Immigrations: At the gates of the United States, children first with God’s help

Sofia: “Russians, our Slav brothers”: can this common feeling in most parts of Bulgaria withstand the war in Ukraine? This Balkan country, a member of the European Union and NATO but traditionally close to Moscow, questions its identity.

Every week or so since the conflict began, supporters and anti-Russians have challenged each other in Sofia, around monuments to the glory of the Red Army, which are protected by some, and attacked by others.

For Maria Kostdinova, a 23-year-old doctoral student whom AFP met during one of these gatherings, “the defense of Ukraine is a civilized choice that connects us with developed countries.”

In the opposite camp, Galina Stoyanova, a 54-year-old teacher, removes images of the conflict’s atrocities: “Hollywood creations,” she asserts.

And in honor of the “Double Russian Liberators” who “sacrificed themselves in 1878”, ending Ottoman domination, and then “liberated Bulgaria from fascism in 1944”.

The same speech on social networks, where tens of thousands of Internet users eagerly follow the accounts that transmit the Kremlin line.

Activity has exploded in recent weeks, notes AFP’s Bulgarian Digital Verification Unit, which has devoted 85% of its articles since February 24 to exposing false information justifying a Russian invasion or denigrating Ukrainian refugees.

According to a survey conducted by the British YouGov Institute in April of 16 countries of the European Union and the United Kingdom, 44% of Bulgarians consider NATO to be responsible for the war, the highest percentage on the list.

stubborn legends»

“Bulgaria is unlike other countries in the former communist bloc” in which the Soviet era left bitter memories, explains Dimitar Beshev, an Eastern European political scientist who teaches at Oxford University.

He stresses that “history books nurture myths of brotherhood” with Russia, and also invoke the “cultural, political, and societal ties” woven up to the fall of the communist regime in 1989.

Many Bulgarians also understand Russian, and some of them regularly follow the media in Moscow.

Affiliations to be found in the political class, where the Socialist Party threatened to leave the government coalition in the event of arms deliveries to Ukraine.

President Roman Radev also opposed such a decision, while the pro-Russian nationalists of the small Vasrajdan party, which recently entered Parliament, regularly organize “for peace” demonstrations.

“The remnants of communism are still in people’s minds,” said historian Evelina Kilbycheva, who has been trying for years to deconstruct “intractable myths” among the population and campaign for school curricula reform.

War, possible trigger?

With the conflict, the Bulgarians began to change their position.

This professor, screenwriter of a documentary about the Soviet occupation after World War II, thus evokes the film’s surprising popularity.

Released at the end of 2021, it was broadcast on TV after the Russian offensive began and has since been watched by tens of thousands of Internet users.

Rape, brutal murders, and financial mismanagement: Revealing unpublished archives, the work sheds harsh light on the actions of the Red Army. Not to mention the cost of its maintenance, which “destroyed” Bulgaria, as Ms. Kelpecheva asserts.

“This documentary opens the eyes of many who believe in a distorted romantic interpretation of history,” said Todor Gabrov, an academic who met after a screening in Sofia.

Depoutinize Bulgaria»

The Alpha Research Institute notes that the current war is “disrupting deep equilibrium.” “Many who continue to love Russia are now expressing a negative attitude toward President Vladimir Putin.”

If he gets 58% support in Bulgaria in March 2020, his popularity drops to 32% at the end of February to drop to 25% in April.

It is time for Bulgaria, which has long been influenced by the Kremlin’s strategy of “infiltration” through “online propaganda, economic dependency and corruption of the ruling elite”, to “distance itself”, as one ruling party insists, from Democratic Bulgaria.

In the same vein, Prime Minister Kirill Petkov, who is staunchly pro-European, has called for the reduction of “Russian influence” over Bulgaria, which has been deprived of Russian gas, wanting to take advantage of it to finally free itself.

“We are here to prove that there are not only botinophiles here,” said Stanimir Janev, a 43-year-old computer scientist, at a May 9 rally on the streets of the capital, yellow and blue banners in the wind.

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