Elham Asaad Buaras
More than 120 people were arrested in Bulgaria after hundreds of people attacked a mosque in the country’s second city Plovdiv on February 14. Over 2,000 nationalists and football hooligans had gathered outside a Plovdiv court as it heard an appeal case dealing with the return of an ancient mosque in the central city of Karlovo, taken over by the state more than 100 years ago, to Bulgaria’s Grand Mufti.
The rally then marched through the city and some protesters, chanting racist slogans, approached a Plovdiv mosque cordoned off by police. The protesters also marched on the Turkish consulate in Plovdiv and on the city headquarters of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), the party led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity.
“Firecrackers, torches and stones were thrown at the mosque. One policeman was injured. Some 120 people were detained,” said a spokesman for the police. Sofia prosecutors said they had charged eight people with hooliganism, crimes against religion and xenophobia.
The Grand Mufti condemned the attack on the mosque and said the attempt to pressure the court put democracy at risk in the European Union country.
Muslims make up about 13 percent of Bulgaria’s 7.3 million people.
The Grand Mufti has launched some 26 court cases to try to restore Muslim ownership of 29 mosques and other property across the Balkan state, prompting some public opposition in the predominantly Orthodox Christian population.
The European Muslim Union said it is seriously worried by this new and unprovoked attack on an indigenous Muslim population of a European country, which is also a full member of the European Union: “The European Muslims are in solidarity with their Bulgarian sisters and brothers. This negative event is yet another proof for the need to enhance and enlarge professional PR-work at a European level.
The trial in Plovdiv highlights also the Balkan-wide need for a thorough reconsideration and – if justified – return of property which was taken from the Muslims by nationalist and communist regimes after the Osmani rule withdrew from the peninsula.” There was further political controversy on February 14 when the chief secretary of the Interior Ministry, Svetlozar Lazarov, said that Plovdiv mayor Totev was to blame for the bloodshed in the city because he had not banned the rally. According to Lazarov, Bulgaria’s Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov had called Totev, asking him to stop the protest.