Dozens of Bulgarian men breached coronavirus (COVID-19) safety measures on January 6, dancing together in the waters of the Tundzha river in the town of Kalofer to celebrate the Epiphany holiday.
The celebration provoked mixed reactions in Bulgaria, ranging from from outrage to defence of the tradition. The country holds holding top place in Europe in terms of the share of the population who have died from coronavirus, and has imposed a lockdown since the end of November as the health system was struggling and was unable to deal with all the cases.
A month after the start of the lockdown, the number of new coronavirus cases has decreased significantly, but remains high and the government has extended most measures until the end of January.
Despite that, the mayor of Kalofer Rumen Stoyanov allowed the celebration, saying it was impossible to stop it even with a ban as it was important for the community. Stoyanov said the authorities would try to secure social distancing between people.
However, videos posted by one viewer showed dozens of men dancing and hugging in the cold waters just like in previous years.
Stoyanov decided to set an example and not join the dance this year but added he was ready to pay a fine if one was imposed by the state authorities for the breach of restrictions. Hours later, the authorities said that fines would be imposed.
Bulgarians have been debating whether this is really a centuries-old tradition, or a significantly more recent one invented between 20 and 50 years ago.
Bulgaria’s far-right nationalist Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov was among those defending the dance. He said, as quoted by Dnevnik news outlet, that the tradition saved Bulgarian identity during the Ottoman Empire and will keep Bulgarians safe now as well.
“We are surrounded by idiots,” Iva, 44 artist, responded.
There was no official reaction from the government to the event or to Karakachanov’s statement.
Epiphany celebrations also went ahead in the Romanian Black Sea city of Constanta, with thousands crowding into the port area in defence of COVID-19 regulations. The authorities allowed the open air religious service to go ahead with up to 3,000 people, but according to Reuters there were up to 4,000 in the tightly packed crowd and many were not wearing face masks.
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