“Everyone should live as they see fit, but always with respect for their neighbours who profess a different worldview.” Professor Garabed Minesyan of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church.
Is there room to celebrate religious diversity in a nation where booksellers do good business in selling books by Holocaust deniers and even by Hitler and Goebbels? And where different faith and ethnic communities are attacked through offensive graffiti, the vandalising Ukrainian cars, the smashing of gravestones and a Bulgarian MEP making what appeared to be a Nazi salute in the European Parliament? Or where they have to endure all sorts of xenophobic speeches by politicians, racist chants by football fans or the blaming certain faith communities for spreading coronavirus?
The National Council of Religious Communities (NCRC) is determined to say a strong “Yes!” Indeed, they will celebrate diversity and work together for a civil public square.
It is sadly true that, in recent years, Bulgaria has witnessed many signs of hatred towards different faith and ethnic communities. But this has not always been the case. Bulgaria has a heritage of hundreds of years of peaceful religious co-existence. And the country’s main faith communities are determined that this will continue.
Sofia even has a genuine civil public square, its “Square of Religious Tolerance” in the heart of the city, where you will find all sorts of places of worship within easy walking distance. Faith communities are proud of this. They want to underline the message that the capital of Bulgaria is a safe place, not just for peaceful co-existence, but also of mutual respect.
Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Armenians and (sometimes) Orthodox Christian spiritual leaders belong to the NCRC, an advisory body which enables regular exchange and the organising of joint events and common positions against intolerance and on ethical and political issues.
In 2022, the NCRC organised its 7th “Festival of Religions”, with cultural events and public meetings highlighting the importance of peace, unity, tolerance and diversity.
At the opening ceremony, Jewish leader Robert Djerassi, chair of the NCRC and President of “Shalom” said, “The meaning of this festival is to celebrate tolerance and good will.”
Muslim leader Hairi Emin said, “The meaning of this festival is mutual understanding and tolerance, which contributes to public peace.”
Former Deputy Grand Mufti Birali Mumun stressed that it “shows both our differences, as well as our willingness to stand together.”
And Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance Secretary Greta Ganeva said “We are able to live together and understand each other, and thus overcome the fear of our differences and get along.”
Mrs Ganeva added, “Bulgaria has rich traditions in this respect. We work together, we laugh together, our lives are connected. Everyone has their own uniqueness, but this bouquet of cultures is a national wealth.”
“This bouquet of cultures is a national wealth.” Greta Ganeva, Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance.