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Bulgaria Starts Dismantling Soviet Monument in Sofia

The “Monument to the Soviet Army” was built in 1954 to remember the tenth anniversary of Red Troops entering the city. The monument has divided Sofians, with one third of the city’s population against its removal.

Work got underway in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia late Tuesday and into Wednesday to dismantle a 70-year-old Soviet monument which has divided society.

The towering “Monument to the Soviet Army” was erected just to the south-east of downtown Sofia in 1954 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the arrival of Red Army troops in the city following a coup d’etat which overthrew Bulgaria’s Nazi-aligned government.

Holding the machine gun at the top of the 45-meter-high (147-foot) structure is a victorious Soviet soldier, flanked by a mother and child and a worker. Further down, the plinth is decorated with reliefs featuring World War II battle scenes.

One of several such monuments across Bulgaria, and one of over 4,000 across Europe, it has dominated the Sofia skyline ever since as a symbol not just of victory over fascism, but also of what would become 45 years of hardline communist rule as Bulgaria was absorbed into the Soviet bloc.

Dismantling of monument ‘long-awaited event,’ official says 

When the USSR collapsed in 1989, the local council voted to have it removed but successive governments have shied away from actually going through with it, often under pressure from the Russian embassy and pro-Russian elements of society.

Nowadays, Bulgaria is a member both of the European Union and NATO and a recent poll showed that the majority of Sofia residents would like to see the monument removed and put in a museum, or even demolished.

The park surrounding the monument has become a gathering place for young people and alternative sub-cultures, and it has often been painted by artists in different colors – most recently in the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine.

“This propaganda tool from bygone days must disappear from the city center,” 19-year-old economics student Daniel Roussev told AFP news agency.

The newly-elected mayor of Sofia, Vassil Terziev, made dismantling the monument one of his key election promises.

Officially, authorities have said they are taking the monument down because it has become structurally unsafe, but local councilor Marta Georgieva said jubilantly: “It is a long-awaited event.”

Some Bulgarians concerned about erasure of history

Nevertheless, one third of Sofians are opposed to its removal and the socialists and other pro-Moscow groups in parliament would like to organize a referendum on its fate.

On Tuesday, Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) leader Kornelia Ninova commented: “Every monument is a piece of history, and we erase a piece of history every time we remove a monument.” 

A heavy police presence was dispatched to the area around the monument to prevent possible clashes.

“This monument has a rightful place as it illustrates our history and the art of the time,” Vessela Naidenova, a 38-year-old researcher, told AFP. She came to protest against the dismantling.

Russia decries monument dismantling

Russia has strongly criticized the dismantling.

“We consider the destruction of the monument to our common past as another hostile step by official Sofia, which aggravates the already deadlocked situation in bilateral relations. Bulgaria once again chooses the wrong side of history,” Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said.

According to Bulgarian media, she added: “The barbaric actions of the Bulgarian side have no justification and forgiveness.”

Originally slated to take at least a month to dismantle, authorities hope that the work could be finished by Christmas, after which the figures  arm, machine gun and all  are expected to be restored and taken to the Sofia’s Museum of Socialist Art.

Source : DW