For some an occasion for rejoicing and for others an occasion for mourning, the 2016 anniversary of the September 9 1944 Soviet occupation of Bulgaria and the installation of the Fatherland Front regime has again divided Bulgaria.
The Bulgarian Socialist Party, lineal successor to the Bulgarian Communist Party that had the country in its thrall for long decades as a result of the Soviet-backed coup in 1944, planned its customary round of celebrations on September 9 2016.
Though hardly on the scale of the communist era, when the day was a public holiday and ordinary Bulgarians were dragooned into participating in public parades known as “manifestations”.
At noon, BSP leader Kornelia Ninova – born in 1969, 25 years after the Soviet army rolled into her country – was scheduled, along with BSP Sofia leader Kaloyan Largov and party suppoers, to lay flowers at the Monument to the Unknown Soldier in the capital city.
At 5pm, MPs from the BSP parliamentary group, party members, city councillors and members of other left-wing organisations were scheduled to lay flowers and wreaths at the Monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia, followed by an event in Borissova Gradina at which they would commemorate what they call the “Day of Freedom and Celebration of the Victory over Fascism in Bulgaria”.
In Bulgaria’s main Black Sea city Varna, at 6pm the BSP is due to hold at the Pantheon in the Sea Garden an event entitled “No to Sanctions Against Russia”.
Distantly elsewhere on the political spectrum, a right-wing nationalist organisation, Natsionale Suprotiva (“National Resistance”) planned an event at 8pm on Sveta Nedelya Square in honour of the memory of the victims of communism – though Bulgaria’s official day of commemoration of the victims of communism is on February 1. The organisation, which includes far-right groups and “football supporters” also has a history that includes publicly burning the European Union flag.
Amid somewhat more mainstream political parties and groups in Bulgaria’s Parliament, September 9 has customarily seen divisions – such as the debate in 2015 during which the centre-right Reformist Bloc coaltion described it as a “grim date” in Bulgaria’s modern history.
The September 9 1944 installation of the Fatherland Front government was the culmination of events that had started a few days earlier, with the Soviet Union’s declaration of war on Bulgaria, which had been an ally of Hitler’s Nazi Germany (although, in spite of this alliance, Bulgaria was alone among European countries in refusing to hand over the country’s Jews to join the more than six million others murdered in Nazi Holocaust death camps).
On September 6, the Soviet military occupied north-eastern Bulgaria and the city of Varna. Two days later, Bulgaria changed sides, declaring war on Germany. In the September 9 coup, government ministers were arrested and Kimon Georgiev named prime minister.
Soviet troops were withdrawn in 1947, apparently because the post-war communist regime in Sofia was seen as sufficiently loyal as to not require an occupying military presence from the USSR.
In the first years of the communist regime, “People’s Courts” were staged, following on the extra-judicial murders that had happened across Bulgaria amid the takeover – with military officers, priests, mayors, journalists and intellectuals targeted in particular – leading to large-scale executions and imprisonments. While the figures are disputed, about 30 000 Bulgarians are estimated to have died as a result of the Soviet and communist takeover.
(Main photo: Participants in a 2015 Bulgarian Socialist Party event in Sofia commemorating September 9 hold the flags of Russia and the so-called ‘Donetsk Republic’)