Bulgaria has been sanctioned by the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg to pay EUR 2 000 each to two Russian citizens, residing in the country, over discrimination.
The two have filed a claim they have been blackmailed in order to graduate from high school. Anatoliy and Vitaliy Ponomariovi were born in 1986 and 1988 respectively in the Soviet Kazchstan. They were able to prove that Bulgaria has violated their right of free education, after granting their mother permanent status in 1994, but asking them for EUR 800 and EUR 2 600 in order to issue their high school diplomas. The brothers arrived in Bulgaria when their Russian mother divorced their Russian father and married a Bulgarian from the southern city of Pazardzhik. They started school in Bulgaria and learned to speak Bulgarian as a native language. Upon turning 18 they faced bureaucracy in Bulgaria for no longer being minors and dependents of their mother. Anatoliy requested his own permanent residency document and was told he had to go back to Russia, obtain a Bulgarian visa and then file an application for residency.
The family could not afford the trip since the mother had been unemployed and their step-father forced to close his small internet coffee shop. The Foreign Affairs Ministry finally allowed Anatoliy to file for visa from Bulgaria, but his residency papers were returned with the request for a fee of BGN 1 300. With his brother, they turned to the Commission for Forgiveness of Uncollectable State Fees, which made them take a loan of BGN 1 400 each. In 2005, when Anatoliy was about to graduate from high school, the Regional Pazardzhik Inspectorate for Education forced the high school principal to ask the brothers to pay a fee for attending a Bulgarian school in order to issue their diplomas. According to the Education Act from 1991, education is free for foreign citizens without permanent residency status.
The Strasbourg Court ruled that the Russians have been discriminated against and one of their basic human rights the right of education violated. Bulgaria is sentenced to further pay EUR 2 000 for the Court's expenses.