Bulgaria’s National Assembly approved on June 15 the first reading of a law banning the wearing in public of clothing that completely or partly covers the fact – a law tabled by the nationalist minority coalition Patriotic Front to outlaw the wearing of the burqa.
The Patriotic Front already has succeeded in getting some municipalities in voting a burqa ban, starting in Pazardzhik in April. Similar bans have been approved in Stara Zagora and in Bourgas, although the municipal council in Bulgaria’s second-largest city, Plovdiv, rejected a ban.
The vote in the National Assembly, which has a total of 240 members, was 108 in favour, eight against, with no abstentions.
The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), which at municipal level also has opposed the ban, sought to postpone the first-reading vote by having the item scrapped from Parliament’s order paper. MRF MP Hamid Hamid said that the ban should be covered in a new anti-terrorism law, and the present bill withdrawn. His proposal was voted down.
The ban will apply to Bulgarian citizens and to anyone temporarily in the country. It provides that clothing that conceals the face may not be worn in the institutions of Bulgaria’s central and local administrations, schools, cultural institutions, and places of public recreation, sports and communications.
Covering the head, eyes, ears and mouth will be permitted only when necessary for health reasons, professional necessity and at sporting and cultural events. The ban will also apply to houses of worship.
The law provides for a fine of 200 leva (about 100 euro) for a first-offence violation of the ban, and for second and further offences, 1500 leva and deprivation of social benefits.
It will be up to the Interior Ministry and municipal mayors to ensure compliance with the ban.
Further, those who persuade others to cover their faces will face a penalty of up to three years in prison, 5000 leva and public censure. If the person persuaded to cover the face is a minor, the penalty increases to a maximum five years in prison and a fine of up to 10 000 leva.
MRF MP Tuncher Kardzhaliev said that the bill had no value and did not solve a single major problem. The way it was drafted, it would apply not only to religious clothing, but also to beekeepers, he said.
The Patriotic Front defended the proposed ban, saying that the fact that very few women in Bulgaria were veiled did not mean that the country should wait until the numbers ran into the thousands.
Lyutvi Mestan, the former MRF leader who now sits as an independent and is attempting to register his own political party, said that the bill had to do with a “sham problem” and through it, the majority partner in government, GERB, was trying to please the Patriotic Front, which supports the GERB-led government in Parliament.
(Photo: Hans Braxmeier)