Bulgarian Deputy Minister of Regional Development Pavel Tenev resigned on May 17, two days after his appointment, after a furore broke out when a photograph emerged of him giving a Hitler salute to wax effigies of Nazi officers at the Grévin Museum in Paris.
Tenev had been appointed to the post as a representative of the United Patriots, the grouping of nationalist and far-right parties that is the minority partner in Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s coalition government that took office on May 4.
Soon after Tenev’s appointment, media reports and posts on social networks highlighted the photo, reportedly taken nine years ago.
The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party and Movement for Rights and Freedoms both called for his resignation on May 17.
Tenev told reporters that he had resigned, “I think that the tensions that have been created do not work well for the government and I asked to be dismissed”.
His resignation came after talks on Wednesday with Borissov and with Valeri Simeonov, co-leader of the United Patriots and a deputy prime minister in Borissov’s Cabinet.
According to Tenev, the pose had been meant to be in a “mocking style”. He denied supporting Nazism.
Few critics of Borissov failed to notice that as the scandal over the photo deepened, the Prime Minister made no public comment on the matter.
Simeonov’s comments, as reported by Bulgarian-language Sega, generated controversy of their own.
Contacted by Sega for comment about the photo, Simeonov was dismissive, saying: “I don’t have Facebook, I have not seen the photo, I cannot comment”.
“Is that really a Nazi salute? On what basis should he (Tenev) be withdrawn – that he’s a Hitlerite or a member of the Nazi party? Nonsense,” Simeonov was quoted as saying by Sega.
According to the daily, Simeonov subsequently phoned back and said that in the 1970s, as a student, he had been taken on a visit to Buchenwald concentration camp. “Come to think of it, who knows what kind of joke photos we took there…can anyone say now, submit your resignation and go back to the village”. (Update: On May 18, Simeonov said that he had been misreported by Sega and intended taking court action against the daily).
Buchenwald concentration camp, near Weimar in Germany, was used by the Nazis between 1938 and 1945 as a concentration and forced labour camp for various categories of prisoner, from Jews to Slavs to Roma people, homosexual people and Allied prisoners of war, among others. At least 56 000 people died there. In the Holocaust perpetuated during the Second World War, more than six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis.