Backers of Bulgaria’s Religions Act amendments deny changes made under Turkish pressure

The two Bulgarian politicians who tabled controversial amendments to the Religious Denominations Act denied on March 29 that the changes were made under pressure from Ankara.

Tsvetan Tsvetanov, GERB deputy leader and former head of its parliamentary group, and Movement for Rights and Freedoms leader Mustafa Karadayi, tabled the amendments, which first envisaged writing off debts owed to the state by religious groups and in their final form providing for a 10-year deferment of the debts.

The main beneficiary of the legislation, approved at second reading on March 28, is seen as being the office of the Chief Mufti, spiritual leader of Bulgaria’s Muslim minority, reported to owe more than eight million leva (about four million euro) in arrears taxes.

A political row erupted in Bulgaria after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was reported to have said that Ankara had intervened to get the legislation changed, and was talking to Sofia about dealing with the Chief Mufti’s debts. On March 29, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva described her Turkish counterpart’s comments as “extremely unacceptable” and denied that Bulgaria had been subjected to pressure.

To continue reading, please click here.