Romania: Lawsuit Launched to Stop Bucharest Mega-Mosque

by Soeren Kern
October 13, 2016 at 5:30 am

Opponents of a proposed Turkish mega-mosque in Romania’s capital, Bucharest, have filed a lawsuit against the government in an effort to halt the project. The court is set to begin hearing the case on October 14.

The lawsuit seeks to reverse a June 2015 decision by the Romanian prime minister at the time, Victor Ponta, to approve construction of what could become the largest mosque in Eastern Europe — second only to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul — on a large tract of city-owned land in northern Bucharest.

The property, valued at more than four million euros ($4.4 million), is being provided for free by the Romanian government, while the construction costs, estimated at three million euros ($3.3 million), are being paid for by Turkey.

Ponta said the mosque will reap economic benefits for Romania because Turkey is the country’s leading non-EU trading partner. The mosque’s critics, including an array of Romanian academics, historians, politicians, anti-immigration groups and even some Muslims, counter that not only will it increase Turkish influence over Romania, it will also encourage Muslim immigration to the country.

The Bucharest mosque is the result of more than a decade of talks between the Romanian and Turkish governments. The original deal called for a “mutual exchange” in which Romania would build a new Orthodox Church in Istanbul, while Turkey would build the mosque in Bucharest.

In July 2015, however, Ponta revealed that the Romanian government had abandoned the Istanbul church project because it is “not allowed under Turkish law.” Ponta approved the Bucharest mosque project anyway, saying it was a multicultural symbol of Romania’s acceptance of the Muslim community.

Ponta’s decision to approve the mosque, which will mimic Ottoman-era architecture, was greeted with outrage in a country that was under Ottoman Turkish domination for nearly five centuries until 1877.

“Turkey attempts a symbolic conquest of Europe through these mosques,” said Tudor Ionescu, leader of the anti-immigration Noua Dreaptă (New Right) party. “I don’t know why we are the recipients of such a ‘blessing.’” Noua Dreaptă has organized protests against the project where people have chanted, “Romania is not a Turkish province.”

Critics say the large size of the mosque is out of proportion to the small size of Bucharest’s Muslim population. The 13,000 square meter (140,000 square foot) project, to be situated near the Romexpo trade fair grounds, includes a mosque for 2,000 worshippers, a Koran school, a library and a recreational center.

Bucharest is home to around 9,000 Muslims who are being served by ten mosques scattered throughout the city. The Muslim population of Romania is 65,000, or less than one percent of the country’s population of 19.5 million. Most are ethnic Turks and Tatars living in the Dobrogea region of eastern Romania.

In an interview with Balkan Insight, historian Ionut Cojocaru said:

“It is a bit surprising, building such a big mosque in a country where the number of Muslims is very small. This is just a sign of Turkey’s neo-Ottoman policy, which is designed to promote its economic and political interests all around the Balkans.”

Turkey has been on a mega-mosque building spree across the Balkans and Eastern Europe as part of an effort by Ankara to expand its influence — and its brand of Islam — in the region.

In interviews with Balkan specialist Michael Bird, several observers said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s international mosque-building program is part of a plan to project Turkey as the pre-eminent Muslim nation.

Read more here: https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/9122/romania-mega-mosque

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