A Museum of Socialist Art is opening next month in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. The museum exhibits statues of Lenin, paintings of Bulgarian Communist Party leaders, and other artwork from Soviet times.
The former Eastern Bloc country is the last such nation to open a museum to its totalitarian past. The socialist government fell in 1989 and Bulgaria had its first free elections the following year.
Not all vestiges of the past are sitting in museums. Many of Bulgaria’s current ruling elite were members of the old regime, and the last-minute name change from “Museum of Totalitarian Art” to “Museum of Socialist Art” is making some Bulgarians question just what the purpose of the museum is.
I worked in Bulgaria as an archaeologist in 1994, and the country was full of Soviet art. With the economy bottoming out, grannies set up stalls in the streets to sell old medals, uniforms, and busts of Marx for next to nothing. If only I had bought more than a few mementos, I could make a bundle on eBay! Most people were glad the old regime was gone, but the dire state of the economy had many people questioning the value of a free market system. I haven’t been back in more than a decade. Can anybody out there tell me how the majority of Bulgarians feel about the transition more than a decade on?
[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons. This Soviet stamp from 1969 commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Socialist Revolution in Bulgaria. The text says, “The friendship between the Soviet and the Bulgarian people- indestructible for eternity.”]