Bulgaria has taken issue with an upcoming World War II exhibition the Russian Embassy is organizing in Sofia dedicated to "75 years of the liberation of Eastern Europe from Nazism," saying instead the region was under “Soviet army bayonets” during a half century of repression.
While acknowledging the U.S.S.R.’s contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany, Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry called the Russian Embassy’s use of “liberation” a “dubious historical claim” and stressed that history shouldn’t be politicized, according to a September 3 statement.
The exhibition opens on September 9 and coincides with the 75th anniversary when a pro-Soviet coup overthrew the Bulgarian monarchy. At that time, the monarch was allied with Nazi Germany but refused to send troops when Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, fearing unrest at home.
An estimated 30,000 Bulgarians were summarily executed during the initial months after the Soviet Red Army crossed into Bulgaria in September 1944.
“We advise the Russian Embassy not to take a stance in support of the historically dubious notion of ‘liberation,’ which only gives advantage to some political forces in Bulgaria, as it is considered interference with domestic debates within the country,” the ministry said.
The date still causes controversy in the former Soviet satellite, now an EU and NATO-member country, where attitudes of Soviet-era nostalgia exist alongside pro-Western ones.
Russia’s diplomatic mission in Sofia said it was “discouraged” by the ministry’s statement.
The embassy said the exhibition is based solely on “archival materials” prepared by the Russian Historical Society and is “aimed exclusively at acquainting the Bulgarian public,” according to a statement on social media.
It noted that “many of the documents are previously unknown or recently declassified and speak of the decisive role of the Red Army in ridding humanity of the fascist plague.”
The embassy denied interfering in Bulgaria’s domestic affairs, saying “we are somewhat discouraged that you can make any official statements before familiarizing yourself with the exhibition itself.”
Bulgarian authorities have noted security has been tightened around the Soviet Army monument located in the heart of Sofia to protect it from vandalism. They’ve also said the pro-Kremlin Night Wolves biker club was allowed to enter the country.
The clash of historical narratives has taken place elsewhere.
Poland and Russia had a war of words earlier this month when Poland marked the 80th anniversary since the start of World War II during which both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invaded the country.
When Moscow wasn’t invited to this year’s event, Russian lawmaker Franz Klintsevich accused Poland of starting World War II for “provoking” Nazi Germany.