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Anti-Semitic Graffiti Triggers Moscow-Bulgaria Row over WWII

News Brief

The governments of Russia and Bulgaria have been trading insults about each other’s actions during World War II, after anti-Semitic graffiti was daubed on a monument to the Soviet Red Army in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia.

The graffiti read “100 years of Zionist occupation,” which was seen as a reference to the hundredth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution and the anti-Semitic trope that Bolshevism and Zionism are ideologically connected.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the graffiti was “especially cynical” because “our [Russian] soldiers prevented the deportation of Jews from Bulgaria.”

But that hit a nerve in Bulgaria, which believes it had a better record than many other European countries in preventing the Nazis from deporting Jews on its territory to the death camps during World War II.

Bulgaria’s president Rumen Radev — an advocate of closer ties with Moscow — denounced what he called Russia’s “provocative” statement, which he said showed a “deep ignorance of history.”

Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry followed up by saying that the Red Army was “thousands of kilometers away” when Bulgarian leaders and church figures had been trying to resist the Nazi deportation program.

The Red Army monument in Sofia has become a kind of public canvas for Bulgarians to show their opposition to Russia. The Soviet soldiers it depicts have previously been painted in the colors of the Ukrainian flag, prompting Bulgaria’s self-styled National Movement of Russophiles to guard the monument.

However, Tom Junes, a historian at a think-tank in Sofia, believes there was some level of posturing going on, telling the Haaretz newspaper that the Bulgarian government is trying to “downplay its far-right element and promote a myth about tolerance.”