Chapter 5 Caesar and God in the Public Sphere

Religious and Secular Discourse in Post-Atheist Bulgaria

In: Islam, Christianity, and Secularism in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe

Purchase instant access (PDF download and unlimited online access):



On 10 November 1989, the removal of Todor Zhivkov from the state and party leadership in Bulgaria marked the end of its Communist regime. In the religious sphere, the political change shook the decades-old monopoly of militant atheism, thus creating conditions for a return of religion to the public square. Among other things, this process stimulated a restitution of buildings and real estate which the Communist regime had taken away from religious communities. A set of laws adopted in the early 1990s instigated the mass return of arable lands, forests, industries as well as office and residential buildings to physical persons and judicial entities. Being major landholders before the Communist rule, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Muslim community benefited the most from this process.

In 2012, the restitution of the economically valuable tangible assets to religious denominations was over. Regarded as part of the restoration of historical justice, this process was generally welcomed by society in post-Communist Bulgaria. In 2013, however, people opposed the attempts of some political forces to spread the restitution over religious edifices ‘nationalized’ by the former totalitarian regime under the pretext of their preservation as monuments of national history and world cultural heritage. In this regard, Bulgarians faced difficulties that many contemporary secular societies have experienced in dealing with their religious cultural heritage. As this heritage bears special cultural and historical value for both the public and the sacred realms, the questions of its ownership and management often provoke tensions and conflicts between the corresponding religious institutions and the state authorities. In the case of post-atheist countries, this process is additionally complicated by the legacy of the totalitarian past. By presenting the debate of Bulgarian society over its religious cultural heritage, the chapter sheds light on this particular national case.