Bloggers are dismayed by what they perceive as a Holocaust denial by some in Bulgaria.
By Klaudija Lutovska for Southeast European Times in Bitola – 26/11/11
A scene from the movie ‘Third Halftime’ depicts the Bulgarian army rounding up Jews in Macedonia to send them to the Treblinka concentration camp. [Courtesy of Darko Mitrevski]
Three European Parliament members from Bulgaria -- Evgeni Kirilov, Andrei Kovachev and Stanimir Ilchev -- sent a protest letter to the EU characterising the yet unfinished Macedonian movie ˈThird Halftimeˈ as spreading historical falsifications and hate speech towards Bulgarians.
"[W]e expect you to raise the question of using hate speech toward Bulgaria in the official contacts with the Macedonian institutions in the process of the Republic of Macedonia joining the EU," the letter requested of EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule.
A Bulgarian media blitz followed, re-opening the debate about the countryˈs role in the Holocaust and attacking the Macedonian government for financially and otherwise supporting the movie.
Historian Plamen Pavlov summed up the Bulgarian position on the TV show "Chas po Bulgaria". "[The movie] is anti-Bulgarian propaganda ... going so far as to claim Bulgaria was a Nazi state and just about the only one that carries responsibility for those people [Jews] which, of course, is not true."
Pavlov concurrently took issue with Bulgarian stateswoman Lea Koen, who questions King Boris IIIˈs intent to save the Jews even in Bulgaria proper.
"To call ˈThird Halfˈ anti-Bulgarian is analogous to calling ˈSchindlerˈs Listˈ anti-German. My movie is anti-fascist. The fact there are EU parliamentarians who classify anti-fascism as ˈhate speechˈ is a European Parliament problem as well as a problem for the country they represent, not mine," movie director Darko Mitrevski told SETimes.
Mitrevski gave his first TV interview to clarify things. Third Halftime is a real life love story of a wealthy Jewish woman, Rebeka -- who is still alive -- and who eloped to marry Kosta, a poor Macedonian railway worker turned football player.
As a result, Rebeka was not registered as Jewish, which saved her from being deported by the Bulgarian authorities to the Treblinka concentration camp in March 1943.
"Her story is recorded as one of about 50,000 survivor interviews in the past 12 years by Steven Spielbergˈs Shoah Foundation under No. 46472, which is where I got the idea," Mitrevski said.
The second half of the movie concerns Kostaˈs newly-formed football club that the locals named "Macedonia", Mitrevski said. It drew Macedonians to matches as a form of civil disobedience against the Bulgarian occupation.
Led by the legendary Jewish coach Iljash Shpic, team Macedonia reached the final in the Bulgarian league in the 1941-42 season. However, Bulgariaˈs Sport Minister told team Macedonia it would not be allowed to become a champion being led by a Jewish coach.
Macedonia lost the two final games to Sofiaˈs Levski by official decision, after the players protested questionable refereeing, according to linguist Trajko Stamatovski, who said he witnessed one of the final games, as well as the deportations of Jews.
"By 1944, the team did not play because most players joined the partisans," Stamatovski said. "As for the claims the Bulgarians saved Jews, their army and police entered literally every house. ... only ten or 20 survived."
Katunec argues Bulgarian officials are aware this and similar movies can destroy the image they are trying to create for their country. "But, the way they go about it is most counterproductive because they completely turn against the historical truth. There still are live Macedonians who fought against fascism, Jews too, which is why at the end Macedonia ended up a victor in the war on the side of the Allies. The more they try to degrade the movie, the more it will be watched."
"It is laughable when somebody derives conclusions based on a scenario they have not read. But it is not funny when the EU parliamentarians try to negate the crimes their country has done in the Second World War. The Bulgarian occupation of Macedonia, the deportation of 7,200 Jews to the gas chambers in Treblinka, as well as the brutal repression of Macedonian anti-fascists and political opponents are historical facts," movie producer Kino Oko said.