BULGARIA OBSERVED | culture, society and politics

Buzludzha: Resignify Your Past!

Buzludzha. I had watched so many pictures of it. Magical pictures of a monument that despite its destruction did not lose its visual impact. Moreover, it even places in the world’s top list of abandoned monuments. A U.F.O., a Space Odyssey flying saucer, a horrific example of communism’s power. I took the hard way to get up, walking all the way up the hill, watching the circle above me getting bigger and bigger. The tower that is connected to the circular conference hall prides a big red star that, when lightning, should be seen from the southern borders with Greece to the northern borders with Romania. The red glass has been broken and stolen. Rumors went that it was made out of the expensive red ruby.

1-tK3rmtwSBew-oGR2nMSrVQPhoto by: Peter Franc

When arriving at the top of mount Buzludzha, the monument is different than I had seen it on the famous photo’s distributed on the internet. The impressive text “Forget your past” that was painted above the main entrance had been painted over in dark grey paint. Now, next to the locked doors we can read in the well known typography of the Coca cola company: “Enjoy Communism”. A shift of meaning from below. Amnesia has given away to consumerism.

Now, tourists, voyeurs with expensive camera’s climb up to meditate over the meaning of communism, its legacy and grandeur. But first came the Bulgarians. They had nothing to meditate over. They knew. When the monument was left unguarded in 1996, many went up there to take back what the regime had stolen from them. Everybody had participated in the construction of this enormous conference hall, either buying 50 cents marks or through ‘voluntary’ work. The monument has been build in 8 years, has been used 8 years and almost has stood untouched and unused during another 8 years until it was left unprotected from resignification. After 1996, the lucky ones took home with them parts of the bronze flags and sculptures. Others could take their vengeance destroying the depiction of the communist leaders. Only Bulgarian communist dictator Todor Zhivkov has been salvaged from such a iconoclasm. The Socialist Party itself had ordered soon after the fall of communism to remove his portrait from the inner walls of the hall. Ironically, put down by his own followers, he was saved from public demolition.

However well suited to become a memorial theme park, for now, the monument is not easily accessible. Although not guarded, the entrances have been locked and are blocked with stone walls. If we truly want to ‘enjoy’ its marvels, we have to climb into a small opening, on the right side of the main entrance. But maybe this difficult, secret, semi illegal entrance to the building only adds to the appreciation of its wonders. Only those who want to risk to break their leg between a concrete wall and a concrete staircase will be granted to see the impressive interiors of the conference hall. Once in, we are warned: “Don’t go in, you will make a mistake.”

buzludzha-the-domePhoto by: Robin Hanhart

Do I? How magnificent must it have been when it was inaugurated. How beautiful those murals must have looked. What a wonderful piece of architecture, to stand the test of time and destruction. But at the same time, it symbolizes more than anything the totalitarian dictatorship that had ruled Bulgaria for more than 40 years. What should be the place of this monument in nowadays Bulgaria? Should it be restored? Who should pay for that? How should we transmit a correct reading of that past through this building?

I guess its popularity lies in its destruction itself. In its constant resignification, the change of meaning over time (Holden 2001). We can literally read into the different layers of meaning. This monument, payed by the Bulgarian society in its totality, has now been resignified by the whole of Bulgarian society, as they demolish, steal, paint or ignore its existence. It does not tell us what to think anymore, it confuses us, filling our minds with questions about the passing of time and generations. One day the structure will fall apart completely, through its naked exposure to the weather, but its slow disappearance will keep on haunting this mountain. Until the witnesses who helped in its construction will pass away. Until those who stole a little piece will pass away. Until the little stolen stones of the mosaics will lose their meaning and end up in our dustbins.

Until then, Buzludzha will serve as an “anti-monument” of Bulgarian and Soviet communism.


2 comments on “Buzludzha: Resignify Your Past!

  1. Pierre
    October 25, 2014

    Nice text Marije, thanks.
    Really want to see that for real with you.
    Has it became a place for graffiti, bulgarian painters and “street artists” like every abandoned buildings ? I think the support is awesome for critical art. Is there a big street painters community in Sofia ? A next article on street art in Sofia ?

    Lavapiesly yours !



    • Marije
      October 25, 2014

      Thanks! Buzludzha indeed has become a place for graffiti. Yet, it seems that the official owners of the place, the BSP, once in a while paint everything out. That is how the ‘forget your past’ has disappeared under a layer of dark grey paint. I’ll put Sofia’s street art on my agenda 🙂


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This entry was posted on October 25, 2014 by in Memory politics and tagged , , , , .

Bulgaria Observed is created by Marije Hristova

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