Who benefits from a conflict with Moscow over rescue of Bulgarian Jews?

Photo: archive

An anonymous written message on the monument of the Soviet Army in Sofia reading “100 years of Zionist occupation” has surprisingly prompted a fresh episode of tensions between Moscow and Sofia. In fact, a deplorable act of vandalism which has been condemned by Bulgaria elicited a political statement of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Maria Zakharova that during World War II it was the advance of the Soviet Army that prevented the deportation and extermination of Jews in Bulgaria.

Responding with its own statement, the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the desecration of the monument as a display of antisemitism but remarked tartly that when Bulgarian citizens stood on the rails to block trains traveling to the Nazi death camps, representatives of the Bulgarian political, economic and intellectual elite were writing protest letters in support of Jews and senior clerics from the Bulgarian Orthodox Church joined those meant for deportation and stated they would go together with them to death camps, the Red Army was thousands of kilometers away from the borders of Bulgaria.

President Rumen Radev has termed "a deep ignorance of history or an attempt at provocation” the thesis of the Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson that the Bulgarian Jews during World War II were rescued thanks to the Red Army.

The organization of the Jews in Bulgaria Shalom expressed solidarity with Sofia’s position but has not issued a special declaration on the case. Instead Shalom has referred to its stance made public back in 2011 in which the rescue of Bulgarian Jews is defined as the result of the actions of the majority of the Bulgarian people, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Bulgarian non-fascist public circles.

The Russian Embassy in Sofia has acknowledged “the indisputable heroic contribution of the Bulgarian people including representatives of the intellectuals and the Orthodox Church, in the struggle against Nazism including the rescue of the Jews living in the country from the death camps”, but has also voiced concerns that "the Bulgarian authorities have so far failed to enforce effective measures to prevent ridicule with the memory of the liberators of Bulgaria and Europe from fascism.”

In the wake of political reactions, historians on both sides have come up with statements too.

We saw disputes with a similar chronology during this year’s tensions on 24 May, the Day of the Bulgarian Education and Culture, when while in a meeting in Moscow with his Macedonian counterpart Gjorge Ivanov, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the Slavonic alphabet had come to Russia from the Macedonian land.

Back then the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry recalled that the Cyrillic alphabet was created and promoted at the will and with the participation of the Bulgarian state, and that the Russian Patriarch Kiril himself had said that literacy in Russia was imported from Bulgaria. President Radev too sided with the position of the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry.

Both then and now, in the face of political tensions over historic events, historians spoke up after the politicians. This anomaly raises the question of who and why benefits from such conflicts, and the lack of an answer gives rise to all kinds of guesswork and interpretations.

The political tensions between Moscow and Sofia related to the dissemination of the Slavonic alphabet and the rescue of Bulgarian Jews have emerged within six months. If this period suggests a kind of regularity, then political tensions over a fact of history could also be expected in March next year. For that time President Radev has invited President Vladimir Putin to visit Bulgaria in connection with the celebration of the 140th anniversary of this country’s liberation in the 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish War. Some observers are asking the question whether Vladimir Putin will really visit Bulgaria in March next year. To avoid speculations, the answer to this question should come from the political class.

English Daniela Konstantinova

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