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Are Politics Mixing With Religion in Bulgaria?

While authorities argue move should reduce dependence on foreign funding for religions, the opposition sees it as ruling party’s attempt to endear itself with religious groups.

13 March 2019

The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), the country’s main opposition party, has criticized a bill passed last week as a thinly veiled attempt to buy off a prominent religious group in exchange for political favors, Balkan Insight reports

 

Proposed by the ethnic Turkish Movement of Rights and Freedoms, MRF, and supported by  the governing GERB party, the bill forgives a debt in the millions of euros run up by the office of the country’s senior Muslim cleric.

 

The deal is, ‘We back you to overturn the presidential veto and BSP’s criticism, and you cancel the debts,’” Balkan Insight quotes BSP party’s leader, Kornelia Ninova, as saying. Her suggestion was that the MRF, nominally in opposition, would vote with GERB because of the

 

The bill’s backers say it will help reduce the possibility of foreign funding of religious groups, a potential security risk.

 

Prime Minister Boyko Borissov met on Monday with Chief Mufti Mustafa Hadzhi, spiritual leader of Bulgaria’s Muslim minority, and Patriarch Neofit, head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, to discuss the legislation, the Sofia Globe reported. At the meeting, he said that the government’s goal was “to start off with a clean sheet, so that the state pays its religious groups from now on,” Balkan Insight writes.

 

According to Tsvetan Tsvetanov, parliamentary leader of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party, the debt amounts to about 8.2 million leva (4.19 million euros, or $4.74 million) of unpaid social insurance and other taxes, the Sofia Globe reported last week.

 

 

  • Passing through the parliament’s religious issues committee, the bill received only one vote against it. The vote came from a member of the government party’s coalition party, the ultra-nationalist United Patriots, Balkan Insight reports.

 

  • Bulgaria’s Muslim community, the country’s second largest faith group, received 1 million euros a year from Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs until 2017, when the directorate was accused of interfering in Bulgaria’s snap parliamentary elections.

 

  • Last December, a Bulgarian law was passed saying that a religious group that comprises at least 1 percent of the population would receive a subsidy of 10 leva per follower. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Muslim community are the only ones whose congregations make them eligible for such funding, according to The Sofia Globe.
Compiled by Rose Joy Smith
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