The majority of the citizens remain isolated from democratic institutions and public life


Results from a national representative survey (summary)

The majority of the Bulgarian citizens feel they are not represented in the democratic institutions; they think everyone is not treated equally by the law in the country and remain isolated from public life. Nevertheless, they believe democracy is the best form of government for Bulgaria. These are the results of a national representative survey, conducted by Open Society Institute – Sofia in April this year[i].

The biggest share of the respondents (45%) agree that democracy is the best form of government for the country, those who disagree with that statement are about one third (34%), and one in five are undecided. The share of the citizens who have confidence in democracy has dropped with 7% in the last 3 years. In 2015 democracy was considered the best form of government for Bulgaria by 52% of the respondents. The better educated, those under 45, the employed and the people with higher income, have more confidence in democracy that the average for the country. The majority of the respondents (over 2/3) still believe that their fundamental civil rights are protected – 75% think there is no chance of being thrown in jail without charge or trial in the year to come, and 67% are of the opinion they could not become a victim of police violence. Representative democracy and equality before the law, however, remain an uncompleted project in the eyes of the majority of the Bulgarian citizens. Big social groups feel they are not represented in the elective bodies of the central and local authorities, are not members of parties or organizations and do not agree with the statement that the country’s law treats everyone equally.

Within the survey, 60% of the country’s citizens of age do not accept the claim that there is at least one Member of Parliament who they could trust and who protects the interests of people like them.  Those who agree with this statement represent a three times smaller share of respondents (21%). The Roma, young people, those with lower degree of education and the unemployed fell less represented in the local councils and the National Assembly. If on average 27% of the respondents in the country agree that there is at least one representative in their local council who they trust and know is protecting the interests of people like them, only 10% of the people with elementary education and the Roma, barely 13% of the unemployed and 19% of the respondents aged under 29, agree with that. Hardly a third (29%) of the respondents think the laws in our country are just, whereas 58% are of the opposite opinion. Only 14% agree the laws are clear and comprehensible (67% express the opposite opinion). Meanwhile, barely 8% believe the law treats everyone equally. Almost ten times as many respondents take the contrary view – 76% think the law in the country does not treat everyone equally.

Poverty, unemployment and the low level of education are factors contributing to the exclusion of big social groups from participation in the democratic process. However, discrimination also plays a significant role – in local elections 70% would not vote for a mayor who is a Bulgarian citizen of Roma origin, 65% would not vote for a gay mayor, 63% would not vote for a Bulgarian citizen of Turkish origin. More than half of the respondents (51%) declare they have heard hate speech in public (statements expressing disapproval, hate or aggression in terms of representatives of ethnic, religious or sexual minorities). The Roma are most often conceived as object of hate speech – 81% of those who have heard hate speech in the last year say that it was oriented towards Roma. There is a double increase in the share of those who have heard hate speech against homosexuals – 42% in 2018 compared to 21% in 2016. According to the survey civic participation in organized forms of public life is becoming very restricted. Four out of five respondents say they are not members of any public organizations. Five percent of the respondents declare membership of a club, 4% – membership of a political party, community center and sport association, and only 2% of the respondents – membership of a trade union, professional business organization or a NGO. About 5% of the respondents declare participation in initiatives of NGOs in the last 12 months, and those who say they have done voluntary work in the same period are below 9%. In comparison approximately 80% of the Norwegian citizens are members of at least one civil organization, and about half of them do voluntary work every year, Georgi Stoychev, CEO of Open Society Institute – Sofia, says. According to him, as a new EU member state, Bulgaria needs continuous support to overcome the differences with the more developed countries in Western Europe, not only in terms of income and the economy, but also in terms of democratic culture and civic participation.

The data from the survey of Open Society Institute – Sofia on public attitudes towards democracy and civic participation will be presented on June 7 within the forum launching the Active Citizens Fund  in Bulgaria. The fund is part of the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area and through it the donor countries – Norway, Island and Lichtenstein – will support civil initiatives promoting democratic participation, human rights protection and empowerment of vulnerable groups in society. The fund is managed by Open Society Institute – Sofia in partnership with Workshop for Civic Initiatives Foundation and Trust for Social Achievement Foundation. It will operate until 2024 and has a budget of EUR 15.5 million. Bulgarian civil organizations carrying out public benefit activity may apply to the fund with their initiatives.

Approximately 15 000 public benefit associations and foundations are registered in Bulgaria. Most of them work in the field of education, culture, sport, healthcare and social services. About 22% of the respondents of the above national representative survey express confidence in NGOs and this share corresponds roughly to one million and three hundred thousand adult citizens of the country. Thirty percent of the respondents do not trust NGOs, and the biggest share – 48% is undecided. The main reasons why citizens have confidence in NGOs is the positive information about them in the media (43% of those who trust NGOs), direct positive impressions from their activity (42%), as well as their independence from public institutions (37%), whereby respondents were allowed to give more than one answer to the question. The main reason citizens specify for their mistrust of NGOs or for their lack of opinion is that they have no information about their activity (47% of those who do not trust NGOs and 53% of the people with no opinion). Most often it is young people aged up to 29 who have confidence in NGOs (37% of the respondents in this age group), and elderly people over 60 trust NGOs most rarely (13% of the respondents in this age group). Those who state they trust NGO have also more confidence in democracy. Over 61% of the people who say they trust NGOs agree that democracy is the best form of government for the country, which is about 16% more than the average for the adult population of the country (45%).

Contact persons:

Ivanka Ivanova, Legal Programme Director

Open Society Institute – Sofia



Boyan Zahariev, PublicPoliciesProgrammeDirector

Open Society Institute – Sofia



Georgi Stoychev, CEO

Open Society Institute – Sofia


[i] The data are collected by means of a national representative survey conducted among the population aged 18 and above in April 2018 according to the face-to-face interview method using a standardized questionnaire. Respondents are selected through a two-stage probability cluster sampling. 1200 interviews had been planned of which 1179 were conducted. The maximum stochastic error is ±2,8%. The survey is carried out and funded by Open Society InstituteSofia.