Bulgaria belonged to the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War, and the country is full of communist monuments and architecture. In the capital of Sofia stand a big monument dedicated to the Soviet Army. This monument was built in 1954 but has during the last years been painted of street artists several times and led to controversy discussions of what it used to represent and what it is representing today.
Here is a summary of my thesis on this topic that I wrote for my Art History class in 2014.
The History of The Monument
In 1949 Vasil Kolarov took the initiative to build this monument and the building projected started in 1952 and was ready in 1954, ten years after the Soviet liberation from the fascist Germany, to honor this historical event. The monument was built of an group of artists led by the sculpture Ivan Funesv. The symbolism of the monument is the Bulgarians gratitude towards the Soviet Army and their liberation.
The main pedestal is 37 meters high, and on top is a Soviet soldier, he is holding up his right arm where he is holding a gun. On the left side of the soldier stands a woman and carrying a baby on her right arm, and on the right side of the soldier stands a man with a proud posture. Both the woman and the man on the sides of the soldier stand a bit behind him, and together they form a pyramid. The east and the west foot of the monument are being covered by high reliefs. The high relief on the west side picture the Red Army. Next to the high monument stands a low and wide pedestal that shows how Soviet soldiers are being welcomed back home of women and children.
When Bulgaria transformed to a democracy, from being a socialistic country, in 1989 a discussion started on what to do whit the monument. The monument became a symbol of conflict, many people thought that with the new times, the monument should be demolished, but majority still saw it as a strong and significant motif. The monument remained as a mark of the history.
With the time the discussion became silent until 2011 when something unexpected happen.
The Painting of The Monument
The monument is located on Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard, close to Sofia University and Orlov Most in the park of Borisov Gradina, its one of the biggest parks in Sofia and a popular place for many young people to hang out. Close to the monument is a big skate ramp.
In June 17th 2011, the Bulgarians wake up and had a big surprise when they saw that the high relief on the west side was painted as American characters from different pop culture. From the left: The Mask (from the movie The Mask), The Joker (from Batman), Wolwerine (from the X-Men movies), Santa Claus, Superman, Roland McDonald (the mascot for McDonalds), Capten America, Robin (the assistant of Batman) and Wonder Woman. The flag behind the soldiers was painted as the American flag, and under the painted high relief was this text written: B крас c времето (In line with the times).
The painting of the soldiers started a big discussion about the monument again. Bulgaria´s minister of culture, Rashidov, classified it as vandalism of the monument and the paint was removed the same evening. The police tried to find the perpetrator but without success. The very same day there was a group created on Facebook for people who supported the painting, and it got 1700 members only the first day.
The 10th of February 2012 the monument got painted again. This time the soldiers had masks in front of their faces. The masks imagined the British revolutionary Guy Fawkes, who has came to be a popular symbol in V for Vendetta but also for the hacker group Anonymous. On the 11th of February was a demonstration against ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), and the painting of the soldiers was connected with this demonstration. The activist called this painting Monument for the Anonymous Army.
The same year at 21st of August was once again the monument painted. Now the monument was painted in pink with both text written in Czech and in Bulgarian; Bulgaria apologize and Sorry for Prague 68. The history behind this painting is the Prague Spring 1968 when Czechoslovakia tried to become independent from the socialist regime that Soviet Union used in the country. Bulgarians helped the Soviets to put down the uprising (since they had helped them with becoming independent from the Ottoman Empire). The street artists that painted the soldiers pink got their inspiration from Czech street artists that made a similar action. This time Russia spoke their mind and they wasn’t happy with the monument that was once erected to the soldiers of the nations history been put through vandalism. The color was washed away faster then before. Russia demanded Bulgaria to take immediate action to make sure that the monument would never to be painted again.
Even tho Russia had made it clear that this monument was not to be painted again, the monument was one more time a target for both street art and politics. The 23rd of February 2014 was the soldiers painted in yellow and blue, the color of Ukraine’s flag, and the text Glory to Ukraine. Even this time the painting was an political act, this time the street artists wanted to show their solidarity with Ukraine in the conflict of Crimea. Russia once again forced Bulgaria to make sure that they would take action against the hooliganism and make sure that the monument would remain intact.
The color was once again washed away, but the second of March 2012 someone wrote Hands off Ukraine, and the 12th of April the text Putin go home! was spotted on the monument. The monument have however not been painted since the 23rd of February 2014.
A Monument in Conflict
Monuments have always been erected to manifest an historical event or an important person. Monuments carries lots of values and representations, monuments possesses power and political ideology. There are no neutral monuments. There are many examples of when people during uprisings have chosen to tear monuments down as a symbol of tearing down the power (dictatorship). In Iraq the people turned down monuments of Saddam Hussein, and in many ex Soviet countries statues of Lenin and Stalin has been teared down, in order to symbolize their freedom.
The monument was erected in 1954 when Bulgaria was a socialist country in order to honor the Soviet Union. The monument has characteristic features of what communist monuments usually represent, and their are many similar monuments all over Bulgaria and the ex countries of the Eastern Bloc. For many people of the older generation this monument is a symbol of freedom, of those who sacrificed their life for the nation of Bulgaria. For the young generation the monument stand as a mark of a forced socialism that didn’t work out and left the country behind the rest of the Europe when it came to economy and development.
Its a political monument and everyone has an opinion about it. It raises to debate. And the street artists always has a political standpoint when they paint it. Since there is much politic, history and emotions in the monument many people feel angry, sad, upset and offended when its been painted. The street artists knows the value of the monument and pick it as a target for their actions, but also because of the central location where many people can see it.
Monuments are complicated topics and carries lots of representations and values. They are a symbol of the time when they got erected, but the times and society are constantly changing and the meaning of the monument may change with the times. Monuments are a part of the place history and a part of the place cultural heritage, and since its part of the culture heritage makes it complicated on how to deal with it in the present.
Sources for this article:
Monumentet som målarduk- En diskursanalys kring gatukonst och politik (a thesis written by me in 2014)