Sofia, June 8, 2015/ Independent Balkan News Agency
By Clive Leviev -Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
Surrounded by controversy, a four-metre-high statue of 10th century Bulgarian ruler Tsar Samuil was to be unveiled in central Sofia on June 8, amid calls for a postponement and rethink of the placing of the statue and with the row extending even to the appearance of its “glow in the dark” eyes.
Critics have likened the statue – the height of which is further augmented by a 2.2 metre pedestal – to something out of Nikola Gruevski’s grandiosely kitsch Skopje 2020 project, with one suggesting that Gruevski be invited to Sofia to unveil the Tsar Samuil statue.
Bulgarian head of state President Rossen Plevneliev was to preside at the unveiling ceremony at the statue’s spot outside the historic St Sofia basilica, with Bulgarian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Neofit scheduled to pronounce a blessing, and with other VIPs attending including Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, Speaker of Parliament Tsetska Tsacheva and Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova.
The placing of the sculpture is part of commemorations of 1000 years since the death of Tsar Samuil, a figure who is – as part of a long-standing controversy – also claimed by Bulgaria’s neighbour, the former Yugoslav republic.
Samuil was the Tsar of the First Bulgarian Empire from 997 until his death in October 1014.
As his Wikipedia entry records, during Samuel’s reign, Bulgaria gained control of most of the Balkans (with the notable exception of Thrace) as far as southern Greece.
He moved the capital from Skopje to Ohrid,which had been the cultural and military centre of southwestern Bulgaria since Boris I’s rule, and made the city the seat of the Bulgarian Patriarchate.
Samuel died of a heart attack on October 6 1014, two months after the catastrophic battle of Kleidion, and Bulgaria was fully subjugated by Basil II four years later, ending the five decades-long Byzantine–Bulgarian conflict.
In addition to the statue project, Bulgaria also wants the return of the bones of the ruler, which are now located in the Museum of Byzantine Art in Thessaloniki in Greece.
The statue being put up was chosen from among 21 project proposals. It is the work of sculptor Alexander Haitov and designers Rossen Gurkov and Maria Gurkova.
The figure of Tsar Samuil’s head looks down as an expression of dignity and honour, according to the official explanation. Thus he looked down at his army and his people and this does not mean appeasement, the explanation goes.
The day before the official unveiling, it emerged that the deputy mayor of Sofia in charge of cultural matters, Todor Chobanov, did not agree with the decision that the statue’s eyes would be capable of glowing in the dark. Reports said that Samuil’s eyes would “most likely” be replaced.
“Those eyes radiate internal heat,” Haitov said in a television interview in defence of his work.
In an online campaign, Dr Stefan Popov appealed in an open letter to mayor Fandukova to postpone the unveiling and called for a genuine public debate about the statue and where to place it. The Facebook campaign drew large support.