Bulgarians unite in prayer after series of self-immolations
Posted : Friday, 05 April 2013 07:23AM
By Angel Krasimirov
SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarians set aside religious and political
differences on Friday at the start of three days of prayer, as President
Rosen Plevneliev sought to heal rifts following protests over poverty
and the deaths of four men who set themselves on fire.
The country has been rocked by demonstrations which brought down the
center-right government in February and in particular by the
self-immolations highlighting low living standards and suspected
corruption among the political elite.
The prayer initiative, which drew more worshippers than normal to
mosques on the Muslim day of prayer on Friday, came after Plevneliev met
leaders of the dominant Orthodox Christian church and minority Muslim,
Jewish and Catholic communities.
Orthodox Christianity accounts for more than 80 percent of the
7.3-million population of Bulgaria, a country where 45 years of
Communist rule undermined its influence.
"We need to have more hope and believe that we can pull through,"
Plevneliev told reporters at his presidential offices. "As we face up to
the challenges, we should draw lessons and believe more.
"We need solidarity - personal, human, fraternal solidarity," Plevneliev
added. "Let us look after the sick, give a hand to a neighbor who is in
distress. Let us not leave people alone."
Special prayers will be held at mosques across the country, the
synagogue in the capital Sofia and all Bulgarian Orthodox and protestant
churches over the next three days. The Armenian church will also hold
prayers on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The Orthodox Church has already expressed concern about the recent wave
of self-immolations, with newly-elected Patriarch Neofit urging his
followers not to take their own lives "under any circumstances".
"Bulgarians must not fall victim to hopelessness," he said.
Images of people setting themselves alight in protest, a new phenomenon
in the country, have shocked Bulgarians.
The most famous case was that of 36-year-old artist Plamen Goranov, who
died last month after setting himself on fire in the Black Sea port of
Varna while holding a poster protesting against the city's mayor, who
Underlining the level of concern over such cases, the health ministry
has ordered public hospitals to offer free psychological counseling to
people contemplating suicide.
"I will burn a candle and will pray for an end to the suicides," said
Yordanka Koleva, a 69-year-old pensioner, outside Sofia's main
cathedral, St. Alexander Nevski. "We have to be strong and patient even
during the crisis."
Widespread protests over low incomes and a political elite accused of
maintaining a corrupt system since the collapse of communism in 1989
forced the resignation of the cabinet led by Boiko Borisov.
New elections are set for May 12, and, although Borisov's center-right
GERB party is leading in the polls, it is unlikely to command a majority
and will have to try and form a coalition.
People in the Balkan country, the European Union's poorest member, earn
an average monthly wage of 400 euros ($510) and pensions of less than
($1 = 0.7780 euros)