Bulgaria has long history of assassinations, hijackings and sheer terror
text and photography by Anthony Geogieff
Bulgarians of the 21st Century like to think of themselves as a generally quiet people, who are more preoccupied with earning their daily living than engaging in any form of public agitation. However, a quick look at their history since Bulgaria gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1878 reveals that these lands have inspired violent nationalism, and often witnessed activities that from a modern perspective would be seen as nothing less than sheer terrorism,
in terms of aims, organisation and execution.
One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, or so the adage goes; and this country is an almost textbook example of how correct it is.
Bulgaria is usually thought of as an ancient nation, which has evolved into a modern state relatively recently. Like many others in a similar position – notably most of the Balkans, the Middle East and some states in Western Europe, such as Ireland – those who fought for Bulgaria's independence often did so using what in modern terms would be billed as classic terror tactics: kidnappings, hijackings, creating networks of dormant revolutionary cells unfamiliar with each other but capable of being activated from a distance; and later urban warfare, bombing of civilian targets, and so on and so forth.
Unlike most other developed states with such a history, however, these past events in Bulgaria have, with few exceptions, been interpreted by those who happen to be in power, rather than from the analytical and detached viewpoint of history. Thus for many years, acts of sheer terror perpetrated by Communists were being taught in schools as examples of noble, selfless sacrifice worthy of praise, while terror against the Communist state has usually been used as an excuse to vilify the victims while glorifying the victimisers.
Unfortunately, because it lacks the proper expertise and a developed civil society, Bulgaria in the 2010s may find it difficult, especially after the 18 July terrorist attack in Burgas, to strike the balance of being able to counter terrorism in an efficient manner without infringing civil liberties too much. It is important not to brand groups of people on the basis on their beliefs or ethnicity alone, and not to create a climate of fear and thus succumb to one of the chief aim's of modern terrorism. How to do this is a debate that has been carried on in the developed world for many years, and with particular urgency since 9/11. It is, however, only about to start in Bulgaria.
What follows is a brief description of some of the major terrorist activities on Bulgarian (or neighbouring) territory since the beginning of the 20th Century. The chief criteria applied to the selection is the existence or non-existence of any political demands by the perpetrators as well as the existence or non-existence of what we now term terrorist tactics. Excluded are most of the numerous violent acts such as contract killings, bombings and so on that have become part and parcel of life in Bulgaria since the 1990s and 2000s.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers