03 March 2006

Chestit Den na Osvobozhdeieto

Today is a major holiday in Bulgaria. In 1878, the Russians liberated this country from Ottoman rule—the “Turkish Yoke” as they like to say here. And on March 3rd of that year, the Treaty of San Stefano was signed creating “Greater Bulgaria” including Macedonia, and a large part of northern Greece—which was later cut down to size by the great (European) powers of the time.

Liberation Day rallySince I have the day off, I decided to wander into the center looking for Liberation Day festivities. The only thing I came across was an ATAKA parade. Garnering about nine percent in the latest parliamentary election, ATAKA is a coalition of nationalistic parties with racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic tendencies. The marchers themselves seemed to fit into two demographics: the 50+ crowd—disaffected by the recent changes—and a smattering of young, skinhead types. The march ended in front of the famous Alexander Nevski Cathedral; ATAKA wants to make the Bulgarian Orthodox Church the official religion of Bulgarian and have its doctrine taught in public schools. Despite my limited Bulgarian, I could make out some of their signs & placards: lots of “Bulgaria for Bulgarians” and anti-Turkish/anti-Roma (Gypsy) vitriol. Otherwise, official placards and poster feature the stern face of their leader, Volen Siderov, whose rhetoric is troublingly reminiscent of Hitler.

I expected a more celebratory holiday like our 4th of July; unfortunately, this fringe has apparently taken ownership of “3ти Март.”

BTW, I now have an ICQ number: 304846964 (for whatever reason, ICQ seems to be the only IM service Bulgarians use.)

[UPDATE] There were other events in the evening, including fireworks, which I missed except for the last few moments.
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