Democracy and Law at German-speaking School in Bulgaria

f.l.t.r.: B. Bergmann, Head of the German Department of the Galabov Gymnasium; J. Razpopov, Representative of the office of the Vice-President; V. Katrandzhieva, Director of the 91st school (Galabov Gymnasium); P. Fortuna, IRZ Head of Section; M. Haas, Head of the “Culture and Press” Division of the German Embassy in Sofia; lecturer U. Schultz

B. Bergmann, Head of the German Department of the Galabov Gymnasium; J. Razpopov, Representative of the office of the Vice-President; V. Katrandzhieva, Director of the 91st school (Galabov Gymnasium); P. Fortuna, IRZ Head of Section; M. Haas, Head of the “Culture and Press” Division of the German Embassy in Sofia; lecturer U. Schultz (from left to right)

From 4 to 7 November 2014 the 91st German Gymnasium (Grammar School) "Prof. K. Galabov" in Sofia carried out a course in Democracy and Law for the senior years conveying, inter alia, the fundamentals of law, the importance of law and courts for the state and individuals, the organisation of the state and opportunities to participate in democracy to three age groups of 90 students in total. The programme is based on the legal studies curriculum of the Ministry of Justice of the Federal State of North-Rhine Westphalia which was adapted to the Bulgarian circumstances. The lecturer, Ms Ulrike Schultz, was a senior academic staff member (Oberrätin) at the Chair of German and European Constitutional and Administrative Law as well as International Law of the state-maintained distance teaching University of Hagen. She plays a decisive role in the development of the legal studies curriculum in NRW.

The lessons are intended to raise young people's awareness of the rule of law and democracy, so that they will become committed citizens in civil society in the future. Hence, major programme items are human rights, the rights and obligations of the individual as a citizen, restrictions of the state's activities and the decision-making process in a democracy.

Democracy was not a given fact but a process which still had to be continued, even 25 years after the end of the Socialist state system, the director of the Galabov Gymnasium pointed out at the opening of the event, at which also representatives from the office of the Vice-President of the Republic of Bulgaria, the German Embassy in Sofia and the IRZ gave welcome addresses. That this course is necessary is also reflected in the current domestic situation: Bulgaria had four governments and two Parliamentary elections during the past two years. The last one took place only a month ago. At the same time, young people in Bulgaria do not show much interest in an active involvement in politics, and the election turnout has been constantly decreasing.

The project is carried out by the IRZ in cooperation with the Vice-President of the Republic of Bulgaria. The Galabov Gymnasium in Sofia is the third school which benefits from this course. In 2013, 150 students attended the course in Lovech, and 100 students in Blagoevgrad. The Bulgarian partners expressed their interest in continuing the series of classes. It is envisaged to include the democracy course in the regular curriculum in Bulgaria on a long-term basis.

Visit by a Delegation of the Supreme Judicial Council of the Republic of Bulgaria to Germany

From 31 March to 4 April 2014, three representatives of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) visited institutions of the judiciary in North Rhine-Westphalia to obtain information about the rules and practical aspects in the cooperation of their German counterparts with the media. Topics included press and public relations, in particular in spectacular proceedings, the training of the press officers of the courts, the use of new media for judicial communication and the publication of court decisions on the Internet.

The press officers of the Ministry of Justice, the Higher Regional Court of Cologne and the Regional Court of Bonn presented their work in detail and answered many questions regarding these issues. Current press reports covering judicial topics were discussed. The participants got to know the view of the legal journalists regarding their cooperation with the courts. Furthermore, the daily work of the judges was also of great interest to the visitors. Thus, the delegation took the opportunity to attend a hearing in criminal matters and a hearing in civil matters.

The issue is highly topical for the Bulgarian judiciary. Being a self-governing body of the judiciary, the SJC was obliged by the European Commission to draw up a standardized communication strategy by the end of the year. The focus is on the opening of the judiciary to the citizens, more transparency in the work of the courts and the strengthening of the citizens' trust in the judiciary.

The study trip is the third event of the IRZ in cooperation with the SJC of the Republic of Bulgaria in the field of public relations. It was preceded by two round table talks with German experts in Sofia. It is intended to include the experience gained in these three forums in the communication strategy of the judiciary, but also in the daily work with the media.

Round Table Talks at the Supreme Judicial Council of the Republic of Bulgaria

On 14 and 15 October 2013, round table talks took place in Sofia dealing with "The Information Policy of the Judiciary". The IRZ organised the forum in cooperation with the Supreme Judicial Council of the Republic of Bulgaria (SJC), which is a self-governing body of the judiciary. The German experts involved were the President of the Regional Court of Bonn, Margarete Gräfin von Schwerin, and Ulrich Hermanski, Head of Division and long-standing press officer in the Ministry of Justice of the Federal State of North-Rhine Westphalia. The event was attended by the spokespersons of the public prosecutor's offices, PR experts of the courts and journalists from Bulgaria, besides the members of the Public Relations Committee of the SJC. The topics under discussion were the principles and regulations for the release of information in proceedings which are of particular interest to the public, measures for strengthening society's trust in the judiciary as well as the possibility of building a relationship between the judiciary and the media which is based on partnership. The topic on the second day of the event was the improvement of communication within the judiciary.

After the problem was outlined from the Bulgarian point of view and assessed by the German experts, the participants exchanged their experience in a lively discussion and developed approaches to solving it.

The present situation in Bulgaria is marked by mistrust against the judiciary and the intransparent ties in the media landscape, making the efforts to achieve a better image and a factual and correct news coverage even more difficult.

In this setting, the forum is of topical importance to the work of the SJC which is presently developing a uniform media strategy for the entire judiciary. The results of the talks would be included in this strategy, the members of the Supreme Judicial Council stated in the final talks.