Bulgaria Dismantles Soviet Army Monument

Officials have cited security reasons for taking down the monument. Nikolay DOYCHINOV / AFP/File
Officials have cited security reasons for taking down the monument. Nikolay DOYCHINOV / AFP/File
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Bulgaria Dismantles Soviet Army Monument

Officials have cited security reasons for taking down the monument. Nikolay DOYCHINOV / AFP/File
Officials have cited security reasons for taking down the monument. Nikolay DOYCHINOV / AFP/File

Regional authorities in Sofia on Tuesday began dismantling a towering Soviet-era monument prominently featuring a soldier following years of controversy between Bulgaria's opposing camps of pro-Europeans and Russophiles.
Once considered Moscow's staunchest ally, EU and NATO member Bulgaria still has many monuments glorifying the Soviet era.
Since the fall of the communist regime in 1989, there have been repeated calls for their destruction.
The memorial in Sofia was erected in 1954 and features three bronze sculptures depicting a Soviet soldier, a mother with her child and a worker.
Officials have cited security reasons for taking down the monument, with experts reporting major cracks in the structure.
"The regional authorities decided to dismantle the Soviet army monument after a survey showed that it poses a threat to local residents," said governor Viara Todeva.
Once fully removed, it will be displayed in the Museum of Socialist Art.
The 45-meter (150-foot) monument including bas-reliefs depicting battle scenes was built as a reminder of the Soviet army's arrival in Sofia in September 1944.
In recent years, it has been repeatedly targeted by unknown artists, who painted the sculptures pink, dressed them in superhero costumes or painted them the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag.
But plans to dismantle the monument have long been thwarted by the Russian Embassy and Bulgarian Russophiles, who emphasized the Red Army's fight against Nazism.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova decried Bulgaria's "fresh hostile gesture", accusing it of having "chosen the wrong side of history".
The Socialist and far-right opposition parties also protested the move, stressing that "anti-fascist monuments are being preserved elsewhere in Europe".
"This monument has a rightful place as it illustrates our history and the art of the time," said Vessela Naidenova, a 38-year-old researcher, who came to protest against the dismantling.
But others lauded the move to take down the monument.
"This propaganda tool from bygone days must disappear from the city center," said 19-year-old economics student Daniel Roussev.
According to a poll conducted in October, almost one third of Sofia's inhabitants were in favor of keeping the monument.
The majority of respondents, however, said they would like the memorial to be transferred to a museum or demolished altogether.
Bulgaria is a Slavic and Orthodox country with close historical and cultural ties to Russia.
But relations have been strained since Russia launched its offensive in Ukraine.
Sofia condemned the conflict and has expelled numerous Russian diplomatic staff, as well as the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Sofia and a Russian reporter.



6,101 Pieces of History: Brazilian Owns World’s Largest Shirt Collection

 Cassio Brandao, 41, holds a German shirt received by Pele during an exchange with player Beckenbauer at the end of a game, in a room filled with clothes racks that in April 2024 made him become a Guinness World Records title holder as the owner of the world's largest collection of soccer shirts, in Sao Paulo, Brazil June 24, 2024. (Reuters)
Cassio Brandao, 41, holds a German shirt received by Pele during an exchange with player Beckenbauer at the end of a game, in a room filled with clothes racks that in April 2024 made him become a Guinness World Records title holder as the owner of the world's largest collection of soccer shirts, in Sao Paulo, Brazil June 24, 2024. (Reuters)
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6,101 Pieces of History: Brazilian Owns World’s Largest Shirt Collection

 Cassio Brandao, 41, holds a German shirt received by Pele during an exchange with player Beckenbauer at the end of a game, in a room filled with clothes racks that in April 2024 made him become a Guinness World Records title holder as the owner of the world's largest collection of soccer shirts, in Sao Paulo, Brazil June 24, 2024. (Reuters)
Cassio Brandao, 41, holds a German shirt received by Pele during an exchange with player Beckenbauer at the end of a game, in a room filled with clothes racks that in April 2024 made him become a Guinness World Records title holder as the owner of the world's largest collection of soccer shirts, in Sao Paulo, Brazil June 24, 2024. (Reuters)

Brazilian Cassio Brandao walks through rooms filled with clothes racks that in April made him a Guinness World Records title holder as the owner of the world's largest collection of soccer shirts.

From rare Pele jerseys to a 1998 World Cup shirt signed by Ronaldo, the 41-year-old Google employee has amassed a total 6,101 shirts since he started collecting them in 2000.

"They are more than just 6,101 pieces of fabric; they are 6,101 stories that help us tell a bit of the history of soccer," Brandao told Reuters as, wearing white gloves, he took out some of his favorite items.

He keeps his shirts at the office of a collectors club he founded in Sao Paulo, "Alambrado Soccer & Culture," bringing together 60 people who trade stories and jerseys - some worth up to 40,000 reais ($7,400).

Brandao's collection includes the shirt worn by Pele when the Brazilian player nicknamed "The King" met Britain's Queen Elizabeth in 1968. She was the guest of honor at a match at Rio de Janeiro's monumental Maracana stadium during an official visit to Brazil.

Pele is the star of the Alambrado office, which is decorated with signed shirts and framed pictures of the late soccer great, who died in December 2022.

"Some shirts can go up to 40,000 reais, but a Pele shirt is priceless," Brandao said.

He also displays a 1994 Brazil jacket worn by seven times Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton at last year's Sao Paulo Grand Prix, when the British driver - an honorary Brazilian citizen - asked to borrow the outfit.

A large part of Brandao's collection is dedicated to his favorite club, local side Corinthians, including jerseys from Ronaldo's spell at the club and shirts worn by his favorite player Socrates.

"Each shirt contains a story," Brandao said. "Stories of wins, losses, and overcoming. Stories that document a bit of the world's greatest sport."