Changes to Bulgaria’s Religions Act cause melodrama between Sofia and Ankara

Amendments to Bulgaria’s Religious Denominations Act approved by Parliament have caused a flurry of exchanges between Sofia and Ankara, after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu reportedly claimed that the changes were directed against the Muslim religion.

The amendments, approved at second reading on March 28, provide for a 10-year deferment of debts owed to the state by religious denominations. This is a change from the first reading, which had envisaged writing off these debts.

The main faith group affected by the amendments is the office of the Chief Mufti, spiritual leader of Bulgaria’s Muslim minority, which is said to owe about eight million leva (about four million euro) in arrears taxes and other payments to the Bulgarian state.

The amendments were tabled by Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the latter a party historically with an electorate based mainly on Bulgaria’s ethnic Turkish minority. The amendments were opposed by the nationalist United Patriots.

The drama about the amendments took on new life when Çavuşoğlu was reported to have said that Ankara had intervened in the amendments to the law. He reportedly said that Ankara was in contact with Sofia to find a solution to the Chief Mufti’s debts.

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