The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday strongly criticized the Russian embassy in Sofia for organising an exhibition commemorating “75 years of the liberation of Eastern Europe from Nazism”, which will take place on September 9 in Bulgaria’s capital.
“Without ignoring the contribution of the USSR to the defeat of Nazism in Europe, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that the bayonets of the Soviet Army brought the peoples of Eastern Europe half a century of repression,” the ministry said in a statement.
It added that September 9 – the day that will see the opening of the exhibition and also mark 75 years since the pro-Soviet coup of 1944 that overturned the Bulgarian Monarchy – should be left to historians to judge and ought not to be politicised.
“We advise the Russian embassy not to take a stance in support of the historically dubious notion of ‘liberation’, which only gives advantage to some political forces in Bulgaria, as it is considered interference with domestic debates within the country,” the ministry said.
The date, which used to be an official holiday in Socialist-era Bulgaria, still causes controversy in a country where both pro-Russian Soviet-era nostalgia and pro-Western attitudes coexist.
It must be noted, though, that Bulgaria allied with the Axis during WW II and occupied a large part of northern Greece in Thrace and eastern Macedonia, utilizing ethnic cleansing in an attempt to alter the ethnic makeup of the regions.
It is celebrated by many, mostly elderly and left-wing people and intellectuals as a people’s uprising that led to a Socialist Revolution.
Others, however, claim it marks a dark day in Bulgarian history that led to the violent elimination of the country’s elite and dragged it away from its Western-oriented path of development.
The ministry’s reaction is a rare example of a Bulgarian institution openly opposing Russia on a politically-sensitive or controversial historical topic.
The Sofia municipality and the city’s police forces have increased security around the Soviet Army Monument, which still stands in the heart of the city, taking extra measures to protect against graffiti actions that some consider as vandalism.
Bulgarian institutions have also let the pro-Kremlin biker group known as the Night Wolves to enter the country without any repercussions.
Sofia failed to expel Russian diplomats after the linking of the Sergei Skripal poisoning in the UK to Russian secret operatives, one of whom was later found to have traveled to Bulgaria in the months prior to the incident.
The foreign ministry’s reaction comes after a war of words last week between Poland and Russia over the marking of 80 years since the start of WWII.