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News 22 Jul 16

Bulgaria MPs Seek Ban on Foreign Preachers

The nationalist Patriotic Front has opened a new legal offensive against Muslims with new amendments ostensibly aimed at protecting Bulgarian religious communities from 'foreign influence'.

Mariya Cheresheva BIRN Sofia
The leaders of the Patriotic Front Krasimir Karakachanov (to the left) and Valeri Simeonov. Photo: Patriotic Front

Foreign citizens will be banned from preaching in Bulgaria, as well as preaching in any other language other than Bulgarian, according to changes to the Religious Denominations Act, filed by the nationalist coalition the Patriotic Front on Thursday.

The draft amendments, ostensibly aimed at protecting Bulgaria’s religious denominations from “foreign influence”, also foresee banning foreign organizations, companies and citizens from providing funding or donating to Bulgarian religious denominations.

Recipients or providers of foreign funding could face up to ten years in prison, the “Patriots” have also proposed, through amendments to the penal code.

The nationalist coalition has not concealed that its latest legal initiatives are particularly aimed at Muslims and at Turkey.

Krasimir Karakachanov, one of the leaders of the Front, said the changes are “aimed at putting an end to Turkey’s attempts to interfere in Bulgaria’s sovereign affairs through Muslim religious institutions”.

He was apparently referring to an agreement between Bulgaria and Turkey by which the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs, the Diyanet, funds Bulgaria’s Muslim religious schools.

Since the bilateral agreement was signed at the end of the 1990s, the Office of the Grand Mufti in Bulgaria has urged the authorities to start funding Bulgarian Islamic schools themselves, but without success.

The Patriotic Front also insists that all clerics who have graduated outside of Bulgaria must hold special exams, regulated by the government.

“All the religious denominations in Bulgaria will be obliged to perform their sermons, rituals and statements only in Bulgarian,” Valeri Simeonov, the Front’s second leader, said on Thursday.

He added that religions will be given one year to translate all their books into Bulgarian.

In terms of finance, the draft laws would ban not only foreign physical and legal entities from funding Bulgarian religious institutions, but also companies with foreign ownership and registered in Bulgaria.

Using state funding for “illegal activities” by religious denominations will also be sanctioned with prison terms of three to six years.

Thursday’s proposals are the latest in a series of legal initiatives of the Front targeting Muslims in Bulgaria.

On June 23, a majority of MPs gave a green light on a first reading to changes to the penal code criminalizing the preaching of “radical Islam”.

The legislation received strong backing, although experts in Islam and members of Bulgaria’s Muslim community said it did contain a sound definition of the term “radical Islam”.

The criminalization of radical Islamic agitation comes just a week after MPs supported a new bill banning the wearing of garments covering the face in public, which is known as “the burqa ban”.

The Muslim veil has already been banned on a local level in several other towns and cities, including Pazardjik, Sliven, Burgas and Stara Zagora.




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