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Bulgaria/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.4 Cultural diversity and inclusion policies

The Tables 3 and 4 below provide data on the population breakdown in Bulgaria and derived from the most recent population census (2001).

Table 3:     Population by ethnic group and mother tongue, 2001


By ethnic group

By mother tongue


6 655 000

6 697 000


747 000

763 000

Gypsies (roma)

371 000

328 000


69 000

71 000

Non stated

62 000

45 000


7 929 000

7 929 000

Source:      Population census 2001.

Ethnic group: "Community of people, related to each other by origin and language, and close to each other by mode of life and culture";

Mother tongue: "The language which a person speaks best and which is usually used for communication in the family (household)".

Table 4:     Population by religion, 2001


Total number

Christian (East Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant)

6 639 000

Moslem (Sunni and Shiite)

967 000


25 000

Not stated

283 000


15 000


7 929 000

Source:      Population census 2001.

Religion: "Membership, determined historically, of a person or his parents and grandparents to a given group with certain religious views".

The Parliament ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (Council of Europe) in 1999.

In the course of the National Debate on Bulgarian Cultural Policy, held in 1998, the executive and NGOs stressed their common view of minority culture as an integral part of the national cultural heritage.

Despite its limited budget, the Ministry of Culture offers financial support to projects such as the Roma Cultural and Information Centre, the Roma Musical Theatre, festivals and projects of different cultural groups, etc. A Public Council on Cultural Diversity has been established at the Ministry as an expert consultative body. In 2006, the Department for Cultural Integration, Ministry of Culture organised several regional workshops for government and non-government experts working in the field of culture on issues related to cultural integration of ethnic minorities. These seminars were undertaken in cooperation with the individual municipalities and chitalistas (cultural houses). The programme of each seminar was adapted to the specific needs of the region.

NGOs such as the Open Society Foundation, the Interethnic Initiative for Human Rights, SEGA, and the International Centre for Minority Studies and Intercultural Relations, provide support for periodicals, media events and live performances of various cultural groups. This support is given on the basis of results from sociological surveys, which have shown that minority cultural groups are increasingly consumers rather than just producers of cultural products. That is one of the reasons why in early 2003, two state cultural institutes were founded in regions with large Turkish communities: the Kadrie Lyatifova Institute in Kurdjali and the Nazim Hikmet Institute in Razgrad. Their mission is to create and stage musical, dance and theatre productions; to preserve elements of Turkish identity such as language, traditions and cultural heritage; and to promote intercultural tolerance and dialogue.

An important development was the creation of a National Council of Ethnic and Demographic Issues (NCEDI) within the Council of Ministers Decree No 449 on the 4.12.1997, which included representatives from various minority cultural groups. In 2004, the NCEDI was transformed into the National Council for Interethnic Interaction. The Council is working on the development of a national policy in consultation with different government agencies and non-governmental organisations. The non-government organisations from the minorities sector are critical of the Council in relation to its limited legal powers - it is only a consultative body, without power to impose sanctions where infringements occur. The integration of cultural minorities has been identified as a national priority along with decentralisation of support for their education. Local level Councils for Ethnic and Demographic Issues have also been established in the different regions and include representatives of the respective local minority cultural communities. (see:

In 2005, the NCEDI granted funding to projects related to minorities in the amount of 143 000 BGN, from which:

  • 45350 BGN was granted to projects for the preservation and development of culture and originality of the Roma minority;
  • 40700 for the Turkish minority;
  • 9985 for the Armenian minority;
  • 3000 for the Jewish minority; and
  • 11300 BGN for initiatives which were oriented towards inter-ethnic collaboration and for other ethnic communities.

An internet portal regarding ethnic minorities was created (, with the support of the Council and with the participation of the "Open Society- Sofia" and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. The objective of the portal is to be a communication forum between the donor organisations and their beneficiaries. The portal is oriented towards NGOs working in the area of minority issues, law enforcement NGOs, government institutions - ministries and regional agencies, district and municipal councils on ethnic and demographic issues, and the media. It provides information about basic documents, which set the framework for the minorities' integration processes, about legislation, about donor programmes, information about minority NGOs, international organisations, media, universities, projects in Bulgaria, and studies of minorities.

The Ministry of Culture, the Nesebar and Varna Municipalities provide support for the annual 3-day "Ethnos Festival". The festival takes place in both municipalities and its main objectives are to present the culture of the various ethnic communities located in these areas and to support their development and preservation. The following actors are involved in the organisation of the festival: the Varna Community Center "Chitalishte Hristo Botev", the United Arts School Nesebar as well as the cultural organisations of the different ethnic communities.


In 2004, a government "Action Plan" was adopted for implementing the "Decade of Roma Inclusion" (2005-2015) and a budget of 37 622 000 EUR is expected for the duration of this programme. The Programme "Decade of Roma Inclusion" is an initiative adopted by eight countries in Central and Southeast Europe and supported by the international community. It represents the first cooperative effort to change the lives of Roma in Europe. An action framework for governments, the Decade will monitor progress in accelerating social inclusion and improving the economic and social status of Roma across the region. The international community is supporting the Decade. This includes the Open Society Institute, the World Bank, the European Commission, United Nations Development Program, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Council of Europe, and most importantly, Roma leadership, including international Roma organisations (for further information look for the website

Another important element concerns an amendment to the Media Act, which eliminates the danger of regionalisation of minority culture, i.e. the creation of ethnic regions by means of radio and TV broadcasts as a prelude to ethnic-based territorial differentiation.

The National Framework Programme on Equal Integration of Roma into Bulgarian Society adopted in 1999 is the most important measure concerning minority cultural groups. This programme resulted from an agreement between several dozen Roma organisations and a government representative, and was adopted by a Council of Ministers resolution. The Framework Programme identifies several priorities:

  • protection against discrimination, including amendments to the effective legislation (introduction of anti-discrimination provisions in the laws on education, health care, regional development, sports; inclusion in the Criminal Code of racist motives for crime as an aggravating circumstance);
  • economic development: measures for employment, social assistance and land allocation;
  • health care: tightened sanitary control and health education programmes;
  • regional development of Roma neighbourhoods (targeted state subsidies);
  • education: de-segregation of Roma schools; support and encouragement of the introduction of preparatory classes for Roma children with poor, or no command of the Bulgarian language; encouraging the appointment of teachers with university education; educational and training programmes for adult Roma;
  • protection of the ethnic specificity and culture of Bulgarian Roma;
  • presence of Roma in the national media; and
  • formation of a culture of equality among Roma women.

The active participation of the Roma community in elaborating and implementing the Programme is of crucial importance.

In 2005, the Open Society Institute - Sofia continued to support the development of a network of Roma community centres, by strengthening their capacity to organise advocacy campaigns. Ten advocacy campaigns took place under the project, including campaigns for equal access to education, introducing access to health mediators - as one of the social services provided by municipalities, improving housing in Roma neighborhoods, etc.

Chapter published: 02-07-2018

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