Muslims are an integral part of the Bulgarian nation, irrespective of their ethnicity, and should have the assurance that no one would allow the “wounds of the past” to be exploited, caretaker Prime Minister Marin Raykov said during talks with Bulgaria’s Chief Mufti, Mustapha Hadzhi.
Raykov’s administration has stewardship of the country pending the formation of an elected government after ahead-of-term parliamentary elections scheduled for May 12 2013, called amid Bulgaria’s national political and social crisis.
During a March 21 visit to the Chief Mufti’s office, Raykov emphasised the values of tolerance and respect for diversity, as the Muslim community in Bulgaria is made up not only of Bulgarians of Turkish origin, but also ethnic Bulgarians and Roma people, a government media statement said.
At times of social stress, it was essential to avoid any “manipulation” based on religious affiliation, as this could lead to radicalisation of certain groups, the statement quoted Raykov as saying. “The Bulgarian state will not permit such radicalisation,” he said.
Hadzhi said that Bulgarian Islam was completely foreign to external radical influences. As part of the Bulgarian nation, Muslims suffered the same problems as other Bulgarians and would not allow themselves to become the opponents of their compatriots, he said.
He said that the messages of the Chief Mufti’s office were about peace, tolerance and respect and thanked Raykov for paying the visit, which Hazhi said showed respect for the Muslim community in Bulgaria.
According to the February 2011 census in Bulgaria, just less than eight per cent of the country’s total population of about 7.3 million are Muslims. Most are Sunni Muslims.
The presence of Islam in Bulgaria is mainly a result of the country having been under Ottoman rule for about five centuries, ending around the close of the 19th century.
Human rights watchdogs have reported isolated instances in previous years of desecration of mosques and alleged harassment of some Muslims by security services. The alleged presence of radical Islam in Bulgaria is a favourite theme of minority ultra-nationalist party leader Volen Siderov. In May 2011, Siderov and some of his followers were involved in a public clash outside Sofia’s Banya Bashi mosque with Muslims attending regular Friday prayers. January 2013 saw a protest by a group of residents of the town of Gotse Delchev against plans for a new mosque.
A trial of a group of 13 Muslims for alleged radical Islam calls for the overthrow of the state has been proceeding for several months, while most observers hold that the majority of Muslims in Bulgaria have no tradition or involvement with radical forms of Islam.
(Main photo, of the Banya Bashi mosque in Sofia: Clive Leviev-Sawyer; photos of Raykov meeting Hadzhi: government.bg)