Alternative Synod of Bulgarian Orthodox Church Troubled by Government

Country: Bulgaria

Date of incident: January 1, 2009

The Bulgarian government confiscated church properties with police force and violence. European Court of Human Rights rules in favor of Alternative Synod of Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

The Bulgarian government confiscated more than 100 church properties of the “Alternative Synod” belonging to the Bulgarian Orthodox Synod who had a legitimate leadership dispute with the government favoured Orthodox Patriarch Maxim. The churches were taken by police force, the priests beaten, and without a court warrant or any court case to defend the rights of the Alternative Synod. They were kept under police control and eventually given to the state-approved synod.

Historically, more than 80 percent of Bulgarians identify themselves as Bulgarian Orthodox. In 1994 about 40 percent dissented from the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (BOC), arguing that its leader was not validly elected under BOC canon law and that he was aligned too closely with the communist regime. They elected their own leadership and built a number of their own churches, reports Alliance Defense Fund.

In July 2004 the new socialist-dominated government passed a law on religions that effectively stripped the dissenting synod of its legal personality and access to the legal system. The Bulgarian chief prosecutor issued a warrant demanding that all the synod’s properties be confiscated. In one evening, more than 100 churches were confiscated, kept under police control and eventually given to the state-approved synod.

According to ADF, the Bulgarian government violated the church’s freedom of thought, conscience, and religion outlined in Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The European Court of Human Rights has awarded six church leadership members of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church 50,000 Euros in punitive damages plus the costs and fees assessed in the first judgment the court issued in the synod’s favor. The dissenting synod, which had its legal personality stripped and its property seized by the socialist government of Bulgaria, won its original decisive victory at the ECHR in a judgment issued in January 2009.

“The church should remain free of government coercion and control,” said European-based ADF Legal Counsel Roger Kiska, who performed most of his work on the case while serving at the European Centre for Law and Justice before joining ADF. “The Bulgarian government vastly overstepped its bounds in stripping the synod of its legal identity, seizing its property, and handing it over to a synod of which the government approves. We are pleased with the ECHR’s latest judgment, which respects the alternative synod’s freedom and independence while compensating it for the extreme financial hardships it was forced to endure.”


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