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Last Updated: Friday, 2 April, 2004, 06:15 GMT 07:15 UK
Mosque bid stirs feelings in Slovenia

By Tamsin Smith
BBC News, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana's historic city centre is a picture postcard rivalling any European capital.

Campaigners say a mosque would jar with local architecture

Its gothic and baroque skyline stands silhouetted against a backdrop of snowy mountains.

The cafes in the city centre are full of young people and overpriced cappucinos and the old market place is bustling.

But this is one of the few European capital cities without a mosque, even though the country's 50,000 Muslims have been requesting one for more than three decades.

The most recently proposed site for the mosque is in downtown Ljubljana... next to the ring road, beside some allotments and perfumed by the proximity of the city refuse dump. But some politicians remain firmly against even such a modest location.

Extreme opposition

Nearly 11,000 signatures have been collected in opposition to the latest planning proposal. A referendum has been pencilled in for next month, pending a decision from Slovenia's constitutional court.

Michael Jarc
The head of the anti-mosque campaign points to folk memories

Michael Jarc is the city councillor leading the petition against the mosque.

Standing in the market place as the church bells chime midday, he tells me urban planning is the main reason a minaret should not be added to Ljubljana's cityscape and that he and his citizens want to be consulted for architectural reasons.

But he then went further to provide some other reasons why Slovenia should not have a mosque.

"You should look back in history. Slovenes have been in this area for 20 centuries. In the middle ages our ancestors were attacked by Muslim soldiers, and they did bad things here, and this is in our historical subconscious," he says.

He also says Muslim values are seen as somehow opposed to the Jewish, Christian and Orthodox European tradition - the "enemy of Europe", as he chooses to put it. Election year

Slovenia's small Muslim community is starting to worry about the tone of the debate which is now taking place.

Imam Ifet Suljic
Muslims say that they feel increasingly victimised

"Before this debate was blown out of all proportion, people in schools and workplaces felt fine, but now they feel afraid," says local Imam Ifet Suljic.

Some of this fellow Muslims, he says, are now suffering victimisation in the workplace.

Slovenes are starting to accuse them directly, saying "It's you... you're the ones who want this mosque", he adds.

With elections due this autumn, the imam worries that the mosque debate is being used for political reasons.

"We're really angry at those who have known about our request for a mosque for years and years and have said nothing and now they are taking a stand on it just to win votes," he says.

'Bad timing'

But it seems public opinion has already been affected and many people in the streets now think a mosque will bring terrorist threats.

"I wouldn't build a mosque here," says one woman adjusting her sunglasses in the bright sunshine.

"Slovenia is so small and I don't want a mosque here because we know what kind of people are behind all these recent explosions... We don't need that here... I'm against it."

"It's not an appropriate time to build a mosque here," a taxi driver agreed, "especially when you look at the problems in other European countries because of these forgiving attitudes towards Muslims."

With the European flag already fluttering over the city hall, Slovenia is a country on the verge of joining the European Union.

But the debate over building a mosque casts a darker shadow over a country where some people view liberal attitudes towards Islam with deep suspicion.

Timeline: Slovenia
01 Apr 04  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Slovenia
01 Apr 04  |  Country profiles

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