Communist Bulgaria

Primorsko

CINEMAS OF COMMUNISM

A few years ago, a niece of mine, a young teenager from a mid-sized Bulgarian town, got into a bitter dispute with her best friend who happened to live in the larger Ruse, over one question: what is a cinema? A cinema is a place where people go to watch movies, the girl from Ruse said. No, cinemas are shopping centres, my niece insisted.

Thu, 09/03/2020 - 07:58
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FASCINATION OF OLD AIRPLANES

You do not need to be particularly interested in old aircraft to enjoy the Burgas Aviation Museum, but visiting it could lead to a new interest in your life. Established in 1998 as a part of Burgas Airport, in 2017 the exhibition was revamped to appeal to the modern visitor.

The collection is a good introduction to the nuts-and-bolts of aviation, and features nine aircraft that were in service during the time of Communism, when the country relied heavily on Soviet planes.

Tue, 03/31/2020 - 10:18
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COMMUNIST BULGARIA GOES TO HUNGARY

Through vivid and at times poignant images Communist Bulgaria shows what has remained of this country's Communist material heritage. Included are some would famous sites such as the Communist Party Memorial House on Mount Buzludzha, popularly referred to as The Flying Saucer of Communism, downtown Sofia with its Stalinist architecture, and many monuments of Second World War resistance fighters. Thirty years after the collapse of the Iron Curtain most have been abandoned and are in various stages of decay, exuding eerie, even otherworldly vibes.

Tue, 03/31/2020 - 07:52
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WHO WAS MAGDALINA STANCHEVA?

Walking around Central Sofia is like walking nowhere else, notwithstanding the incredibly uneven pavements. A mixture of buildings in a range of time periods and styles define the Bulgarian capital: Roman fortifications and early-Christian buildings rub walls with medieval churches, former Ottoman mosques and fine fin-de-siècle residential houses. Over these loom monstrous buildings in the Stalinist Baroque style and soulless glass-and-concrete concoctions built after the 1990s.

Mon, 02/24/2020 - 08:45
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10 OUT OF 100

One of the most enduring tourism movements that several generations of inquisitive Bulgarian travellers have fond memories of is called 100 National Tourism Sites. It started all the way back in 1966 and, with significant modifications, continues to this day. Essentially, travellers are encouraged to visit selected attractions throughout Bulgaria and have their membership booklets stamped. In the past, whoever got 50 stamps was awarded a bronze badge.

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 14:04
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ON COMMUNISM, ANTI-COMMUNISM AND WHAT COMES AFTER

Among his many interests Communism – and what supersedes it – has had a special place on his rostrum. In his telltale style of combing the mundane with the philosophical, even allegorical, Lozanov begins this conversation, in his office at the Bulgarian Telegraph Agency located at Sofia's main thoroughfare that used to be called Lenin, by pondering over when exactly Bulgarian Communism ended.

There are two answers to this question. One is historical: Communism ended when former Communist leader Todor Zhivkov was toppled on 10 November 1989.

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 14:01
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HOLY MOTHER OF GOD FROM... HASKOVO

The statues that adorn Bulgarian squares, streets and historical sites represent this nation's modern history in miniature, but not always in the way their creators intended. Monuments built in 1878-1944 are elegant and relatively small in scale, in the best traditions of realism. Communism was the time of gigantic monstrosities of exposed concrete and steel that tended to symbolise the Communist Party's grip over society rather than evoke patriotic feelings. In the 1990s, few monuments were erected in Bulgaria: times were hard, and there was no money to spend on basics, let alone statues.

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 10:30
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WHO WAS PENYO PENEV?

In 1949, when hundreds of young Bulgarians enthusiastically built Dimitrovgrad, an entire town that would supposedly epitomise the triumph of Communism in their country, a 19-year-old man joined them. He was Penyo Penev. Born in the village of Dobromirka, near Sevlievo, he was one of the thousands of Brigadiri, or young "volunteers" working on Communist infrastructure projects, and was attracted by the idea of building Dimitrovgrad, the "City of Dreams."

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 10:27
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WHO WAS LYUDMILA ZHIVKOVA?

Her father's daughter who imposed her own mediocrity on Bulgaria's culture? Or a forbearing politician who revived interest in Bulgaria's past and placed the country on the world map? Or a quirky mystic? Or a benefactor to the arts?

The assessment of Lyudmila Zhivkova, Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov's daughter, is more contentious than is customary for the public figures of Communism. What she did to Bulgarian culture in the 1970s continues to leave its imprint on public and social life, and even on the standpoints from which the nation views itself.

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 11:27
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BIZARRE BULGARIA

There are many ways to categorise and promote Bulgaria's heritage: traditional towns and villages, Thracian rock sanctuaries, nature, sun and fun on the seaside, and so on and so forth. But there is a number of places that defy being so easily pigeon-holed. Some of them were created by nature, others are manmade, their age ranging from the prehistory to the recent past. What unites them is that the first reaction they provoke in the viewer is "That looks weird. How did it come to be?".

Wed, 05/01/2019 - 08:21
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URBEX BG, PART 2

If anything defines the modern Bulgarian landscape, it is the abundance of recent ruins left from the time when Communism collapsed and the free market filled the void left by planned economy. Dozens of factories, cooperative farms, mines, monuments and infrastructure projects have now become a treasure trove for the urban explorer. 

Sun, 12/23/2018 - 11:24
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BULGARIA UNDER COMMUNISM: NEW BOOK IN ENGLISH EXPLORES RECENT PAST

A new book, Bulgaria Under Communism, published by Routledge in 2018, fills the gaps for English speakers. Written by Professor Ivaylo Znepolski and historians from the Bulgarian Institute for Research of the Recent Past, the volume covers the most important aspects of Bulgaria as a Communist country. It provides all the background needed for a person unfamiliar with Bulgarian history to understand how and why Communism took over, in 1944. It also explores the profound transformation of Bulgarian politics, society, economy and culture in the 45 years that followed.

Sun, 12/23/2018 - 11:24
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URBEX BG: ABANDONED RUINS INCREASINGLY ATTRACT URBAN EXPLORERS

Yet the sombre aura of desolation and utter despair exuded by modern ruins can be evocative. They simultaneously frighten, disgust and enchant. When walking around spaces that were abandoned mere decades before, we begin to reflect on the people – almost our contemporaries – who used to live and work there, and who then left, leaving behind a soiled rag here, a rusty bed or a desecrated image of a once powerful party leader there. Who were these people? What did they experience there? Such places remind us of the fragility of our own civilisation.

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 08:48
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STARA PLANINA'S FLYING SAUCER

Recently, Bulgaria has become a staple in the Internet lists compiling the oddest abandoned places in the world with a building whose creators hardly imagined, not even in their darkest nightmares, the way it stands now: the Memorial House of the Bulgarian Communist Party at Buzludzha.

The complex of an assembly hall and an huge tower of exposed concrete was built on Stara Planina's Mount Buzludzha in 1981. It was meant to be a celebration of the 90th anniversary of the foundation of the predecessor of the BKP, which had been founded at that mount.

Tue, 09/04/2018 - 07:52
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DIMITROVGRAD BEYOND CHALGA

If you have spent more than a couple of days in Bulgaria you should already be familiar with Chalga. This tacky music dominates the mass Bulgarian taste. It blares from your taxi's radio, permeates house parties and low-key restaurants, stuns popular disco clubs and resounds from the open windows of flashy cars driven by chiselled guys or silicone-enhanced fake blondes. Chalga also inevitably pops up several times while you are skipping through your local TV channels.

Mon, 06/04/2018 - 14:02
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WAS JULIA KRISTEVA A COMMUNIST 'AGENT'?

Bulgaria has had an uneasy transition from Communism to democracy as a result of which it continues to experience painful pangs related to its recent past. Unlike other nations in the former Warsaw Pact  Bulgaria never made a proper de-Communisation effort. Top Communist-era officials and thousands of apparatchiks continued, and some still continue, to hold public offices.

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 13:33
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BULGARIA'S PARTIZANI MONUMENTS

Made of stone or bronze, these monuments adorn squares and streets, peek over the trees by roads, and form whole, often overgrown compounds.

Some of these monuments are maintained, others have been abandoned and crumbling. Some are in the realistic style known as Stalinist Baroque, popular across the East bloc in the 1940s and the 1950s. Others bear the hallmarks of the peculiar combination of modernism, cubism and sheer extravagance, typical for Bulgarian sculpture in the 1970s and the 1980s.

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 13:54
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FROM UTOPIA TO DYSTOPIA

Like Dimitrovgrad, Smolyan appeared under Communism as a result of the amalgamation of several villages. But while Dimitrovgrad is an example of Stalinist urbanism, Smolyan is perhaps the epitome of city planning under Mature Socialism.

In 1960 the National Assembly decreed three old villages along the Cherna River in the Rhodope to be combined into a town called Smolyan. It was also proclaimed the centre of the region.

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 11:24
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LAND OF LOST LENINS

If you could (or would want to) go back in time 29 years and visit Communist Bulgaria, your trip would unfold under the constant presence of one man, Lenin. There was hardly a place in Bulgaria – big city, small town, village even – without a monument to Lenin, or at least a street, school, or kindergarten named after him.

Mon, 07/31/2017 - 16:07
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FALL OF 1,300 YEARS OF BULGARIA

In the summer of 2017, after years of debates, projects and protests, Sofia looked as though it would finally part with one of the most controversial monuments of the period referred to as Mature Socialism (roughly, the 1970s and 1980s in Communist Bulgaria). Everyone knows the monument in question: it is the 35-metre-high angular construction of granite plates and metal, crowned with ghostly statues and disintegrated slogans, in front of the NDK in central Sofia.

Ironically, the name of the monument slated for demolition is 1,300 Years of Bulgaria.

Mon, 07/31/2017 - 15:24
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