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Bulgaria - Relgion

The country has an area of 42,855 square miles and a population of 7.6 million. Eighty-five percent of the population identifies itself as Orthodox Christian. Orthodox Christianity, Hanafi Sunni Islam, Judaism, and Catholicism are generally understood as holding a historical place in the country's culture. Muslims comprise the largest minority, estimated at 13 percent. Groups that constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Catholics, Armenian Christians, Jews, evangelical Protestants, and others. There are 107 registered religious groups in addition to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (BOC).

Some religious minorities are concentrated geographically. The Rhodope Mountains (along the country's southern border with Greece) are home to many Muslims, including ethnic Turks, Roma, and "Pomaks" (descendants of Slavic Bulgarians who converted to Islam under Ottoman rule). Ethnic Turkish and Roma Muslims also live in large numbers in the northeast of the country and along the Black Sea coast. More than half of the country's Roman Catholics are located in the region around Plovdiv. The majority of the country's small Jewish community lives in Sofia, Rousse, and along the Black Sea coast. Protestants are more widely dispersed throughout the country. Areas with large Roma populations tend to have some of the highest percentages of Protestants.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion. The government generally enforces these provisions, and citizens have the right to sue the government for violations of religious freedom.

The 2002 Denominations Act allows private religious exercise if members of the religious community are the only persons present, and public religious exercise if the exercise is also open to persons not belonging to the respective religious community.

The constitution stipulates that Eastern Orthodox Christianity, represented by the BOC, is the traditional religion. The 2002 Denominations Act designates the Metropolitan of Sofia as the BOC's patriarch and establishes the BOC as a legal entity, exempting it from court registration mandatory for all other religious groups that wish to acquire national legal recognition. The state budget allocated $1.8 million (three million leva) for registered religious groups. Of the total amount, $1.4 million (2.3 million leva) was allocated for the BOC, $113,000 (180,000 leva) for the Muslim community, $25,000 (40,000 leva) for the Armenian Apostolic Church, $18,000 (30,000 leva) for the Jewish community, and $25,000 (40,000 leva) for other registered denominations.

A 2008 Muslim conference elected Mustafa Alish Hadji as chief mufti. Rival Islamic leader Nedim Gendzhev appealed the 2008 conference alleging that Hadji had forged the denominations' bylaws to convene it. In August 2009 the Sofia appellate court ruled in Gendzhev's favor and annulled the results of the 2008 conference. On May 12, 2010, the Supreme Court of Cassation rejected an appeal filed by Hadji, thus confirming the 2009 decision that annulled his registration as chief mufti. The May Supreme Court decision reinstated Gendzhev, who holds the latest valid legal registration dating back to 1996. The court previously annulled the Muslim conferences held in 1997, 2000, and 2005. In October 2009 another Muslim conference reelected Hadji as chief mufti. The court decision on Hadji 's request to register the 2009 conference was suspended, awaiting the Supreme Court decision, and was pending at the end of the reporting period. Hadji and his supporters staged protests against Gendzhev, who they claim stole $500,000 (800,000 leva) when the court temporarily reinstated him to the Chief Mufti 's Office in 2006.

The government generally respected the religious freedom of registered religious groups. There were some concerns that the government did not proactively intervene to prevent societal abuses. There also were continuing reports of intolerance from police and local authorities during the reporting period. There were continued reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Discrimination, harassment, and general public intolerance of some religious groups remained an intermittent problem. There was an increasing number of anti-Semitic incidents and vandalism against mosques.







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