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Bulgaria Marks Its National Day – Wrap-up

Bulgaria is celebrating its national day on Thursday. March 3 marks the 144th anniversary of the signing of the Preliminary Peace Treaty of San Stefano in 1878, which ended the 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish War and restored Bulgarian statehood.
Bulgarian Leaders Address the Nation
Speaking at a tattoo and roll call ceremony in Sofia’s National Assembly Square on Thursday evening, President Rumen Radev said: “It is our duty to cherish our history from the encroachments of people who do not love and respect Bulgaria because a nation that loses its memory is doomed to lose its freedom too.” 
Radev said Bulgaria is marking its National Day at a time when it is receiving refugees and a war is raging nearby. Those at war are the sons of two fraternal peoples, whose ancestors fell on Bulgarian land fighting for its freedom in the army of Tsar Alexander II which defeated the Ottoman Empire, said the President.
He said this fratricidal war is particularly painful for the Bulgarians and urged them to keep the rancour ravaging Ukraine away from their hearts and homes. He also said Bulgaria should meet with open arms all suffering people.  
Radev spoke against attempts to stop marking March 3, arguing that revisions of history have caused many tragedies.
He said that on this day, Bulgaria is commemorating its revolutionaries and freedom fighters who worked for the country’s revival until the April Uprising of 1876. At the same time, it remembers Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Gladstone, Darwin, Victor Hugo, Januarius MacGahan and Eugene Schuyler, who won the world’s empathy with the Bulgarian people. “We are also commemorating the soldiers of the Liberator Army, regardless of their origin – Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Romanians or Finns, and Bulgaria’s brave volunteers,” said Radev. 
On Mt Shipka in the Central Balkan Range, National Assembly Chair Nikola Minchev addressed the few thousand people who gathered at the Monument to Liberty (the scene of a decisive battle during the 1877-1878 war in which 7,500 Bulgarian volunteers and Russian soldiers held the Shipka Pass against a 30,000-strong Turkish army on August 11, 1877).
Minchev, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, Innovation Minister Daniel Lorer, Labour and Social Policy Minister Georgi Gyokov, Transport and Communications Minister Nikolay Sabev, MPs, and members of the public laid wreaths and flowers at the Monument.
Minchev stressed that March 3 means liberty as on this historical day the dream of the Bulgarian revolutionaries came true. Freedom, independence, peace and democracy should be protected relentlessly and at all costs, he added.
Addressing those gathered, Prime Minister Petkov called for unification. He said that Bulgarians should not divide into groups. “Both Russians and Ukrainians fought so that we can have our freedom, independence and unity. All Bulgarians should understand that today it is not the day for political slogans. It is time to say ‘Bulgaria above everything’,” Petkov added.
Minchev and Petkov were booed by members and supporters of the Vazrazhdane political party who also attended the National Day celebrations. The two officials were outshouted with calls of “Resign!”, “Traitors!” and “No to NATO!”, among others.
Earlier on Thursday, Petkov greeted Bulgarians on their National Day in a video address published on his Facebook page. “Freedom is the most valuable human right. We are used to taking it for granted but on days like this one we should understand that without it nothing else matters. It is our responsibility to protect and preserve freedom,” Petkov stated.
He stressed that in Bulgaria’s centuries-old history there are many examples of spiritual greatness and heroism that fill Bulgarians with pride but it is precisely this date, March 3, which means freedom.
Bulgaria’s freedom came as a result of a prolonged and difficult process, beginning with spiritual liberation and the struggle for church autonomy, passing through the haydouk bands of fighters and Levski’s insurgent committees and rising from the ashes of the April Uprising, the Prime Minister recalled.
Petkov added that Bulgaria’s freedom has been won by the blood of the participants in the 1876 April Uprising, the fearlessness of the volunteers, the faith of the people of Batak, and the sacrifice of thousands of soldiers – Russians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Belarusians, Finns, Poles, and Romanians.
 “On this day we can only say: ‘Thank you’,” Petkov said.
Patriarch Neophyte Addresses the People “This year again, on the 3rd day of March, we mark Bulgaria’s liberation from the five centuries of Ottoman rule. We recall the times when, with the united efforts of the countless known and unknown heroes, the Lord bestowed us with freedom and independence. We cherish the memory of the warriors to this day and we send grateful prayers for their selfless feat. Nearly a century and a half later, their example and sacrifice inspire us and oblige us to cherish our freedom and independence as the greatest gifts God gave to man, along with the peace in which they can exist most fully,” Patriarch Neophyte said in an address to the Bulgarians on the occasion of the country’s National Day.
Noting that today we live in a world differing from that in which the events recalled occurred, one that we believe values human life and dignity more and subjugation seems increasingly impossible, liberty and independence are not to be considered as a matter of course for anyone, they are values that one should fight for and uphold by diplomatic means, His Holiness said.The Bulgarian Patriarch called on all Bulgarians to pray for peace and understanding across the world. “The Holy Church has always stood for peace and respect of the right to liberty to every person, as well as the sovereignty of every single country, as it does now!,” he said.
Patriarch Neophyte prayed for the souls of the fallen and blessed Bulgaria and Bulgarians.
World Leaders Congratulate Bulgaria
Bulgarian President Rumen Radev received congratulatory addresses by state and government leaders from all over the world, Radev’s press office said.
Greetings were sent to the Bulgarian people by US President Joseph Biden, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Queen Elizabeth II, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese Emperor Naruhito, Spanish King Felipe VI, King Philippe of Belgium, Slovenian President Borut Pahor, President of Ireland Michael Higgins, Swiss President Ignazio Cassis, Estonian President Alar Karis, Finnish President Sauli Niinist?, Maltese President George Vella, Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Azerbaijani President Ilhan Aliyev, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Moroccan King Mohammed VI, Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and Singapore President Halimah Yacob, among others.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also greeted the Bulgarians on their National Day, in an address published on the US Department of State website. On behalf of the United States of America, Blinken sent his best wishes to Bulgarian people on the occasion of their National Day and marking of the 144th anniversary of its Liberation from Ottoman rule.
Opinion Is Divided on the Proper Date for the National Day
There have been calls in Bulgaria against the celebration of March 3, mostly on the grounds that this country was liberated by a foreign army.
Former Health Minister Petar Moskov’s right-wing Conservative Rightist Unity (KOD) party was quoted in the press as calling for a referendum to determine a new national holiday while March 3 should remain a public holiday dedicated to the Bulgarian volunteers and foreign soldiers who fought to liberate this country from Ottoman rule.
Historian Dimo Cheshmedzhiev said in an interview for the Bulgarian National Radio that March 3 should remain a public holiday but not the National Day.
Historian Plamen Pavlov told BTA that he is against the move to have May 24 as the new national day, saying that this date is too cherished to become the politicized event that a national holiday is. Instead, he offered April 20. April 20, 1876 was the start of the April Uprising against Ottoman rule.
In a bTV interview, cultural anthropologist Ivaylo Ditchev suggested April 16, the day when the Tarnovo Constitution, the first constitution of this country, was adopted in 1879, or May 24. March 3 can still be celebrated as a day of friendship between the Slavic people, according to Ditchev.
The nationalist VMRO party put out a statement that this country’s national holiday must remain unchanged, saying that “March 3 is not a day to celebrate Russian greatness, but to celebrate the hope to restore a united and free Bulgarian nation.”
The History Behind the Date
The San Stefano Treaty between Russia and the Ottoman Empire was signed in San Stefano (now Yesilkoy), a village west of Istanbul, by Count Nicholas Pavlovich Ignatiev and Alexander Nelidov on behalf of the Russian Empire and Foreign Minister Saffet Pasha and Ambassador to Germany Sadullah Pasha on behalf of the Ottoman Empire. The Treaty provided for the establishment of an independent Bulgarian state over the geographical regions of Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia.
The San Stefano Treaty was subsequently revised by the Treaty of Berlin (1878) whereby an autonomous Principality of Bulgaria was established (between the Danube and the Balkan Range, with its seat at the old Bulgarian capital of Veliko Tarnovo, and including Sofia), and an autonomous Ottoman province under the name of Eastern Rumelia was created south of the Balkan Range. Macedonia and Eastern Thrace were left under the rule of the Sultan.
Traditionally, March 3 is celebrated across Bulgaria as the Day of Liberation, with special observances held in Sofia as well as in Pleven and at Mt. Shipka, which were both the sites of decisive battles during the Russo-Turkish War. In 2022 however, the ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine prompted many to call for celebrating a different red-letter day as the Bulgarian national holiday. Some suggest September 6 (Unification Day), others September 22 (Independence Day) or May 24 (Day of the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius, and the Bulgarian alphabet).