Friday, May 5, 2017

247. The Soviet Legacy

Bulgaria has had a turbulent history dating back to 400BC when a tribal race called the Thacians lived in parts of what is now Bulgaria. Next came the Romans, the Huns, the Slavs, the Crusaders, the Serbians, the Austro-Hungarians, the Ottomans and the Imperial Russians in the late 19th century - all leaving their mark on this tiny Balkan country.

In more modern times - and after much huffing and puffing from the Ottomans, the Austro-Hungarians and the Russians - Bulgarian Prince Ferdinand announced the complete independence of Bulgaria in 1908 and was crowned King Ferdinand of Bulgaria. 

The political unrest and the squabbling about borders continued over the following years and eventually led to the establishment of a royal authoritarian dictatorship by Tsar Boris III (1918–1943). Then in 1941 Bulgaria entered World War II as a member of the Axis.

The sudden death of Boris III in the summer of 1943 pushed the country into even more political turmoil as the war turned against Germany and in Bulgaria the communist guerrilla movement gained momentum.

In 1944 - after the government had failed to achieve peace with the Allies, and did not comply with Soviet demands to expel German forces from its territory – Bulgaria was again invaded by Russia – this time the USSR.

Under the influence and support of Russia, the left-wing then grew in dominance and  an uprising on  9 September 1944 led to the abolition of monarchic rule, and eventually in 1946 the establishment of a one-party people's republic. 

Bulgaria then became a part of the Soviet sphere of influence under the leadership of Georgi Dimitrov (1946–1949), who laid the foundations for a rapidly industrialising Stalinist state which was also highly repressive with thousands of dissidents executed.

In an attempt to erase the identity of the ethnic Turk minority, an assimilation campaign was launched in 1984 which included closing mosques and forcing ethnic Turks to adopt Slavic names ( today, in a city of churches, there is only one operating mosque in Sofia ). These policies ( combined with the end of communist rule in 1989 ) resulted in the emigration of some 300,000 ethnic Turks to Turkey.

Under the influence of the collapsing Eastern Bloc, on 10 November 1989 the Communist Party gave up its political monopoly and Bulgaria embarked on a transition to a parliamentary democracy. 

My fascination while traveling around the Balkan Peninsular has been the influence that the Soviets and localised communism had - not only on the people but for my interest, on art and architecture - and in the 1960s 70s and 80s, the world-wide art movement known as Brutalism ...

And in Sofia there are many worthwhile relics of that movement ... here are just a couple of sites that fascinated me ...

The Monument to the Soviet Army was built in 1954 on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the liberation by the Soviet Army from the Nazi occupation of Bulgaria during World War II.

Over the past decade the monument has been the focal point of several anti-Russian and anti-USA demonstrations and there is a movement in the city to have the Monument removed - much to the protests of the current Russian government - but in the meantime it takes pride of place in the beautiful Knyazheska Gardens in the inner city.

Another piece of ex-communist-Bulgarian-art is the Museum of Socialist Art - tucked away in a hard-to-find street in a outta suburb, it is not the most popular hot spot for tourists in Sofia, but I was interested to visit the "sculpture grave yard" hidden away behind the Museum. I didn't visit inside the Museum as I have seen enough Soviet propaganda art to last me a lifetime - but rather I had a wander around the yard to look at the sculptures ... interesting to note that these pieces of art ( and many more that were destroyed at the time of the fall of communism ... ) once graced the public squares and boulevards of Communist Sofia ...

 The Republic 1980 

 Lenin ( 1870-1924) 1963

 Requim 1984

 To the Mountain 1952

 Supporters of Partisans 1952

Participant in the 
September Upring 1963
Bulgarian Folk Dancers 1972
 Lenin 1968

 Women Diggers 1959

 Lenin 1970

First Day 1969
 Partisans 1954

 Geirgi Dimitrov 1969
... the first communist leader of Bulgaria, from 1946 to 1949 ...

 The Republic 1974

 The Republic 1974

 Shift 1968

Expectation 1969
 Worker 1964

Lenin 1949
After Battle 1953
 Insurgent 1956

Harvester's Song 1955
Korean Children 1952

 Women from the 
Co-operative Farm 1952

 For Freedom 1946

 Lenin 1971

 Women from the 
Co-operative Farm 1959

 Labour Freedom 1947

Then after all that communist austerity, it was across the road for me to the huge Sopharma Centre and a good hearty Bulgarian lunch and some decadent-capitalist-retail-therapy ... goodness only knows what Lenin would think ...