The municipal council in Bulgaria’s second-largest city Plovdiv voted on May 17 to reject a proposal to ban the wearing of the burqa in public places.
As in other cities where the proposal has been made – and in the case of the municipalities of Pazardzhik and Stara Zagora, already accepted – the move was initiated by nationalist party VMRO.
At the Plovdiv municipal council meeting, there were 15 votes in favour, 12 against and 21 abstentions, defeating the proposal.
Plovdiv mayor Ivan Totev, who initially had said that it was his personal opinion that there should be a ban on the burqa in public places, told the council meeting that he would not a big speech on this important topic, but wanted to draw attention to it pending the state making a decision on the matter.
Some days ago, after initially supporting the ban, Totev queried the idea, saying that the proposal would also outlaw people going through the streets of Plovdiv dressed as Mickey and Minnie Mouse or as Minions.
Spas Garnevski, a councillor for GERB, the centre-right party that at national level is the majority partner in government, called on the VMRO to withdraw the proposal because, he said, in European the issue of banning the burqa was an issue of national security.
Garnevski said that there was no such problem in Plovdiv, and he called on the Patriotic Front, of which VMRO is part, to come up with another topic to talk about.
Those opposing the ban said that Plovdiv was to be European Capital of Culture in 2019, was a place where all religions had co-existed peacefully, and voting in such a ban would spoil Plovdiv’s image as a city of tolerance.
After the vote, VMRO said that they would redraft what they called the controversial parts in the proposal, and after public consultation, again table it at a future council meeting.
The proposal had envisaged fines from 300 to 1500 leva.
Plovdiv’s rejection of the proposed burqa ban came a day after police in Pazardzhik issued the first fine for breaking such a ban.
The Patriotic Front is campaigning to introduce a burqa ban at national level through legislation in the National Assembly and at municipal level in all councils. Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Bourgas is expected to vote on a burqa ban on May 27. The PF campaign is encountering difficulty in municipalities where it has no councillors.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)