Bulgarian Communism – US Republican Communism?Sunday, 30 August 2015
I took a ‘Communism Tour’ in Sofia, Bulgaria – meet outside the Palace of Justice at 4pm on Sunday. Twenty Five years after the fall of Communism it’s pretty clear they’re still trying to come to terms with what it was all about.
▲ The sign and logo for this old Corecom store still stands. Back in the Iron Curtain era Corecom shops sold all those much demanded and unavailable western goodies, like jeans. One problem: you had to pay with US dollars. A second problem: it was illegal to possess US dollars. ‘So we had a shop,’ our knowledgeable guide said, ‘where you could buy unavailable things with illegal money.’
◄ Right in the centre of Sofia this statue of St Sofia has taken up position on top of a tall column. Problem One: the city of Sofia is named after the venerable Sveti Sofia Church, not St Sofia. Problem Two: if she’s a saint why is she sporting these pagan symbols – an owl perched on her arm, a laurel wreath, a crown? And as for all that cleavage? No good orthodox saint would be so brazen.
St Sofia is replacing a statue of Lenin which was removed from its city centre location after the fall of Communism and for 15 years left an empty space to remind the good citizens of Sofia of his departure. You can find the statue – and much other Communist era relics – at the Museum of Socialist Art, rather inconveniently situated out in the suburbs. ►
Bulgaria’s first Communist leader, Georgi Dimitrov had a mausoleum which also disappeared with remarkable speed. Today its former position in the Sofia City Garden, where it effectively blocked the view of the old Royal Palace, is just a patch of concrete wasteland. Since 1999 there’s been no attempt to replace it with anything new, not even with some park planting, but nor is there any indication of what used to occupy the space.
◄ There’s assorted Soviet-era statuary still standing around the city, like this one The Mound of Brotherhood or Bratska Mogila. It’s looking rather secondhand with limbs broken off some of the figures. The trouble is Bulgaria was not crawling with patriotic partisans risking all to kick the Nazis out. In fact Bulgaria switched sides from the Germans only in the closing days of WW II and then welcomed the Russians with open arms. They were then Russia’s staunchest ally through the Soviet period, the Bulgarians even pushed Moscow to invade Czechoslovakia and shut down the Prague Spring in 1968. Click here for Google Images of the Monument to the Soviet Army which has been the subject of some inspired paintwork by local provocateurs.
On the other hand it’s nice to see US Republican potential presidential candidates competing with each other to see who can be the most Communist. Will it be Donald Trump, keen to replicate the Soviet-era Iron Curtain, but between the USA and Mexico? Or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who wants to imitate the old Communist game of keeping track of every foreign visitor in Eastern Europe and the USSR? Presumably Christie would like all tourists to the USA to report to a police station every day to confirm where they’re staying, just like we used to do in Eastern Europe in the Communist days.