Past for the Eyes: East European Representations of Communism in Cinema and Museums after 1989

By Oksana Sarkisova; Péter Apor | Go to book overview

The “Unmemorable”
and the “Unforgettable”

“Museumizing” the Socialist Past in Post-1989 Bulgaria

NIKOLAI VUKOV

About 60 km from Bulgaria's capital, Sofia, lies a small town which currently represents the primary case of what can be described as a “museum of Socialism in the country.” The town has nothing that can be compared to Budapest's Statue Park, nor is it a place where the heritage of the socialist period is put on display, decontextualized and recontextualized in a post-socialist mode. It would be wrong to suggest that the town was once the location of a labor camp or a prison for the socialist regime's opponents. The town is not, or at least not directly, related to people and families who were persecuted by the regime; it is not a place where political opponents were executed after the socialists came to power, nor is it a place where demonstrations were held by dissidents. However, both before and after the fall of the socialist system, the town has been known to every Bulgarian and its name has become an emblem that one can hardly dissociate from those times. The special feature of this town, which until 1980s was only a village, is that it was the birthplace of the man who from the mid-1950s until the end of the regime in 1989 was the General Secretary of the Communist Party and the Head of State of the People's Republic of Bulgaria: Todor Zhivkov.1 An important detail, one would say, especially bearing in mind the old joke from the last years of Communism, that while Marx had the idea of Communism being victorious in a welldeveloped capitalist country, Lenin attempted to realize it in an underdeveloped one, Honecker in a divided country, Ceauşescu in one family, and Zhivkov in his own birthplace: Pravets. Joking apart, if there was one place in Bulgaria where most of the socialist dreams were largely realized, it was in Pravets. There is no need to list the many benefits that the social-

1 With Decree no. 2190 of the State Council of the People's Republic of Bulgaria of 16
October 1981, Pravets was declared a town and in the same year a History Museum was
created in it.

-307-

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