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Bulgaria: Rethinking History – A National Holiday in Days of Tragedy

On March 3, Bulgaria celebrates its biggest national holiday. On this date the Treaty of San Stefano between Russia and the Ottoman Empire was signed, concluding the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78 that put an end to the Ottoman presence in Bulgaria. However, like a number of historical events, this date has been subject to rethinking after the collapse of communism.

A renowned journalist and blogger Ivo Berov writes in his blog (BUL):

There is no such national holiday in the world. A day on which a people celebrates the victory of a foreign army, admitting its incapacity to liberate itself and do something heroic. And on this day, bookmarked as a national holiday, the Bulgarians have to declare: “We are proud that the Russian army liberated us.” Only there is no such pride. Not in the rest of the world. There is only humiliation.

[…]

In vain will all media sing praises to a veteran KGB agent, who can be a representative of anything else but the Russian tsarist armies and Alexander II – the Tsar Liberator of Bulgaria.

The majority of the Bulgarians, however, never give thought to these questions and instead they just celebrate.

This year, though, a tragic event cast a shadow on the celebrations and kindled even more the discussion about the emblematic date. On the night of Feb. 28, a fire started aboard an overnight train from Kardam to Sofia. Nine people lost their lives in the disaster. The majority of Bulgarians thought that a national mourning must be declared, but the authorities postponed it until after the national holiday celebrations. Georgi Grancharov wrote (BUL) in his blog:

I don’t feel like writing. Although I wanted to. I had such ideas buzzing in my head… Everything went away with the morning papers. And with the news, impressions and events from the recent days.
I was to celebrate the national holiday. I was to write about my visit to the Museum of Military History, I was to… I don’t remember what. Everything is now drowned in the unreal nightmare, from which there stand out the horrifying photographs of burned carriages, weeping people, unbearable pain and the shadow of a prodigal raped state that does not remember where it came from and does not know where it is heading.

Suspicions grew that employees of the Bulgarian State Railways had reacted inadequately and could thus be responsible for the spreading of the fire and the high death toll, as it emerged that the carriage doors remained locked during the tragic accident. A number of people supposed that the cause could be a technical flaw overlooked in the course of technical checks. Radan Kanev writes (BUL) in his blog, The Reformist Diaries:

I will not write about the causes of the fire and respectively – the options to undertake legal action in relation with it. Prior to the conclusions of the expert commissions, all hypothesizing is just intellectual antics of dubious value. The question of amenability is premature.

It appears, however – and beyond doubt at that – that the deaths were due to the locked carriage doors. That’s how the Bulgarian State Railways solve the problem with burglaries and “fare evaders” – by means of locking up the carriages…

It is also certain beyond any doubt that when Daniel’s [Daniel Vichev, one of the victims] friends undertook a search to find him in the evening of March 1 – the police at Cherven Bryag [near the crash site] refused to cooperate with them because the area of the search was in the jurisdiction of the Lukovit police. The police in Lukovit [also near the crash site] informed the search team that they had a single patrol car, which was being used for the needs of the town, and that they had no … flashlights.

At the Civil Defense branch in Pleven, they were told that they could not take part in the search, because “they have no order from the prosecutor’s office.” This last thing is a blatant lie – prosecutors do not carry out searches, and Civil Defense does not conduct legal proceedings.

Locked doors…

Friends and relatives to Daniel Vicev, one of the victims, have launched a blog, in which they insisted that the truth about the disaster must be established (BUL):

If we want to find the people to blame, if we want to take action to preclude the existence of killer trains, if we want to find out what the last minutes of the nine burnt victims were, help us find eyewitnesses and make a simulation of the fire and the ensuing actions of the passengers and the railway employees.

[…]

To remember and not let this ever happen again. We have to know the truth, so that we could find the ones to blame. We are counting on you!

The public was further outraged when a small provincial newspaper wrote that the president Georgi Parvanov went hunting in the days following the disaster. The article would have probably gone unnoticed if several renowned bloggers had not published parts of it. In this relation another popular blogger and journalist, Simion Pateev wrote (BUL) in his blog, Nabludatel:

Do the public figures have the responsibility to be role models for the society? Yes, they do, because as a rule every society emulates its leaders. If they are no good, then the society will be no good. President Georgi Parvanov was a good role model for Bulgarians. He was vehemently celebrating the “fatherland” holiday, toying with nationalism in days of crisis, when we found out that prior to that the president went hunting foxes and wolves in utmost secrecy. Meanwhile, people in the morgue were trying to somehow ascertain the precise number of the victims of the fire on the Kardam-Sofia train, using the remains of pieces of bones?! It was also a mistake that not one of the “grand” statesmen went to the site of the tragedy, leaving the people guessing and spawning rumours.

Konstantin Pavlov sums it all up in his blog (BUL):

Frankly, I would prefer a national mourning to such “celebrations” to commemorate March 3.

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