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Greece is ready to return the bones of Samuel

17 February 2014 / 17:02:47  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

It is expected that the negotiations between the Greek and the Bulgarian government for the return of the bones of Tsar Samuel to Bulgaria will soon be brought to a positive conclusion. According to Kathimerini newspaper journalist Stavros Tzimas, the talks are taking place in a very positive atmosphere, as both countries want to settle the matter.

Bulgaria's attempts to return the bones of Samuel date back to 10 years ago but since last year Sofia has been showing a particular interest as it will mark 1000 years since his death on 6 October.

In return, Greece wants to be returned a few hundred Byzantine manuscripts that were taken during World War I from monasteries in northern Greece. "After the signing of the Treaty of Neuilly in 1920 Bulgaria returned icons and church vessels taken from the monastery of Thimios Prodromos (St. John the Baptist) but did not return more than 400 manuscripts taken from the monastery of Panagia Eikosifoinissa (Holy Virgin Mary-Eikosifoinissa) near Serres," Tzimas told GRReporter.

According to him, some of them are the reason for hesitation on the part of Bulgaria. "It is not expressed by the government but by some circles of scholars and intellectuals who would not want to return the manuscripts for sentimental reasons," states the journalist. A few of the manuscripts contain parts written in Bulgarian and according to unconfirmed reports the Greek side is considering the possibility of removing them from the request, thus leaving them in Bulgaria. "According to other pieces of information both countries will probably sign an agreement under which Bulgaria will receive copies of the manuscripts and will be entitled to display them in exhibitions." After returning to Greece, the originals will not become museum exhibits but they will be returned to the monastery to which they belong. According to the article by Tzimas, the manuscripts are in the Centre for Slavo-Byzantine Studies "Prof. Ivan Dujčev" in Sofia.

The bones of Bulgaria’s legendary Tsar Samuel were found in 1969 by professor at Thessaloniki Aristotle University Nikolaos Moutsopoulos. During the excavation works of the basilica of Agios Achilios (St. Achilles) on the eponymous island in the small Prespa Lake he had found, near the grave with the relics of the saint, four "significant" sarcophagi as they were presented to journalist. After some scientific and historical research, Moutsopoulos had concluded that these were the remains of Tsar Samuel and his close relatives. Thereafter, Bulgarian experts who studied the bones supported his conclusion as well.

The department headed by Moutsopoulos at Thessaloniki University funded the excavation works. Therefore, the bones of the Bulgarian ruler were kept in his laboratory for decades. Tzimas claims that they are in the Byzantine Museum in Thessaloniki at present, where they have been deposited for safekeeping. GRReporter sought the museum for confirmation but to no avail. "I tried to verify the data but I never got an answer from the museum. However, the information I have received is completely reliable. The bones have been there for at least two years," he said flatly without naming his source.

In his statements for GRReporter Stavros Tzimas stressed several times that the talks for the exchange of the valuable relics are taking place in a very positive atmosphere. According to him, this is largely due to the excellent connections of their discoverer, Professor Nikolaos Moutsopoulos, with Bulgaria. The fact that he is a Doctor "Honoris Causa" of Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" and of Plovdiv University "Paisii Hilendarski" proves this as well. According to Stavros Tzimas, Moutsopoulos has recently visited Sofia by order of Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

A photo of the permanent exhibit at the Byzantine Museum in Thessaloniki

In his article the journalist cites recent statements by President of the "Bulgarian Memory" Foundation Dr. Milen Vrabevski according to whom the Greek side expressed willingness to return the bones of Samuel six years ago in exchange for the ecclesiastical manuscripts.

GRReporter sought the views of the Foundation. The person in charge of media relations Emil Marinov informed us that chairman Milen Vrabevski who was not in Sofia but travelling abroad could answer these questions. We await his answers in relation to the course of the negotiations for the exchange of the historical relics on Tuesday.

Tags: HistoryTsar SamuelEcclesiastical manuscriptsExchange of relicsProfessor Nikolaos MoutsopoulosByzantine Museum in Thessaloniki
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