Bulgaria: rescue operation for a communist architectural UFO

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Like a flying saucer atop a mountain, in the heart of Bulgaria, an abandoned communist monument is experiencing a new lease of life with the mobilization of experts, hard at work to save its ruined mosaics.

“It’s a race against time. We must act quickly because there will be no more mosaics if we wait for a decision ”from the authorities on its future, says the Bulgarian architect Dora Ivanova, who fell in love with this building in Bouzloudja.

Erected in 1981 at an altitude of 1,400 meters on the Balkan range, this circular concrete and steel enclosure, in a brutalist style, an architectural style that enjoyed great popularity from the 1950s, stands alongside two 70-meter high pillars. At its peak, the red star, now decrepit, was once visible on clear days as far as Romania and Greece.

Stripped over time of its bronze and copper ornaments, its roof pierced with gaping holes, the monument, described as an “architectural feat”, houses monumental mosaic panels to the glory of Communism: scenes of “anti-fascist” battles, the Red Army or even women in socialist society.

On the ceiling, the sickle and the hammer are still enthroned, symbols of the unity between workers and peasants, while the famous Marxist slogan is displayed on the facade: “Workers of all countries, unite! “.

Keep the graffiti too

Originally, the mosaics extended over nearly 1,000 square meters, mixing Byzantine techniques and new materials and processes. A third has disappeared, victim of bad weather or criminals. A clumsy graffiti of ex-Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov sacked in 1989 replaced the mosaic with his portrait.

“The objective is not to restore the monument to its former splendor,” assures Professor Thomas Danzl of the Technical University of Munich.

The team, anyway, cannot afford it. The operation was financed by a donation of 185,000 dollars (158,000 euros) from the American Getty Foundation, which will be just enough to preserve some of the mosaics.

“We will keep (the monument) as we find it at this time. We also keep the graffiti as a sign of the times, of the last 30 years, ”explains Mr. Danzl, a specialist in the legacy of the former GDR.

Eighteen German, Greek, Bulgarian and Swiss experts and students devoted themselves to the meticulous conservation work of the mosaics, carried out in particular using syringes.

“We treat critical areas using a minimum of invasive material” to maintain the mosaics until the authorities decide, explains the technical head of the operation, Nikifor Haralampiev, of the Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia.

“Preserving memory”

Resisting the still lively debate on communist monuments, assimilated in Bulgaria to a hated regime, the government is slow to grant the building of Bouzloudja a status which would allow it to raise the funds necessary for its restoration.

“It is the society that must decide on the functionality of the monument. There have always been voices for and against, a debate is therefore necessary, ”confines herself to saying evasively, the president of the Regional Council Gergana Mihova under the austere gaze of Marx, Engels and Lenin in mosaics.

In Kazanlak, a city located at the foot of Mount Bouzloudja, Stoïanka Dimova is reserved in the face of efforts to save the monument. “These donations from abroad should first help people in the poorest country in the European Union,” said the 52-year-old teacher.

But for Thomas Danzl, “preserving mosaics is preserving a kind of memory”. “You have to know the past to ensure a better future”, he insists.

The building, at the time an instrument of propaganda, then popular with lovers of unusual places, could become a place for educational and tourist purposes where the history of Bulgaria through the centuries would be traced, imagines Dora Ivanova.

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