To leave a monument standing, to mothball it or to destroy it? That is a question that faces many countries right now, as they face up to an uncomfortable past. Maybe values have changed, better understandings emerged, or political systems been rejected. Do we want still to be surrounded by reminders of that past? Or is it justifiable to remove them, hide the memories?
When I recently took you on a virtual tour of some of Sofia’s monuments, I omitted one, arguably the most interesting, as I wanted to give it its own separate post. This is the somewhat controversial Monument to the Soviet Army. It was built in 1954 to mark the 10th anniversary of the ‘liberation’ of Bulgaria by the Soviet Army. The country had allied itself with the losing Axis Powers until September 1944, when the Soviet Red Army entered the country. Bulgaria then joined the Allied Forces and declared war on Germany the following day. At the end of the war a Communist regime was installed here and subsequently, in 1954, Bulgaria joined the Warsaw Pact. Communist rule lasted until January 1990, although the leader, Todor Zhivkov, had been deposed on 10 November 1989, the day after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Understandably therefore there are mixed views about this monument. While the arrival of the Red Army did indeed mean the end of Nazi control in Bulgaria, this was simply exchanged for Soviet control and a regime that most (not all) present-day Bulgarians deplore. There have been repeated calls therefore for this monument to be demolished or perhaps at least mothballed, as those in the Soviet Art Museum can be said to have been. Its removal has been debated several times, but each time Russophiles have insisted on keeping it. Meanwhile it is regularly used as a sort of canvas by political artists.
2011 painting by Destructive Creation group, depicting the Soviet Army as comic book characters
Ignat Ignev, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
2014 Glory to Ukraine installation
Vassia Atanassova – Spiritia, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
It is for the Bulgarians to decide the future of this monument, not me. I do wonder if the current war in Ukraine will influence their judgement? Meanwhile I simply document it for the Photographing Public Art challenge, and as an example of this brutalist style of monument that continues to fascinate me.
The eagle-eyed among you will notice that when I took these photos somehow someone had managed to daub the colours of the Ukraine flag on one of the figures of the main sculptural group. Quite a feat when you see how high it stands!
The monument is located on Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard, near Orlov Most and the Sofia University. It stands in a large park popular with local youths to hang out and skateboard. But first thing in the morning when we visited the park was quiet. The sculptural groups around the main monument reminded me of many I had photographed a few years earlier in North Korea, such as those at the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery in Pyongyang.
I last visited Sofia in September 2022 when these photos were taken