REVIEW #8: Personal Freedoms under Ongoing Transition from Totalitarianism to Democracy: The Case of Bulgarian Judiciary

The post-communist societies had their own legal, economic, and defense ideologies. The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON)1 was directed by economic ideology, while the Warsaw Pact2 was led by military ideology. They both served as a counterbalance to the Western culture’s formations the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Economic Community (EEC) within Europe, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – also within Europe but including the overseas counterpart.

Socialist doctrine sets state’s welfare as the foundation of its ideology and puts, accordingly, public good over the personal one. The realization of this doctrine is secured through the means of economy and war. In the legal doctrine, the comprehensive notion of public good cannot be applied as the citizens and their rights remain unrecognizable, which demotivates people to contribute to the public good of socialism. The change of the legal order after abandoning socialism in Eastern European countries belonging to the Soviet bloc had a particular goal: to elevate the individual over the state formation, videlicet, the Constitution shall be an index of the rights and freedoms of the individual, and a guide on limiting the so-called “state” entity. The laws, in turn, should serve as guidelines towards the usage of civic rights and freedoms. The main warrant protecting the rights of a citizen, who is liberated from totalitarian views, is the legal order as regulator of fundamental rights and freedoms, and justice as defender and guarantor to respect the rights of this citizen. The legal order, and law enforcement in particular, define the extent to which rights and freedoms of the individual may and will develop.

Transition Processes of Former Socialist States

Economy, defense, and legal order continue to be the connecting thread of the ex-communist camp’s countries. Similar is the transition of these countries across the three key areas. As regards the economy – from predominantly state-owned property to privatization and protection of private property. In defense – from conscript army and allies facing the ideological enemy, to professional army and partners led by the concept of protection against attack on the individual and on the democratic order. Law’s mission was to liquidate the Soviet-type constitutions and adopt Europe’s inherent constitutions of the 1980s (those changing the image of the state).3

Given that the conceptual direction is clear, the timeline can be defined. It starts with the opposition of the pro-Soviet regimes, the rejection of those regimes, the free elections, and the binding of those who exercise the new power with the family of the old democracies. A tool of involvement is the membership in various “democracy clubs” – Council of Europe, negotiations prior joining European Union and NATO; and for those that successfully passed the process – full membership in these organizations.

However, the democratization could only be declared “accomplished” in the presence of working legislative, executive, and judicial institutions. Such institutions do not allow or make it the most difficult to master the transformation and redirect it to serve non-democratic government and the power to harm individual rights and freedoms.

The governing practices in former communist countries symbolize the incompleteness of the process in its otherwise formalized execution. This is why these governments suffer from populism and the more serious infections such as authoritarianism and nationalism. The manifestation of the weaknesses in Hungary and Poland, which has been expressed in the liquidation of the judicial independence, is slowly approaching the Balkans. The process of overpowering the judiciary by the executive in Romania did not start until the spring of 2017.

Bulgaria’s Transition

In Bulgaria4, these processes, though emerging later, are represented at three separate levels. On the one hand, nationalism is intensifying. The hatred towards the “other” constitutes a leading political platform of one of the two ruling Bulgarian parties – United Patriots. On the other hand, populism is finding gaps in the economic policy through statements on the fight against monopolies and a number of legal actions to curb business.


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1Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), also called Organization for International Economic Cooperation (from 1991), was an organization established in January 1949 to facilitate and coordinate the economic development of the Eastern European countries belonging to the Soviet bloc.

2 Warsaw Pact, formally Warsaw Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, (May 14, 1955–July 1, 1991), was a treaty establishing a mutual-defense organization (Warsaw Treaty Organization) composed originally of the Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. The treaty (which was renewed on April 26, 1985) provided a unified military command and for the maintenance of Soviet military units on the territories of the other participating states.

3A constitutional generation adopted with the eradication of authoritarian regimes in Portugal and Spain and continued with the liquidation of the Soviet model state in the Eastern Bloc.

4In the Human Freedom Index 2017, Bulgaria ranks 41 out of 159 countries, with an overall score of 7.83 in ‘Human Freedom’ (receiving a higher score in terms of ‘Personal Freedom’: 8.26, and lower for ‘Economic Freedom’: 7.39). See Vásquez, I. and T. Porčnik (2017) The Human Freedom Index 2017. Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, Fraser Institute, and Liberales Institut. Available [online]: