From ideological propaganda to pop culture
Once a place of ideological propaganda glorifying the Soviet army, the monument became an important stimulus also for graffiti artists for reinterpretation after the fall of the communist regime in Bulgaria. Today, it is Sofia’s favourite meeting place for skateboarders and bicycle acrobats.
Glorification of the Soviet army - propaganda vs. reality
During the Stalinist period (1946-1953), monuments glorifying the Soviet army were built in almost all towns and cities in Bulgaria. They were supposed to be a symbol of Bulgarian-Soviet friendship. This new type of monument was a major means of propaganda. History was manipulated: the Soviet army that had actually occupied Bulgaria was celebrated as a liberator.
The Monument of the Soviet Army in Sofia was built in 1954, on occasion of the 10th anniversary of Bulgaria’s “liberation” by the Soviet Army - a propagandist act. Aimed at attracting supporters of the regime, the monument was used for ceremonies and rituals.
The large-scale monument in Sofia is a perfect example of “socialist realism”. It was supposed to express in artistic forms and clearly understandable realistic images, the strength and power of the Soviet army, ‘liberator’ of Bulgaria, as well as the gratitude of the Bulgarian people to the Soviet army.
“Liberation of the grateful Bulgarian people”
The entrance to the monument is framed by two sculptures, entitled “Meeting the Soviet army in Bulgaria”. They symbolise the joy of the Bulgarian people meeting their “liberators”. Soviet soldiers are welcomed by Bulgarian partisans, young women and children.
A group of three figures crowns the main pedestal, including a Soviet fighter, a mine worker and the mother of an infant child. The sculpture symbolises the three elements that draw the future: victory, labour and freedom. An inscription on the pedestal reads: “The Soviet Army – Liberation of the grateful Bulgarian people.”
Three bas-reliefs on three different sides of the main pedestal respectively depict the warrior spirit, the political enthusiasm and the working class heroism of the Soviet people.
Graffiti and pop culture
Since the democratic changes in 1989, the monument had negative associations. However, its ideological and symbolic content was an important stimulus for reinterpretation and the search for the historical truth in the transition period. Graffiti artists regularly presented their anti-communist messages demanding a change of values. Most recently, one of the bas-reliefs of the main pedestal was repainted, turning the metal soldiers into well-known pop culture icons. An inscription below the composition proclaimed it to be “in step with the times”. Today, the monument is a popular meeting place for young people: Sofia’s favourite place for skateboarders and bicycle acrobats.