In what has become an annual ritual, there was a row in Bulgaria’s National Assembly over the September 9 anniversary of the 1944 coup d’état that led to decades of communist rule of Bulgaria.
That coup followed the Red Army invasion of Bulgaria, which in 1941 had become part of Hitler’s Axis, though as Nazi Germany’s defeat at the hands of the Allies appeared imminent, Bulgaria declared neutrality.
The beginning of the communist regime in Bulgaria saw thousands killed and imprisoned, with extra-judicial killings being followed by “People’s Court” trials of those the communists deemed to be their political enemies.
The controversy in the September 9 2021 sitting of the National Assembly began with a declaration read by Atanas Atanassov, co-leader of the Democratic Bulgaria coalition, who said that shameful things had been done in the 45 years of communist rule, including people being persecuted, their rights restricted and deprived of opportunities for development.
Atanassov said that the People’s Court had handed down 2730 death sentences, while there were only 12 at the Nuremberg Trials. People who had fought for the Bulgarian national identity had been shot dead. Dimitar Peshev, who had organised the protection of the Bulgarian Jews, was sentenced to 15 years in prison, he said.
“For there to be reconciliation, there must be repentance,” Democratic Bulgaria’s declaration said.
Alexander Simov, an MP for the Bulgarian Socialist Party – the lineal successor to the Bulgarian Communist Party – said: “I expected a declaration from everyone else about September 9, but not from Democratic Bulgaria.
“Half of their MPs are children of the old nomenklatura. Some of your parents will celebrate tonight,” Simov said.
As Simov was speaking, the Democratic Bulgaria caucus walked out of the House.
“By leaving the hall, Democratic Bulgaria proves the truth of our words,” Simov said.
“This is the situation in Bulgaria today – they are ready to say everything, but when they have to hear someone else’s opinion, they leave. This constant division in Bulgaria gives birth to our inability to give birth to a joint project for the future,” he said.
“And no one has the right to tell people who have fought and given their lives that they are criminals. Most of them fought for the idea of a different Bulgaria. Their ideal was then distorted and we are the first to acknowledge that and will continue to acknowledge that,” Simov said.
Toshko Yordanov, parliamentary group leader of Slavi Trifonov’s ITN party, said: “I was at a high school where I studied with the children of party greats and (BSP leader) Kornelia Ninova knows that very well.” He was referring to the fact that he and Ninova attended the same school.
“I visited them when I was a pupil and some of them had security guards at the entrance and housekeepers. So September 9 is black date in Bulgarian history, whatever the former communists say,” Yordanov said.
The GERB-UDF group, in its own declaration, said that the BSP had asked why the question of the events of 1944 was raised every September 9.
“The answer is simple – while there are people in Bulgarian political life who believe that a new Bulgaria could be built on the bones and the blood of their compatriots, there will be people who will raise this issue,” Petar Nikolov said on behalf the group.
“What we are calling for, especially you on the left and the BSP-derived political forces that are now sitting on the right and calling themselves protest parties, is humility – in the memory of our ancestors, in the memory of the victims, humble yourself in the name of of Bulgaria ,” he said.
Commemorations of September 9 were not confined to the National Assembly.
The BSP planned four wreath-laying ceremonies in Sofia for the afternoon and evening of September 9, including at the Soviet Army Monument and the Monument to the Unknown Soldier.
In Plovdiv, the Union of the Repressed was to hold a commemoration in honour of those who were killed or disappeared during the communist regime.
September 9 is just one of a number of dates in Bulgaria that do not pass without a public dispute. Another is February 1, marked in recent years as a day of commemoration for the victims of the communist regime, and another November 10, the anniversary of the 1989 fall of long-time communist ruler Todor Zhivkov, an event that opened the way for Bulgaria’s transition to democracy.
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