Dangerous monument in Sofia to stay after angry artists letter

The monument commemorating 1300 years since the foundation of the Bulgarian state, in the public garden in front of the National Palace of Culture (NDK), is set to remain standing for a while longer after plans to dismantle it drew an angry reaction from the Union of Bulgarian Artists.

On August 12, the association published an open letter to Bulgarian media, saying that it “would not allow” the dismantling to go ahead and that the city hall’s decision to take down the monument was “a gross breach of the basic principles of any democratic society, where important decisions should be taken by authorised bodies” such as the Culture Ministry and the professional associations of painters and architects.

At the same time, the letter opposed the city hall’s proposal to decide the monument’s future by holding a plebiscite among the city’s residents because “the decision to raise monuments is taken by the relevant people, in line with moral and ethical principles, whose exponents are erudite people of high education in visual arts”.

On August 13, the artists’ union chairperson Lyuben Genov told daily Sega that the monument would not be taken down, only the dangerous parts that were a danger to passers-by.

The monument is one of many built during the communist era as part of the celebrations of 13 centuries of Bulgarian statehood (the celebrations peak was in 1981). Over the past two decades, however, falling concrete slabs have become a health hazard in one of Sofia’s busiest public gardens.

For years, the monument has been surrounded by an enclosure and warnings to passers-by, not enough to deter foolhardy climbers from occasionally scaling the construction – the most recent such instance was by a group of teenagers earlier this summer.

The area has also drawn some of Sofia’s graffiti artists, with multiple layers of artwork and simple scrawls covering the outside of the enclosure.

Among other residents of Sofia, the monument is known with numerous unflattering (and unprintable) nicknames. Even communist dictator Todor Zhivkov is said to have hated the monument and would go out of his way not to pass by.

Earlier this month, Sofia’s chief architect Petar Dikov told daily 24 Chassa that the city hall finally found the funds to dismantle the monument, hiring a contractor to do so at a price of 70 000 leva (about 35 000 euro).

As part of the dismantling, more than 1000 tons of steel beams, which form the skeleton of the monument, were to be turned in as scrap metal, with the proceeds going to the Sofia city budget, Dikov said.

The Union of Bulgarian Artists is one of several associations formed during communism, when membership in such organisations was mandatory in order to be considered an artist. It also has a reputation as one of the least reformed – a reputation it reinforced last year when it conferred membership to Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, much in the same way top members of the communist party were members of such unions despite showing no aptitude for the arts.

(A bird’s eye view of the NDK area; the monument can be seen at the lower edge of the image, in the central part, surrounded by metal safety scaffolding. Photo: valix/flickr.com)



Alex Bivol

Alex Bivol is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe.