The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Bulgaria to pay a record 462 000 euro damages to be distributed among seven Bulgarians who complained that a final judgment in their favour regarding the historic “Blue House” in Plovdiv’s Old Town had not been respected by the domestic courts.
The European court announced its decision in the case, Chengelyan and Others v. Bulgaria, on November 23 2017.
The applicants are seven Bulgarian nationals born between 1927 and 1988. Five of them live in Plovdiv, one of them lives in the United States. One applicant, who died in 2014, lived in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Bourgas; her heirs have pursued the application on her behalf.
Ancestors of the applicants had owned a plot of land in the old part of Plovdiv with a two-storey house – the Blue House, also known as Pavliti’s House – built on it, which had been expropriated in 1966 and the applicants’ ancestors had received compensation.
Following Bulgaria’s adoption of the 1992 Restitution Act, some of the applicants applied for the revocation of the expropriation.
Initially the mayor refused their application, the decision being upheld by the regional court.
However, in a final judgment of October 1998, Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court reversed the decision, finding that the expropriation and subsequent use of the property had been in breach of the law.
The applicants subsequently paid back to the municipality the compensation received by their ancestors at the time; they also obtained a notarial deed which named the applicants as the property’s owners.
The applicants could not take possession of the property, which was being used by the municipality.
The building continued to be used by Plovdiv Municipality and the 13 Centuries Bulgaria Fund. More recently, the administration of the Plovdiv 2019 municipal foundation – dealing with preparations for the city to be European Capital of Culture in 2019 – has been based there.
After unsuccessfully attempting to negotiate an agreement, the applicants brought proceedings against the municipality in order to have the restitution enforced.
Their action was dismissed by a final judgment of the Supreme Court of Cassation in June 2007 which found that the 1998 judgment was open to indirect judicial review, in particular because the municipality had not participated in the earlier proceedings and therefore was not bound by that judgment.
In its judgment on the merits of April 21 2016, the Court found a violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair hearing) of the European Convention on Human Rights on account of the domestic courts’ failure to recognise the binding force of the Supreme Administrative Court judgment of October 1998, and a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) to the Convention.
The European Court of Human Rights said that the November 23 2017 judgment concerned the question of the application of Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention, in so far as pecuniary damage was concerned.
The court ordered Bulgaria to pay 462 000 euro, in respect of pecuniary damage, to be distributed among the applicants in accordance with their shares of the inheritance.