This week we are witnessing the historical event that is the removal of one of Sofia’s most controversial monuments – The Monument of the Soviet Army, after years of debate. That’s why in this article, we are going to take a look back at Sofia’s lost communist heritage. From the end of World War II until the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, Bulgaria was under communist rule, deeply entwined with the Soviet Union’s political ideology. Sofia, as the country’s political center, became a canvas for grand architectural projects and ideological symbols reflecting the ethos of the time.
Following the collapse of the regime, a lot was removed from Sofia’s administrative and historical center, symbolizing the beginning of a new era. While some landmarks were removed in the early 90s, right after the political changes, we’ve seen this trend continue through the 2010s and even in late 2023. Here’s our list of famous symbols of Bulgaria’s communist regime that are no longer.
The red star that once adorned the top of the Communist Party Headquarters in Sofia, Bulgaria, was a powerful symbol during the era of communist rule. This colossal emblem served as a visual manifestation of the party’s power and control over the country. It was not unique to Bulgaria; such stars were commonly used on governmental and party buildings across the Soviet bloc as a symbol of communism. Removing it from the building that ruled the country was a hugely symbolic act.
The Red Star was removed on October 4th 1990.
If you’ve ever been to Sofia you’ve probably seen the Statue of Sofia. What you might not know, however, is that at its exact location, until 1991 there was another statue – a statue of Lenin – one of the most controversial figures of Europe’s recent past. The Statue of Lenin in central Sofia was facing right at the Headquarters of the Bulgarian Communist Party, giving the square around it its name – “Lenin Square” (nowadays “Independence Square”). The statue is now in the Museum of Socialist Art.
One of the most famous buildings not just in Sofia but in the whole of Bulgaria was the Mausoleum of Bulgaria’s first communist leader – Georgi Dimitrov. It was built in 1949 to house his embalmed body. Inspiration was drawn from the mausoleum of Lenin in Moscow. Up until 1989, it was in front of the Mausoleum where most important parades and official state holidays celebrations were held. Following the collapse of the communist regime, the building was abandoned and eventually demolished (after a few unsuccessful attempts) in August 1999. The mausoleum’s destruction was met with varied reactions, reflecting the diverse opinions and emotions within Bulgarian society regarding its communist legacy.
Today, the spot where the building used to be remains empty with hopes that one day its accompanying underground infrastructure would be open to the public so that locals and visitors alike would be able to discover its secrets and learn about what the “personality cult” ideology was like in Bulgaria.
One of the most iconic remnants of this era is the imposing National Palace of Culture (NDK) in central Sofia. This mammoth structure, constructed in the 1980s to celebrate Bulgaria’s 1,300th anniversary, stands as a testament to the architectural prowess and grandeur of the communist regime.
However, what was always more noticeable than the building itself was the monument in front of it. Titled “1300 Years Bulgaria”, its colossal size and distinctive aesthetics dominated the city skyline. The monument was a bit of a paradox. From once being voted “ugliest monument in the world” to becoming one of the most photographed places in downtown Sofia. Few have seen it in its full glory, as shortly after it was completed in 1981 the monument started falling apart. In 2017, a decision was made to remove what was left of it.
It was even part of our Sofia Communist Tour.
And of course, the hot topic of the day – Sofia’s tallest and most controversial monument – The Monument Of The Soviet Army. For many decades the monument was left without proper maintenance. Yet, it was very much alive as it constantly sparked arguments, art installations, various creative outbursts, and urban culture initiatives. Some even made international headlines and are remembered to this day.
As we are writing this article, the monument is still there. However, the removal has already started and it’s already missing one of its iconic features – the hand holding the riffle at the very center of the monument. You can learn more about the removal of the monument and the controversy surrounding it here.
Efforts to document this period of Sofia’s history are gaining momentum. Despite that, 34 years after the collapse of the communist regime, the country still lacks a museum dedicated to its communist history, nor is it present in the National History Museum which covers Bulgaria’s entire history. Same applies to all state museums. It is only through small initiatives like our Sofia Communist Tour and The Red Flat that one could get a glimpse of Bulgaria’s most recent historical period.
Sofia’s lost communist heritage serves as a poignant reminder of a bygone era, shaping the city’s identity and fostering reflection on Bulgaria’s complex history. As Sofia continues to evolve, finding the equilibrium between learning from the past and embracing the future remains a challenge.
You might also want to check out:
Bulgaria’s 8 Most Legendary Communist Monuments