After the February 14 attack on a Plovdiv mosque by a mob made up largely of football fan club members, the office of the Chief Mufti, spiritual leader of Bulgaria’s Muslims, has withdrawn an offer to propose amendments to the Religious Denominations Act.
Provision made in the act for Bulgaria’s recognised religious claims to lodge claims on properties has opened the way for the Chief Mufti’s office to file court claims on real estate, including historic mosque buildings, in places including Karlovo and in Plovdiv.
This, in turn, has led to a backlash of public protests by Bulgarian groups opposed to what they claim to be an attempt to spread Islam in the country, an emotional issue invoking Bulgaria’s five centuries under Ottoman Empire rule.
On February 17, the head of the board of the Dzhumbaya Mosque in Plovdiv, where windows were broken three days by a missile-hurling crowd, said that the Chief Mufti’s office was withdrawing its offer to propose amendments to the controversial law.
Separate reports said the Chief Mufti’s office had requested talks with Bulgarian government authorities on issues of religious and ethnic tolerance in the country.
The same day, the German embassy in Sofia said that it had followed with concern the riots around Dzhumbaya Mosque.
The embassy said that it was against any form of manifestation of intolerance and xenophobia. It spoke out against abusing the right of free expression to make calls for hatred and violence.
Germany’s embassy said that it welcomed the efforts of the Bulgarian authorities to protect public order and the penalising of violence and religious intolerance.
A day earlier, the United States embassy in Sofia said that it noted with concern the violent events in Plovdiv and the unsanctioned “Lukov March” in Sofia on February 15.
The “Lukov March”, a far-right event honouring a Bulgarian 1930s ultra-nationalist leader seen by opponents as a propagation of fascism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, proceeded on Saturday in spite of a belated order by the mayor of Sofia banning it.
In its statement, the US embassy said that it “stands with the Bulgarian leaders and citizens who have condemned xenophobia and religious intolerance and joins them in urging respect for the human rights that are fundamental to democratic societies”.
Meanwhile, Plovdiv mayor Ivan Totev has responded to criticism that he acted too late to prevent the February 14 march.
Totev was criticised by Interior Ministry chief secretary Svetozar Lazarov for failing to respond in time to warnings from the ministry about the march’s risk to public order.
Totev told local media that the unrest after the protests in Plovdiv and the attack on the Dzhumbaya mosque were “extremely unpleasant, but unpredictable”. He said that the notification from the police had not stated caterogically that the ministry believed that there would be unrest, and there was no fair assumption in advance about what would happen.
In a statement, Plovdiv Regional Prosecutor’s office gave details of the fast-track proceedings initiated against some of those arrested on February 14.
It said that Toni Tonev and Kamelia Ivanova, both of Sofia, had been charged with “indecent behaviour, grossly violating public order and expressing obvious disrespect for society”.
Denislav Velchev, also of Sofia, had been charged as a co-perpetrator along with “unknown persons” of breaking windows at a religious house of worship, as well as the same offence with which Tonev and Ivanova were charged.
Martin Demirev of Varna was charged with theft of three boxes of cigarettes, as well as the same offence as the others.
The indictments were lodged in Plovdiv District Court on February 16. Tonev, Ivanova, Velchev and Demirev all pleaded guilty and said that they wanted to plea-bargain.
Tonev and Ivanova were each sentenced to six months’ jail, suspended for three years. Velchev was given probation of a year and two months. Demirev was sentenced to eight months’ jail, suspended for three years.
The Plovdiv Regional Prosecutor’s office said that an investigation had been completed on February 17, leading to a charge of grossly violating public order against Viktor Kononov of Gabrovo.
(All photos: (c) podtepeto.com)