17 January 2020

Letter from 62 Bulgarian civil society organisations to the European institutions on smear campaign against civil society in Bulgaria

A group of 62 Bulgarian civil society organisations addressed the European Commissioners with a letter in which they described the smear campaign taking place in Bulgaria against CSOs, mainly targeting organisations providing social services and those receiving support from the Active Citizens Fund of the EEA Financial Mechanism.

The current campaign targeting social services providers is connected with the enforcement of the Social Services Act passed in early 2019. This new law is the product of more than 10 years of debate and comprises part of Bulgaria´s de-institutionalisation strategy.

According to the signatories of the letter, the propaganda campaign is specifically targeting the provisions of the Social Services Act, which allow EU-based providers to deliver social services in Bulgaria. The defamatory campaign contains false presumptions regarding CSOs active in the social services that receive foreign funding, and alleges that they are advocating on behalf of foreign interests or that the Social Services Act enables foreign organisations with their own agenda to come to Bulgaria and undermine national values.

While the attack started on social media, driven by citizens’ “groups” insisting on “national values”, it has subsequently been mainstreamed into rhetoric of wider public, including some politicians.

The defamatory campaign has already brought tangible results with the end of 2019 seeing Bulgarian National Assembly vote through an amendment to the Social Services Act, postponing its entry into force by six months from January 1st 2020. This decision was taken without conducting the due regulatory impact assessment, and without prior public consultations.

The current campaign imposes a threat to the democratic principles of public consultations and decision-making, putting at risk the pro-European agenda of Bulgarian society. Therefore, 62 civil society organisations, the signatories of the letter, urge the European Commission,

  • To make a clear public statement on the importance of civil society;
  • To urge the Bulgarian government to protect civic space and stand against hate campaigns questioning the need for civil society organisations;
  • To meet and to discuss their concerns and support the CSOs in Bulgaria in reaffirming core EU values and principles.

The letter comes a few months after Philanthropy Advocacy (DAFNE and EFC) joined the Bulgarian Donors Forum and other civil society organisations from across Europe to condemn action against the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee in an open letter.