SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria should tighten rules on foreign financing for religious communities and restrict visits by foreign clerics to help counter the potential spread of radical Islam, deputy prime minister Krasimir Karakachanov said on Thursday.
Karakachanov is a co-leader of the nationalist United Patriots, a junior partner in the coalition government that is known for its tough rhetoric on migration and Bulgaria’s Roma.
He said proposals to parliament to amend laws on religion and education as well as the criminal code would be submitted by the end of the year. Bulgaria’s government banned the wearing of full face veils in public places last year.
Bulgaria has one of the biggest Muslim communities in Europe at about 12 percent of its 7.1 million population — a legacy of almost 500 years of Ottoman Turkish rule that ended in the late 19th century.
Historic resistance to the Muslim Ottomans is a core element of national identity for the mainly Orthodox Christian majority and some nationalists have cast the recent arrival of Muslim migrants via Turkey as a threat to the nation’s security.
“It turns out that problems we see in a number of European countries already exist in Bulgaria,” Karakachanov said after a meeting to discuss how to prevent the spread of radical Islam in the country.
He said “extremely liberal” laws were allowing the spread of non-traditional Islam through the private provision of education and training.
“It is mostly the … financing by private structures of religious communities that attempt to realise political influence in the country,” Karakachanov said.
Many Islamist organisations in Europe are financed largely with foreign donations.
Karakachanov has previously complained that many imams preaching in Bulgaria come from abroad and do not speak Bulgarian, and has spoken of fostering native imams who are more deeply integrated into Bulgarian society.
The wave of mainly Muslim refugees and migrants reaching Europe’s borders over the past years has contributed to a rise in right-wing nationalism across the continent.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Catherine Evans)