Bulgaria: Soviet Army Monument in Sofia fenced off on safety grounds

Workers began to fence off the controversial Soviet Army Monument in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia on August 25, following a request by Sredets district mayor Traicho Traikov who cited structural safety concerns.

A considerable police presence was in place as the workers erected high fences around the monument, which Sofia city council and Bulgaria’s pro-Western government seek to remove from its spot in the central city.

Sofia city council voted on March 9 to instruct mayor Yordanka Fandukova to ask the state to move the Soviet Army Monument from the centre of the Bulgarian capital city. At government level, nothing happened about the matter in the months during which there was a Sofia district governor appointed by President Roumen Radev.

On August 2, Bulgaria’s pro-Western government, that took office in June, changed the status of the state property where the monument stands, in a move to facilitate the city council removing the monument from its current location.

On August 9, a minority extra-parliamentary political grouping, which calls itself The Left, put up a small tent camp to “defend” the monument. This move was subsequently joined by pro-Kremlin minority parliamentary party Vuzrazhdane and Parliament’s second smallest group, the Bulgarian Socialist Party.

There have been tensions and arrests in incidents at the monument in recent days when supporters of the Levski football club staged militant protests against it.

On August 25, Vuzrazhdane leader Kostadin Kostadinov issued a call on social networks for supporters of the party to go to the site to oppose the fencing.

Sofia city council chairperson Georgi Georgiev told Nova Televizia on August 19 that there would be an international architecture competition for proposals how to use the space currently occupied by the monument.

Georgiev and mayor Fandukova have said that the “tent camp” at the monument is illegal. However, authorities have made no move to remove it.

It is not clear when the Soviet Army Monument will be removed, with the Sofia city district administration saying that further technical tests of the ground at a possible location, the Museum of Socialist Art, are required.

The monument was erected in 1954, while Bulgaria was under communist rule. It commemorates the Soviet invasion of Bulgaria at the close of the Second World War. The communist line was that the 1944 invasion, which led to the end of the monarchy and to decades of communist rule, was a “liberation”.

Those who oppose the place of the monument in a highly visible spot in central Sofia have called, over the years, variously for its dismantling or for it to be moved to the Museum of Socialist Art.

The monument has been the target of daubings frequently in recent years, including in solidarity with Ukraine, with emotions further heightened by Russia’s February 2022 illegal invasion of Ukraine and the war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine since that invasion.

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