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

17 January 2020

A group of 62 Bulgarian civil society organisations addressed the European Commissioners with a letter in which they described the smear campaign against CSOs in Bulgaria, targeting mainly the 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. The new law has been an outcome of more than 10 years of debate and it comprises Bulgaria´s de-institutionalisation strategy.

According the signatories of the letter, propaganda specifically targets provisions in the Social Services Act, which allow EU-based providers to deliver social services in Bulgaria. The defamatory campaign contains false presumptions that CSOs active in social services field receiving foreign funding are advocating on behalf of foreign interests or that the Social Services Act allegedly enables some 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.

Defamatory campaign has already brought tangible results and at the end of 2019 the Bulgarian National Assembly voted an amendment of the Social Services Act for postponing by six months its entry into force from January 1st 2020. This decision was taken without conducting the due regulatory impact assessment justifying the measure, 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 the 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.