Fri, 02/01/2008 - 12:15

In 1944, the Red Army "detained" important Bulgarian documents. Will it ever return them?

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When the Bulgarian Communists, backed by the Red Army, entered Sofia on 9 September 1944, one of their first acts was to round up Bulgarian politicians and seize government archives. They would later be shipped to Moscow. The following February, the three regents of then underage King Simeon II, along with all governmental ministers serving between 1940 and 1944, were executed.

The archives, however, remained “in detention” in the Russian capital – leaving Bulgarian historians in the next 60 years to wonder what secrets they may hold.

“We are waiting for an official note from the Bulgarians,” replied President Putin during his visit, when asked whether Moscow would return the archives. Previously, Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha's government had submitted a request for the documents, but apparently this wasn't enough. Parvanov claims his government is working on a note – but whether it is a priority remains to be seen.While media analysts were busy puzzling over the pros and cons of the energy deals being signed by the two presidents, almost no talking heads paid attention to the noteworthy consensus that the archive question should be solved quickly and amicably.

However, a growing number of Bulgarians are taking note, thanks to the efforts of a local NGO, Free and Democratic Bulgaria. For more than a month the organisation has circulated an Internet petition to gather signatures from more than 2,500 Bulgarian citizens demanding the archives' return from Moscow. Supporters include renowned historians, diplomats, writers, musicians, sociologists, ex-presidents Zhelyu Zhelev and Petar Stoyanov, two former speakers of parliament, MPs, Sofia Mayor Boyko Borisov, Sofia Ombudsman Ginyo Ganev, as well as Bulgarians around the globe.

Why are these documents so important? They date from the first half of the 1940s, when after much agonising Bulgaria decided to ally itself with the Third Reich. Unfortunately, when the Communists seized archives from the Council of Ministers, the Foreign Ministry, the War Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Royal Chancellery, and possibly the Bulgarian Navy, no complete and detailed description of their contents existed. Russian agencies did not make an inventory when the Bulgarian documents fell into their hands. Most likely, only a handful of Russian archivists know their exact contents and scope – and they're not talking.Obviously, there's no shortage of theories about what the archives contain.

Perhaps they offer details about how the Bulgarian Jews managed to escape the Holocaust. Or maybe they shed light on the strange events of December 1941, when Bulgaria declared its “symbolic” war on the United States and the Britain. They are also thought to include records from the interrogations of the Bulgarian regents and ministers taken to Moscow at the end of 1944 and the beginning of 1945. Whatever their contents, they are a part of Bulgaria's historical heritage and should be returned. But there's a catch: in 1997 the State Duma passed a law declaring works of art and archival documents taken from Germany and its allies to be Russian property as compensation for the country's stolen and destroyed cultural heritage. Never mind that the USSR declared war on Bulgaria on 5 September 1944, a mere four days before the Communist coup. Despite the Bulgarian government's orders that its forces avoid direct conflict with the Red Army, this was not enough to keep Bulgaria off the list of enemy nations.

Will Parvanov's administration prepare the note? How will the Russians respond? These questions remain open for the moment, but the Free and Democratic Bulgaria continues working for their resolution. During May or June 2008, the NGO will organise an academic conference to assess the progress. But until then the matter will mainly be guesswork.

Issue 17

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