Bulgarian President Roumen Radev said on March 13 that he had received Russian Patriarch Kirill as a spiritual leader “but he chose to leave as a politician”.
Radev’s comments were his first on the controversy sparked nine days earlier when Kirill openly attacked Bulgarian leaders for their views on the Russo-Turkish war that led to Bulgaria’s liberation from Ottoman rule.
They came a day after the Bulgarian Orthodox Church defended Radev, and the same day that his vice-president also defended Radev’s conduct in his meeting with Kirill as “perfect”.
Kirill took umbrage at Bulgarian leaders acknowledging the roles of countries in addition to Russia in defeating the Ottoman Empire in 1878 and opening the way for Bulgaria’s liberation.
Radev told journalists: “I am not only President, but also a Christian, and therefore I do not believe that his goal was to have a schism between our peoples”.
He said that what was important was the question “who tried to hijack our shared holiday (March 3, Bulgaria’s national day, which commemorates the liberation) and turn it into a cause for division, and who is trying to exploit the crisis in our relationship (with Russia)”.
“Our gratitude to Russia is the gratitude of free people who remember and respect their history. Our gratitude is not at the expense of our dignity,” Radev said.
He said that this was the position that he had stood for in his talks with Kirill, which were attended by Bulgarian Patriarch Neofit and Bulgarian bishops.
“As President ,I will not become a hostage to emotions, but will work for the revival of Bulgarian-Russian relations, which others have ruined for years and continue to do so,” Radev said.
The Kirill visit at the beginning of March sparked several days of domestic political controversy. The ruling majority questioned Radev’s conduct and challenged him to release a transcript of his talks with Kirill, but the President’s office said that there was no transcript.
Within the United Patriots, the grouping of nationalist and far-right parties that is the minority partner in government, there has been a rift over the Kirill visit. United Patriots co-leader Valeri Simeonov called Kirill a “second-rate Soviet cop” and a “cigarette metropolitan”. Another co-leader, Ataka leader Volen Siderov, called on Simeonov to apologise to Kirill, which Simeonov refused to do.
(Photo of Radev: eu2018bg.bg)