Tensions in Bulgaria’s United Patriots coalition, the grouping of nationalist and far-right parties that is the minority partner in government, continued on March 9 as co-leader and Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov refused to apologise for his scathing verbal attack on Russian Patriarch Kirill.
Domestic political controversy in Bulgaria has gone on throughout the week that followed Patriarch Kirill’s visit, which ended in controversy when he took offence at Bulgarian leaders who acknowledged the role of countries in addition to Russia that helped defeat the Ottoman Empire, opening the way for Bulgaria’s liberation.
Earlier, the other two parties in the United Patriots grouping called on Simeonov to apologise for his remarks about Kirill, which included having called him as “second-rate Soviet cop” and a “cigarette metropolitan” who should not be rudely lecturing Bulgarian leaders about history.
On March 9, Simeonov told reporters that he would not apologise. He did not feel guilty of anything and nor did he see any reason to apologise, he said.
Simeonov said that he had even held back facts about the personality of Patriarch Kirill. “His behaviour was more that of a politician than of a spiritual person,” the United Patriots co-leader said.
“As a Bulgarian patriot, I cannot allow anyone to come to my country and issue prescriptions or instructions whom to thank,” Simeonov said, referring to the controversy about to which countries Bulgaria should owe gratitude for the liberation from Ottoman rule.
The grouping’s co-leader and leader of the pro-Russian Ataka party, Volen Siderov, has continued his criticism of Simeonov before and after Simeonov saying on March 9 that he would not apologise.
In a television interview on the night of March 8, Siderov said: “Just imagine for a second, even less than a second, such words to the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. Would he (Simeonov) still be a deputy prime minister?”
Siderov said that the coalition could go on without Simeonov as deputy prime minister.
On March 9, Siderov said that he wanted the United Patriots grouping to discuss the matter further. It was a “matter of principle and of defending Orthodoxy,” Siderov said.
The third co-leader, Deputy Prime Minister Krassimir Karakachanov, said that Simeonov’s statement had been not been agreed with the rest of the group, and Simeonov should be aware how his comments could affect bilateral relations.
Asked if he had discussed the matter with his other two co-leaders, Karakachanov said that he had spoken to them about it individually “slowly and carefully”.
But he said that he did not believe that the coalition was at risk. Acknowledging that emotions were running high, Karakachanov said that it was better to have coalition partners who had emotions than ones who had none.