The Buzludzha monument – or to give the building its official name, the ‘House-Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party’ – was envisaged as a symbolic meeting place for the communist regime. Resembling something straight out of a 1950s sci-fi flick, the colossal concrete saucer perches at an altitude of 1441 metres above sea level – on one of the most inhospitable peaks of the Balkan Mountains.
It was here that foreign dignitaries would meet with local communist leaders, beneath the tiled mosaic faces of Engels, Marx and Lenin. During its heyday Buzludzha was a centre for political rallies and award ceremonies, set in a remote location linked to one of the great turning points in Bulgarian history; just 18km from the peak of Mount Buzludzha, the Shipka Pass saw perhaps the bloodiest battle of the Russo-Turkish War.
An iconic symbol, intended to mark Bulgaria out amongst the rest of the communist world... The House-Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party was completed in 1981, for the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Shipka Pass. The project cost in excess of 16 million Bulgarian Levs – that’s something in the region of 10 million US dollars, before you take inflation into account.
The funds for the project came in the form of voluntary donations from the Bulgarian people, and thousands of volunteer labourers worked on the site. While the communists were perhaps too liberal with their use of the word ‘volunteer’, there was nevertheless a lot of pride attached to the monument on Mount Buzludzha:
The tower of Buzludzha reaches a total height of 107m; the red Soviet star adorning its side measuring three times the diameter of the star emblazoned onto the tower of Moscow’s Kremlin. An eternal flame set into the front courtyard served as a tribute to fallen comrades, while great concrete letters were hung around the main entrance to spell out rousing verses:
“ON YOUR FEET, DESPISED COMRADES!
ON YOUR FEET YOU SLAVES OF LABOUR!
DOWNTRODDEN AND HUMILIATED,
STAND UP AGAINST THE ENEMY!”
The words come from ‘The Internationale’: a revolutionary song from the nineteenth century, which gained great popularity amongst socialist, communist and leftist groups. Here though, the verses have been recorded in an old dialect of Bulgarian. As such, it seems to summon up a sense of the nation’s proud and independent past.
Perhaps most impressive, though, is the central meeting chamber
A large auditorium was surrounded by tiered benches, its walls decked with intricate mosaic murals. It is said that over 60 artists were recruited for the task, detailing the likenesses of Engels, Marx and Lenin in addition to the leaders of Bulgarian communism; Georgi Dimitrov and Todor Zhivkov, as well as the socialist philosopher Dimitar Blagoev:
High above them all, the vaulted ceiling is set in with a hammer and sickle motif in red, green and gold. Around it, the words: “Proletariats of Every Country Join Together”:
The House-Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party was no doubt a wonder in its day. Bulgaria’s socialist republic came to an end in 1990 however, just shortly before the final collapse of the USSR in 1991. After this point, the decay set in fast.
The extreme location of the monument places it in the path of ravaging winds, harsh storms and bitter winters. The outer windows were the first to go, followed by large sections of the metal-tiled roof.:
Bulgaria is one of the newest countries to join the European Union; this sparsely populated nation being perhaps best known for its Black Sea beaches, strong liquor and rose fields. However, for some visitors Bulgaria also offers a unique window onto a time gone by.
Turn the clock back to the late nineteenth century:
Bulgaria had been under Ottoman occupation for almost five centuries, and following the liberation of Bucharest to the north, an army of Russian and Romanian forces swept down into the country’s northern plains.
Bulgaria is divided in two, from west to east, by the Balkan Mountains. In 1877, a troop of 2,500 Russian soldiers and roughly 5,000 Bulgarian volunteers stormed a Turkish garrison at Shipka Pass… before successfully holding it against a 38,000-strong Ottoman army approaching from the south. It was the beginning of Bulgaria’s long-lasting fealty towards her Russian cousins.
Bulgaria reclaimed its independence in 1891, reverting to the Tsardom it recognized prior to the Ottoman invasion. However, socialist revolutionaries began meeting in secret on Mount Buzludzha. Following in the footsteps of post-revolutionary France, Dimitar Blagoev and other social philosophers began laying the foundations for the Bulgarian Social-Democratic Workers' Party… a precursor to the later Bulgarian Communist Party.
Bulgaria was locked in the thrall of communism from 1946 until 1990, during which time orders came from Moscow and many school children began each day with a recital of the Russian anthem. This era also saw the construction of a number of vast, concrete monoliths, as the new regime sought to plant its stamp onto the very fabric of the land.
More than 150 communist monuments appeared across Bulgaria during these years, overlooking mountain lakes, or rising in the hearts of cities; they stand in forests and in cemeteries, in parks or by the coast. Rich in symbolism, these structures are designed to represent ancient heroes, or to glorify the icons of Soviet ideology… one feature they all seem to share however, is their stark, brutalist style.
Nowadays, many of Bulgaria’s communist ghosts have finally been put to rest. Of all the remains of this dead regime however, few present quite such a striking image as the Mount Buzludzha monument...
Forget Your Past...
Sometime after 1991, the words ‘FORGET YOUR PAST’ were scrawled in red paint above the main entrance to the Buzludzha monument. This iconic graffiti appears in many photos of the site, the sentiment serving to summarize the feelings of many Bulgarian people. Nowadays most young Bulgarians would simply rather forget their nation’s communist past, drawing a line beneath the mistakes made by another generation.
Not every Bulgarian is so keen to see their history erased, however.
Even now, plans are being made to restore the House-Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party to its former glory. On one of my numerous visits to the site, I got talking to a couple of developers who were surveying the building.
“Of course [the post-communist state] let it fall apart,” one of them told me. “Its decay marks a victory over their predecessors.”
The striking red slogan was painted over in 2012, while deep inside the bowels of Buzludzha another graffiti tag has appeared by way of correction. “Don’t forget your past,” it recommends.
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