My Buzludzha story begins in my mother's womb. On August 2, 1981, she attended the unveiling of the BCP Monument House as a translator for the leader of the French Communist Party, Georges Marchais. He was the guest of honor at the three-day celebrations dedicated to the 90th anniversary of the Bulgarian Communist Party, which were postponed by more than a week due to the sudden death of Lyudmila Zhivkova. They coincided with the celebration of the 1300th anniversary of the Bulgarian state and the 70th anniversary of Todor Zhivkov, whose image is included in the mosaic panel of the monument as a kind of gift for his jubilee.
In 2008, after living in France for a few years, I started photographing communist-era monuments, and the title of the project, which grew into my first book Forget Your Past (Janet 45, 2012), came from the HROME graffiti painted in red above the entrance to the monument.
While working on the project, I met with the monument's architect Georgi Stoilov, a former partisan and mayor of Sofia, a member of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party, author of several other iconic buildings and a friend of Oscar Niemeyer. When I learned that he had not been to Buzludzha since the monument was unveiled, I immediately suggested that we go together. When we arrived, we found two people with a truck who were using a gas torch to cut a large chunk of metal out of the remains of the 12-meter sculptural composition which once adorned the main staircase of the monument. Instead of worrying about Stoilov's threat that we would call the police, they took pictures of our car plates so they could find us if we caused them any trouble.
Nikola Mihov, House-Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party, from the series Forget Your Past, 2008 - 2012.
The construction of the Monument House of the Bulgarian Communist Party, which is located at 1440 meters above sea level, took almost eight years. In order to make space for the foundations of the building, the peak was lowered by nine meters, and later a capsule with a message to future generations was built into its walls. In 1992, the monument was nationalized and left unsecured, and was subsequently looted, wrecked and left to crumble.
All sorts of proposals for its reconstruction got lost in the labyrinth of bureaucracy and often did not even receive an official response from the state. In 1993, when the monument was still in good condition, a Canadian entrepreneur proposed an investment plan to turn it into a modern conference complex. In 2008, a local businessman suggested a concession plan to convert it into a casino with a tourist center and ski resort. Two years later, officers from the George Marshall Association in Bulgaria proposed that it be turned into an airspace observation center. In September 2011, the parliament voted to transfer ownership of the monument to the Bulgarian Socialist Party. Despite initial enthusiasm, mostly from the Socialist Youth Organization, which proposed turning it into a multimedia museum with a "rotating café" telling the story of international socialism, the party eventually returned it to the state in 2013.
Nikola Mihov, Monument House of the Bulgarian Communist Party, from the series Forget Your Past, 2008 - 2012.
Over the following years, the graffiti “Forget Your Past” was replaced, first with the inscription “Never Forget Your Past,” written in a font similar to the original, and later by a sign saying: “Attention! Entry is strictly prohibited. Danger of death!" However, the building is visited by hundreds of tourists, adventurers, artists and photographers from around the world, who enter through a small hole away to the side of the main entrance. In 2018, authorities closed up all the openings and installed a round-the-clock police guard. Since then, the building can only be entered with a special permit signed by the regional governor of Stara Zagora.
Meanwhile, with the help of social media and reports from media organizations such as The Guardian, CNN and The Economist, Buzludzha has become the most famous abandoned building in the world. In addition to dozens of bookcovers, including the English edition of Kapka Kasbova's novel Border, the monument has appeared in Hollywood movies, video games, commercials and music videos.
In the Hollywood action movie Mechanic: Résurrection with Jason Statham and Jessica Alba, the monument is moved to the Black Sea coast and serves as the estate of an American arms dealer who must be killed by the protagonist. In the parodic comedy The King of Belgium, nominated for best film in Venice in 2016, an ensemble of Bulgarian folk singers perform a communist song for the King of Belgium at the foot of the abandoned monument. It also became the setting for parts of the popular Ukrainian post-apocalyptic video game S.T.A.L.K.E.R., which takes place in Chernobyl.
Among the dozens of videos shot in Buzludzha are the video for Rita Ora's hit "Bang," in which the British singer rides a horse from Pernik to the eponymous Stara Planina peak, as well as the video by the French electro band Ödland for their song "Après Avoir Décroché les étoiles." In it Buzludzha is a spaceship on which the three musicians take off from the planet Ödland to land on Earth.
A scene from the movie The King of Belgium
The photographic history of the monument began with the sod-cutting in 1974, when Artin Azinyan took his first photos as a member of the local photography club Iskra. In 1978, he was appointed full-time photographer of the monument and documented all stages of its epic construction. He was also entrusted with the official photographs of the monument, which were used for postcards and propaganda materials. In 1981, Artin was succeeded by his son Bedros Azinyan, who remained in office until the monument was closed. Ironically, the last important event he documented was the deletion of the image of Todor Zhivkov from the mosaic panel by order of the new party leadership. However, the image of Zhivkov is present in all the photos in my latest book Chupi rezhe poliva (Janet-45, 2021), and one of them is from the unveiling of the monument.
When I started working on the Forget Your Past project, the most popular photo of Buzludzha on the Internet was a shot by the Kazanlak photographer Alexander Ivanov. He was the one who showed the monument to Timothy Allen, a photographer and traveler known for his work on the BBC Human Planet series. Timothy traveled to Bulgaria in 2012, in the middle of winter, to photograph the monument from a hang glider. Bad weather and thick fog forced him to wait four days before taking off. Another emblematic photo of the snow-covered central hall of the monument is on the cover of the book Silencio by French photographer Thomas Jorion (La Martinière, 2013). The title "Blizka" comes from the Bulgarian word that Thomas stumbled upon while using Google Translate. He decided to use it because he often names his photographs using words from the language of the region he is photographing, and because of the similarity with the French word "blizzard."
Thomas Jorion, Blizka, Bulgaria, 2010
Buzludzha is also part of the typological series Restricted Areas by the famous Russian photographer Danila Tkachenko, which won him the European Publishers Award for Photography in 2015. In his series, the monument appears among various abandoned sites located in the former Soviet Union: an observatory, a diesel submarine, an antenna for interplanetary communication, and a biochemical weapons plant. The ghosts of the past also jump out of the book by British urbex photographer Rebecca Litchfield Soviet Ghosts (Carpet Bombing Culture, 2014). Buzludzha is on the cover, and the description of the book states that it is “a moving document of the everyday life of people in the Soviet Union." Thus, the desire to reveal the secrets buried under the ruins of the Iron Curtain sometimes turns into a repetition of all the familiar clichés about Eastern Europe.
We are left with the dilemma of what to do with the monument, which, like the rest of the architectural heritage of socialism, remains a hot potato that institutions and politicians toss around without knowing what to do with it. In the case of Buzludzha, a partial answer to that question came from the NGO sector with outside help. In 2020, the Buzludzha Project Foundation managed to implement a project to stabilize the inner mosaic circle, using funds from the American Getty Foundation. Meanwhile, as an exception that proves the rule, the municipality of Kazanlak has also made a commitment to the cause of preserving the monument. In July of this year, a specialized expert council at the Ministry of Culture voted to declare the monument an immovable cultural monument of national importance. As is often the case, this decision may still be a penultimate one, because the decision has not yet been signed by the Minister of Culture.