After a long absence from the agenda of Bulgarian politics the sensitive issue of financing religions in Bulgaria is back on track. The parliamentary group of Gerb jointly with its political opponents, the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, has submitted to parliament a bill on religious affairs. The bill regulates the state subsidy to religions and religious schools in a way that according to the bill’s authors will “prevent interference of foreign countries, institutions and persons into religions and religious affairs.”
However, the nationalist group VMRO which is a coalition partner of Gerb voiced its dismay asking why the ruling party has been in a hurry to submit a bill drawn up according to the preferences of the predominantly ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms. For this reason VMRO has declared a public debate of its own, alternative bill permitting liturgical service only when conducted by persons who have completed their education in Bulgaria or hold foreign certificates recognized under a special procedure established by the national authorities. Such texts are absent from the bill of Gerb, MRF and BSP and therefore VMRO claims that it is actually the work of MRF. VMRO leader Krasimir Karakachanov who is co-chairman of the United Patriots coalition and deputy prime minister for public order and security recently held talks unusual for the Bulgarian political stereotypes with BSP Chairperson Kornelia Ninova as he planned to lobby for the alternative bill. In line with the customary political confrontations the leader of the party Ataka and co-chairman of the United Patriots coalition Volen Siderov declared the Karakachanov–Ninova talks illegitimate because they had not been coordinated with him. The conflict inside the United Patriots will most probably escalate because the third co-chairman of the coalition Valeri Simeonov is also planning talks on the issue with Socialist Ninova.
Thus far concerns over radicalization in different groups and over attempts to change the traditional conduct in some of the religious communities in Bulgaria have not resulted in an adequate legislative response. The emergence of activities atypical of the traditional religious communities in Bulgaria is due to external influence. It is known that this influence is imported from abroad via direct financing or training of imams in Arab countries but for the time being there has been mere ideological disapproval of this phenomenon. In March 2016, Radio Bulgaria commented on the same issue under the title “Fighting radicalization – no more than wishful thinking”
The way in which this topic is updated now via attempts for a clearer regulation of funding of religious communities suggests a wide-range of political commitments, something which is unusual for Bulgaria. However, the core issue is not about the range of political commitments but whether they are likely to produce an actual transformation of good intentions into specific legislative solutions and actions that entail from them.
English Daniela Konstantinova