If you want to spark a controversial conversation in Bulgaria, the only thing you need to do is mention the Buzludzha Monument. This crumbling Communist relic has become an international star featured on CNN and in The Guardian, nicknamed the Bulgarian UFO due to its peculiar shape and its location, on top of a mountain, as if ready to fly off.
For many years, it has been left to the wind, rain, and small-scale burglars who have managed to take all the steel and the precious materials and sell it for scrap. Meanwhile, it has gained worldwide popularity with urban explorers and enthusiasts from all over the world, along with thousands of Bulgarians, visiting the one-of-a-kind, yet dangerous construction. The recent proceedings in the issue don’t seem to take it to a close end either.
For many Bulgarians, the monstrous building with hollow window-eyes is a symbol of the country’s Communist past, which almost 30 years after its end continues to divide Bulgarian society. Many reminisce about its positive aspects (cheap food and a guaranteed job for everyone in contrast to today’s unemployment and harsh economic situation), while others remember the lack of freedom, the controlled media coverage, and the notorious empty shelves in the stores caused by the unstable Soviet market.
The massive structure was conceived as a house-monument to celebrate the Bulgarian Communist Party and as such needed to be awe-inspiring and demonstrating the genius of Communist Bulgaria. The construction took seven years (1974-1981) and 6,000 people (artists, architects, construction workers, and volunteers) to complete. One of the most impressive features were the huge mosaics telling the story of the Communist Party, with three of the main figures (including the then-dictator Todor Zhivkov) depicted in great detail. Even though time has taken its toll, according to the estimations of the architect Dora Ivanova, around 80% of them are still in reasonably good condition.
Ivanova has created an elaborate proposal for preserving the monument and turning it into a cultural and historical hub, telling the stories of this area not only from the Communist era but from earlier epochs as well.
There are numerous ideas about what Buzludzha Monument’s future should be, and Ivanova’s is only one of them. The main obstacle for all of them was that it was owned by the State, given to the Stara Zagora Region to manage, but also made available for the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP, the successor of the Bulgarian Communist Party) to take it for free if it invests in its restoration. According to the party’s calculations, more than €7.5 million would be necessary to return the Buzludzha to its former glory, money the party doesn’t have. In June 2017, it was revealed that BSP would take the monument for ten years without any obligation to invest in it. They have expressed their wish to stop the decaying of the building, but no further details have been given.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people enter the monument illegally every year, risking their lives while roaming around the rusty ladders and crumbling cement stairs.