In the heart of Sofia stands a monument that commemorates the so called Soviet liberation of Bulgaria in 1945. It depicts the people of Bulgaria welcoming the Red army as they enter Bulgaria and establish a communist utopia that everyone loves.
It is a lie.
It is also one of the most commonly and creatively vandalized monuments in the entire country.
This week several of the statues on the monument found themselves painted yellow and blue, and red and white. The words “Putin go home,” and “Katyn” were written across a section of the monument. The yellow and blue portion and the verbal attack on Putin are easily understood. But what does the white and red mean? What does Katyn mean? These colors and this word were also commonly seen held by protesters in Sofia. They must be significant.
They are, and I will tell you why.
In 1939, World War 2 began when the Nazi army and the Soviet army carried out a plan to divide Poland between the two of them. After they succeeded, they began an organized process to destroy the Polish people. The Soviets rounded up every Polish officer they could find as well as many members of the Polish intelligentsia. They brought them out to the woods in a place called Katyn and had them shot and buried in a mass grave.
What survived of the Polish government escaped to England where they remained a government in exile. Unlike France, Poland never surrendered; either to Germany or the Soviet Union. Later on, Germany would betray the Soviets and launch a sneak attack against their allies. This prompted the Soviets and the western powers to enter into an alliance to defeat Germany. Churchill and Roosevelt promised control of Poland to the Soviets to appease Stalin (who hated Poland after being personally trounced by them in the Polish-Russian war in the 1920’s).
Germany was defeated. The Soviets took control of Poland, but Poland never surrendered. In 1989 they finally ousted their Socialist masters when the workers of Poland rose up. Thus began the fall of communism in Europe and the eventual end of the Soviet Union. Thus World War 2 truly ended in Poland.
You see, to me as an American, the Second World War was a conflict that lasted about four years and ended long before I was born. For my Polish counterparts, it was a reality that they were born into, that lasted 50 years, and that ended 25 years ago. My grandfather tells me stories about World War 2. My Polish counterparts never knew their grandfathers. The words of the Polish national anthem, “Poland has not yet perished,” continue to ring out in defiance against enemies who continually tried to destroy them. The wounds of days gone by have not yet healed in Europe.
Just as Poland remembers the evils of Katyn and communism, so do other countries. Bulgaria has not forgotten. As Bulgarians see Russia once again exerting dominance over her smaller neighbors; as they see a leader who was on the losing side in his younger days looking to regain what was lost; they remember what happened in Poland, and they fly the white and red flag. They stand with the Ukraine. They remember Poland. They do not want to see history repeated.