Sofia, May 27, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency
By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
The crimes of communism have not been punished, the victims of the totalitarian regime did not receive justice and the truth about this period of Bulgaria’s history has been totally substituted, Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev said at a ceremony to honour the victims of the Belene concentration camp on the island of Persin.
Plevneliev, former president Petar Stoyanov, Defence Minister Nikolay Nenchev and surviving inmates and relatives of the dead prisoners honoured the memory of the victims, planted roses and laid wreaths and flowers.
For the first time at the annual ceremony, a military guard of honour took part in tributes to the victims.
More than 2300 people were imprisoned on the forced labour camp island in the first years of Bulgaria’s communist regime, which used it again in the 1980s to imprison Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity who resisted the campaign to force them to change their names to Bulgarian ones.
Plevneliev, speaking at the May 28 ceremony, said that Bulgarians had been deprived of the memory of communism, with a subversive scenario for sweeping away and replacing the historical truth continuing to develop with terrible force today.
“This beautiful piece of land became a tomb for the Bulgarian intellectual and spiritual elite who dared to oppose the communist regime,” he said.
It was a place of humiliation, suffering and violent death caused by a system that hit the freedom and dignity of its own people, Plevneliev said.
The traces of the atrocities on the island were already faded, the death certificates of those who died are missing, their bodies never returned to their families, but were buried anonymously on the bank of the Danube River.
“This is a parallel world of silence and concealment of a shameful truth – that of obscurantist of communism,” he said.
Plevneliev said that after the collapse of the communist regime in 1989, the surviving “former people” had not sought revenge.
“Unlike their tormentors, they wanted only to speak the truth out loud. To tell the story of their suffering, so that the criminal regime must never be repeated. The few survivors wanted to recall the thousands of lives forcibly taken away” Plevneliev said.
But the story remained unheard over the past quarter of a century, and the desired catharsis not only had been delayed, but had never happened, he said.
Plevneliev said that those who had renounced their own lives, but not their principles, one by one had left the world – tired, sad and forgotten.
“We cannot continue to seek haven in a comfortable inaction and the excuse that the times were like that. We should not sit back and watch the events of history changed in the media and in textbooks. It is time to dig the dust of the past to seek the truth,” Plevneliev said.
Plevneliev reiterated the call that he has made many times, for the truth about the totalitarian regime to enter the textbooks and to be displayed in museums, for a memorial to the victims of communism to be built at Belene, for a museum of Bulgaria in the 20th century and for a decent debate on the history of the country after World War 2.
Children should learn not only the most glorious moments of the country’s history, but also its most shameful.
“Only on the basis of objective truth rather than historical manipulations can we achieve national reconciliation and unity,” Plevneliev said.
Speaking to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television, a survivor of Belene, Vurdi Vurdev, described the time at the camp as “horror…it was labour, hunger and fighting.”
Vurdev was detained because his father had been a district leader of the VMRO nationalist party. “In my file, it said, ‘enemy of people’s power’,” Vurdev said.
Krystinka Dimitrova, a daughter of former inmates of the camp, described the hunger to which inmates were abandoned. “Those who were on duty to look after pigs ate the pigs’ food to satisfy their hunger.”
Liliya Drumeva, head of the Pamet (Memory) Union of the Repressed and a relative of detainees, said: “We are the only country of the former socialist camp in which if young people want to know what happened to their parents, their grandparents, why they were in a concentration camp, there is nowhere to find out. There is nowhere to go to see the names of their relatives, to pay tribute to them and to lay a flower”.
Father Paolo Cortese, one of the initiators of the memorial park at Belene, said: “We are talking about Bulgarians who destroyed other Bulgarians. That is something that happens in a family. But this wound must be healed and memory is a curative for a people”.