The colorful history of this Soviet monument in Bulgaria, and why it angers Russia


A woman poses for a picture with the figures of Soviet soldiers at the base of the Soviet Army monument, parts of which have been painted in the colors of the Ukrainian flag by an unknown person, in Sofia, Feb. 23, 2014. (Pierre Marsaut/Reuters)

The continuing destruction of Soviet-era monuments in Ukraine has caused a stir in Russia, where such monuments are often linked to a historical pride for the sacrifices made during World War II. This week the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that the country was "outraged" by the "barbaric anti-Russia action" taking place in Ukraine.

The incredible emotional power of World War II in Russia would probably surprise many in the United States or Western Europe, and Vladimir Putin appears to have recently been using that emotional power in a bid to enhance his government's legitimacy. Both the success of Ukraine's protesters and their enthusiastic destruction of statues of Lenin are big questions for that legitimacy, of course.

The statue-related outrage isn't limited to Ukraine though. A Soviet-era monument in Sofia, Bulgaria, was the site of anger earlier this week after the Euronews television channel posted the above picture to its Facebook page. The problem? The statue had been painted yellow and blue, the colors of the Ukrainian flag. According to Ria Novosti, Euronews swiftly deleted the image after a complaint from Russia and apologized. The Russian Foreign Ministry has also asked Bulgaria to “take all necessary measures to prevent mockeries of the memory of Soviet soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of Bulgaria and Europe from Nazism," according to the Itar-Tass news agency.

As the picture below shows, this monument has something of a colorful history:


A combination picture taken in Sofia, on Feb. 23, 2014 (top), on Aug. 21, 2013 (second from top), on June 17, 2011 (third from top) and on March 15, 2012 (bottom) shows the figures of Soviet soldiers at the base of the Soviet Army monument, painted by an unknown artist and the same monument after it was cleaned. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)
Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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Adam Taylor · February 26