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13 May, 2009 06:12

Bulgaria’s children being forced into Islam?

In Bulgaria, politicians have claimed that children in rural schools are being forced to study Islam, but locals say the politicians are just trying to play the anti-Muslim card ahead of European and local elections.

The village of Ribvono lies in the south-west of Bulgaria. At first glance, tucked up high in the mountains, it seems a million miles away from the politicking of the capital Sofia. However, accusations that the village is the staging ground for the growth of radical Islam in the region has put the people there in focus ahead of European and general elections in the country, with some opposition politicians suggesting that schoolchildren are being forced into following Islam, something which the local residents disagree with.

“This is just a clash between two parties, nothing more. The first wants one thing, the other strives for something different. Here in the village there is no conflict and the state should not interfere,” says local resident Rujab Serakov.

The head of the school in Ribvono explained to RT that Islam is only taught in class if a child's parents request it, all in accordance with Bulgarian law.

“We have by no means violated the law and we have an approval from the education ministry,” insists school director Feim Ahmed Isa. “Christian religion is being taught in many schools in Bulgaria, Islam is taught in our school. The accusations of fundamentalism and radical Islam have nothing to do with the reality.”

The citizens say that the controversy around Islam only serves the interests of politicians in Sofia. The predominantly Muslim community of Ribvono says that the accusation that children being forced into Islam is ridiculous.

The main voice of discord from Sofia has been Yane Yanev, the leader of the opposition Order, Lawfulness and Justice party. He has been campaigning hard on the issue of Islam in Bulgarian schools. After a week of chasing Mr Yanev around Sofia, he was unavailable for comment on camera. However, Order, Law and Justice representative Dimitar Abadjiev did agree to speak to RT over the phone to explain the party's concerns:

“Radical Islam organizations go not into Turkish villages, but only in Bulgarian Muslim villages,” insists Dimitar Abadjiev. “The first step is to recognize the problem and to begin altogether to solve this issue. This is neither easy nor quick, but we have to identify the problem and start our national strategy.”

With elections in the country looming and opposition concern over teaching methods rising, the chances that this issue will disappear anytime soon in Bulgaria remain slim.