Challenges for the construction of residential complexes in 2017

The National Statistical Institute of Bulgaria has just published the statistics about the buildings entered into exploitation (with Permission for Usage) for the second three-month period of 2017. Here these are:

- The total number of these is 506 (ending to 30 constructed buildings more than the same period of 2016), consisting of 2018 constructed homes/apartments (which is 15% less than the total number of apartments for the same period in 2016).
- The family houses represent 72.2% of these 506 buildings, and the residential complexes - 15.4% only.
- The total number of residential complexes decreased compared to the same period of 2016.
- Therefore the total built-up area of newly built homes decreases by 14.2% compared with the same period in 2016 - down to 104 000 sq.m.
- At the same time, the average built-up area of a newly built apartment increases with 3 sq. meters, compared to the size of apartments in buildings, completed last year.
- The regions with the biggest number of completed buildings are Varna, Plovdiv, and Bourgas.

These statistics lead me to several personals conclusions about the present situation of the construction business:
1) The tough days for constructing residential complexes in Bulgaria, presented for the last 6-7 years continue, as the total number of residential complexes decreases in comparison to 2016. This is caused mainly by the absence of many buyers in the real estate market. The population in Bulgaria decreases with 70 000-80 000 people due to demographic, migrant, social and other reasons. In addition, a huge part of the people who live in Bulgaria, work for only 300 Euro monthly wage, so they can't afford to pay the recently increased prices for newly built homes (average of 60 000 – 80 000 Euro). They are not even able to obtain a mortgage loan because their income is not enough to cover the monthly installments. Well, some hungry-for-cash real estate agents may argue that in the capital Sofia and in a big city like Varna there are enough potential and well-paid buyers looking for a new home. But the truth is that the country collapses as a result of the incompetent and corrupted ruling, where the minimum monthly wage is 232 Euro (will rise to 255 Euro in January 2018) but food prices are the same like in Western Europe, and sometimes higher. For example, a jar of baby puree in a supermarket in Berlin costs 90 Eurocents, while here in the local supermarket from the same chain, the same jar costs double – 1.80 Euro. So for the last 25 years these Bulgarians, who haven’t migrated abroad to the Western countries, constantly use to migrate from small towns to the biggest cities (Sofia, Varna, and Plovdiv) where they could get bigger salaries. If you meet ten people who recently live in Sofia or Varna and ask them where they are from, 8 or 9 of every 10 have migrated there from smaller towns or villages. I know, because I have lived in both cities.

Another circumstance that led to fewer buyers on the off-plan real estate market is that many young working people prefer to stay on rent, instead of buying their own home. They feel insecure and unsafe in the present economic situation in Bulgaria so they are not attracted by the 3.5-4% interests on mortgage loans, recently offered by local banks. Which rates, by the way, have dropped twice since 2009, when there were interest rates of 8-9%.
2) The fewer number of buyers looking for newly built homes has led to a reduced total number of newly built homes/apartments (15% on annual basis). And in common - to the reduced sizes of complexes, which results in the less total built-up area of newly built homes (14.2%). I.e. developers build smaller residential complexes now.

Also, the reduced number of residential complexes, compared to the increased number of family houses speaks enough that people now prefer to invest in (their own) independent homes, which they usually construct (via hiring builders), on their own piece of land. This means: You are not forced to pay in short periods, i.e. you do the construction whenever you have money for it and look for better deals on materials and labor hand; you are not afraid that you won’t get what you have paid for, due to mortgages obtained by the developer from banks, sudden bankruptcy or insolvency procedures of developers, etc.

3) So the local developers try to react against the fewer number of off-plan buyers in the last couple of years, via increasing the size of the newly built apartments in residential complexes. This increase in the build-up area reflects in the official statistics related to the size of an apartment (average of 3 sq.m.). The logic is simple – fewer sold apartments, but having bigger sizes and bigger price. So profit should not drop significantly.

4) The increased size of newly constructed apartments has led to increase in price. This is why, mostly in Sofia and Varna, people talk about the increase in prices of homes on the real estate market. It mostly happens because it is now modern among the young people to search for a newly built first home, and so the prices of these increase due to the bigger size and to the increased searching of such premises.

5) Speaking of the size of newly built apartments, there is one specific - the size of the associated with the apartment ideal shares of the common parts of the building rises too. For example, if 15 years ago the ideal shares were roughly 6-8% of the total size of the apartment, now these are between 12-18%. Now it results in buying a bigger sized apartment according to your Title Deed, but yet not a bigger apartment itself.
Considering the above, as well the present economic situation in Bulgaria, and the interest by foreign property buyers too, I expect in the next couple of years the number of constructed residential complexes to continue to drop, where concentrated only in Sofia, Varna, and Plovdiv. Because only in these big cities still there is interest by buyers looking for a newly built home since the rest of the country is slowly dying and its population continues to disappear with a progressive number on annual basis.

The above represents only my personal view on the situation, established on my experience and knowledge, and it does not oblige you in the form of an advice or professional opinion.

Obtaining Bulgarian citizenship by origin – some specifics of the procedure

The Bulgarian citizenship applies to all these people born on the territory of Bulgaria, as well as these who have Bulgarian parent(s), following the provisions of the Constitution of Republic of Bulgaria. The rest of the cases allowing acquiring Bulgarian citizenship are based on naturalization, according to the Act for Bulgarian citizenship. These may involve marital reasons, investment programs, merits towards Bulgaria, etc.

One of the most used options for obtaining Bulgarian citizenship by naturalization is on the base of Bulgarian origins. These occur in situations where at least one of the ancestors of the applicant – parent, grandparent, etc. – recently is, or has been a Bulgarian citizen. It is a famous option mainly due to the historical circumstances. There are many Bulgarian communities and respectively, decedents of Bulgarians in all the neighboring countries – Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Romania, and Turkey. As some of us say, “Bulgaria is the only country in Europe neighboring only with itself”, because during the last four wars in the last century, in which the country participated (The 1st and the 2nd Balkan Wars, The World War I and The World War II), Bulgaria has lost huge part of its territories covered with Bulgarians living there. Also from the historical point of view, there are also, in addition, huge Bulgarian communities in not distant countries like Moldova, Ukraine, and Albania (mostly formed by Bulgarians who escaped 150-200 years ago, during the Ottoman Empire slavery). Recently the Albanian government just recognized officially the Bulgarian minority in Albania and confirmed its legal rights. This recognition of Bulgarian minority is a step ahead in allowing the decedents of these ancient Bulgarians to keep their identity.

Also, I need to add here the huge number of Bulgarian immigrants who migrated abroad in the western countries for the last century and especially during the last 25 years. Nowadays more than 2 million Bulgarians live and work abroad – mostly in England, the USA, Germany, Italy, Greece, etc. In addition, many Bulgarian citizens have migrated (voluntary or were forced to do so by the Authorities) in Turkey on several migrant waves - in the early 1950’s and in the late 1980’s. This circumstances led to many people living abroad, who have Bulgarian ancestors. For example, while I used to reside in Illinois, USA, I met a local person whose grandfather was a Bulgarian, immigrated in America during the 1940’s, searching for a better life and running from the WWII knocking on his door back then.

Once Bulgaria entered the European Union in 2007, the Bulgarian passport became more valuable, because it already allows visa-free travel, residing and working in the EU. In addition, the Certificate of Bulgarian origin, allows then applying for residence permit in Bulgaria. This, combined with the other above detailed circumstances, still attracts the decedents of many Bulgarian citizens and in practice leads to increasing the number of applications for Bulgarian citizenship on the base of Bulgarian origins. Mostly these are lodged from Macedonian citizens, Moldovan and Ukrainian citizens and recently - Turkish citizens, who have at least one Bulgarian ancestor. For example, last week I went to the National Agency for Bulgarians abroad – the authority which issues the Certificate of Bulgarian origins. They told me they are booked for lodging the related application until the end of the year.... And there are two months ahead until December 31st. In such situations, the Consular offices abroad could be a better option for lodging faster the particular application.

One very important thing that I realize during my practice on the matter – obtaining the accurate official documents for the Bulgarian identity of the ancestor (to support applying for Certificate for Bulgarian origin) is very important. Often these won’t be obtained at the Authorities in the foreign country, where they reside (d), but mostly at the Bulgarian Authorities. For example, last month I had a request by a Turkish national who claimed he has Bulgarian origins and was interested in obtaining Bulgarian citizenship by origin. Although he kept asking me for a list of concrete documents to obtain from Turkey about his Bulgarian ancestor, I couldn’t provide such. Because the reality is that such personal documents, related to Bulgarian citizenship and identity of the ancestor, should be obtained from the Bulgarian authorities here in Bulgaria.
Unfortunately, when related to old civil registrations back in history, technical troubles may occur – destroyed or missing civil registers, lack of personal information in the present electronic registers about people who lived a long time ago in Bulgaria, etc. Usually these problems are caused by two events – decedents of the Bulgarian ancestor didn’t keep or presented ever the up-to-date information towards the local Authorities; in addition, when there have been reforms in the civil registers during the years, the missing information had nowhere to appear from; so now there are examples of foreigners who wish to claim they have Bulgarian origins, but hold no documents to prove it; neither obtain such documentation at the Bulgarian authorities. Simply because they reside abroad, and they have nowhere to start from due to lack of any personal details for their Bulgarian ancestors and lack of knowledge about these specific investigations and procedures.

Therefore, before the applicant starts the process of applying for Certificate of Bulgarian origins, and respectively – for Bulgarian origins, I would recommend consulting in advance with an Immigrant lawyer about the possibilities of applying for Bulgarian citizenship, and most important – to perform a detailed research at the local Authorities for obtaining the needed personal details of their close or distant Bulgarian ancestors, that will allow them to apply for and obtain Bulgarian citizenship on the base of origins. This could avoid entering into bigger expenses with no result achieved after performance of the long-term immigration procedures. There is also a legal option for recovering certain types of missing or wrong personal documents of the ancestors through court lawsuit – and where possible, I use it in my practice to help my clients who wish to prove their Bulgarian identity, but hold no documents for it.

SEO scam offers and how to recognize them

Since day one, I have received many e-mail letters from so-called "SEO experts" which offered to me search-engine optimization; more content on my website; trying to convince me that my website is missing visitors and followers on social media, so they are offering ways to attract more visitors and generate followers for me on Facebook and/or Google+, etc. So far through the years, there have been many fake and spam SEO offers. Their fishing has changed a bit for the time being, but there are still ways to recognize the spam. Here are examples from my own experience on this matter:

1) The e-mail address of the "SEO-experts" is either some combination of letters that is unpronounceable (something which no reputable company will do), or the e-mail domain is one of the main mailing service providers (Gmail, Yahoo, etc.). Well, you cannot pretend that your company is more than 20 years within the SEO business, and to use a Gmail account.

2) Their letters usually start with some text that they have found on the internet our website, and at the same time, their pretend they "discovered" that it is not in the preferred results in the search engines. Something like "I came to your website by searching on Google but it was difficult to find as you were not on the front page of search results.".... Which brings the question - how you have found our website by chance then?

3) The second point in the content of these spam letters - they write down that they forward it to "the admin", where they use a standard software to put first in the text boilerplate text, getting the keywords for your website. For example: "This is a message to the Attorney in Sofia | Law Firm | Contacts Bulgaria legal services Lawyer in Sofia admin.". So you can get the clear idea that since I am a lawyer situated in Sofia, these keywords on my website have been used by them to convince me that this letter has been drawn personally to me.

4) Usually, senders of these offers avoid direct phone contact with you "I decided to leave a message here on your contact page, instead of calling you...". Fake and spam letters never include a direct contact back.

5) The spam SEO offers direct you to some website with unfamiliar and very often, unpronounceable name, where they pretend, they have a lot of traffic. A website which never relates to the sender's e-mail address, by the way. Yeah, right. Of they offer you something like "Increase your followers in only hours with our powerful social media offers. Visit our website......". Or they may offer "site ranking booster package". There are some offers of the type "freelancer writer is needed".

Mostly these are generated in bulk by a software tool or program. And the main goal of these spam letters with offers is just to make you click on the listed web addresses, so to help them generate traffic to it. This is called "fishing".

6) Another clue that you are a target of spammers is that they never sign their letters and never leave the standard contact details (names, job position, telephone number and e-mail for correspondence), although they pretend to be part of a very professional company in this sphere. And even try to convince you about it, like "over 20 years experience starting my own companies and working for major companies and organizations..."

In all cases please be very suspicious to any SEO offers you may receive via e-mail. Especially if they consist any of the above-listed content. Do not answer to these especially to unsolicited offers. Usually, spammers collect your data so they can sell it to real SEO company, which to start then chasing you with their offers. And I have noted that same offers came from multiple senders within a short period. This should ring the bell for you.

Also you can always do an easy check online with part of the text of the emailed offer, in order to see if it has been included already in one of the scam warning websites.

* The above article shares only my personal statement, based only on my personal experience.

Google will sanction websites with aggressive advertisement

According to an official message on their blog, Google will start sanctioning websites which use aggressive ad tactics and deliver too much pop-up add content on mobile devices, effective 2017. This relates mostly to smartphones and tablets that deliver mobile online content towards users of internet services. One of the main reasons declared is that pop-up ads use the whole screen of the device. And respectively the user has to close these manually to enable using the small screen of the device.

This is good news and I have been waiting for these measurements by Google for a long time. As a person who uses a lot a couple smartphones and tablets, I surf online almost all of the time. I mean both during work and in my spare time. Nowadays many websites have recently improved their mobile versions. Upon reaching a particular website on many occasions I’ve been asked to download applications, to check advertisements or ad applications, etc. With the interstitial format, I have to remove (close) it first, to be able to open the website and reach the needed content or to continue reading. There are even websites which constantly ask to download their mobile version, every time I try to open them.

I find couple huge differences between pop-up advertisement and the mainstream advertisements on TV and radio. Mostly due to their technical specifics. Let’s split it two ways: Following your personal interest, you have the right of choice to skip the (upcoming) adds you don't want to see on TV. You do it via a simple click. But you don’t have the similar right of choice on your mobile device. You have to look through the add that popped up before you find and press the closing button on the add.

In the view of public interests, with the mainstream media, you can expect when they may deliver adds to the public. For example, the advertisement between the different TV-shows. On the opposite, can’t predict when a pop-up add will list on your mobile device. And respectively will prevent you working with it until you actually close the add. In other words - you just cannot avoid seeing on your mobile an add which you don’t want to see. Of course, there are versions of “pop-up blocker” software, but not everyone uses it. This may result in watching in all cases the particular advertisement. So the advertiser achieves their goal while there is no benefit for you.

Also, I believe there is a negative influence of watching too many ads. Many of these use manipulative tactics that affect person’s choices and habits in one way or another. At the end of the day, the main goal of the science “Marketing” is to make consumers spend money and buy things, right?

Therefore I support the upcoming changes planned by Google. I believe it develops the right of choice of users to decide what to watch and what not while surfing online on their mobile devices. Obeying and protecting their privacy is a supreme goal in my view. Therefore all efforts on this matter should be encouraged. As well it is one step close to creating better regulations about online advertising in common.

Arbitration in Bulgaria. Examples of defective and illegal acts of justice.

The Arbitration procedure in Bulgaria has its legal definition in the Act for International Trade Arbitrage. This act of legislation included also hearing legal disputes between local parties and legal disputes between traders and consumers. It is important to point that the arbitration courts in Bulgaria have no precise regulation of their formation and practice. These civil tribunals are not supervised either regulated by any governmental or state Authority. Their acts of justice cannot be appealed on a higher instance, in comparison to the decisions by the regular civil courts. The figures of arbitrators in Bulgaria also are not regulated by any council, governmental or private Authority.

In addition, there are no rules or provisions for becoming and practicing as Arbiter in Bulgaria. So any person with a Law degree can become an Arbiter, or form a judicial entity, named “arbitration court”. Where to hear and decide on civil lawsuits, brought to them and to issue decisions that bind the participants. As long as parties have voluntary agreed via a clause in their contracts that “any legal disputes will be heard by the following Arbitrator/ Arbitration court: ”.

In addition, there is a defective procedure in the arbitration that affected many participants in arbitration lawsuits through the last years. As Arbiters and Arbitration tribunals are not part of the court system, they don’t use the court deliverers of summons. But use the services of private postal couriers to deliver documents and notifications to parties. Where the notification differs: The court employee who serves documents notifies people about the actual content. This puts in danger the proper summoning of the defendant on arbitration lawsuit. Also, it affected the proper notifying about the actual content of the documentation. For example, some people do not reside all-day-long and all the time on their home address. So very often the defendant had no idea that they have been summoned on an arbitration lawsuit against them. And the claimant may use this opportunity to pretend more money than he has the legal right to. Presuming that no one will then object the prospective decision.

And here comes the role of the so-called “independent” Arbitrator. He has received their arbitration fee by the claimant (usually a trader), to decide in fair justice on the arbitration case (where the defendant was usually a consumer). But the sad reality is that arbitrators may not follow the obligatory court practice of the Supreme Court. And parties cannot appeal their decisions. Arbitrators may reduce the amount of the claim, without awarding the defendant with the respective part of the expenses. And you can't do anything against it. Through the last several years many defendants-consumers faced arbitration awards with extremely high sums awarded in favor of the claimants-traders, with no legal reason.

The other circumstance that created a basis for the performance of fraudulent activities: On the basis of the above arbitration decision, the judgment creditor can refer then to the Sofia City court. This is the body of a court which issues writs of execution on the base of Arbitration court decisions. I have made a check at the practice of the City court. It turned that on several hundred applications lodged by one local quick-cash lending company, for obtaining a writ of execution on the base of arbitration award, the so-called independent Arbiter has issued certificate to the City court on every arbitration case, stating that “the defendant has been properly notified about the initiating the lawsuit and about the issuing arbitration decision”. Even in cases where the defendant has not been notified properly and had no idea about the arbitration procedure against them.

Fortunately, at least half of the judges who decided on these applications for writ of execution have rejected these applications. Their correct motive was that the defendant hasn’t been notified properly. And on appeals at the Appellate court, the higher instance judges have confirmed the rejection of these applications. Unfortunately, there are many cases where judges have approved such applications and have issued writs of execution. Of course, there is the legal path to appeal arbitration decision for which you were not aware of, at the Supreme Court. You have to lodge the appeal in 3-months deadline after you realize there has been an arbitration procedure against you.

Ok, If you are the arbiter and you issue such certificate once or twice, and the court rejects the application it could be a mistake. But if you do it hundred times for several years on similar or identic lawsuits while the courts are rejecting applications based on this certificate consisting of untrue information about notification of parties, this leads to a conclusion about the improper legal practice by particular Arbiters in favor of judgment creditors.

For the last several years the outcome of defective and illegal arbitration decisions on claims initiated by a trading entity against a consumer, for which he/she has not been notified properly at all, was in favor of the trader in 99% of the cases. In the form of fully confirmed claim, fully confirmed expenses and fees pretended by the claimant. This created a good amount of money which the trader pursued then from the consumer via the bailiff.

In my lawyer's practice, I had this arbitration case which ended unfortunately just before the latest changes in the legislation. I have appealed to the Supreme court an arbitration decision, issued after improper notification procedure, within the three moths deadline, and have won the appeal. Just to face the return of the lawsuit back to the same Arbitration court for deciding again on the arbitration lawsuit, unfortunately. The same arbitration court, of course, decided again in favor of the claimant. Without even awarding the defendant with expenses, although the arbitrator has rejected ¼ of the amount of the claim.

Couple months ago, the Parliament has finally accepted one very important change that affects the above defective acts of justice by arbiters. From now one, any legal disputes between traders and consumers will not be a subject of arbitration lawsuit anymore. So far, in 100% of the cases namely traders initiated it against consumers. So this legislative change will finally reduce the danger of fraudulent activities by various arbiters and arbitration courts. Consumers may finally find a relief from the danger to face defective and illegal arbitration decision against them.

But still, the process of ineffective notifications of parties of an arbitration lawsuit remains. Therefore I would suggest another change in the related legislation. As detailed above, the local civil court assists for issuing execution list. So in the same way, the same court could assist for the notification procedure as well. Where the claimant could deposit a fee for it together with their claim. This will ensure that in all cases the defendant will be properly notified about the pending litigation lawsuit against them. And will the chance to organize properly their legal defense. So such eventual change would effectively prevent many frauds in the future.

Development of maintenance relations in residential and holiday complexes in Bulgaria during the last decade

When I started my practicing 10 years ago as a conveyance solicitor, it was the peak of off-plan property purchases in Bulgaria. Property investors from different countries – the UK, Ireland, Russia, Greece, Spain, Italy, Norway, etc., were attracted by the projects for new developments, advertised by foreign and local real estate agencies, very often supported with offers for rental income. As a result, many residential and holiday complexes have been constructed through the years and put in operation - amounting totally to several hundred thousand newly built apartments, most of them - sold to foreign buyers.

These days are gone already and the real estate boom here is over. The developments that were completed and sold could not generate any more fresh cash for the developers who constructed them. So obviously in the last couple of years they had to find another way for generating continuous income since they could not start new building projects due to the crisis that occurred.

The first option for making more money out of it was via renting out the newly built apartments on behalf of the individual buyers/owners, against giving them percentage of the generated rental income. In most cases this has been the main idea prior selling the concrete project off-plan. As I detailed above, many foreign buyers were attracted by promises for 7-8-9% annual rental income if they agree to purchase an apartment. But this option faced many difficulties, like the overload rental market with too many apartments for rent in the same area (because too many complexes were built in the same time) which fact, together with the necessary expenses that had to be invested for furnishing the apartment and for managing the rental initiative, could not allow achieving of such huge income – neither for the apartment owner nor the developer. Also the Bulgarian resorts depend strongly of the season so good occupation is usually possible for 2-3 months roughly through the year.

The alternative option, that was easier and preferable by many local developers, was to provide maintenance services in the complex and respectively to charge the apartment owners with maintenance fee. In the past I’ve experienced many cases where off-plan buyers in holiday complexes were asked to sign a maintenance contract together with the preliminary (private purchase) contract. Here the outcome was also not very positive, because most of the companies-developers bankrupted through the years and could not deliver maintenance. In some situations where possible, the maintenance activities then were engaged to officially or non-officially related daughter companies (which usually receive as an asset also any apartments that could not be sold yet). One shortcoming of the direct relations between apartment owner and maintenance companies I’ve experienced in my practice was that although the maintenance in its legal nature relates only to the external and internal common parts of particular building (like stairs, elevator, lighting of common parts, outside walls, roof, etc.), a standard trick used by developers was to relate the maintenance fee with other objects – outdoor pools, gardens, parking lots or common security of whole complex area, etc. This has been done usually to defend the asked amount of the maintenance fee, although the mentioned above subjects usually were owned solely by the developers.

Then in 2009 the Condominium Act has been accepted by the local Parliament, to improve regulation of the maintenance relations among the apartment owners, and to create legal status of entities formed by them in relation to dealing with the maintenance and repairs in the building. The Bulgarian Condominium Law enables establishing of Condominium (also known as “General meetings of apartment owners”) and forming an entity which to deal with maintenance of the common parts of the building, instead of signing direct maintenance contracts with Maintenance Company.

This legal option has been often used since 2009 and in most cases it substituted the previously signed maintenance contracts between buyers and developers. Although this is a step forward in the development of the Condominium regulations, a problem that occurs particularly in residential or holiday complex is that where the developers still have unsold apartments in their names, they usually attempt to control the formed Condominium, and respectively its decisions – including voting for Manager and these establishing the amount of and the way of payment of the maintenance fees. This applies particularly in situations where most apartments within the complex are sold to foreign buyers. In a concrete case I just had recently, I saw unfair goals pursued - to manage collecting the maintenance fees by the apartment owners, and the (non)payment of maintenance fee for their own apartments. I’ve seen e-mails sent by the developers to the individual apartment owners, with the following content: “Be informed that the General Meeting has taken a decision about the maintenance fee, so you got to pay it”.

According to the local court practice through the last years there have been many examples of defective or invalid decisions of the Condominium usually related to the amount and collecting of maintenance fee, and very often including attempts for forcible collecting of the fee through the local courts. This is why very often apartment owners use to dispute such decisions in court. There are numerous cases already where such decisions have been proclaimed void by the court due to shortcomings or defects in the decisions or in the procedure for organizing and performance of General Meeting. I’ve seen examples where General Meetings have been organized in very short deadlines and on holidays (like on Boxing day!) namely to avoid any possibility for the foreign apartment owners to travel and attend the meetings.

Considering that recently I’ve read also decisions voted on General Meeting for forcible collecting of maintenance fee against apartment owners who do not pay (although they usually do not reside more than 30 days per year in the apartment and should be released from payment of maintenance fee), I can conclude that the Condominium Law should create more effective options for control of these decisions, to avoid situations where writ of execution could be obtained against an apartment owner who resides abroad and obviously has not been informed at all about the performed General Meeting and the taken decisions that may harm his/her interests and rights.

The Burqa Ban – where personal rights contradict with the public rights

Shortly ago in the cities of Nice and Cannes and on the island of Corsica in France, a prohibition has been announced for face and whole body covering on the beach (known as “burqa ban” or “burkini ban” because it affects the Muslim veil). The prohibition does not allow wearing the so-called “hijab” on the public beach. Published reasons by the authorities are safety ones, security ones (due to difficulties for clear identification of the person), aims for avoiding disorder and also hygienic reasons. The prohibition affects mostly the Muslim tourists who would like to rest on the beach, bearing their religious rules about face and body covering. Therefore there have been many disputes about the conflicts which such ban could create and does it harm the freedom of exercising the person’s religion belief.

For myself, I am religious person – most of the people in my country are within the Orthodox Christian family. As a lawyer I have always supported the freedom of personal religious beliefs, bearing that it ways goes with “attachments” – i.e. these small or serious religious rules and orders, that should be followed to express belonging to the particular religion. I believe that every person has the right to exercise their own religion and to obey its rules for behavior. This is a supreme personal right in my view, and it is also constitutionally guaranteed in many countries. I would never allow myself to separate people due to their religion – although I admit I may not understand in details other religions, but for sure people from other religion are not supposed to understand mine as well, neither to understand our religious rituals here.

But one specific thing that we learn about in the Law faculty, is the public right and public order. Public rights express the need of the society to receive legally guaranteed rights that anyone could join and benefit of. In other words – equal rights for all the members of the society. These are superior rights and in every developed country there is a legal principle “Area of covering of personal rights ends there, where protection area of rights of other rise”. This involves protection of the public rights, i.e. the rights of the society, against the personal rights. The reason for creation and protection of public rights is simple – we all live in the one and the same society and we all must share same rights and same rules, not allowing particular people to affect the public rights of the society when expressing their personal rights.

Therefore the burqa ban prohibition on the public beach in France cities should be supported, as long as the legal reasons for issuing it serve the public needs. The public interest should be in superior position compared to the personal right of following religious rules. People need to put understanding in the fact that public orders should be obeyed even by others who do not share the same beliefs. There is a simple example: I have been in the Emirates on vacation, and I learned there that there are particular behavior rules in public (originating from the Islam religion) that should be followed (like travelling separate men from women in the city metro, like the ban that prohibits eating in public during the Ramadan period in August, like the rule for keeping the whole body covered and taking your shoes off when walking in the White Monk in Abu Dhabi, etc.). As far as I understood, there were serious penalty for not obeying the public rules and prohibitions. I personally love Dubai and I followed the public rules there without arguing, or asking for more personal rights – just because in my understanding, these are the rules in this particular society, so if I want to be part of it even for a couple of days, I have to follow their rules. At the end of the day nobody forces me to stay there if I don’t like the public rules for behavior. But as I said, I have followed these and my whole visit was terrific, it’s a perfect spot for a tourist like me and I would love to visit the Emirates again one day on vacation.

So let’s convert things now – as visitors and residents obey the rules in public in one country (for example a Muslim country in my case), then why the burqa bank in France should be a subject of protests and arguing? France has its own public rules for behavior on public places (like the beach); so if these provide prohibition of face and/or whole body covering, then let it be. I guess we all should follow it without protest, just like we do not protest to ride in different wagon, separated from our women, in the Dubai metro. As I said above, at the end of the day nobody forces people to visit the public beach and to reside in France in total, if they are not happy with the local public rules and orders for behavior on public areas. Just like there is no prohibition for these women who take-off their hijabs on the plane leaving Arabia towards Western Europe. People are still free to reside in their home countries, where the rest of the society shares their own beliefs and behavior.

In conclusion, religious beliefs and rules for personal behavior following the religious traditions, should not contradict with, neither affect public rules. Everyone is free to exercise their own religious beliefs, but should obey the rights of others and the public rights. As well when visiting or residing in another country, the cultural and public specifics of the local society should be respected. Especially where at the same time, we expect the same from foreigners in our own country too.