On October 20-23 the third Fulbright International Seminar on Democracy was held in Sofia. While the 2021 focused on citizens’ participation and the crisis of representation, the 2022 edition was dedicated to the Rule of Law: National and Inrernational Perspectives. The event marked the successful cooperation with Sofia Regional Court and the District Court of the Eastern District of Louisiana, which provides internship opportunities in the US to young Bulgarian law students. The involvement of the legal communuity, and especially the Union of Bulgarian Judges brought the level of the Seminar to a new high. The specialist advice of Judge Evgeny Georgiev and Judge Konstantin Kounchev contributed to the much needed professional awareness.

In the four-day hybrid discussion (online and in-person) leading Bulgarian, US, Hungarian, Polish and Albaninan experts in political science, constitutional, international and national law, and national security presented the challenges to the rule-of-law based order in sessions entitled “Justice, Civic Awareness and Rule of Law in Young Democracies“, “Defining National Interest on Supranational and International Level‘‘, “The Role of High and Constitutional Courts in Shaping Public Opinion“, and “Challenges to Rule-of-Law Based International Order“.

The official opening featured the Deputy Prime Minister of Bulgaria and Fulbright alumnus Atanas Pekanov, the Press Officer of the US Embassy to Bulgaria, and Fulbright Executive Director Angela Rodel, who all stressed the importance of partnership and co-operation, of efficient and sustainable institutions, as guarantees for a democratic and just society.

FIS 2022 had the pleasure of hosting one of the leading Hungarian sociologists and researchers of democracy Dr. Balint Magyar (former Minister of Education). Prior to the event, Dr. Magyar, author of The Post-Communist Mafia State: The Case of Hungary and of Anatomy of Post-Communist Regimes, had a meeting with Bulgarian academics, where he presented his method of classifying post-communist regimes and discussed opportunities for institutional cooperation. In his FIS opening keynote lecture, Dr. Magyar (CEU) placed the concept of the rule of law in the context of the related concepts of re-democratization and anti-patronal transformations, he also stressed on the significance of multi-dimetional analytical approach to post-communist society definitions.

Following in his steps, the legal specialists Judge Kalin Kalpakchiev (Appellate Court – Sofia)

Assoc. Prof. Deyana Marcheva (New Bulgarian University), and Lyubomir Avdjiiski (Fulbright graduate student at Pennsylvania State University), focused on the tensions in the functioning of post-communist justice systems. The role of restorative justice in the Bulgarian courtroom, the genesis of the current Bulgarian prosecutor‘s office, and the challenges of regulating shared social media space accross jurisdictions, were the aspects the lecturers chose to delve into.  

On day two, Radan Kanev (Member of European Parliament), Dr. Denitsa Hinkova (Sofia University)

Prof. Martin Belov (Sofia University) tackeld the contentious issue of the capacity of democratic institutions to defend and protect long-term national interest. Emphasizing the importance of institutional coherence, resilience and the historical path in institution-bulding, the speakers provoked the audience to a lively discussion. Attorney Aleksander Kashumov described his long-standing public advocacy for access to information and protection of human rights even at times of emergency. The workshop offered by Prof. Kacper Gradon (Warsaw University of Technology) left the participants contemplate at the prospects of new cyber and digital-related crimes and at the nebulous legal framework for these emerging offenses.

The third day focused on the inreaction between higher and consititutional courts and the public opinion, featuring renowned international justices. From the US we had the pleasure to welcome Judge Jane Milazzo – the host of the Bulgarian Fulbright Court Internship program at the Distrcit Court of Eastern District of Louisiana, who emphasised the importance of buliding trust between the public and the judiciary. Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis, a Fulbright scholar and specialist from the Superior Court of LA, also shared her unique perspective and experience of a former prosecutor and current judge. Judge Alexander Arabadjiev from the Court of Justice of the European Union fascinated the audience with details about the work and structure of the European Court in reference to the supranational EU system. Judge Sonya Yankulova from the Constitutional Court of Bulgaria explained the dynamics between public opinion, political tendencies, and the transparency and credibility of the Constitutional Court‘ s decisions.

The final day of the Seminar was dedicated to the challenges before the rule-of-law based international order. In the context of an intensive aggressive war on the European contintient, accompanied by a number of war crimes, the panels were thought-provoking and generated various discussions. Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova (Fulbright alumna and President of Kosovo Specialist Chambers), Prof. Gentian Zyberi (Norwegian Centre for Human Rights), Judge Yonko Grozev, (European Court of Human Rights) and Rumen Cholakov (Fulbright alum and London-based attorney at law) presented their takes on inclusiveness and exclusivemess, enforcement and implementation of international law. The workshop, presented by Fulbright alum and attorney at law Evgeny Minchev, challenged the particpants with the task to give legal definitions of cybersecurity crimes, according to the interpretation of the International Court of Justice.

The seminar attracted over 40 participants live and dozens more online. It was a wonderful platform for communication between the lecturers and legal professionals from the judiciary, prosecusion and investigation, between participants in the Fulbright Court Internship program and their mentors, between law students and renouned justices, Fulbright alumni and representatives of legal companies and non-governmantal organizations. The Seminar, held with the kind support of ECA (US Department of State) offered also a wonderful chance for current US Fulbright scholars, students and intersted ETAs to take part in the discussions and the social events.

This four-day meeting promises to lay the foundations of future co-operation and collaborations, fruitful and open exchange of ideas.

A recording of all lectures and Q&A sessions is available here:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL04_Q-lD_0iUPTYMP113ClOEMqU5GT_Ur