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Bulgaria: Discovery of John the Baptist's Relics Causes Political Scandal

A program about John The Baptist on Bulgarian TV.

On Aug. 1, Bulgarian dailies and TV stations announced the news [BG] that the remains of John the Baptist were discovered near the Bulgarian seaside town of Sozopol. Naturally, this discovery by archaeologist Kazimir Popkonstantinov [EN] gave rise to a passionate debate in the Bulgarian community.

A couple of days after the discovery and the announcement that these were, indeed, the saint's relics, many voiced their opinions that this was, in fact, a lie. Bojidar Dimitrov, minister without portfolio and, until recently, head of Sofia's National Historical Museum, stood up to support the discovery. However, words that he used to address the Bulgarian public caused a rather acute reaction. He called the Bulgarian society “screwed” because of people's disbelief that these were actually John the Baptist's relics. Opposition leaders reacted to these harsh words by calling for Dimitrov's resignation. Representatives of the socialist youth in Bulgaria created a site for people to protest online and post their own requests for Dimitrov's resignation – azprotestiram.com.

Bulgarian blogs feature a multitude of opinions on the situation, but overall they condemn the minister's words.

Boiana MG wrote [BG]:

At the end of July this year the ancient city of Sozopol became the location of a unique find of great historical value. On the nearby island of St. Ivan, a team of archaeologists, led by Professor Kazimir Popkonstantinov, discovered the relics of St. John the Baptist! Following the excavations of the island, a tooth and parts of a hand and jaw were found inside an authentic alabaster reliquary, sealed with red mortar. The relics of the saint were found inside the altar section of an old monastery complex that existed for 12 centuries and was abandoned by its monks in 1620. Mainstream media like CNN and National Geographic are currently looking to make a film about the discovery.

Rumi Borisova wrote [BG]:

For several days now Internet forums have been flooded with comments about the statement made by minister without portfolio Bojidar Dimitrov, who is responsible for the Bulgarians living abroad, as well as the Department of Religious Affairs in the Council of Ministers. When addressing the Bulgarian people, the minister in question used a certain epithet which should not be repeated. This happened during a conversation with a journalist, in which the minister who presents himself as a historian and even holds an academic degree in the field, was explaining something about the relic fragments of St. John the Baptist, found in excavations of an early Christian temple.

Blog Neverojatno posted this view [BG]:

Miraculous things started to happen in our country following the archaeological discovery of St. John the Baptist's ancient relics. Thousands of people stopped paying their health insurance fees and the number of the uninsured swelled to an impressive 1.7 million people. The non-believers started to believe once again in the power of saints and decided that there's a greater chance to survive by praying before a pile of ancient bones than to direct their faith towards Bulgaria's science or its doctors. The Bulgarian people realized that faith in the divine does not demand any financial sacrifices, only prayers, while faith in politicians is purchased through taxes in exchange for numerous and, in many cases, empty promises.

An interesting and very critical opinion appeared on the blog Blogmasa [BG]:

In this line of thinking it is not wrong to say that Mr. Minister is one “screwed” minister. A storm of outrage poured over him like a whirlwind following his misconstrued message. Of course, the “screwed people” would hardly be able to understand such a positive message thrown at them anyway. As already explained, the “screwed minister” in question did everything in his power to make his “screwed” people a bit more proud by making them the proud owners of St. John the Baptist's “components” and thereby extended the tourist season on the Black Sea.

Dimiter Atanassov published a different opinion on his blog [BG]:

We are witnessing yet another hot summer for Bulgarian Archaeology! – That would be the general tone of the tacky, tedious journalistic cliche, put together for the purpose of cheap sensationalism. After all, expensive surprises are a bourgeois commodity that not many can afford. The question of whether the newly-discovered relics belong to St. John the Baptist, or some unknown John who lived on the east coast of the Black Sea, is a query towards which the skeptic, with all his respect for the values of tradition, feels no particular interest. For such a person accepting or rejecting the sacrament is of little importance since it is foreign to him anyway – a choice no less valid and no less dignified than that of the believer. That's why the only ones truly involved in the “game” with the bodily remains of this holy man, are the believers. The ones who trust their lives as laymen not to the politicians, but to the church.

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