Bulgaria can bring EU, Turkey closer
Sofia and Istanbul may serve as examples for ethnic tolerance
12 January, 2018
Bulgaria must improve the relations between the European Union (EU) and Turkey in 2018, in the first half of which Sofia holds the Presidency of the Council of the EU. This was noted by Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who took part in the official unveiling of the restored Orthodox church St. Stephen in Istanbul on 7 January. The ceremony was also attended by Patriarch of Bulgaria Neophyte, Grand Mufti of the Muslim Denomination in Bulgaria Mustafa Hadji, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Turkey's President Recep Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, diplomats and public figures. Bulgarians residing in Istanbul and nearby cities flocked to the courtyard of the so-called Iron Church especially for the event.
“Generally speaking, mixed communities and migrants are used to exert pressure, create conflict. We have the rare opportunity to make it so that Bulgarian migrants and Muslims in Bulgaria serve as a bridge of friendship and security, a guarantee for ethnic tolerance. Bulgaria has always strived to have excellent relations with both the Christian and the Muslim worlds. Prime Minister Yildirim was clear - there are clashes between Muslims, between Christians and Muslims, terrorism is rampant and present in even the largest European capitals. Only through unity can we fight against it and be effective; full information sharing is also paramount. Sofia and Istanbul are capitals that serve as example for ethnic tolerance. In an area of one square kilometre in Sofia we have an Orthodox church, a mosque, a Catholic church and a synagogue, and we all live in peace. I would quote President Erdogan because I share his sentiment,” said Borisov at the unveiling ceremony. “In 2018 we must normalise relations between the EU and Turkey and help return them to the level they were just a few years ago. Business contacts, cultural contacts and, most importantly, security and tolerance will benefit from an improved relationship,” he added.
Erdogan, Yildirim and Borisov shared the view that the event is of great significance and shows the tolerance existing between the two religions as well as the two countries' good bilateral relations. “It is far easier to talk and stand in opposition than to build peace. The rotating presidency lasts six months but our country has been neighbours with Turkey for centuries and will continue to be for centuries more. Bulgaria is an important, a great state, but it should not be burdened with huge responsibilities. We can serve as mediators, we can argue in favour of certain positions because only peace and improving the relations with Turkey and Europe can provide answers to many pressing questions,” continued Borisov.
“As Bulgaria is already holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU, this day is a message to the international community. Istanbul is showing that different cultures and religions can coexist. The Iron Church is a place of worship for the Bulgarian community, but it also reveals the beauty of Istanbul. Bad episodes from history should not cast shadow over hope and the chance for peaceful coexistence, and this is why we believe that there should be unity between religions and unity in diversity,” Erdogan said. He pointed to examples of Turkey's policy on all places of worship and expressed hope that just as they are restored and preserved in Turkey so can be done in Bulgaria with the help of the two countries' joint efforts. “We believe that all people should be free to profess their own religion and that we must guarantee this freedom. I hope that this cooperation will continue and expand to include the historical and religious monuments located in Bulgaria,” Erdogan said.
In his comments, PM Yildirim also touched on the matter of tolerance. “By restoring the St. Stephen Church, we opened its doors to our Christian citizens and thus fulfilled a responsibility entrusted to us by our ancestors. This is the best example of the type of tolerance that has been known in these lands for centuries. Our country is home to citizens of different religions and Istanbul and our government are making every effort to ensure that they profess their faith and live together in peace; it is among our priorities,” he noted.
“May the restored St. Stephen Church be blessed and may the Bulgarian spirit soar in our relations for the good of our countries, churches and peoples,” said earlier Patriarch of Bulgaria Neophyte, who highlighted the fact that the event took place on a sunny day, adding: “It is sunny in my soul too, and the souls of all Bulgarians who recognise the significance of this church's restoration for Bulgaria.”