Eye or nay? Tsar Samuil statue controversy continues

Beauty, it has long been said, is in the eye of the beholder. But when it comes to the controversial statue of Bulgaria’s 10th century ruler Tsar Samuil, newly-unveiled in Sofia, his glow-in-the-dark eyes have added to the furore among many who behold them.

On the first night after Samuil’s unveiling, he was quite the drawcard as Sofia residents and tourists flocked to see for themselves the special effect of his illuminated eyes.

samuil eyes 2

Sofia officialdom has not yet shed light on whether the glow-in-the-dark eyes will stay. Amid mixed signals about the issue, the question remains: Will the eyes have it?

Alexander Haitov, the sculptor who produced the four-metre statue (which is elevated by a 2.2 metre plinth), has defended his decision to make Samuil’s eyes glow.

Samuil’s eyes, in the words of Haitov, “glow with an inner light” – or, more prosaically, an LED diode.


The symbolism is that Tsar Samuil is looking on his memory of his blinded soldiers, that horrific episode when the Byzantine Basil II, called Basil the Bulgar-Slayer, is said to have ordered his captive Bulgarian soldiers each blinded in one eye (some accounts say both, with one man left with sight) and then allowed to make their way back to their defeated tsar.

In adding the eye effect, Haitov exceeded the mandate given to him by the body that commissioned the statue and by the municipality.

Reports have said that Sofia’s deputy mayor in charge of culture, Todor Chobanov, has been deeply irked by the eyes, although amid the wider controversy, Chobanov has been reluctant to speak to the media about it.

Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer
Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Contradictory reports on June 8 and 9 said that the glow-in-the-dark eyes would be staying, while others said that a decision was yet to be made. One report quoted Chobanov as saying that the eyes themselves would not be removed or changed because to get rid of the effect, it was simply a matter of breaking a wire connecting them to the LED diode.

Dr Milen Vrabeski, head of the body that commissioned the controversial statue, was quoted as saying that he was ready to debate the possible dismantling of the monument if there were genuinely any breaches in the way it had been built or regarding its placement.

Vrabeski was quoted by local media as saying that if the monument was illuminated directly with a powerful light at night, “it would not seem very realistic”.

He said the eyes were using a technology long established, the “dim light” of an LED to counter the spotlights coming from below.

He said that question of the eyes would be revisited, “for me it is not a problem, but because it bothered certain people, we will review it”.

The jury that had approved Haitov’s proposal a year ago and “sector organisations” would re-examine the placing of the diodes behind the eyes and get the opinion of specialists, and then either give retroactive approval or order the diodes removed, he said.

Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer
Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer

(Main photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)

Related stories:

Plevneliev: Bulgaria should not rest until getting Tsar Samuil’s bones from Greece

Controversy surrounds new statue of Tsar Samuil in Sofia



The Sofia Globe staff

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