Referendum in Bulgaria to award …

People wearing Russian bear t-shirts and waving flags with the “Z” symbol and Putin posters: the war in Ukraine did not stop the Bulgarian Russophiles who today gathered near Kalofer to express their support for Russia. Thus began an AFP report from Bulgaria.

The Balkan country – a member of the EU and NATO with historically close ties to Russia – still has many citizens who feel nostalgic for the former communist regime.

The pro-Moscow demonstration has come as Sofia prepares to return to the polls and the country struggles for its pro-Western identity.

Hristo Ganev, a 60-year-old driver, arrived early at the event on Sunday and bought a “Z” shirt from one of the many stalls selling trinkets and souvenirs.

“Without Russia, Bulgaria would not exist,” he told AFP, referring to the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, in which Russia liberated Bulgaria from five centuries of Ottoman rule.

Ganev is married to a Russian woman he met while working in Siberia in the 1980s and says he supports President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

He believes Putin’s claims that troops are needed to “fight Nazism” and says he even supports nuclear war “if that is the price to pay to get rid of American domination.”

Unlike most other European countries, pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian rallies are regularly held in Bulgaria.

Sunday’s event was supposed to take place on the shores of Lake Koprinka, but the local mayor refused to organize it.

Instead, the pro-Russian demonstration took place half an hour away in a mountain location overlooking the city of Kalofer.

“This is the only free gathering in the world,” says Nikolay Malinov, leader of the organization that unites Bulgarian Russophiles.

In 2019, Bulgarian prosecutors accused Malinov of spying on behalf of Moscow – the same year Putin awarded him a state award – the Order of Friendship.

His idea of ​​uniting Bulgarians in an “international russophile movement” also received approval from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov when the two met recently in Moscow, he said.

“For Bulgarians, loving Russia is like loving your mother,” he told the crowd on Sunday amid thunderous applause.

Among the youngest who joined the demonstration was 17-year-old Georgi Ivanov, wrapped in a Russian flag. “I appreciate authoritarian regimes because they guarantee unity without worrying about ethnic and sexual minorities,” said the high school student, adding that he does not believe the claims that Russian troops have committed war crimes in Ukraine.

Most middle-aged Bulgarians studied Russian at school, understand the language, and some of them regularly follow Russian news.

The two countries share close cultures mainly due to the Cyrillic alphabet and Orthodox Christianity.

During the years of Communism, Sofia was considered Moscow’s most faithful ally.

One of the conference attendees, who was seventy years old and named Veneta, carried a placard in support of the referendums on joining Russia held by pro-Moscow authorities in four Ukrainian regions.

He told AFP that he would welcome the same opportunity in Bulgaria. An April poll showed that nearly half of Bulgarians believe Russia is not responsible for the situation in Ukraine and many do not support the arms supply to Kiev.

And a week before the early parliamentary elections, many are worried about the country’s political direction.

“It is a pity that Bulgarians, largely Russophiles, have allowed themselves to be ruled by a handful of pro-Westerners,” said 66-year-old Tatiana Ivanova, a Russian who has lived in Bulgaria for four decades.

Former prime minister Kiril Petkov, a staunch pro-European, will try to return to power in the next elections on 2 October. He won the last vote in November 2021, but his cabinet was ousted by a no-confidence vote in June.

Conservative Boyko Borissov, who led the country almost continuously between 2009 and 2021, is the almost certain contender to win.

But analysts warn it could struggle to form a coalition, with some predicting new elections in the coming months.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.