It is not clear where and when the War of the Monuments exactly began. This Russiet (Soviet+Russia) hybrid war techniques might have begun in Macedonia with Skopie 2014* - the project consisting of the construction of over forty, not less!, monuments in only one city - or somewhere/somewhen else. But the story could well start here, as every story has to start somewhere.
In 2010-2014 Somebody - guess who - needed to oppose Macedonia to its closest natural allies, both EU members, Bulgaria (Bulgarian nationality is open to all Macedonians; many get BG a passport with its advantages - healthcare and free EU travel/work♤) and Greece. The aim was obviously to delay the country's accession into NATO** and EU negotiations***. Nationalistic Macedonian sentiment needed to be encouraged by ballsy opposition to important strategic allies. A spectacular way for this to be achieved was by ornating Skopie, Macedonia's capital, with rows of monuments of Bulgarian kings and Greek heroes and call them "Our, Macedonian kings and heroes".
Fortunately, Russiet strategies never fully work when Bulgaria is involved. Bulgaria might be poor, but is also ancient, wise and generous. How did the Bulgarians respond to Skopie 2014? Bulgarians read about the new Macedonian "Disneyland" in the press, got into cars and coaches, crossed the border, walked about Skopie, marvelled at the impressive sculptures of Greek heroes and statues of Bulgarian kings, chuckled with their tongues, eat a македонска скара - the renowned Macedonian barbeque, laughed out the matter over една ракия - the same as the Bulgarian rakia, crossed back the border and told all their friends that they must go and see. "It's superb", they said "It is very well done, even though somewhat kitschy. The barbeque, the Shopska salata and rakia are also great. Go and see". And that was that.****
A quick reminder : the Soviets tried their best to involve Bulgaria in the ethnic wars of the Balkans in the 90s; this by planting the clock-ethnic-bomb called "The Rainessaince Process" - the forceful renaming of the Muslim and Turkish minorities and their displacement mid 80s. This foul attempt failed because of the wisdom and natural peace-loving of all ethnic groups involved.
Passing from Macedonia and its Skopie 2014 Project to neighbouring Bulgaria: national self-determination isn't a problem for the Bulgarians; the ethnic issue can't be toyed with - dear poor minorities simply left the country. What is left to fiddle with by the Soviets is the non-resolute issue with the communist era inheritance. Because the process of revision of the damage done by the Bulgarian communists and seeking responsibility and rewriting the Soviet invented history hadn't been done - now this is the crack to press on and the national disaccord to play with.
And Russiets do precisely this - obviously taking advantage of the fact that Core EU has stuck its nose up its own a*se - both shaking its index finger at Bulgaria and using it as a black case - rides the communist vs anti-communist controversy and funds monuments. More and more monuments.
I am not sure when the first of the new-Soviet-wave monuments was constructed. It might be the one in 2015. It is not sure even which of the monuments was the last…. Let's say that one of the last monuments was erected last year in Burgas, Bulgaria's second port on the Black sea. But before retelling the ridiculously funny anecdote about this latest red-Lukoil monument, I would like to make a second reminder : In 1944 Russia declares war to Bulgaria just when the new, democratically elected Bulgarian government declares neutrality to Russia and the end of the country's affiliation with Germany.
The anecdote of the Soviet soldiers dead from alcohol poisoning turns more than 75 years in Burgas. Despite small contradictions in the versions, the essence of the story is the following: 44 Soviet soldiers died not during the occupation of the non-resisting town but after it... of alcohol poisoning. The story is further more embarrassing because those 44 methyl alcohol poisoned Soviets are the quasi totality of Soviet soldiers dead in the process of "fighting fascism on Bulgarian soil".
The story has been so diamond-sharp engraved in Burgas' people's memory that during the whole 45 years communist rule the mark of the place has been a simple stone with the inscription : "Here are buried the Soviet soldiers deceased in Burgas town". One more time "Here are buried the Soviet soldiers deceased in Burgas town".
Obviously, while the witnesses were still alive no one dared to talk about brave death, anti-fascist heroism ou quoi que ce soit. Thus, on a December night last year - to avoid complications - a three-stone monument was erected only a few feet away from the old stone. The largest of the three new stones reads "Eternal Glory to the liberators" ^^ on pink marble ^^ . While on the two black stones on both sides are engraved the names of 42 (not sure why 42 and not 44 - now I do regret not having couned the names on the stone) soldiers.
In total the Soviet soldiers that had been treated for methyl alcohol poisoning had been 192, 6 of which got blind. These are the facts. According to one version of the anekdot the methyl alcohol container was stolen from a warehouse, while the guardian of the werehouse was shot while trying to warn the thieves that this alcohol is not good for drinking. According to another version, when the container of the methyl alcohol was found by the Russian soldiers, a Bulgarian doctor was summoned and asked to drink from it; the doctor refused, and was sent with a sample to check the content, but the soldiers drank from the alcohol before the result got back.
Either way, now the burial place of the soldiers is ornate by two, rather different memorial signs. While the modern myth running in town is that Lukoil heads, the ones who erected the new monument, are the offspring of those same Russian Soldiers. One wonders when did the soldiers have the time to reproduce - were they busy drinking or breeding?
One thing remains certain - the war of the monuments is a dirty hybrid war. It maintains national disaccord. Hence let’s leave the dead to deal with their own business - I am sure there is no less to do in the Otherworld than in this one; and concentrate on the living.
More on the War of the Monuments in Bulgaria coming soon.
An outdated, yet relevant and funny video to watch, obviously with a critical eye, is 'Understanding modern political scenario' a lecture by Yuri Alexandrovich Bezmenov aka Tomas David Schuman, here
More on the controversial monument, in Bulgarian, here: https://www.flagman.bg
* Skopje 2014 (Macedonian: Скопје 2014) was a project financed by the Macedonian government of the then-ruling nationalist party VMRO-DPMNE, with the official purpose of giving the capital Skopje a more classical appeal. The project, officially announced in 2010, consisted mainly of the construction of colleges, museums and government buildings, as well as the erection of monuments depicting historical figures from the region of Macedonia. Around 20 buildings and over 40 monuments were to be constructed as part of the project.The project was seen as politically controversial in its nature and as a nation-building endeavour, as it tried to further impose the narrative of Macedonian history, promoting a Macedonian identity with unbroken continuity from antiquity over the Middle Ages to the modern times. Skopje 2014 has also generated controversy for its cost, for which estimates range from 80 to 500 million euros.The Skopje 2014 project encompassed the construction, from 2010 to 2014, of 136 structures built at a cost of more than US$700 million. (wiki) ♤ During the last few years thousands of citizens of North Macedonia have applied for Bulgarian citizenship (amongst them North Macedonia's former PM Ljubco Georgievski), with 42,372 having already received Bulgarian passports. In order to obtain the passport, the citizens of North Macedonia who apply for Bulgarian citizenship must prove that they have a Bulgarian origin and a Bulgarian national consciousness. Between January 1 to November 18, 2011, the Bulgarian council for citizenship considered 22,241 applications for citizenship, of which 13,607 were approve (wiki)
** Distracted by the COVID we didn't pay enough attention : North Macedonia is a member state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). ... The accession protocol entered into force on 19 March 2020, allowing North Macedonia to deposit its instrument of accession and thereby become a member state of NATO on 27 March 2020. CONGRATULATIONS! To Macedonia and to all.
***The EU gave its formal approval to begin accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania in March 2020. (wiki)
****Bulgaria was the first country to recognise the Republic of Macedonia on 1 January 1992. (wiki)
^^ My brows lifted twice
PS. While writing the story I am thinking: Could it be that Lukoil is right - and the citizens of Burgas have shown the only, be it unarmed and a la Medici, resistance to the Soviet Army? See the War of the Monuments can bring only uncertainties and speculations.