In less than a week, bans on the wearing of Muslim face-covering garments, initiated by the nationalist Patriotic Front coalition, have already been proposed or voted upon in four regional cities in Bulgaria ahead of an upcoming parliamentary vote on a law that would prohibit them right across the country.
After the ban was initiated in Pazardjik, the first to follow was the central Bulgarian city of Stara Zagora, the fifth largest in the country.
On April 28, its municipal council gave the green light to changes in local public order regulations to forbid the wearing clothes or accessories that cover the face in all public spaces.
Unlike Pazardjik, where Salafist ideology has gained significant influence among the local Muslim community, Stara Zagora is not believed to have a problem with radical Islam.
Its local assembly however adopted various measures to restrict the preaching of radical ideologies, including a ban on “public religious events which violate the public... morals and traditions”.
The Stara Zagora authorities have announced that violations of the newly adopted regulations will incur fines of up to 5,000 leva (around 2,500 euros), although the exact fine for the wearing of face-covering garments was not specified.
An official proposal for a ban on face-covering garments has also been filed in the municipal council of Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria.
It foresees fines between 300 and 1,500 leva (between 150 and 750 euros) and will be put to a vote on May 17.
Plovdiv has Bulgaria’s largest ghetto, the Stolipinovo neighborhood, which is home to over 40,000 people, mostly of Roma origin.
Because of this, as well as Plovdiv’s proximity to Pazardjik, just 15 kilometres away, local councillors from the nationalist VMRO party proposed the ban as a “precautionary measure”.
“This way of dressing means following the policies of the jihadists, which they are trying to push through in Europe and Bulgaria,” Aleksandar Sidi, a municipal councillor from VMRO, said on Tuesday.
Representatives of VMRO in Plovdiv have expressed confidence that the city’s mayor, Ivan Totev, from Bulgaria’s largest party, GERB, will back their idea.
But Totev has so far not signalled any support for the proposal.
“If the text is similar to the one adopted in Pazardjik, then Mickey Mouse and the Minions will be the first ones to be affected,” he joked to local media.
Totev added that there have been no registered cases of women wearing the burqa in Plovdiv, even in ethnic minority-dominated neighbourhoods.
On Tuesday, the VMRO also proposed a ban on face-covering in the city of Shumen in northreast Bulgaria, which has a large Muslim minority.
Dean Stanchev, the member of the local council who filed the proposal, said that he does not know if anyone wears the burqa in the municipality but views the ban as a precaution.
The spread of the ban throughout Bulgaria sets the stage for an upcoming vote in parliament on a draft law that would ban Muslim face-covering garments nationwide, which was proposed by the nationalist Patriotic Front.
Source: Balkan Insight