turkish-language teaching and access to the state media. (No privatisation has yet taken place in this area). It was striking how high a proportion of TV and radio broadcasts are devoted to parliamentary debates, a notable contribution to democratic transparency and political education.

18.       It was hardly surprising that Duma , as the inheritor of the infrastructures and professional expertise (including distribution networks) of the former single-party regime, still has by far the highest number of subscribers, at about 300,000, although this is only one-third of the 1990 figure, "because of price rises", we were told. In a confrontational political atmosphere, the editor's belief that "press freedom is in danger", comes as no surprise. He handed our delegation a letter, similar to one recently addressed to President Mitterrand and others, in which he refers to alleged government plans for "confiscate the property of public organisations considered to have been part of the old system". Such plans "if applied, would lead to the ridiculous situation where the government would become the publisher of the main opposition daily". Such intentions are denied by the government, for example by Prime Minister Dimitrov in a letter to the London Times of 19 March, which also contains a letter from Mr Rathbone on the same subject.

b.       The judiciary and prison system

19.       The Bulgarian constitution (see Mr Columberg's report) guarantees the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary. For obvious reasons, however, and for a transitional period, members of the judiciary will continue to be those educated to a different system, which does not mean that they should be denied the "basic human right to change".

20.       To meet the special concerns of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, our delegation visited the Sofia Central prison, including the wing reserved for frequent offenders, and those whose death sentences have been, for the time being, suspended. Our delegation was accompanied and briefed, not only by the Prison's Director, Mr Harizanov, but by the Deputy Justice Minister, Mrs Koutzkova, and Mr Traikov, Director of the Ministry's Penitentiary Service.

21.       We found conditions comparable to those in several of our member countries, and a vigorously reformist attitude. This has already been actively supported by the Council of Europe's Demosthenes Programme, which, in May 1991, organised a European Expert Seminar in Sofia, and subsequently arranged study visits for Bulgarian prison officers in member countries (Austria, Denmark and the United Kingdom).

22.       The delegation found no reason, in the prison system or elsewhere, to doubt that Bulgaria "accepts the principles of the rule of law and of the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdinction of human rights and fundamental freedoms" (Article 3 of the Statute of the Council of Europe).

IV.       BULGARIA AND EUROPE

23.       Article 3 of our Statute also provides that every member must "collaborate sincerely and effectively" in the realisation of the aims of our organisation. It was highly positive, in this connection, to learn from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stoyan Ganev (on behalf of Prime Minister Dimitrov, absent on a 10-day visit to the United States) that, in spite of economic difficulties, his country has every intention, once a member, of installing an Ambassador in Strasbourg, so that he can act in the full sense as his country's Permanent Representative.

24.       This assurance supplements the politically more significant assurance from all political groups not only in favour of membership, but of, as far as possible, simultaneous accession to, and rapid ratification of, the European Convention on Human Rights, including the optional declarations under Article 25 (individual petition) and Article 46 (compulsory jurisdiction of the Court), and to the Social Charter. Also of great importance both for our organisation and for Bulgaria would be the latter's full participation, with its highly relevant experience, in our intense ongoing work on national minorities, whether this finally takes the form of a separate Convention or an additional protocol to the Human Rights Convention. We can be most encouraged by the participation of the Bulgarian special guests since the status was granted in July 1990, and by the government's accession on 2 September 1991 to the European Cultural Convention, which is no doubt the most important which non-member countries may join.

25.       The current political controversy concerning the constitutionality of the Movements for Rights and Freedoms must not disguise Bulgaria's truly pioneering efforts in favour of multi-culturalism, of obvious special application in the Balkans, where Bulgaria must be placed in a position not only to constitute an almost miraculous "oasis of peace", but an active factor of stability in the region.

26.       As far as Bulgaria's representation in the Parliamentary Assembly is concerned, her population of 9 million, being more closely comparable to that of Sweden (8.5 million) than any other member state, prompts the delegation to propose six seats, like for Sweden.

APPENDIX

PROGRAMME OF THE VISIT OF THE RAPPORTEURS IN SOFIA

FRIDAY 6 MARCH 1992

      Dinner hosted by the Spanish Ambassador,

      H.E. Mr Joaquin PEREZ GOMEZ

SATURDAY 7 MARCH 1992

Morning       Talks with

      

      - Mr Alexander YORDANOV and members of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee

      - Members of the Parliamentary group of the Union of        Democratic Forces (UDF)

      - Members of the Parliamentary group of the Coalition        of the Bulgarian Socialist party

      - Members of the Parliamentary group of the Movement        for Rights and Freedoms (MRF)

      Lunch hosted by Mr Stefan SAVOV, Speaker of the        National Assembly

Afernoon       Talks with

      - Mr Assen MANOV, President of the Constitutional Court

      - Mr Stoyan GANEV, Minister for Foreign Affairs

      - Mrs KOUTZKOVA, Deputy Minister of Justice,

      - Mr TRAIKOV, Head of penitentiary service, and

      - Mr HARIZANOV, Director of Sofia Central prison

Dinner       hosted by the Ambassador of Switzerland,

      H.E. Mr Harald BORNER

SUNDAY 8 MARCH

Dinner       hosted by Bulgarian Assembly's special guest        delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly

MONDAY 9 MARCH 1992

Morning       Talks with

      - Mr Sliven KAPSAZOV, Editor-in-Chief of

       Rights and Freedoms

      - Mr Entcho MUTAFOV, Editor-in-Chief of Democracy

      - Mr Stefan PRODEV, Editor-in-Chief of DUMA

      Audition with Mr Zhelyo ZHELEV, President of the        Republic

      Press conference

TUESDAY 10 MARCH 1992

      (Completion of Mr Rathbone's programme)

Reporting committee: Political Affairs Committee.

Committees for opinion: Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights and Committee on Relations with European Non-Member Countries.

Budgetary implications for the Assembly: None.

Reference to committee: Doc. 6396 and Reference No. 1724 of 11 March 1991.

Draft opinion: Adopted by the committee with 18 votes in favour, none against and one abstention on 26 March 1992.

Members of the committee: MM Reddemann (Chairman), Martinez, Sir Dudley Smith (Vice-Chairmen), MM Alvares Cascos, Antretter, Mrs Baarveld-Schlaman, MM Baumel, Björn Bjarnason, Caro, Cem, Cismozewicz, Espersen, Fioret, Fiorini, Flückiger, Gabbuggiani, Ghalanos, Guizzi, Mrs Halonen, MM Hardy, Hellström (Alternate: Stig Gustafsson), Hyland, Irmer, Kelchtermans, König, Mrs Lentz-Cornette, MM van der Linden, Machete, Martins, Mimaroglu (Alternate: Güner), Miville, Oehry, Pangalos, Papadogonas, Portelli, Schieder, Sebej, Seeuws, Simko, Mrs Suchocka, MM Szent-Ivanyi, Tarschys, Ternak, Thoresen, Ward.

NB.        The names of those members who took part in the vote are underlined.

Secretaries of the committee: MM Massie and Kleijssen.


1 1       In co-operation with Mr Dumeni Columberg (Switzerland, Christian Democrat), Rapporteur for opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, and Mr Tim Rathbone (United Kingdom, Conservative), Rapporteur for opinion of the Committee on Relations with European Non-Member Countries.