Russia’s foreign ministry said on February 24 that “the latest act of vandalism on the monument to the Soviet Army in Bulgarian capital city Sofia” triggered a feeling of “deep indignation.”
The ministry referred to the latest instance of the controversial communist-era monument being spray-painted – this time in the colours of the Ukrainian flag in honour of the protesters who brought about change in Kyiv. Slogans written in Ukrainian read “Glory to Ukraine” and “Kaputin”.
Compounding matters is the fact that this happened in the early hours of February 23, the day that Russia celebrates Defender of the Fatherland Day (also known during the communist era as Soviet Army and Navy Day, but originally celebrated as Red Army Day.)
The Russian foreign ministry said that it sent a protest note to the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, demanding “a meticulous investigation of this hooligan incident, bringing those responsible of illegal actions to justice and taking the necessary steps to bring the memorial into order.”
“We hope that the Bulgarian authorities will take all necessary steps to not allow mockery of the memory of Soviet soldiers, who died in the name of freeing Bulgaria and Europe from Nazis,” the statement said.
The Soviet Army monument has been a lightning rod for controversy in recent years, with several civil groups demanding that it is moved from its current place in central Sofia to the city’s museum of communism, opened in 2011.
Such demands are opposed by Russophile groups in Bulgaria, who say that it represents Bulgaria’s liberation from the fascist regime and any attempt to move it was tantamount to historical revisionism. These groups have also routinely assumed clean-up duty after each instance that the monument has been spray-painted.
On August 21 2013, a metal bas-relief that is part of the monument was painted pink to mark the 45th anniversary of the invasion by troops from the Soviet Union and other communist bloc countries – Romania being the sole exception – that ended the period of unprecedented political liberalisation in Czechoslovakia.
Bulgaria, which was Soviet Union’s closest ally in the communist bloc and even contemplated joining the Soviet Union at one point, was the first country in the Warsaw Pact to insist on military intervention in Czechoslovakia. It was also the last country in the communist bloc to apologise for its part in quelling the Prague Spring, in 1990.
The inscription under the painted bas-relief read “Bulharsko se omlouvá” (Bulgaria is apologising). The colour choice was not picked at random either, with Czech artist David Černý repeatedly painting the monument to Soviet tank crews in Prague pink.
In June 2011, the same bas-relief was painted overnight to turn the metal soldiers into well-known pop culture icons; the inscription below the composition proclaimed it to be “in step with the times”.
Comic book characters led the way, with The Mask, Batman’s nemesis the Joker, Wolverine of X-Men fame, Superman and Captain America all featured, joined by Santa Claus and Ronald McDonald, among others. The flag held by the soldiers was painted in the stars and stripes of the US flag.
After several days, the paint was washed off – some reports said that the money to pay for it came from the Sofia city hall, others claimed that it was one of the Russophile associations in the country.
(Top photo: Ivo Bojkov, via Facebook)