April 15, 2013. Islam is the largest religion in Bulgaria and Muslims constitute the largest religious minority of the country. According to the 2011 census, the total number of Muslims in the country stood at 577,139, corresponding to 7.8% of the population. For the most part of Bulgaria’s modern history its Muslims remained at the margins of the country’s political life and were often regarded as second-class citizens. With the collapse of communist totalitarianism in 1989 Muslims for the first time gained political representation in the Bulgarian parliament through the establishment of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), a political party whose major electoral base has been Bulgarian Muslims. The MRF has been a stabilizing factor in the country’s post-communist life and has had a positive role in the country’s transition to political pluralism after 1989. It participated in many coalition governments and has pushed hard for improving Bulgaria’s records of human rights and people’s living standards as well as for securing Bulgaria’s pro-Western foreign policy orientation through accession to the European Union and NATO. This briefing aims to explain the reasons for this change – i.e. what were the reasons leading to the establishment of a “Muslim” political party – and discuss the extent to which this development has contributed to a real improvement of Muslims’ political, economic and social life in Bulgaria and had a positive effect on Muslim-Christian relations.

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