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Sofia's Monument of the Soviet Army transformed with Western symbolism, anonymous graffiti artist.

This is probably the most clever (and certainly the boldest) street artwork that Bulgaria has seen for years! On Saturday, June 18th, an anonymous graffiti artist transformed Sofia’s Monument of the Soviet Army by painting the Red Army soldiers over as Western pop culture symbols.

Sofia woke up to the sight of That Yellow Bastard, the Joker, Wolverine, Santa Claus, Superman, Ronald McDonald, Captain America, Robin, and Wonder Woman. The former-Soviet-soldiers-gone-superhero had replaced the USSR flag with the American. The message under the statues reads “keep abreast of the time”. The “Bulgarian Banksy”, as the Herald Sun nicknamed the artist, remains a mystery.

And the Monument of the Soviet Army before the graffiti, surrounded by a skate park.

The Monument of the Soviet Army is one of the landmarks of Sofia, but it is also very controversial.  It was erected in 1953-6 in order to commemorate the Soviet soldiers who rescued Europe from the Nazi. Still, many young Bulgarians perceive it as a celebration of those who forced communism onto Bulgaria in 1944 and consider it out of place. Ever since the fall of communism in 1989, the monument has been a bone of contention among “anti-communists” and “anti-capitalists”.

Today, the park around the monument is a skaters and bikers park. At night, it is full of young alternative people having fun. To me, this speaks that as long as the park is beautiful and well-kept it doesn’t really matter if the monument is outdated or not. However, I also think that it would be good to replace this monument with something that better relates to the young people of the EU.

But then again, the graffiti artist brings up a good point by replacing the symbol of the “communist occupants” with the symbol of the “capitalist occupants”.  Fifty years ago, we glorified the world power of that time, the Soviet Union. Today, as indicated by the movies we watch, the fashion we wear, and the food we eat, we are simply glorifying the current world power, the USA. Probably it is time to create something of our own and be proud of it: be it high art or graffiti.

***Several Facebook groups were created for and against the work of art/vandalism.  It was announced that city officials will clean up the monument on Tuesday at 8am, so several Facebook activists urged people to go see the graffiti in the morning and thus show their support for the anonymous artist. However, the superhero and pop culture characters artwork was cleaned between midnight and 6am last night! The citizens who visited the monument around 8am went home highly disappointed. 

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This is a great interview with Gencho Genchev  about a very interesting trend in Bulgarian advertising. If brief, it notes that since 2005, many of our TV commercials have revolved around the theme of the “good old” socialism.

The idea is that everything used to be better in our socialist past: fresh produce and meat tasted real and without genetic modifications; human interaction was genuine, not online; life was simple and beautiful.

Many Bulgarians over the age of 30 associate socialism with the idea of high quality and high productivity. Not surprisingly, many of the brands that became popular during those times remain some of the market leaders today (these are mostly foods: Regular Biscuits, rose lokum, liutenitza Purvomai). Even when multinational companies bought some of these brands and pretty much changed the ingredients and the production process, the brands still remained and so did their customer loyalty.

I think that not all Westerners will understand our urge to idealize socialism in advertising. Although it’s widely accepted that most people look at their past with tenderness and nostalgia, the Western world often doesn’t realize that those who lived during socialism make no exception.

What makes the commercialization of our past such a successful marketing tool in Bulgaria? Could it be simply nostalgia for the olden days? Could it be some sort of a reaction against the modern consumerism and its overwhelming array of branded choices?

The shopkeeper: “Ooo Pepi, you look beautiful today! The new hotdogs Leki: the same taste as in those days!”

In her memories, the shopkeeper years ago: “Ooo Pepi! They just brought in the hotdogs!”

“Give me a kilo!”

Tagline: Delicious memories. Hotdog Leki.

***

Read my previous post: Why do Americans Have So Many Types of Breakfast Cereal?


I had a very unpleasant experience with what was supposed to be a very merry celebration. My family and I went to the baptism of our cousins’ baby twins. Everything was a complete fiasco.

In the Rozhen monastery

Мy four-member family, the mother with the twins, their uncle, and their grandparents, traveled by cars for at least half an hour up a steep and curvy mountain road in 40˚C heat, during which both babies puked. Eventually, we reached a very beautiful monastery with a very pedantic priest. First he scolded my parents, the godfather and godmother for not having had a religious wedding (religious marriages were forbidden during socialism, most Bulgarians in their age group weren’t married in a church).  Then he scolded the mother for not being able to remember whether she was ever baptized or not (again, she was a child during socialism). As a whole, instead of inspiring us to be better Christians, this priest was reprimanding us.

As soon as the ceremony began, the babies started crying as if someone was beating them. They were choking on their tears, they peed themselves out of fear, they kicked and fought back. Everyone laughed at first, but after thirty minutes passed, we all wanted this to end. The mother got furious (or desperate) and rushed out of the church. The evil priest remained unshaken. He didn’t bother to shorten the ceremony, which lasted more than an hour. He had to completely undress the babies, dip them three times in the baptismal font, make them kiss the bible, draw crosses with ointment on each of their limbs, cut a few hairs in the shape of a cross from their heads, and on, and on. Everyone was nervous and distressed.

I usually treat religion with reservation, but this particular occasion deserves a little bit more.

The mother says that she is openly atheist. She didn’t know what the ceremony really was, so she was shocked when the babies started crying like that, when they had to be undressed, and when the priest started washing them with holy water with his hands.  She said the ceremony was torture for her kids who had never cried like that before. She said that she will “try” eastern religions instead.

Why then did she want to baptize the kids at all? Just in case? Or just because she thought it would be very romantic in that marvelous mountain monastery? Why do something that you don’t really believe in? And why bind your children to something that you don’t believe in? At least she could have waited until they are old enough to make their own choice.

In general, few Bulgarians are true believers. Our skepticism for religion is a leftover from the socialist regime (1944-89), which forbade religion, the “opium of the people.”  Today, Bulgarians go to church, but only on major holidays. We observe the Christian Orthodox traditions, but we accept them as family holidays rather than anything spiritual. Or am I wrong?


Recently, two American bloggers noticed the uniqueness of the Bulgarian refrigerator. It’s about time I address this cultural peculiarity.

Bulgarians never buy fridges. A fridge is given to them as a wedding present from the bride’s father or the groom’s uncle. Since then, the young family sticks with the same fridge forever.

They take it to the new home and to every consecutive apartment they have. They fix it when it breaks down. There is no such thing as a fridge beyond repair.

In the rare cases when a new fridge appears (because it came for free with the kitchen in a new apartment or because they won it in the lottery), the old one gets passed onto a relative or taken to summer house.

Why?

Well, what’s in a fridge? As long as it can keep a constant low temperature, has a lamp that turns on when you open the door, and does not leak, then it’s fine! True, our fridges don’t have fancy ice machines (we have ice cubes in a freezer) and water purifiers (we have sinks and brita pitchers, or bottled water); but I guess we just don’t care about fancy fridges. We’d rather think about fancy cars!

Our 30-year old fridge with magnets from different trips. It's still as good as a Swiss watch!

In case you ask, we have plenty of yoghurt, cheese, wine, olives, pesto sauce, wine, a watermelon, tomatoes, liutenitza...

This beast you see here is our fridge. My father both it in 1982 from Corecom for $320. During the Communist regime, Corecom was a store in Sofia that used only foreign currency and not the national lev. Therefore, the Western goods in it were pretty much unaffordable for most Bulgarians. Only foreign diplomats, the nomenklatura, and a small group of people such as scientists and flight attendants who were authorized to travel abroad could purchase goods there. This meant that people who were not authorized to have US dollars but were seen shopping at Corecom became subject of investigation.

Corecom offered special goods that were not available anywhere else: imported alcohol, foods, and tobacco, electronics, cosmetics, clothing, toys, books, magazines, etc.. “Corecom eggs”, for example, was the way Bulgarians called Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs, which at the time were only available at the exclusive store.

In conclusion, when visiting a Bulgarian club, try the pick-up like “So, what’s the story of your fridge?” I’d be curious to find out if anyone has any success.


Take a look at this very informative material on the transition from communism to democracy in Bulgaria in 1989, by Ralitsa Vassileva, a Bulgarian journalist working for CNN.

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