Sofia, May 5, 2015/ Independent Balkan News Agency
By Clive Leviev- Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
A committee is organising its own celebrations in Sofia and other Bulgarian cities and towns of the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Victory Day on May 9 and has sent out invitations to state and government leaders – but only the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party has confirmed attendance.
The group, styling itself the “nationwide public committee for the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the victory over Hitler’s fascism” is holding a series of events from May 4 to 9, with celebrations culminating at the Soviet Army Monument in the Bulgarian capital on Saturday.
Against a background of outrage against Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, many Western leaders are snubbing the grandiose Soviet-style military parade planned for the Russian capital on May 9. Reports have said that Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev has no plans to attend.
The centre-right coalition government of Bulgaria, in office since November 2014, has supported sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, while acknowledging that the EU sanctions have negative side-effects for Bulgaria.
Leftist and Russophile political groups, representing a minority of opinion, want Bulgaria to celebrate May 9 and salute the Soviet victory.
It was that Soviet victory that opened the way for the decades of communist rule in Bulgaria, with a regime that killed thousands, trampled civil rights and ultimately ruined the economy.
During that communist regime in Bulgaria, school pupils were taught that the victory in World War 2 was the achievement of Soviet forces – with Western allies such as the United States, United Kingdom and others getting nary a mention, and major turning points such as D-Day written off as minor sideshows.
The public committee told a news conference on May 4 that May 9 should be a day of “civil reconciliation, not division”.
They said that it should not be forgotten that 360 000 Bulgarian soldiers participated in the battle against fascism, in the ranks of the Soviet army. Of these, close to 11 000 died in combat, the committee said.
Events through the week up to the May 9 commemoration in Sofia were to include rallies, concerts and lectures, organisers said.
They said that those invited to the Sofia main event included President Plevneliev, Vice President Margarita Popova, Speaker of Parliament Tsetska Tsacheva, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, leaders of all parliamentary groups, cabinet ministers, ambassadors of all countries of the World War 2 Allies.
Confirmation of attendance had come from Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Mihail Mikov and representatives of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s governing body, the Holy Synod, though church head Patriarch Neofit was not available to attend.
The head of the Association of Friends of Russia “Alexander Nevsky”, Lyubomir Kolarov, told reporters that the May 9 date should be honoured not only because of the millions of victims, but also because of the “neo-fascism rising and the clouds gathering over the European continent”.
The head of the Metropolitan Anti-Fascist Union, Boris Tsvetkov, said that May 9 was a noteworthy date for all humankind and European nations, and Bulgaria needed to take part in paying tribute.
The day should be honoured not only because of the victory of the plague of the 20th century, fascism, but also because of the participation of Bulgarian soldiers, he said Tsvetkov said that just a year ago, the world had “witnessed a manifestation of fascism”, the burning of the House of Trade Unions in Odessa (42 pro-Russians died in the May 2 2014 fire at the building, following street clashes in the Ukrainian city with pro-Ukrainians. The circumstances that led to the fire remain unclear.)
Svetlana Sharenkova of the Bulgaria-Russia Forum said that it was probable that this year, the Soviet Army Monument would be protected by a Bulgarian Socialist Party Youth guard, “to protect it from vandals”.
She said that money was being raised for renovation of the monument and this would likely be followed by funding for security.
Her comments come against a background of repeated redecorations of the Soviet Army Monument in recent years. One such incidents saw the frieze of Soviets repainted to resemble pop culture figures such as Superman and Ronald McDonald. Another saw the figures on the base resprayed pink, and another saw the lower painted in Ukrainian colours.
Redecorations of the monument have led to a series of notes of protest from the Russian embassy. The pop culture redecoration attracted global media coverage, while T-shirts with the image printed on them became a popular fashion item, especially for its clear political message.
part from the Soviet monument in Sofia, cleaning of and repairs to similar monuments in towns and villages around Bulgaria associated with the event had begun, organisers of the May 4-9 events said.
They said that special jubilee medals had been struck to be given to 5000 former military personnel, while a special giveaway commemorative “luxury album” had been printed.
In March, BSP leader Mikov, on a visit to Moscow, indicated the party’s willingness to take part in initiatives to mark the anniversary.
Socialists in Bulgaria have criticised Plevneliev after reports that he would not attend the events in Moscow, while Volen Siderov, leader of far-right minority party Ataka, sought to get Bulgaria’s Parliament to endorse a resolution on celebration of May 9. Siderov and Ataka have been strident in recent months about allegations that the West is trying to foment war with Russia, and have opposed EU sanctions on Moscow, while calling for a national referendum on Bulgaria leaving Nato.
Georgi Purvanov, leader of the socialist minority ABC party, as well as a former president of Bulgaria and a former leader of the BSP, already attended a ceremony in Plovdiv on May 2 at which he laid flowers at a Soviet military monument on a hill in the city.
Purvanov’s ABC party held a roundtable “No one has been forgotten and nothing has been forgotten” the same day, dedicated to the 70 anniversary of the Bulgarian army’s participation in the final phase of World War 2.
ABC said that May 9 would not be celebrated as Europe Day had it not been for Victory Day. (May 9 is Europe Day in the European Union, while the Council of Europe marks May 5 as Europe Day; and while May 9 marks the end of World War 2 in the former Soviet Union, Western Europe celebrates May 8 as Victory Day. Nazi Germany formally surrended late at night on May 8, which already was May 9, Moscow time).