Five years ago, Bulgaria's Christians witnessed the overthrow of one of the most virulently antireligious Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. They breathed a collective sigh of relief, anticipating the chance to practice their faith without fear of reprisal. For a season, they could.
But that season is quickly coming to an end. In recent months, a swelling wave of religious intolerance that includes government restrictions, vitriolic media attacks, and even violent assaults has buffeted religious minorities.
The current era resembles to an alarming degree the period before the fall of communism-with one important exception: the church is fighting back. Before, churches were driven underground and pastors imprisoned; now, religious minorities are banding together to oppose intolerance.
In one of the most restrictive developments, the Council of Ministers recently denied legal status to several parachurch organizations, including Mission Possible, Youth with a Mission (YWAM), and the local affiliate of Gideons International. The groups can no longer legally engage in public activities, and they also could lose their property.
The action was mandated by a measure passed in February requiring all nondenominational religious groups to seek government approval before registering. Legal analysts say the measure violates constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.
In addition, Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second-largest city, passed an ordinance prohibiting religious groups from inviting people under age 18 to activities and requiring those groups to submit financial activity reports annually. Rights advocates say the ordinance contains the most restrictive measures since the fall of communism.
Protestants, a significant and growing ...1