Sofia, May 9, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency
By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
A Bulgarian nationalist group in Sofia municipal council has tabled a proposal to ban the wearing of the burqa in the capital city.
The move by the Patriots for Sofia, which is linked to the Patriotic Front (PF), part of the national government coalition agreement, is part of a campaign by the PF to ban the burqa in every municipality in Bulgaria and to have burqa ban legislation approved by the National Assembly.
The municipalities of Pazardzhik and Stara Zagora have in recent weeks approved burqa bans, in both cases with the votes of parties in the national governing coalition, GERB and the Reformist Bloc.
The municipal council in Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second-largest city, is expected to discuss a proposed burqa ban on May 17. Similar bans also have already been tabled in the municipal councils in the towns of Blagoevgrad, Shoumen, Harmanli and Haskovo.
In Sofia, the proposal by the Patriots for Sofia is for a ban on burqas and similar clothing that obscures the face.
Carlos Kontrera of VMRO, a constituent party of the PF, said that the proposal also included a prohibition on the handing out of religious campaign materials in public places in the capital city.
The penalty for breaking the burqa ban in Sofia would be 100 to 500 leva (about 50 to 250 euro) for a first offence and 1000 leva for second and further offences.
VMRO expects that other political parties in the Sofia municipal council would support the ban. It is expected that the ban will be discussed by the council in June.
There have been variations in the fines envisaged in various municipalities for breaking the burqa ban.
In Pazardzhik, the first municipality in Bulgaria to vote in a burqa ban, the maximum penalty is 1000 leva. In Plovdiv, the proposed fines are 300 to 500 leva for a first offence, and in the case of repeat offences, 1000 to 1500 leva.
In Bulgaria’s 2011 census, the country’s most recent, about 577 000 people – or about eight per cent – of the population of 7.1 million declared themselves to be Muslims, making this the second-largest religious grouping in the country after the Bulgarian Orthodox Christian majority.
Those arguing in favour of the burqa ban say that the garment is not traditional among Muslims in Bulgaria, and the wearing of it represents an incursion by radical Islam into the country, representing a threat to national security.