FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Socialist Sofia

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

One of the most fascinating aspects of a trip to Eastern Europe for me is the opportunity to see the lingering traces of the artistic output from the era of the tolaritarian state, from paintings following the doctrine of socialist realism to monumental statues that dominate everything that surrounds them.

I am always slightly nervous about showing too much interest as I am well aware that these works are loaded with an entirely different meaning for anyone who has lived through those times, whereas for most tourists they are just interesting works of art and objects of historical curiosity. It is rare not to see someone raising an eyebrow as you take a photograph or two and you can feel the question forming – should you really be visiting this place!?

The Monument to the Soviet Army shortly after Victory Day

The Monument to the Soviet Army shortly after Victory Day

The most significant of these in Sofia is the Monument to the Soviet Army, placed right in the heart of the city and clearly meant to leave the local population in no doubt as to who their saviours were. The continued presence of the monument must chill the hearts of anyone who experienced the terror of the state.

In many other Eastern bloc countries the process of removing these monuments is well on its way, or already finished. It can’t be an easy choice to make with the danger that erasing these monuments from the present risks taking with it the reminder of what the people overcame to achieve democracy, particularly as the years pass and the struggle becomes ever dimmer in memory.

I am reminded of a comment made by W. B. Yeats in relation to the equally contentious statue of Nelson that stood in the heart of Dublin “I think we should accept the whole past of this nation, and not pick and choose.” Mind you, that is probably a bad example given that Irish republicans went on to blow up Nelson’s Pillar in 1966!

At most of the sites I visited there was an air of neglect, irrelevance and an overriding sense of time taking its toll. Nowhere did I see any attempt to explain the complex history behind the benign figures immortalised in metal, from the sacrifice of the common soldier through to the forced assimilation of minorities – to me that feels like a missed opportunity.

In the next few posts I will highlight some of the remaining sights from Socialist Sofia, all easily reached on foot from the city centre.

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