Human Rights in BulgariaBulgaria is integrated into the EU and its economy is growing while unemployment and poverty decline. But not all populations are benefiting from these improvements. Income inequality is vast and not all Bulgarians have good economic opportunities. Furthermore, certain populations are denied human rights in Bulgaria.

Journalists
The U.S. State Department notes that there have been threats of intimidation against journalists. While the courts generally rule in favor of free speech, government officials have often sued for libel and defamation. Some have threatened journalists’ lives for their reporting.

The Disabled
Mentally and physically disabled people tend to be institutionalized in Bulgaria. These sites are poorly maintained and understaffed. For those capable of education, there is little policy to guide how to teach them. As a result, many disabled children are uneducated. While discrimination based on disability is illegal, many cannot obtain jobs because of their lack of education and training. Additionally, most workplaces are not equipped to accommodate the disabled.

Roma
Bulgaria generally excludes the Romani population from society. Their children have less access to education and healthcare than other Bulgarian children. They are also found in mental health institutions, special education schools and detention centers more often. The Romani also experience more violence and police harassment.

Women
Women face several human rights abuses in Bulgaria, from income inequality to religious discrimination and sexual abuse. Sex trafficking of Bulgarian women and children is recognized as a great concern to the U.S. State Department. Furthermore, there is a taboo about reporting rape in Bulgaria, leading to many women not reporting the crime.

Refugees
There are numerous reports of police brutality against refugees fleeing into Bulgaria. Refugees have been separated from family members, beaten and robbed. Some are sent back to their country of origin, while others are detained longer than what is considered ethical.

There are alarming abuses of human rights in Bulgaria. The good news is that many watchdog organizations are aware and working to end them. Amnesty International and The Human Rights Watch are acting as sentries on Bulgaria’s activity. The U.S. State Department has released reports about Bulgaria, while the U.N. has called on Bulgaria to improve conditions. As the country grows in the global community, hopefully the gains will been felt by all populations.

Mary Katherine Crowley
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Rate in Bulgaria
Poverty in Bulgaria has greatly impacted the culture. According to a EuroStat survey of EU satisfaction rates, Bulgaria is the least happy country in the European Union. After joining the EU in 2007, Bulgarians were hopeful that conditions would improve.

On the contrary, unemployment rates remained high and Bulgaria continued to be the poorest country in the Union. While the poverty rate in Bulgaria has not gone down as Bulgarians hoped it would, the economy is slowly and steadily improving.

Top Facts about the Poverty Rate in Bulgaria:

  1. Bulgarians have been living in poverty since the fall of the communist regime in November 1990. EuroStat found that, in 2017, 2.5 million Bulgarians (35 percent of the population) are living in poverty.
  2. More than a third of the European Union poverty resides in Bulgaria, Romania and Greece combined. The average pension in Bulgaria is 165 euros per month–less than $200.
  3. Of the Bulgarian population, 34.2 percent is severely deprived, meaning that they cannot pay their bills, heat their homes or afford an annual vacation. The unemployment rate is 10.8 percent. The average in the European Union is 9.8 percent.
  4. According to a survey by the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce, around 244 Bulgarian companies increased their number of employees in 2016. The National Statistical Institute showed that, from March to June 2017, the number of employees under contract increased by 2.8 percent.
  5. Due to decades of poverty in Bulgaria, the availability of qualified workers is severely lacking. This is both due to the inability to properly educate youth and the emigration of young people to more developed countries.

Although the poverty rate in Bulgaria is still high, the country is slowly improving and growing its economy. The year 2017 has shown some stagnation in growth, but the progress in 2016 indicates that more growth is on the way. Incomes are rising and, as this happens, happiness is also rising as people have more money to invest in contentment.

Madeline Boeding

Photo: Flickr

Common Diseases in Bulgaria
Bulgaria, located in the Balkan region, borders the Black Sea between Romania and Turkey. The country’s life expectancy rate is increasing, with the urban population at 2.9 years’ increase and the rural population at 1.1 years’ increase. Although there is a continual increase, the life expectancy is only at 74.8 years as of July 2016, which is among the lowest life expectancies in the European Union. The common diseases in Bulgaria directly affect these statistics and daily life in the country

Communicable and non-communicable diseases affect Bulgaria at different rates. According to Healthgrove, the most common deadly non-communicable diseases include cardiovascular disease, cancer and chronic respiratory disease.

In 2013, the three most deadly cancers were tracheal, bronchus and lung cancer; colon and rectum cancer and stomach cancer. These comprised 44.1 percent of all deaths from cancer in Bulgaria at the time.

Common communicable diseases in Bulgaria include:

  • Lower respiratory infections
  • Meningitis
  • Encephalitis
  • Diarrheal diseases
  • Intestinal infectious diseases
  • Varicella and herpes zoster
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Otitis media
  • Tetanus
  • Whooping cough
  • Diphtheria
  • Measles

These diseases are spread through contact with an infected person or breathing in particles from an infected person sneezing or coughing into the open air or on a non-infected person.

In 2015, the death rate per 100,000 people was 1,500 people. The following non-communicable common diseases in Bulgaria caused the most deaths:

  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • Hypertensive heart disease
  • Alzheimer disease
  • Lung cancer
  • COPD
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Other cardiovascular
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Diabetes

Although it is difficult to prevent non-communicable diseases as they occur from the environment or are common within a family, communicable diseases can be prevented, meaning that many of the most common diseases in Bulgaria can be tackled. With vaccinations readily available for communicable diseases, good hygiene also plays a factor. Washing hands frequently, staying away from contaminated food and covering your mouth while coughing or sneezing can help lead to a disease-free, healthier lifestyle.

Stefanie Podosek

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Bulgaria
Bulgaria is situated on the Black Sea, to the north of Turkey and Greece and to the south of Romania and Serbia. This country’s location on the Black Sea and on the Danube River provides a beautiful, picturesque landscape. Not as beautiful is the fact that Bulgaria has been named the most unhappy country in the EU.

It is no coincidence, then, that Bulgaria has some of the highest poverty rates in the EU. The most recent data from Eurostat reports that in 2015, about 41.3 percent of Bulgaria’s 7.4 million citizens were at risk of poverty or social exclusion – the highest percentage in the EU. Bulgaria also reported the highest rate of material deprivation in the EU, with 34.2 percent of the population being materially deprived. The elderly and children bear the highest risk for social exclusion and poverty in Bulgaria, at rates of 51.8 percent and 43.7 percent, respectively.

What drives poverty in Bulgaria? Here are three causes that should help shed some light on Bulgaria’s poverty rate, and why it is therefore rated such an unhappy country.

Corruption

Bulgaria has been perceived as the most corrupt country in the EU. The European Commission reported that tackling high-level corruption and organized crime are the biggest challenges in Bulgaria. There is a pervasive lack of autonomy and transparency in Bulgaria’s judicial system. Several political officers have been known to take bribes, which is a driving force in Bulgaria’s government and economy.

Corruption comes at a price for Bulgaria’s international relationships. In 2008, the European Commission temporarily suspended hundreds of millions of euros in EU aid to Bulgaria, over concerns of corruption and organized crime. Additionally, corruption is a barrier to doing business in Bulgaria. This barrier is problematic, as opportunity and access to international business and trade in Bulgaria could create more jobs and open up Bulgaria to receiving foreign aid.

When Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, many Bulgarians hoped that EU membership would ameliorate the corruption in their government. Unfortunately, these problems in Bulgaria’s government still persist.

Pension

Bulgaria has the lowest average pension in Europe, at the equivalent of €160 a month; Bulgaria’s currency is the lev, which is €0.51. Most Bulgarians, however, receive less than the equivalent €160. In 2016, the majority of pensioners in Bulgaria – 60 percent – received the equivalent of €150, forcing them to live below the poverty line. One quarter of Bulgarian pensioners receive the minimum pension of the equivalent of €80 per month – the lowest in the EU. According to the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria, a Bulgarian would need to receive the equivalent of €290 per month to lead a “normal life”.

Transition out of Communism

Is it a possibility that the quality of life in Bulgaria was better during communism?

Bulgaria was not a member of the Soviet Union, but it was a satellite state under a communist regime. During the communist regime, Bulgarians received free healthcare, free higher education, maternity and disability benefits and pensions. Even the poorest Bulgarians, the Romas, had jobs, collected social security and enjoyed an acceptable standard of living.

After communism was abolished in Bulgaria, the U.S. encouraged a market economy and multi-party democracy. Since transitioning out of communism, however, Bulgaria has faced a corrupt government and stunning rates of poverty.

Despite a bleak outlook on poverty and on life in general in Bulgaria, there is hope. Bulgaria’s economy is largely dominated by the service sector, and not by the agriculture sector, as is common for countries facing high rates of poverty. Therefore, Bulgaria is already a step ahead in stabilizing its economy. Furthermore, Bulgaria’s memberships in international organizations such as the EU and Nato will help secure valuable foreign relations and trade partnerships. Ultimately, however, the key to tackling poverty in Bulgaria will lie in overcoming corruption, which requires a tremendous effort from Bulgaria.

Christiana Lano

Photo: Pixabay

Why Is Bulgaria Poor
The European Union is one of the largest single-market economies in the world. However, not all of its 27 countries are able to attain the economic prosperity of the wealthier member states. Bulgaria is one such country. While the EU average risk of poverty is 23 percent, more than 41 percent of Bulgarians find themselves falling into this category, making it the member state with the highest level of this risk. Across the country, almost 10 percent of the population is defined as extremely poor, i.e. living with an income lower than 40 percent of that of the average member of the middle class. While other EU members thrive inside the single market, a question that needs to be asked is this: why is Bulgaria poor?

Perhaps the largest contributor to poverty in Bulgaria is the impact of the 2008 financial crisis on the country. In years prior, Bulgaria had experienced rapid growth. However, like many EU members, this reversed following the crash. In real terms, the economy contracted by 5.5 percent in 2009 primarily due to a decline in foreign direct investment and international trade. Since then, growth has not returned to previous levels, with 2011 figures showing GDP growth to be 1.7 percent. This is far lower than the 6.2 percent growth rate witnessed in 2008.

This lack of growth has negatively impacted wages, with the average annual wage in Bulgaria easily the lowest in the EU at the equivalent of just under 2,000 euros. Around 1.5 million people live on less than 60 percent of the average wage, limiting spending power and leading to further potential issues.

One of these issues is unemployment, with Bulgaria’s unemployment rate standing at 10.8 percent, a full percentage point higher than the EU average. The low wages offered through employment are part of this issue, with people lacking the incentive to work since they are able to receive similar incomes through unemployment benefits. Similarly, the financial crisis has enhanced this issue, with unemployment significantly increasing to current levels from 5.6 percent in 2008. With this being the case, many suggest unemployment as one of the primary reasons for Bulgaria’s high levels of poverty.

There seems to be little progress in assisting those in poverty in Bulgaria. Existing policies are criticised for being unreliable and unable to truly address the problems that the poor of the country face. Additionally, it is estimated that, of the poorest 20 percent of households, such policies impact less than half. Policy focused on growth appears to have failed as well and, despite funding from the EU, increases in employment, income and social inclusion have been minute.

The situation in Bulgaria appears bleak and, without significant policy change at a national level, little will change going forward. Decision makers must investigate ways to increase wages, growth and employment opportunities, while simultaneously providing sufficient aid to those in poverty. While this may be difficult, “why is Bulgaria poor?” should no longer be the primary question; rather, we should be asking about potential solutions.

Gavin Callander

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Bulgaria
Bulgaria is a European country with a population of over 7.1 million. There is a history of unsafe drinking water throughout the country. Bulgaria has imposed heavy monitoring and various bans to help improve the situation. While the water quality in Bulgaria hasn’t always been up to par with other nations around the world, the nation has made some positive gains over the last few years.

Despite having 60 rivers flowing through the country, Bulgaria’s fresh water sources are scarce. The largest river is the massive Danube River, which travels through much of Europe, flows through 470 kilometers of Bulgaria. Rivers provide a potential source of clean water that could improve the water quality for Bulgaria’s citizens and in the near future.

On top of some of the problems already present, drought has ravaged the country, and the demand for drinkable water has increased. Scientists have forecasted additional droughts in the coming summer. Additionally, multiple heat waves continue to hit Bulgaria as the summer progresses.

Many districts in Bulgaria have had ongoing issues with low-quality drinking water. In 2012, 18 of the 28 Bulgarian districts reported contaminated drinking water. Water quality continues to be the worst in the southern districts of the country, most notably the district of Pazardzhik. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2012 that the district was well over the set limit of multiple contaminants.

Since joining the European Union in 2007,  the nation has issued bans for four sources of drinking water in Bulgaria due to poor water quality.

The future of Bulgaria depends on cleaning up rivers and waterways, as well as improving water retention. In addition, Bulgaria is working towards developing water treatment facilities around the country.

Water quality in Bulgaria varies throughout the country, but with proper infrastructure and treatment, there is potential for all of Bulgaria to have access to clean drinking water.

Brendin Axtman

Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Bulgaria Refugees

Connecting Turkey with continental Europe, Bulgaria has been a passageway for millions of refugees seeking to reach wealthier countries such as Germany and France. This increase in migrants has posed difficulties at the borders and for the people and economy of Bulgaria. Here are 10 facts about Bulgaria refugees.

  1. In 2016, the Asylum Information Database reported that there were 19,418 refugees seeking asylum in Bulgaria. The majority of the refugees had come from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.
  2. Bulgaria is currently the poorest country in the EU (as measured by GDP per capita), which means the nation is less equipped for the large influx of refugees crossing its borders.
  3. Bulgarian vigilante groups have arisen on the Bulgarian border with Turkey. They claim to be protecting Bulgaria and the rest of Europe from the migrants.
  4. Bulgaria borders Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Romania, making it a favorable route for migrants as they are able to spread throughout Europe.
  5. Bulgaria’s economy ranks 47th in the world, with 78 percent of Bulgarian citizens saying that the increase in refugees has created a strain on the economy.
  6. Integration into Bulgarian life is another perceived challenge for refugees, with 49 percent of Bulgarians claiming that the state is too weak to provide conditions for the integration of refugees.
  7. Bulgaria has been criticized for its handling of the migrant crisis. U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in 2016, “One of the most serious problems is that virtually all people entering Bulgaria in an irregular manner are detained as a matter of course.”
  8. In 2016, 2,750 of the asylum-seekers in Bulgaria were unaccompanied minors. Of these unaccompanied minors, 95 percent were male with 17 percent being younger than the age of 14.
  9. Between January 2017 and May 2017, 1,007 migrants found to be residing in Bulgaria illegally were removed.
  10. After the construction of a 30-kilometer wall along the border with Turkey, the number of Bulgaria refugees seeking land passage decreased. This increased the number of migrants using the Mediterranean Sea, the deadliest migrant route to date. Migrants arriving in Bulgaria through Turkey decreased by 5,501 in the year following the creation of the wall.


The migrant situation in Bulgaria has had sensitive social implications with many Bulgarians unhappy about the influx of refugees. These factors have created tension and difficulty for refugees, as gaining entry to Bulgaria has become increasingly challenging.

Sophie Casimes

Photo: Flickr


Located off the coast of the Black Sea in Southeastern Europe and nestled just between Romania and Turkey lies the nation of Bulgaria, a country only slightly larger than the state of Tennessee. Although Bulgaria’s average life expectancy has been climbing steadily, the country still has one of the shortest life expectancies in the European Union at 74.5 years, coming in just ahead of Lithuania and Latvia. Here are some facts about the top diseases in Bulgaria:

 

Cardiovascular Diseases


Heart diseases–disorders of the blood vessels and heart–are the deadliest of the top diseases in Bulgaria. Currently, such diseases are the cause of over 60 percent of all deaths in the country.

According to a 2015 report published by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the three most fatal heart diseases of the previous decade in Bulgaria were ischemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and hypertensive heart disease, which were the first, second and third most deadly diseases in Bulgaria respectively. Since 2005, deaths from ischemic heart disease had become 1.9 percent more prevalent, while deaths caused by hypertensive heart disease had become 13.2 percent more prevalent. Deaths due to cerebrovascular disease, on the other hand, had decreased by 1.3 percent.

The World Heart Federation lists controllable risk factors of heart diseases to be, among others, tobacco exposure, harmful consumption of alcohol, physical inactivity and obesity. In 2009, Bulgaria addressed the country’s high prevalence of heart diseases by participating in World Heart Day, providing free cardiology exams across the country.

 

Alzheimer’s Disease


Following the formerly listed heart diseases, Alzheimer’s disease is the fourth most fatal of the top diseases in Bulgaria. Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia, is a degenerative brain disease in which protein deposits abnormally build up in the brain and, as of 2015, death by Alzheimer’s disease in Bulgaria had become 27.8 percent more common than in the previous decade. According to the World Health Organization, the disease is now the cause of 26.2 percent of all deaths in the country.

Since January 2014, a national policy plan to address dementia in all its forms has been in final review. As of July 2016, there was no finalized national dementia strategy in Bulgaria to address the recent rise in Alzheimer’s disease.

The top diseases in Bulgaria have only just begun to be addressed domestically. With the continuation of direct policy changes and implementation of preventative care, Bulgaria hopes to see reduced instances of heart diseases and Alzheimer’s disease, ultimately increasing their life expectancy.

Shannon Golden

Photo: Flickr

Social Inclusion ProjectThe World Bank research supports the stance of many organizations around the world advocating for early childhood development (ECD) programs.

The Bulgarian government has been working to ensure increased educational opportunities for its youth with programs such as the Social Inclusion Project which was completed at the end of 2015.

The Project was designed to increase school readiness in children under the age of seven to ensure equal life choices, targeting low-income and marginalized families. The initiative has reached over 20,000 youth and the country’s kindergarten enrollment rate currently stands at 83 percent.

“Giving people the same life chances requires investments in early childhood development, providing kids, as one says here in Bulgaria, with their proper initial seven years,” said Markus Repnik, World Bank country manager for Bulgaria, in his address to the Minister and the government.

Repnik went on to say that “the project will provide these proper initial seven years for the most vulnerable children through pre-school training and services – so that these kids enter school at an equal footing, allowing them to successfully progress in their later education and life.”

Educational achievements correlate significantly with future employment opportunities. Productivity is declining in many Eastern European countries because many working-age people lack sufficient education to participate in the labor market.

Investing in ECD programs equips a generation to be conscientious, responsible and resilient especially during difficult economic conditions.

The Social Inclusion Project invested in infrastructure, building kindergartens and children centers and in services such as medical screenings, speech therapists, physiotherapists, pediatrician checkups and parental training.

This initiative was possible because stakeholders, policy makers and international partners decided to make a commitment to ECD.

By partnering with the World Bank, the Bulgarian Red Cross, UNICEF, the Bulgarian Pediatric Association and many other supporters, Bulgaria has equipped young people to pursue better jobs and ultimately have the ability to provide for future generations.

Emily Ednoff

Photo: Flickr

pollution_bulgaria
As recent events in the Ukraine have shown, former soviet satellites continue to struggle for self-determination and modernization. Often torn between ties to the European Union and Russia, the former Eastern Bloc lags behind the rest of the continent in major areas of development—and none more so than Bulgaria.

Even though Bulgaria is now a member of the E.U., the nation still struggles with high rates of unemployment and catastrophic pollution. As of 2013, the European Environment Agency reports that four of the top six most polluted cites in Europe are in Bulgaria. The tremendous amount of air and water pollution is particularly damning for Bulgaria’s most vulnerable citizens, who are forced to brave the environment in order to scrape by.

In fact, it seems that poverty itself is fueling pollution, creating a perpetual cycle. Old, fuel-inefficient cars, outmoded factories and desperate fuels sources for warmth in the winter (such as raw coal and tires) make Bulgaria’s air the most polluted in Europe.

Beyond environmental factors, the transition to free markets has had troubling societal impacts that often break along ethnic lines. Corruption and organized crime have a firm grasp in the cities, Britain’s Daily Express reports, while the Roma minority lives on the outskirts in abject poverty. The scenes described in the Express from outside the capital city of Sofia bring to mind the most abysmal realities of poverty from across the globe.

The Roma, an ethnic minority, have long been persecuted on the continent, and their living conditions in Bulgaria attest to just how much the country struggles to keep up with the times.

Unemployment in Bulgaria is reported at 12 percent. The BBC suggests, however, that it may be much higher than that. A number of sources claim that governmental corruption is so pervasive that very little of state provided data can be trusted.

In response to the depressed economic conditions, a rash of self-immolations were reported. Several men of varying ages are said to have lit themselves on fire in protest of their living conditions.

For the E.U., these catastrophes hit close to home. The fact that the E.U. has now incorporated Bulgaria has turned Europe’s attention to the humanitarian crisis on their doorstep. With major Western news outlets now reporting on Bulgaria’s woes, perhaps international support will be able to generate some relief for the ailing nation.

– Chase Colton

Sources: Express, Daily Times, BBC
Photo: Plastic Pollution Coalition