Summer Expedition to Communist Monuments of Bulgaria


Program Description

The end of Second World War (1939-1945) marks a turning point in the history of East Europe. The Iron curtain and the Cold War divides Europe in two parts. The new socialist, pro-Soviet regimes to the East put the region in isolation from political and economic consensus of Western Europe – the so called Eastern Bloc is created. The ideology of communism is imposed in all spheres of public life and it lasts almost half a century. As in all any other eras, culture and art are a mirror of social processes and for 45 years in East Europe they remain highly subordinate to the communist ideology and controlled by the ruling Communist parties. Today the most visible and intriguing evidences of this period are the giant monuments and monumental complexes built to last along with the Communist states. After the collapse of the socialist regimes in East Europe many of these monuments lost their meaning but still deserve attention for their monumental aesthetics and artistic value. Being abandoned and left with no or poor maintenance they slightly crumble down and disappear from the public memory while the ongoing debate about their destiny in East European countries has not finished yet. During the Cold War Bulgarian art culture exists on the curious border of overlapping multiple centres. Between East and West, local and global, Bulgarian art and architecture create their most successful projects in the period as domestic interpretations of the global trends at the time. As a result one can witness peculiar reflections of Socialist Realism followed by the late Modernism. The monumental memorials are no exception to these tendencies. They are to commemorate iconic figures and important dates and events in the national and Communist party's history. The mass construction of large-scale monuments in the country starts right after the Communist coup d'etat in September, 1944 and follow the historic anniversaries in the next decades. The peak is the nationwide celebration of the 1300 anniversary of the founding of the Bulgarian state in 1981, seen by some historians as an effort to intertwine the history of the Communist party with that of the Bulgarian nation. Probably most iconic symbol of this celebration is the Memorial House of the Bulgarian Communist Party on the peak of Buzludzha. The sudden change in the political system from socialism to democracy after the 1989 places these material traces of the past period in an ideological vacuum - they are deprived of their ideological charge and of the official public admiration. Nowadays they have become interesting and valuable double documents of two successive epochs in the history of Europe and Bulgaria in particular. That is why there is a growing interest towards these sites from a wide range of specialists: sociologists, culturologists, art historians, architects, etc. as well as artists and travelers from around the world. The topic is getting more and more attractive and popular for student researches, graduate theses and doctoral dissertations in foremost colleges and universities. Project type: Field school & series of field trips for acquaintance with cultural heritage of the Socialist (Communist) period in Bulgaria with focus on monumental art and architecture. Suitable for adults (18 +) interested in arts, history, art history, architecture, cultural anthropology of East Bloc between 1945 and 1990 as well as photography (documentary, artistic and architectural). Participants' profiles can vary from students and professionals to connoisseurs. Site/s: eight to ten monuments and monumental complexes located in Bulgaria, from the capital Sofia in the West to the Black Sea Coast to the East. The travel arrangements to these sites will be organized by the Balkan Heritage Field School. Period in the Project's Focus: The socialist period in Bulgaria (1945-1989) Project venues: Sofia, Buzludzha, Stara Zagora, Shumen, Varna BHF partners in this project: New Bulgarian University Major field school topics/activities: A comprehensive introduction to the Communist-era history, art and architecture in Bulgaria and the role of photography and propaganda. Field trips to and photo-sessions at significant and impressive Bulgarian sites from the period located in spectacular urban and natural environment, behind-the-scene visits and meeting with artists and historians all the way from the capital Sofia to the Black Sea Coast. Directors: Emilia Kaleva, architect; Nikola Mihov, photographer Dates: 17 June to 1 July, 2017 Application Deadline: Until the places are filled or 10 May, 2017 Minimum length of stay: Two weeks Minimum age: 18 Number of field school places available: 12 Project language: English Experience required: None. Special requirements: The project is not recommended for individuals with special illnesses that might be exacerbated during the outdoor activities. Participants should bring clothes and cosmetics suitable for warm and sunny weather but should also prepare for rainy, windy and chilly days. They are also expected to prepare for the field school by reading as many recommended readings as possible before the beginning of the project. Bringing a personal laptop (with mouse and an USB flash drive) and a personal camera is recommended but not mandatory (DSLR, compact, a smart phone with recent generation photo camera). All participants will be asked to release the copyright on all graphic materials they create/ work on during the expedition (maps, drawings, photographic images etc.) to the Balkan Heritage Foundation for non-commercial use. Note, citizens of EU, EEA, USA, Canada, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand don't need entry visa for Bulgaria! Citizens of countries not mentioned above should check in advance, whether they will need entry visa for the country!

The Field School

This field school provides a unique glimpse into the history and art of the Communist Bulgaria. It aims to open the door towards the heritage from the socialist period in Bulgaria and the Balkans before international audience and contribute to the balanced evaluation in the ongoing public debate around its preservation or demolishing all over Eastern Europe. It is not to support any political ideology but to support the objective valorization of Communist-era monuments regarding both the historical context and contemporary values. The provocative project title: Archaeology of Communism considers the current condition of the monuments in focus - deteriorating and disappearing many of them look rather like archaeological than like historical sites. The field school will take place for the first time in 2017. It is envisioned as the initial phase of a long-term project around the former socialist countries in the Balkans. It will be led by: 1. Emilia Kaleva, architect. She deals with cultural heritage preservation and re-integration of communist-era architectural sites. In 2006 she completed a research projects on the architecture and art of the largest Bulgarian Communist-era monument on the peak of Buzludzha; and 2. Nikola Mihov, freelance, award-winning photographer whose work combines artistic approach with archive research. His first photo-book "Forget Your Past - monumental monuments of Communism" (2012) became a reference on the field school topic. The book was selected among the best photobooks of the year by The British Journal of Photography and nominated for the Deutsche Börse Photography prize (2014) – one of the most prestigious prizes in the world of photography. He is is co-founder of the virtual museum of the socialist era graphic design in Bulgaria. Both of them play significant role in growth of public interest towards the Communist-era heritage and the related debate about its evaluation and preservation among academic and artistic circles. The Archaeology of Communism - Expedition to Communist Monuments of Bulgaria Field School Project includes the following modules: 1.Lectures and talks (introductory and specialized) on cultural and historical context of socialism in Southeast Europe; art, propaganda,architecture and monuments of socialist Bulgaria, etc. 2. Screenings of thematically related documentaries that will be combined, when possible, with meetings with their authors. Lectures and screenings in Sofia will be held at iconic venues of Sofia cultural scene. 3. Study visits to sites/ monuments (in Sofia and the country) combined with specialized lectures on the spot about their history, context and artistic value. 4. Photo-documentation sessions under professional supervision of Nikola Mihov for student interested in documentary photography. It is an opportunity for all to learn and apply methods of documentary, artistic and architectural photography when "meetings" the monuments. All participants will receive:

  • The photo album FORGET YOUR PAST by N. Mihov;
  • Balkan Heritage Field School Certificate specifying the fieldwork hours, educational modules, and sites visited;
  • T-shirt.

The Program

Topics of presentations and study-visits during the field school:

  • Introduction to the Historical and Political Context of Communist-era Bulgaria;
  • Introduction to the Cultural and Artistic context of Communist-era Bulgaria;
  • The Communist-era Monuments as Part of the Visual Propaganda of the Time;
  • Introduction to Bulgarian Communist-era Architecture;
  • Themes and Approaches in Monumental Architectural Complexes in Bulgaria between 1945 and 1989
  • Тhematic Lectures on the Spot. History and Specifics of:
  • The Monument of the Soviet Army, Sofia, 1954
  • The National Palace of Culture Complex and Monument “1300 Years Bulgaria”, Sofia, 1981
  • The Monument “Banner of Peace”, Sofia, 1979
  • The Monument on the Peak of Buzludzha, 1981
  • The Monument “Defenders of Stara Zagora”, Stara Zagora, 1977
  • The Monument “1300 Years Bulgarian State”, Shumen, 1981
  • The Park-monument of the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship, Varna, 1978
Last updated December 2017

About the School

The Balkan Heritage Field School (BHFS, started in 2003) is a program of the Balkan Heritage Foundation (Bulgarian public, non-profit, non-governmental organization) for practical education in the fie ... Read More

The Balkan Heritage Field School (BHFS, started in 2003) is a program of the Balkan Heritage Foundation (Bulgarian public, non-profit, non-governmental organization) for practical education in the field of archeology, history and art history of South-Eastern Europe, as well as documentation, conservation and restoration of historic artifacts and monuments, taught in English, currently in three Balkan countries Read less