A deputy minister in the new Bulgarian government has resigned after a photo emerged of him giving a Nazi salute. Pavel Tenev, deputy minister for regional development, and from the quota  of the nationalist alliance “United Patriots” resigned on 17 May, after media discovered on his Facebook account a photo taken in 2008 in which he raises his right arm in a Nazi salute in front of a wax German World War II officer in the Musée Grévin in Paris. Tenev said he didn’t share the Nazi ideology and regretted his deed, but admitted he had created an embarrassment for the government, which was the reason for his resignation.

The next day Bulgarian premier, Boyko Borissov, demanded the resignation of Ivo Antonov, a defence ministry official, over another photo – this one of him giving a Nazi salute in front of a German tank.This photo had first circulated in the media three years ago – and prevented Antonov from becoming the defence minister in 2014.

pavel tenev thumb

Pavel Tenev

The scandal unfolded when Valeri Simeonov, the leader of the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria- one of the parties forming the “United Patriots” alliance, downplayed the deed of his deputy minister, saying that he had probably made similar “joke photos” in the Buchenwald concentration camp.

“When I think about it, who knows what joke photos we made there”, he told the Bulgarian media.

More bad press

Meanwhile, the media revealed screenshots of Facebook posts of Deputy Interior Minister Stefan Balabanov, later removed, in which he called Roma and refugees “scum” and “apes” and supported the beatings of Roma and other political opponents.

The leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group in the European Parliament, and Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt, urged Bulgaria not to allow extremists into its government.

“The future of Bulgaria must not be left in the hands of extreme nationalists. I am very concerned that the participation of the United Patriots in this government undermines European values,” he said in statement.

Verhofstadt underlined that Borisov “should reassess his coalition relations and demonstrate that he will have zero tolerance towards extremist and nationalist attitudes by members of his government”.

Historic origins

It is true, that there is high tolerance against Nazism in the Bulgarian society, and the image of Hitler is not fully negative. The government of Bulgaria  declared a position of neutrality upon the outbreak of World War II and the country was determined to observe it until the end of the war; but it hoped for bloodless territorial gains in order to recover the territories lost in the Second Balkan War and World War I. In 1940, Bulgaria with German help succeeded in negotiating the recovery of Southern Dobruja province.  Southern Dobruja had been part of Romania since 1913. This recovery of territory reinforced Bulgarian hopes for resolving other territorial problems without direct involvement in the War. In 1941,  despite having officially joined the Axis Powers, the Bulgarian government did not participate in the invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece. Bulgaria didn’t send troops to Russia as part of a German alliance. Also, Bulgarians resisted Nazi efforts to round up the country’s Jews.

In that way, Bulgaria never faced a military catastrophe during the WWII, and the ethnic and religious minorities in the country avoided the fate of the minorities in other parts of Europe. In the same time, repression had occurred after the invasion of the Soviet Union army in 1945.

Under the rule of the Communist party, there were various repressions against Bulgarian Turks and Roma.

National Socialism today

This allowed the Bulgarian nationalists after 1989 to portray the image of Hitler and Nazi Germany in a positive light. Before joining EU in 2007, the control over the pro-Nazi propaganda in Bulgaria had been extremely weak. In the Criminal Code of Bulgaria, it prohibits the preaching of “fascist or other anti-democratic ideology”, but Nazism and Communism aren’t explicitly mentioned. Among the football supporters and representatives of the poor sections of the society, Nazi symbols are widespread, which is not prosecuted by law enforcement.

Every year in February a torch procession takes place in the country in memory of the controversial General Hristo Lukov, the leader of the National Socialism and Fascism Union of Bulgarian National Legions, who maintained close ties with the Third Reich National-Socialist regime. One of the major organisers of the procession is IMRO – Bulgarian National Movement, a member “United Patriots” alliance UP. But the other two parties in UP- “Ataka” (Attack), who are described as “Russia’s hand in the Bulgarian Politics” and the The National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria firmly support it.

It seems, that once the “United Patriots” entered into government in Bulgaria, the pro-Nazy events and ideology continued to thrive.