Wife of Ataka leader says violent assault on Muslims at Sofia mosque was equivalent to throwing eggs

Kapka Siderova and husbandThe incident in front of the downtown Sofia mosque is a victory of democracy, Kapka Siderova, wife of the leader of the Bulgarian far-right, nationalist Ataka party, Volen Siderov, says.

On May 20, Ataka supporters, led by Siderov, shocked Bulgaria as its rally protesting against the use of loudspeakers by the mosque in downtown Sofia got out of hand, and activists of Ataka assaulted praying Muslims in front of the mosque.

The incident has had wider repercussions, all the way from Bulgarians flocking to lay flowers at the mosque as a sign of apology, to the start of investigation of Ataka for stirring ethnic and religious hatred and the consolidation of the voters of the Bulgarian ethnic Turkish party DPS (Movement for Rights and Freedoms).

In a Sunday interview for the TV channel bTV, Siderova said the “so-called clash was a way to earn the right to not be exposed to the wail of the Imam”. She insisted the boundaries of tolerance have not been overstepped because there was no fighting, just some pushing, adding things like this happen everywhere and all the time, giving as an example the visit of US President, George W. Bush, in Brussels when demonstrators threw eggs at him.

Novinite, 5 June 2011

Ataka faces fine over assault on Muslims at Sofia mosque

Bulgaria’s nationalist party Ataka will be fined BGN 2500 – the maximum amount allowed – over the assault on praying Muslims at the Banya Bashi mosque, announced Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova.

On May 20, the far-right party led by Volen Siderov shocked Bulgaria as its rally protesting against the use of loudspeakers by the mosque in downtown Sofia got out of hand, and activists of Ataka assaulted praying Muslims in front of the mosque.

The incident has had wider repercussions, all the way from Bulgarians flocking to lay flowers at the mosque as a sign of apology, to the start of investigation of Ataka for stirring ethnic and religious hatred and the consolidation of the voters of the Bulgarian ethnic Turkish party DPS (Movement for Rights and Freedoms).

“A breach of the public order is punishable by a fine of BGN 100 to BGN 2500. In this case, the violation is of crucial importance to society, which is why we are will impose the maximum penalty”, Veska Georgieva, Director of the Sofia Municipality Inspectorate explained.

Novinite, 31 May 2011

Converted into pounds sterling 2,500 Bulgarian levs amounts to £1,114.

Sofia: mayor backs Ataka’s demand for reduction in volume of mosque speakers

Sofia mosque Ataka victim 2The Sofia Municipality will request a decreasing of the volume of the Sofia central mosque speakers, stated mayor Yordanka Fandakova Sunday.

Speaking in an interview for TV7, the Sofia mayor, who is a representative of Bulgaria’s center-right GERB ruling party, said the measure will be taken to tone down tensions following the May 20 incident, in which representatives of extreme nationalist Ataka party, including MPs, attacked Muslims during Friday prayer.

The Ataka supporters had gathered that Friday on a protest motivated precisely by a request to lower the allegedly excessive volume of the minaret speakers of the Banya Bashi mosque in downtown Sofia. Several persons of both sides were injured in the disgraceful incident, which provoked the outrage of Muslims and large parts of Bulgarian society.

Key GERB representatives, including PM Boyko Borisov, Minister of Interior Tsvetan Tsvetanov and Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandakova failed to firmly condemn the events, simply characterizing them as a “lamentable” incident marking the inception of campaigning for municipal and presidential elections in the fall.

Sunday Fandakova said that the Ataka supporters had obviously breached public order and full investigations are underway. Nevertheless, she said she will press for lower levels of sound from the mosque during prayers.

“We will do everything possible to lower the volume, in order to decrease tensions. I believe that in this way we will go back to a normal tone of discussion, for safeguarding religious freedoms precludes interfering with public order by means of excessive noise from loudspeakers,” stated the mayor of the Bulgarian capital.

Novinite, 29 May 2011

Bulgarian MPs condemn Ataka assault on Sofia mosque

Sofia mosque prayer mat burning
Prayer carpet on fire outside the Banya Bashi mosque on 20 May

The Bulgarian Parliament has condemned the actions of Volen Siderov and members of his ultra-nationalist Ataka party outside the Sofia mosque on May 20 2011, Bulgarian media reported on May 27. MPs from all parties present in the parliamentary sitting, with the exception of Ataka MPs who abstained, voted in favour of the declaration condemning Ataka’s actions.

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Ataka prepares second protest at Sofia mosque but mayor unlikely to impose ban

Sofia mosque attack victim
Victim of last Friday’s attack on worshippers at the Banya Bashi mosque

Bulgaria’s far-right and nationalist party Ataka is getting ready to stage a new protest rally during the Friday prayer at the Sofia Mosque Banya Bashi.

According to unconfirmed reports, Ataka, whose activists shocked Bulgaria by assaulting praying Muslims in the Sofia mosque last Friday during a rally protesting against the loudspeakers of the mosque, are getting ready for a new rally just a week later.

The Ataka party has not confirmed the reports. However, there are indications that the Sofia Municipality and Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova, a representative of the ruling party GERB, who can technically ban the provocative rally, will adopt a hands-off policy.

The reason for that is that by banning the rally of the nationalist party Ataka, which is the only ally, though an informal one, of the ruling center-right party GERB, the Sofia Municipality might lead Ataka leader Volen Siderov to withdraw support from the minority government of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.

GERB has 117 MPs out of 240, and Ataka’s 21 MPs provide it with a comfortable majority, after the rightist Blue Coalition with its 14 MPs declared itself to be in opposition. One of the reason Borisov did not make a formal coalition with Ataka, in addition to his widely proclaim desire not to be dependent on coalition partners, is the protest of the European People’s Party, of which GERB is a member.

Siderov has threatened Borisov he will stop backing the government unless the authorities took measures to investigate what he claims to be a “nest of radical Islamism” in the Sofia mosque.

Borisov himself and his party GERB initially denounced the actions of their ally; however, Borisov subsequently sought to downplay Friday’s incident, saying that the nationalist party Ataka and the ethnic Turkish party DPS (Movement for Rights and Freedoms) are both going down the same road by seeking to pump up their electoral support through incidents with propaganda effect.

Bulgaria must consider outlawing the far-right and nationalist party Ataka over its recent attack on praying Muslims in Sofia, according to Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberals in European Parliament.

Novinite, 24 May 2011

See also “European Parliament Liberals’ leader: Bulgaria must ban far-right party”, Novinite, 24 May 2011

Ataka used to be part of the far-right Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty (ITS) group in the European Parliament, until the withdrawal of the Greater Romania Party in 2007 reduced the ITS to below the 20 MEPs required to qualify as an official group. Ataka’s allies in the ITS included the Front National, the FPÖ, Vlaams Belang and Alessandra Mussolini’s Alternativa Sociale.

Update:  See “Bulgaria’s far right on the defensive, vows to counter ‘Islamist aggression'”, Novinite, 24 May 2011

This states that Ataka have denied reports that they are planning another protest at the Banya Bashi mosque.

Bulgarian National Radio goes off air as far-right leader clashes with political opponent

Volen Siderov, leader of Bulgaria's nationalist party "Attack", attends protest in front of Banya Bashi Mosque in central Sofia
Volen Siderov with Ataka members outside Sofia mosque last Friday

A Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) talk show about the May 20 clash between Ataka and Muslims outside Sofia’s Banya Bashi mosque went off air for some minutes after Ataka leader Volen Siderov and independent MP Korman Ismailov clashed in the studio.

The broadcast of the Nedelya 150 programme on May 22 was replaced by music for about five minutes after matters became heated, with Siderov telling Ismailov: “you are bearers of radical Islam. You are bearers of extremism. You are a danger to the entire Europe”.

There has been widespread condemnation of Ataka for the May 20 incident which led to injuries and arrests after ultra-nationalists protesting against the use of loudspeakers to relay the call to prayer got into a fight with Muslims outside the mosque.

BNR’s Velichko Konakchiev told Bulgarian National Television that Siderov had started the clash with Ismailov, who said that the Ataka leader was ruining Bulgaria’s image. Ismailov said that people at the mosque had simply been defending themselves against assaults by Ataka supporters.

Siderov said that there should be a stop to hypocritical statements about ethnic peace when Sofia’s city was a “nest of Islamists”. It was a mistake to turn a blind eye and it would be too late, according to Siderov, “when one of them blows up the underground railway in Sofia”.

Bulgarian media reported that an online petition had been launched to ask Prosecutor-General Boris Velchev to request Parliament to vote to lift Siderov’s immunity as an MP from prosecution, while in response to an online campaign, people have been visiting Banya Bashi to lay flowers in a gesture of apology to Bulgaria’s Muslims for the May 20 incident.

BNR director-general Valeri Todorov said in a statement that it was unacceptable for the airwaves of the country’s public broadcaster to be used to incite ethnic, religious and national animosities.

Sofia Echo, 22 May 2011

Update:  See “Bulgaria shocked as nationalist leader triggers brawl on air”, Novinite, 22 May 2011

Bulgarians lay flowers in solidarity with Sofia mosque

Sofia mosque flowers

A number of Bulgarian citizens have come to the Banya Bashi mosque in downtown Sofia to lay flowers as a gesture of apology, ashamed of Friday’s incident in which the nationalist party Ataka assaulted praying Muslims.

The incident occurred as the far-right party led by its leader Volen Siderov rallied near the mosque to demand a ban of the use of loudspeakers but the rally quickly got out of hand.

The event entitled “A Flower for a Free Bulgaria” gathered 1,200 supporters on Facebook until Saturday afternoon, after it was announced Friday afternoon as a reaction to the brawl in downtown Sofia.

The organizers originally called for a gathering to lay flowers at the Banya Bashi mosque Saturday evening in order to demonstrate to the Muslims who were assaulted that there are “other people” in Bulgaria who condemn the acts of far-right extremism. However, many Bulgarian citizens have flocked to lay flowers during the entire day on Saturday, as well as Friday night.

Messages for tolerance, which is traditional for Bulgaria, prevail on the Facebook wall of the initiative, together with calls to find a solution to the problem with the loudspeakers of the Sofia mosque.

Novinite, 21 May 2011

Poll: half of Europeans oppose headscarf in schools

Just over half of Europeans surveyed opposed allowing Islamic headscarves in schools but backed the presence of crucifixes in classrooms, according to a Spanish study obtained by AFP Wednesday.

A total 52.6 per cent of those polled in 12 European Union member states along were “opposed” or “totally opposed” to the use of the garment in schools, according to the study carried out by the research department of BBVA, Spain’s second-largest bank. Opposition to the veil was highest in Bulgaria with 84.3 per cent against and France with 68.7 per cent opposed and it was lowest in Poland with only 25.6 per cent against followed by Denmark with 28.1 per cent opposed.

By contrast 54.4 per cent of those polled were in favour of classrooms displaying crucifixes. In Spain and Italy, two nations with a strong Roman Catholic tradition, support for the use of crucifixes in classrooms stood at 69.9 per cent and 49.3 per cent respectively. Support for the use of crucifixes in classrooms shot up to 77 per cent in Britain and 78.8 per cent in Denmark.

AFP, 28 April 2010

EU far-right groups to form party

Far-right political leaders from four EU nations have unveiled plans to form a pan-European “patriotic” party. The heads of far-right parties from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria and France said their aim was to defend Europe against “Islamisation” and immigrants.

In Vienna, the heads of Austria’s Freedom Party, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, Bulgaria’s Ataka and the French National Front said the new party would be a counter-balance to other political forces in Europe. “We say: Patriots of all the countries of Europe, unite! Because only together will we solve our problems,” Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache said. “Irresponsible mass immigration to Europe from outside Europe due to irresponsible politicians … is the problem,” he said.

BBC News, 25 January 2008