Sofia, April 21, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency
By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
Even before it has reached the stage of formal debate in committees and in the National Assembly, draft legislation tabled by Bulgaria’s nationalist Patriotic Front coalition that would ban the wearing of the burqa in public places appears poised for approval.
Support for the bill, tabled in Bulgaria’s Parliament on April 20, has been expressed by MPs from the largest party – centre-right GERB, the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, and coalition government minority partner the centre-right Reformist Bloc coalition.
Minority socialist party ABC, a participant in the coalition government, has taken no formal decision but is leaning towards supporting the ban. It is expected that Volen Siderov’s Ataka is likely to support the ban.
The Patriotic Front tabled the bill which would ban the wearing in public of clothes and accessories that partially or wholly conceal the face. Women would be allowed to wear the burqa at home or in mosques.
Breaking the ban would mean a 500 leva (250 euro) fine for a first offence, increasing to 1500 leva and deprivation of social benefits for three months for further offences.
It would be up to the Interior Ministry and municipal mayors to regulate the administration of the law.
The Patriotic Front said that there were such bans in six European countries – France, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy – and the version of the legislation that they had tabled was closest to that of France.
The ban will not apply to cases when a person’s profession calls for special clothing, such as firefighters, who have to wear masks, or when a headcover is worn during a sports or cultural event.
Bulgaria was a secular state and culture and that had to be recognised by society, Patriotic Front co-leader Krassimir Karakachanov told reporters in Parliament.
Karakachanov said that outside forces were trying to influence and divide Bulgarian society, imposing a new culture of wearing religious clothing. The traditions of Islam in Bulgaria did not embrace wearing clothes typical of the Gulf, he said.
Patriotic Front co-leader Valeri Simeonov said that in certain areas of Bulgaria, women were being paid a fee every month to wear the burqa. Simeonov said that this was Turkey’s policy, for identification with the religion of Islam and belonging to the Turkish state.
The Patriotic Front argues that wearing a burqa is a threat to national security and that there have been numerous cases in other countries of suicide bombers wearing burqas.
GERB said that the wearing of the burqa was not typical of Bulgarian Muslims and should not be tolerated. Tsveta Karayancheva told the public broadcaster that when someone was wearing a burqa, it was impossible to say if they were a man or a woman. She backed the ban in the context of the “geopolitical situation”.
BSP MP Tasko Ermenkov also supported the ban, saying that the tradition was not native to Bulgaria but was being imported from outside.
Iliya Ilieva, an MP for the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – the party supported in the main by Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity, many of whom are Muslims – referred to Roma people in Pazardzhik wearing burqas, saying that the culture of Roma people included no tradition of wearing such garb. However, the MRF had taken no firm position on whether wearing the burqa in public places should be allowed, he said.
Another MRF MP, Yanko Yankov, said that wearing burqas was not characteristic of Islam in Bulgaria. In an apparent sideswipe at the Patriotic Front, he said that it was not acceptable to try to make political capital out of the issue.
Reformist Bloc MP Roumen Hristov expressed support for the idea of a ban on wearing the burqa in public places, while ABC MP Miho Mihov said that the party was yet to make a formal decision but was likely to support the legislation.
When the burqa debate in Bulgaria started some weeks ago, Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov expressed support for a ban on the burqa in public places, including educational institution, and soon after that, support also came from Education Minister Meglena Kouneva.
A burqa ban proposal is to be put to the city council in Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second city, where mayor Ivan Totev also expressed provisional support for a ban.
(Photo: Hans Braxmeier)