The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party has expressed outrage that recently-appointed deputy minister of public works Pavel Tenev, a nominee of the nationalist United Patriots coalition government minority partner, remains in office in spite of a photograph emerging apparently showing him making a Nazi salute while visiting a French waxworks museum.
The photograph of Tenev was reproduced in Bulgarian media and on social networks. Reportedly taken from his personal Facebook page, the photograph is said to date back nine years, when he was visiting the Grévin Museum in Paris.
Tenev, appointed a deputy minister on May 15 2017, is seen with arm raised in a Hitler salute, facing a waxwork figure of a Nazi officer.
Bulgarian-language daily Sega said that a few hours after Tenev’s government appointment, his Facebook profile was deleted.
A government statement on his appointment said that Tenev, a gradudate of the University of Architecture, Construction and Geodesy, had since 2003 worked as a project manager in various construction firms.
The re-posting of the photograph, said to have originally been put on Tenev’s Facebook page in 2009, led to a series of negative comments on the personal Facebook page of Boiko Borissov, Prime Minister in a government made up of his GERB party, as majority partner, and the United Patriots, a coalition of nationalist and far-right parties.
Contacted by Sega for comment, United Patriots co-leader and Deputy Prime Minister Valeri 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 On what basis should he (Tenev) be withdrawn – that he’s a Hitlerite or a member of the Nazi party?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. At least 56 000 people died there, while overall in the Holocaust, the Nazis were guilty of the deaths of more than six million Jews.
Speaking on May 17 after a regular scheduled Cabinet meeting, Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov, a GERB member, told reporters that he was not familiar with the case, but said that public figures should be careful about their appearances.
Bulgarian National Radio reported Public Works and Regional Development Minister Nikolai Nankov as saying that coalition relations with the United Patriots would have to be clarified.
In a May 17 statement, the BSP said that the inaction of Borissov was “scandalous”.
“We believe that a person who has had the cynicism and the insolence of photographing how he does a Nazi greeting has no place in the governance of Bulgaria,” the BSP said.
The socialists went on to criticise Simeonov and his reference to maybe having taken “funny pictures” at Buchenwald. “The memory of the victims of the brown plague (Nazism) cannot be the subject of any joke. Anyone who allows himself to cross this moral boundary has no place, not for a minute, in the government,” the BSP said.