Unknown artists apologise for Bulgaria’s role in 1968

Photo: CTK

On Wednesday, Czechs marked the 45th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion that crushed the period of reforms known as the Prague Spring. They weren’t alone: reaction also came from Sofia, where artists overnight anonymously sprayed an infamous Soviet-era monument pink. With the words ‘Bulharsko se omlouvá’, they apologised for Bulgaria’s role in the 1968 invasion, a gesture that did not go unnoticed and made world headlines.

Photo: CTK
Earlier, Jan Velinger spoke to Radio Bulgaria’s Daniela Konstantinova about how 1968 was viewed there.

“[I don’t think we have forgotten]: these were very important events and the media has been reporting on it. At the same time, it is important to understand that the political situation in the country is very fragile at the moment, and that the artists' act needs to be seen in a domestic context. There have been anti-government protests every day since June, so the act needs to be seen as a response to domestic developments. We currently have a government which is dominated by the former communist party and the anniversary of the invasion was an opportunity for the artists to protest against the current government once again.”

Daniela Konstantinova,  photo: archive of Radio Bulgaria
All the same, the artists showed a clear awareness of the events of 1968: they wrote in Czech as well as Bulgarian, there was an apology, and they chose the colour pink, apparently referencing a similar act by artists David Černý who did something with a Russian tank in Prague in the early 1990s. Do you think that shows an understanding of the situation here as well?

“Well, the Prague Spring has long been a symbol of powerful anti-communist protest. It is a symbol and it is one of the banners of anti-communist protest in Bulgaria and has always been so. I do not want to belittle the occasion at all; it is also true that the Czech Republic and its democratic development since 1989 has also been an example for Bulgaria and of course Bulgaria officially apologised for its role in the invasion with a resolution in parliament in 1990 and later, the right-wing President Petr Stojanov also apologised during a visit in 1997. So there was an official apology on two occasions and 1968 became a symbol in Bulgaria – in the best sense of the word – for anti-communism.”

To follow up, in Sofia is anyone still calling for the monument’s removal? I read that there were many who think the Monument to the Soviet Army should have been removed long ago...

August 1968,  Prague,  photo: Josef Koudelka / CTK
“This has been a matter of constant dispute and there are people on both sides of the argument: those who think it should stay there and those who think it should be removed. It is really very impressive, 37 metres in height and in a central location, and at the end of the day it is a monument dedicated to an army that came to occupy Bulgaria, the Red Army. So there is constant argument but I do not think it is going to be removed. That would be a really huge precedent. Even the mayor of Sofia, Jordanka Fandakova, while subscribing to the artists’ message – Bulharsko se omlouvá - said she did not think this was the right place for such action. So, the disputes will go on.”