75 years on, Bulgaria deeply divided over Soviet army invasion

Some laid flowers in honour of the Soviet soldiers and others laid flowers in memory of the victims of communism. On September 9 2019, interpretations of the Red Army invasion of Bulgaria 75 years earlier remain as deeply divisive as ever.

On September 9 1944, the Soviet Union invaded Bulgaria, which in 1941 had become part of Hitler’s Axis but which in August 1944 had declared itself neutral in the war between the Nazis and the Soviets.

The Red Army invasion opened the way for Bulgaria’s post-Second World War communist regime, which held the country in its thrall until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In the years of that regime, extra-judicial killings, the People’s Court process and harsh conditions in prison camps left an estimated 30 000 Bulgarians dead. Especially targeted were figures connected with the former monarchist regime, as well as intellectuals and others perceived as political enemies.

On September 9 2019, the Sofia branch of the Bulgarian Socialist Party – the lineal successor to the Bulgarian Communist Party – was involved, as is customary, in celebrations of the anniversary.

These celebrations involved wreath-laying at the Monument to the Unknown Soldier and the Soviet Army Monument in Sofia, while BSP Sofia leader Kaloyan Pargov was to attend the opening of the Russian embassy’s controversial exhibition, which initially was entitled “75 years since the liberation of Eastern Europe from Nazism”.

The exhibition has been sharply condemned by Bulgaria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In a statement on September 3, Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry said: “Without denying the USSR’s contribution to the defeat of Nazism in Europe, we should not turn a blind eye to the fact that the bayonets of the Soviet Army brought to the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe half a century of repression, stifling of civil conscience, deformed economic development and detachment from the dynamics. of processes in developed European countries”.

The Kremlin hit back at Bulgaria, accusing the Foreign Ministry of trying to rewrite history. Moscow insists that the Red Army’s arrival in Bulgaria in September 1944 was a “liberation”, not an invasion.

However, following the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry’s reaction, the title of the exhibition was changed to “The Road to Victory – Historical Sources Speak”.

BSP mouthpiece daily Duma dedicated much of its September 9 issue to the anniversary, including with a commentary headlined: “What socialism gave us and how it was destroyed”.

Another headline in Duma said: “Dozens of organisations have condemned the Foreign Ministry’s stance on Russia”.

The day of the 75th anniversary saw, at the initiative of journalist Kalin Manolov, a tour led by historians for young people of nine buildings in Sofia linked to the history of communism in Bulgaria.

The tour, themed “Memory for Tomorrow” included the former first headquarters of the “People’s Militia”, the former mausoleum of communist dictator Georgi Dimitrov, the building used for some decades by political secret police State Security, the former Party House, the Sveta Nedelya church – targeted in a communist terrorist bomb attack in April 1925 – and the memorial to the victims of communism.

In Sofia, a prayer service, organised by the Union of the Repressed by Communist Terror, was held at the memorial to the victims of the communism.

In Plovdiv, at a memorial in Stefan Stambolov Square to the victims of communism, a memorial service was held at noon, with the laying of wreaths and flowers. Reports from the city said that based on official documents, the Union of the Repressed estimated that more than 1300 people were killed in the Plovdiv region alone, but there is no information on the hundreds more killed without trial.

In Sofia, the water in a fountain in Doctor’s Garden was dyed red, an action by sculptor Andrei Vrabchev.

Next to the fountain, a placard was placed with the words: “Happy holiday, ingrates”.

Vrabchev told Nova Televizia: “There were also people who were destroyed for a reason, but when that happens without a court trial and sentence, and when a terribly large number of people are destroyed for no reason, that cannot be called a struggle against fascism.

“We know that this bloodbath hides behind the mask of anti-fascism. When one inhumane regime hides itself in the fight against another inhumane regime, nothing good can come of it, and we have not been able for 30 years to get out of this circle. Whoever is afraid of bears shouldn’t go into the woods,” he said.

(Archive photo: Soviet troops entering Sofia in 1944)


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Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.