Russian Patriarch unhappy at Bulgarian view of Russia's 1877-1878 war role

SOFIA (Reuters) - Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill said he was aggrieved by what he called the Bulgarian government’s attempts to dilute his country’s role during the 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish war, which paved the way for Bulgaria’s liberation after five centuries of Ottoman rule.

On Saturday Bulgaria marked the 140th anniversary of the signing of the 1878 San Stefano Treaty that ended the war and proclaimed Bulgaria’s independence with Kirill and Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarch Neofit conducting a remembrance service at a monument built to mark the famous battle of Shipka Pass.

“I was very aggrieved by the fact that, according to (Bulgarian) state representatives’ official rhetoric, Poland, Lithuania and Finland had played almost the same role as Russia,” Kirill said on Sunday at the end of a three-day visit to Bulgaria.

During the solemn celebrations Bulgarian President Rumen Radev expressed the highest respect for Kirill’s participation, saying Bulgarians honor the memory of “every warrior who fought in the Russian army under Tsar Alexander II’s flag and died for Bulgarian freedom, regardless of his nationality.”

Kirill praised Russia-friendly Radev for not allowing distortion of “historical truth,” and he urged Bulgarian institutions to “keep the truth regardless of political context”.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has written to his counterparts in Poland, Romania, Montenegro, Moldova and Ukraine, thanking them for the participation of people from those countries during the war.

Borissov also expressed similar gratitude during phone calls with the presidents of Finland and Serbia.

“No political correctness can justify a false historical interpretation,” said Kirill, adding that Russian regiments stationed in countries such as Finland and Poland took part in the war.

“Neither the Polish Sejm (the country’s lower chamber of parliament), nor the Lithuanian Sejm took the decision to start the war,” said the head the influential Church, resurgent since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

“The brightest page of my visit is related to Shipka - we did not see either Finnish or Polish flags. We saw only the flags of Russia and the flags of Bulgaria, and ... the enthusiasm of Bulgarian people.”

Bulgaria has long been an anomaly in Europe, a country inside the European Union and NATO military alliance, yet which feels close to Russia.

The Balkan state’s relationship with its communist-era masters contrasts with much of the former Soviet bloc, which saw Moscow as an occupier, not a friend.

Bulgarians, feeling historical gratitude after Russia liberated them from Ottoman rule, share with Russians a similar language and the Cyrillic alphabet.

Unlike Hungary, Czechoslovakia or Poland, Bulgarians did not see Russian military force used against them and many did not develop a deep resentment to Russians.

Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Daniel Wallis