Monument to Emperor Alexander II Divides Bulgarian City

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Russian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli (left), stands beside the controversial monument to Alexander II

Controversy over a proposal to install a monument to Emperor Alexander II has divided the Bulgarian city of Svishtov for over a year now.

In February 2017, public opinion in Svishtov was aggravated by a decision of the city council to erect a monument to the Russian Emperor Alexander II. The monument, created by the famous Russian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, was presented to the city on the initiative of the Balkan Center for Development and Restoration.

Almost immediately two groups: “for” and “against” the monument were established. The “for” group includes Russophiles – a recent poll shows that 78% of the Bulgarian population consider themselves Russophiles – who recognize Alexander II as a hero, while the “against” group includes many Russophobes – a group of radical nationalists who are vehemently anti-Russian. 

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The Monument to the Tsar Liberator, Sofia, Bulgaria

Emperor Alexander II is considered a legendary figure in the history of Bulgaria. The Bulgarians refer to him as the “Tsar Liberator” not for the same reason that the Russians do for the emancipation of serfs; but because of the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78.

An equestrian statue of Alexander II stands in the center of the capital, opposite the parliament buildings. This is the most famous monument in Bulgaria, immortalized in numerous photographs, postcards, posters, and postage stamps. Any visit to Sofia would be incomplete, if one did not include this monument in one’s itinerary. The commemorative plaque reads “Tsar Liberator / Grateful Bulgaria” in gold lettering. The height of the emperor’s figure is 4.5 meters. 

In many Bulgarian cities there are streets and boulevards named after the “Tsar Liberator”. So on this issue there is no dispute that Alexander II of Russia is a historical figure who deserves a monument in Bulgaria to perpetuate his memory.

Organizers acknowledge that there are only two possible places for the new monument in Svishtov – the Central Square or, the City Garden. 

Tsereteli’s statue is made of bronze. It stands 8.5 meters high and is over 2.5 meters wide, making it the world’s largest monument to Tsar Alexander II. The sculpture is valued at 1 million leva ($600,000 USD).  

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 15 May 2018