On April 21, 2021, the University of National and World Economy (UNWE) fired Associate Professor Dr. Martin Osikovski for his public criticism of Prime Minister Bokyo Borissov’s visit to the school.
On April 2, PM Borissov, a member of the conservative political party known as GERB, visited the university for a public appearance and to meet with UNWE rector, Professor Dimitar Dimitorv, just before the country’s parliamentary elections. In response to PM Borissov’s visit to the university, Osikovski posted on Facebook that he would be resigning from several of his positions at the university in protest of the prime minister’s visit. Osikovski also stated in his post that he believed the university’s autonomy was being violated, claiming that its campus was becoming a television set for the ruling party, GERB, to host an election event on the last day of a political campaign.
According to Osikovski, several days after PM Borissov’s visit to the university, the university’s administration approached him requesting a written explanation of his Facebook post. Publicly available sources do not describe what Osikovski and administrators discussed.
Over two weeks later, it was reported that Osikovski had been dismissed from his teaching position at the university for violating Article 190 of the labor code, abusing the trust of the employer, Article 187, abuse of trust and damage to the good name of the enterprise, and Article 16 of the UNWE administrative code, which obliges university employees to preserve the prestige, not discredit, and be loyal to the university. Osikovski told Radio Free Europe he believes his Facebook post was interpreted in a “perverse” way and did not believe his words tarnished the prestige of the university.
On April 28, 2021, it was reported that UNWE decided to revoke the dismissal and reinstate Osikovski.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by the dismissal of a scholar, in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the rights to academic freedom and freedom of expression—conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bulgaria is a party. University authorities should refrain from retaliating against scholars for expression critical of their institution, so long as it is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, politically motivated dismissals aimed at restricting or retaliating against such activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.