Russia and Bulgaria: From «Memorial Wars» to the Search for Common Past

Konstantin A. Pakhaluk – postgraduate student, Department of political science, MGIMOUniversity. 76 Vernadsky prospect, Moscow, Russia, 119454. E-mail: kap1914@yandex.
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DOI 10.24833/2071-8160-2018-4-61-178-203 (Read the article in PDF)

The reference to history in the context of Russia’s foreign policy is considered as an appeal to the quasi-transcendence, whereby an ideal dimension is added to the practical (political, economic) aspects of international relations. It is noted that only in the 2010s Russian diplomacy began to pay special attention to such «symbolic games», designed to provide the moral basis for foreign policy through reference to the historical role that Russia plays on the international arena. This, in turn, leads to the dominance of performative practices, rather than to the building of dialogue spaces. In practice, the politicization of historical memory is conducted in two ways: inclusion in foreign policy discourse and by various symbolic practices of addressing to the common past during official visits. The author suggests distinguishing actual memory places and symbolic gestures aimed at their actualization. Russian-Bulgarian relations are characterized by asymmetry in the spaces of shared memory, memory places are mainly localized in Bulgaria. We outline main practices of turning places of memory into the common spaces of memory, but interpretations of these symbolic gestures in Russia and Bulgaria are structured by different national historical narratives. The memory of the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878 and the liberation of Bulgaria during the WWII are assigned greater importance in Bulgaria than in Russia. This asymmetry leads to the fact that a significant work of the Bulgarian authorities, Bulgarian and Russian public organizations on the arrangement of places of memory and setting up new memorials is invisible in Russia, while Russian foreign policy discourse is dominated by the emphasis on negative aspects (for example, actions of individual vandals to destroy the monument of the Soviet Army in Sofia). This deprives the ongoing work in the field of symbolic support and at the same time forms a myth of «Bulgarian ingratitude». The most striking example is the scandal during the 140-year celebration of the liberation of Bulgaria in March 2018, which is based on a different understanding of how the achievements of the Imperial period should be interpreted today.

Key words: historical memory, discourse analysis, foreign policy identity, foreign policy discourse, cultural policy, public diplomacy, soft power, Russian-Bulgarian relations, Russian-Turkish war of 1877- 1878, memorial cooperation.

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