August 2023 | Parliament expands domestic violence law to apply beyond married couples
Following a brutal attack on an 18-year-old woman and subsequent mass protests, the parliament passed amendments to the Criminal Code and the Law on Protection from Domestic Violence in an extraordinary session by a vote of 144-58, with eight MPs abstaining. The changes introduce the term “intimate relationships,” expanding the legal framework beyond cases of marital domestic violence, although it remains limited to heterosexual relationships. The legislation was supported by the ruling coalition of Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB)/United Democratic Forces, the We Continue the Change/Democratic Bulgaria bloc, and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. However, GERB joined the opposition parties, the far-right Vazrazhdane, the populist There Is Such a People (ITN), and the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) in the proposal to include only relationships between men and women in the law. The law has drawn criticism from activists and experts for its exclusion of relationships shorter than 60 days.
July 2023 | Release of perpetrator of gender-based violence causes anger and protests
Protests against violence towards women, which are rare in the country, took place in different cities. In the capital, Sofia, approximately 5,000 protesters took to the streets. A brutal attack against an 18-year-old woman by her former partner, which took place on 26 June, made the headlines at the end of July, when it emerged that the perpetrator, 26-year-old Georgi Georgiev, was discharged on 5 July as the court classified the injuries he inflicted as “minor bodily injury,” despite the victim requiring 400 stitches for her wounds. Georgiev also had a prior criminal record and was already on probation. He remained free until 30 July when, following public pressure, authorities arrested him for death threats he had sent to the victim before the attack. The protests have shone light on the issue of gender-based violence in Bulgaria, which has not ratified the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty aimed at combating gender-based violence. A survey by the National Statistics Institute at the end of 2022 found that one third of women aged 18-29 said they had experienced physical, sexual or psychological violence from an intimate partner, while 20 per cent of those between 18 and 74 reported the same.
June 2023 | President signs decision to fire chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev
President Rumen Radev has approved the Supreme Justice Council’s (SJC) decision to dismiss the country’s top prosecutor, Ivan Geshev, halfway through his seven-year term. The decision follows a remark by Geshev, in which he referred to members of parliament opposing him as “political garbage”. SJC ruled that his remarks breached the Code of Ethical Behaviour of Bulgarian Magistrates and damaged the reputation of the judiciary. Civil society and the opposition have criticized Geshev for undermining judicial reforms due to close ties with politicians implicated in corruption and his failure to address high-profile corruption cases and money-laundering allegations against former prime minister Boyko Borisov and his allies. However, experts have said that the removal of Geshev is not an indication of judicial reform, but of a highly politicized judiciary.
May 2023 | Rotational coalition government breaks political stalemate
The opposing centrist parties, Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB)/United Democratic Forces, and the We Continue the Change/Democratic Bulgaria bloc (PP-DB) reached a coalition agreement on 22 May, which was voted on by the parliament in June. The parties have agreed on an 18-month “expert” cabinet, which will be led by rotating prime ministers. The solution comes after a period of political stalemate and five elections in the past two years. PP-DB, which had promised it would not enter a coalition with GERB, said the deal aimed at safeguarding the country's European future and addressing the risk posed by the “threat of timeless interim cabinets.” Nikolai Denkov from “We Continue the Change” will serve as the prime minister for the first nine months, while former EU commissioner Mariya Gabriel, GERB’s designate, will take over for the subsequent nine months. The main objectives of the government will be constitutional and judicial reforms, combatting high-level corruption, full-fledged EU membership, and reintroducing electronic voting to tackle electoral fraud.