800,000 Turks Become EU Citizens

Selcuk Gultasli, zaman.com, Jan. 1, 2007

As Bulgaria and Romania join the European Union today, nearly 800,000 Turks and one million Muslims will become EU citizens.

The number of Turks in Europe will rise to six million and Europe’s Muslim population rises to 16 million.

The European press focused on the fact that Bulgaria’s Muslim population comprises 12 percent of the population.

Discrimination against Muslims is on the rise in these countries, ever since the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

Turkish-origin Bulgarian citizens often emphasize that Islam is not ‘a religion of terror.’

Observers comment that EU ‘enlargement fatigue’ will grow following the accession of these two countries.

The EU’s population will rise to 492 million and the borders will reach the Black Sea.

The EU has increased its member states from 15 to 27 within three years and is expected to take a break. Croatia may be the single exception here.

With the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, the EU added 100 million in population and an area of 1.4 million square kilometers.

Comments that Bulgaria and Romania were not ready for membership have a negative influence on EU public opinion.

Though authorities state both countries are ready as much as Greece was in 1981 and Poland in 2004, Europeans are expected to display a clear attitude against further expansion following the latest wave of enlargement.

For the first time in its history, the EU will keep monitoring its new members following accession.

Bulgaria especially has failed to fully convince Brussels in the areas of justice, corruption and organized crime.

Brussels will impose sanctions against the country unless it makes progress in these areas.

Pointing to shortcomings, 55 Bulgarian Airways aircraft will not be allowed to land at European airports unless they pass EU standards.


Like most Bulgarians, Salikh Kutsov hopes joining the European Union will bring prosperity to his town. But the Muslim carpenter wonders if his future wife would be happy wearing a headscarf in the EU.

The 27-year-old carpenter has been told accession will cement religious and democratic freedoms that have taken a tenuous hold here since the fall of communism.

But he is also taken aback at hardening attitudes towards his religion’s traditions in the wealthy bloc and their effect in Bulgaria, where Christians and Muslims have lived in relative harmony for centuries.

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Bulgaria will be the only EU state where Muslims—12 percent of its 7.8 million people—are not recent immigrants but a centuries-old local community. Mostly ethnic Turkish descendants of the Ottoman Empire’s reach into Europe, they live beside Christians in a culture known as “komshuluk”, or neighbourly relations.

Recently, however, two Muslim girls were prohibited from wearing headscarves to a state school in the town of Smolyan—Bulgaria’s first glimpse of an issue that has raised tensions between Christians and Muslims in western Europe.

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Unlike neighbouring former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria avoided clashes between Orthodox Christians and Muslims after the fall of Communism despite a 1984-85 “revival process”, launched by Soviet-backed dictator Todor Zhivkov to assimilate Muslims.

According to Amnesty International, at least 100 Muslims died in his four-month campaign to force them to change their names to Bulgarian, which banned the Turkish language in public. It also banned the wearing of headscarves and other Islamic customs such as circumcision and funeral rights.

When Bulgaria opened its border with Turkey in 1989, more than 300,000 Muslims left, although some later returned.

The bans were also lifted and now mosques, along with Muslim schools, are common sights, while the ethnic-Turkish MRF party has become a powerful political force, participating in the last two governments.

IMPORTED FEAR?

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Following attacks by Islamic fundamentalists in London and Madrid and the arrests of other plotters across Europe, many EU states now shun elements of Muslim culture.

In the Netherlands, once a model state for tolerance, a party won nine seats in parliament last month on a campaign against what it called the “Islamisation” of the country.

France banned Muslim headscarves in state schools two years ago and Prime Minister Tony Blair has called the custom “a mark of separation”. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has said Islamic women should try to fit into European culture.

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Experts say one reason the two groups get along so well is that they keep their distance: rarely inter-marrying and living in closed enclaves with limited outside contact.

The harmony also depends on neither group pushing too hard on controversial issues, such as wearing headscarves or advocating the use of Turkish as a second official language.

But analysts say the signs of a possible Islamic revival, when tied to EU entry and Muslims’ desire for greater freedoms, could strain Bulgaria’s delicate ethnic and religious balance.

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LOOMING PROBLEM

Besides ethnic Turks, Bulgarian Muslims also include 300,000 Roma Gypsies and Pomaks—Europeans who converted to Islam under the Ottomans. Many say they look forward to uniting with millions of “brothers in faith” in the EU.

Living mainly in mountain villages where poverty and unemployment are rife, they see entry as a chance to better their lot. But Muslim leaders also worry it will attract strains of fundamentalist Islam that have taken root in western Europe.

“We have to stop the infiltration of radical Islamic groups here to avoid what is happening in Western Europe,” says Salikh Arshinski, secretary of the Union of Muslims in Bulgaria.

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Muslim leaders are confident they will preserve their cultural traditions but, according to Husein Hafazov, aide to Bulgaria’s top Muslim cleric, there are doubts about whether they will be considered equal citizens in the Union.

— Tsvetelia Ilieva, Reuters, Dec. 27, 2006

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