The municipal council in the southern Bulgarian town of Pazardzhik voted on April 27 2016 overwhelmingly in favour of a ban on the wearing of the burqa in public places.
The ban, proposed by municipal councillors from the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB), was approved by 39 votes in favour, with two against – from the EuroRoma party, and no abstentions.
Pazardzhik municipality, which has a population of about 130 000 in the town of that name and 31 surrounding villages, is the only municipality in Bulgaria to have voted such a ban. However, the nationalist Patriotic Front, of which the NFSB is part, is putting similar proposals to other municipalities and has tabled legislation to the same effect in the National Assembly.
The ban, expected to come into force next week, prohibits the wearing of burqas in public and government buildings and other public places including streets, parks, gardens, restaurants, shops and public transport.
Pazardzhik mayor Todor Popov had tabled his own proposal, which would have banned the burqa only in public and state institutions, but withdrew this in favour of the NFSB proposed complete ban in all public places in the municipality.
Breaking the ban would mean a fine of 300 leva (about 150 euro) for a first offence, and 1000 leva for second and further offences.
The ordinance stipulates that the ban applies to the wearing in public of clothing or accessories that conceal the face and prevent identification.
Municipal councillors who voted in favour of the ban included representatives of parties represented at national level, such as GERB – the majority partner in national government and government minority coalition partners the Reformist Bloc and ABC. At national level, the Patriotic Front is part of the government deal, although it chose not to have any seats in the Cabinet.
GERB’s office in Pazardzhik said that by covering the face, the burqa prevented identification and this posed a security risk to citizens. GERB did not believe that such a ban was a violation of the religious rights of Muslim women, the local office said.
The proposed ban in Pazardzhik had been subject to public consultation. Reports from the town said that local police had expressed support for the ban because burqas prevented identification of individuals. Police said that if the ban was voted into force, they would ensure that it was respected.
The ban does not apply to items worn for reasons of health or professional necessity or temporarily for sports, cultural or similar events. It also does not apply to private homes or official houses of worship.
(Photo: Hans Braxmeier)