Bulgaria: rescue operation for a communist architectural UFO

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 has developed a passion for this building in Bouzloudja.

Built 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 next to two 70-meter high pillars. At its peak, the now decrepit Red Star 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 are still the hammer and sickle, 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. Awkward graffiti by the sacked ex-Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov in 1989 replaced the mosaic with his portrait.

“The aim is not to restore the monument to its former glory,” said Professor Thomas Danzl of the Technical University of Munich.

The team cannot afford it anyway. 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, an expert on 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 are treating 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”

Resistant to 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.

“The functionality of the monument must be decided by society. 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 help people in the poorest country in the European Union first,” said the 52-year-old schoolteacher.

But for Thomas Danzl, “to preserve mosaics is to preserve a kind of memory”. “You have to know the past to have 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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