Russia’s foreign ministry said it was outraged by “the latest attempt by ultra-right circles in Bulgaria to desecrate” the Soviet Army memorial in the centre of Sofia on September 7.
“It is particularly cynical that this act of vandalism was planned ahead of September 9, the 70th anniversary of Bulgaria’s liberation from fascism,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement on September 9.
According to reports in Bulgarian media, four people had been detained on charges of hooliganism late on September 7 when they attempted to spray-paint “occupiers” on the base of the monument. One of the four was identified as a senior official for the centre-right Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria and an MP nominee for the Reformist Bloc coalition for the October 5 early elections.
The Russian foreign ministry said that “certain forces in Bulgaria are not abandoning their attempts to pervert Russia’s role in Bulgaria’s history, maintaining that the Ottoman yoke was replaced by ‘Soviet occupation’ and presenting the centuries-old friendship between Russia and Bulgaria in negative light.”
The statement went on to express confidence that such attempts would not “find sympathy and understanding among the general public of the brotherly Bulgarian nation.”
The Soviet Army monument in Sofia 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 of EU flag projected on the Soviet Army monument via Reformist Bloc.)