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Bulgaria Dismantles Soviet Army Monument

Regional authorities in Sofia on Tuesday began dismantling a towering Soviet-era monument prominently featuring a soldier following years of controversy between Bulgaria’s opposing camps of pro-Europeans and Russophiles.

Once considered Moscow’s staunchest ally, EU and NATO member Bulgaria still has many monuments glorifying the Soviet era.

Since the fall of the communist regime in 1989, there have been repeated calls for their destruction.

The memorial in Sofia was erected in 1954 and features three bronze sculptures depicting a Soviet soldier, a mother with her child and a worker.

Officials have cited security reasons for taking down the monument, with experts reporting major cracks in the structure.

“The regional authorities decided to dismantle the Soviet army monument after a survey showed that it poses a threat to local residents,” said governor Viara Todeva.

Once fully removed, it will be displayed in the Museum of Socialist Art.

The 45-metre (150-foot) monument including bas-reliefs depicting battle scenes was built as a reminder of the Soviet army’s arrival in Sofia in September 1944.

In recent years, it has been repeatedly targeted by unknown artists, who painted the sculptures pink, dressed them in superhero costumes or painted them the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag.

But plans to dismantle the monument have long been thwarted by the Russian Embassy and Bulgarian Russophiles, who emphasised the Red Army’s fight against Nazism.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova decried Bulgaria’s “fresh hostile gesture”, accusing it of having “chosen the wrong side of history”.

The Socialist and far-right opposition parties also protested the move, stressing that “anti-fascist monuments are being preserved elsewhere in Europe”.

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

But others lauded the move to take down the monument.

“This propaganda tool from bygone days must disappear from the city centre,” said 19-year-old economics student Daniel Roussev.

According to a poll conducted in October, almost one third of Sofia’s inhabitants were in favour of keeping the monument.

The majority of respondents, however, said they would like the memorial to be transferred to a museum or demolished altogether.

Bulgaria is a Slavic and Orthodox country with close historical and cultural ties to Russia.

But relations have been strained since Russia launched its offensive in Ukraine.

Sofia condemned the conflict and has expelled numerous Russian diplomatic staff, as well as the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Sofia and a Russian reporter.

Source : France24