2.1 General context
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According to the National Report for Bulgaria under the Study on Volunteering in the European Union published in 2010, the history of volunteering in the country is based on the traditional feeling of community (19th - 20th century). After 1944 (heavy state and ideological regulation under the communist regime), volunteering was associated with physical and strenuous work and political propaganda. Despite the long tradition of solidarity and help, the somewhat negative image of volunteering in Bulgaria still prevailed at the beginning of the democratic reforms in the 1990s. The state of volunteering was additionally aggravated by the sharp political changes and difficult socio-economic conditions in the country.
The transition to democracy simultaneously brought about the dynamic development of Bulgarian civil society and the third sector. Despite the existing prejudices, volunteering is a strong feature of the third sector. Volunteering has become popular among young people who are willing to contribute to the social and economic development of the country. Significant efforts by various stakeholders have been made to enhance the third sector and to promote volunteering in Bulgaria. In 2000 non-profit organisations initiated a variety of activities, particularly for children and young people, thus raising public awareness about the voluntary sector and positioning a better image of it in the minds of the Bulgarian people. The connection between democratic participation, active citizenship and volunteering is slowly strengthening.
In Bulgaria, volunteering is not yet legally regulated. During the last 15 years, many attempts have been made to adopt legislation in the field of volunteering that governs public relations with regard to the organised volunteering on the territory of the country.
In 2015, the Ministry of Youth and Sports estabilished a working group for drafting a Volunteering Act. The document was developed and the draft was submitted to the National Assembly for voting and discussions in parliamentary commissions. However, the process was not completed and the draft of the Volunteering Act was frozen at that stage.
However, youth volunteering is regulated in the Youth Act, and during the recent years, efforts are made for the promotion of volunteering among young people.
The data from the last national representative survey among young people (15 – 29 years of age) assigned by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and carried out by Gallup International Balkan in October 2022 show that 27.2% of the respondents have participated in voluntary actions, and 32.3% have participated in charitable activities.
According to the Youth Act, youth volunteering is an activity in public benefit carried out by young people without consideration on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria or in another country under programmes and initiatives in the field of social, youth, sports and other activities of public importance.
The main characteristics of volunteering as particularly important activity in public benefit are related to informal learning and education, which improves professional competences, enhances employability and develops social skills.
Article 27 of the Youth Act states that youth volunteering is carried out in accordance with the principles of free choice, no consideration, personal responsibility, equality, respecting the life, health and dignity of the volunteer.
Furthermore, the Protection in case of Disasters Act defines the volunteer as a person who takes part in a voluntary unit for prevention and overcoming of natural disasters, fires and emergency situations and the remedy of their consequences.