Iskra Baeva - BULGARIA

THE IMAGE OF RUSSIA IN BULGARIA DURING THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

Iskra Baeva

In contrast to most of the countries in Central-East Europe where the image of Russia is formed from the feeling of danger in Bulgaria the image of Russia is connected with hope, not with fear. This peculiarity is basically due to the almost five-century-long Ottoman domination over the Bulgarian lands and the Russian-Turkish wars which aroused hopes among the Bulgarians that their liberation from the Ottoman Empire could become possible only with the help of the “brotherly, Slavonic and Orthodox” Russian Empire”. During the Bulgarian National Revival (18th – 19th c.). Russia took the image of “Dyado Ivan” (“Grandfather Ivan”, from Ivan IV Groznyi, who could defeat “the Turk” and liberate Bulgaria.

In the 20th century which is the focus of my topic the image of Russia as Liberator (there is a monument to Tsar Alexander II the Liberator in front of the Bulgarian Parliament) gradually changed, however without permanently losing its positive characteristics. In both World Wars Bulgaria was an ally of Germany and an adversary of  Russia/USSR but a part of the political circles and especially the intelligentsia kept their Russophile sentiments. It was exactly them that King Boris III based his arguments on when denied Hitler’s request to send Bulgarian troops to the Eastern Front. During the Paris Peace Conference in 1946 the Bulgarian national interest were defended only by the Soviet Union which, despite the motivation, stimulated Russophile trends. Even the copying of the Soviet model of state socialist in post- war Bulgaria did not fundamentally change the attitude to the Soviet Union (Russia) because for the majority of the Bulgarians this model led to modernization rather than to repressive consequences.

The attitude towards the Soviet Union (Russia) started to alter only in the 1980s under the conditions of a general crisis of socialist system and of stopped energy aid to Bulgaria. The beginning of the transition period marked the radical change of the image of Russia. However it refers to the political elite who re-oriented from East to West rather than the society. Opinion polls show that in present-day Bulgaria the positive image of Russia is preserved in the form of peculiar of “popular Russophilia”.