FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Socialist Sofia: Monument to the Soviet Army

Posted in Bulgaria, Sofia by folkestonejack on May 21, 2016

The striking Monument to the Soviet Army stands in the centre of Sofia, presenting the image of a Red Army soldier leading a worker, peasant woman and child towards communist paradise.

The monument was created by a team of artists and architects under the direction of Danko Mitov in 1954. The scale of everything here is immense – the monument takes up a 2000 square metre plot with a grand 80 metre long granite pathway flanked by five bronze wreaths (signifying the victories of the Red Army over Hitler’s forces) laid out before it. The figures watching over everything, from atop the central column, are giants too with the tallest coming in at 8 metres high.

The Monument to the Soviet Army

The Monument to the Soviet Army

Two standalone compositions at the entrance to the complex show the Bulgarian people greeting Soviet soldiers on foot and motorbike, entitled ‘The Bulgarian people welcomes the Soviet Army of Liberation with bread and salt, flowers and gifts’. The sculptures were created by a team led by Ivan Funev (1900-83) whose works can also be seen in the National Gallery – Square 500 (look out for ‘The motorman’ and ‘Third class wagon’).

Three panels around the central column depict the October 1917 revolution, the battles of World War II and the support of the people for their army.

'October 1917'

‘October 1917’by Lyubomir Dalchev

'Everything for the front, everything for victory'

‘Everything for the front, everything for victory’ by Peter Doychinov

'The Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union'

‘The Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union’ by Vassil Zahariev

The Sofia Municipal Council voted to destroy the monument in 1993, but no sooner had the decision been made than it became mired in complications. The small matter of the cost of demolition, dogged opposition from the followers of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and questions of legality (specifically, on whether the momument was protected under a treaty of friendship with Russia) all contributed to the shelving of the plan in the short term.

Since then the space around the monument has become a popular spot for skateboarding, whilst the bronze bas reliefs have become a focus for political protest. The reliefs have been various painted by grafitti artists as superheroes, in the colours of Ukraine and in pink to apologise for Prague 1968. We could see traces of the last batch of paint, but the monument was looking in reasonably good shape after a clean up for the Victory Day commemorations on May 9th.

The future of the monument came to the fore again in January 2011 when rallies for and against its removal clashed in Sofia. In the great feature article ‘The Soviet Army Monument in Sofia: Keep It but Explain It!‘ Ivan Dikov from the Sofia News Agency Novinite offers some background and sets out the case for and against keeping the monument. For now the monument stands, but as we have seen in other Eastern bloc states nothing is guaranteed.

The monument in its new life as a skatepark

The monument in its new life as a skatepark

Practical details: The monument is located in Knyazheska Garden, facing out onto Tsar Osvoboditel boulevard, a short wander from the metro station at St. Kliment Ohridski (Sofia University). It is easily visited, though you may need to navigate your way around a few skaters in the process!

It is worth noting that there is a separate mausoleum dedicated to the Red Army in another location in Sofia. The mausoleum containing the remains of Soviet soldiers who fell during the liberation of Bulgaria can be found at bulevard Cherni vrah 20-24 (see the Traces of War website for further details).

Gallery

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