In a small park in the Bulgarian capital city of Sofia lies a imposing collection of old Soviet era monuments and bas-reliefs. They were built in 1954 by the Bulgarian government in honour of the countless Soviet soldiers who had died fighting the Nazis in World War II. In recent years however the monuments have been attracting media attention as a site of vandalism and political protest.
Local artists and activists, dubbed the “Bulgarian Banksys”, have taken to painting the monuments, attempting numerous times to add a humourous or political twist to the bronze figures by restyling or “redressing” characters with paint. The “acts of vandalism” have been well received by many locals and each time many flock to the area to see the latest “work” but the incidents have also provoked a war of words between the Russian and Bulgarian governments.
Located in Knyazheska gardens on Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard, near Sofia University the central monument in the park portrays a bronze Soviet soldier as liberator, surrounded by a grateful Bulgarian family. This central monument rarely falls victim to the artists. However there are a number of other sculptures or bas-reliefs in the gardens depicting Soviet soldiers in the midst of battle. It is these that regularly fall victim to the brush happy activists.
Superman Meets Captain America: DC and Marvel Collide
The first attempt to paint the bas-reliefs was on June 17, 2011 when the monument was set upon by a group of artists who called themselves Destructive Creation. They “redressed” the Soviet Army soldiers as famous figures from American popular culture. These included Superman, the Joker, Robin, Captain America, Ronald McDonald, Santa Claus, Wolverine, The Mask, and Wonder Woman. A caption was painted below which read V krak s vremeto (In pace with time).
A Reference to Soviet Tank Installation by David Černý
In 2013 artists painted the same monument pink to honour the anniversary of the Prague spring with an inscription that translated as “Bulgaria apologises”. Following this event the Russians demanded that the Bulgarian government take immediate action to ensure this didn’t happen again.
A Personal Slight to Putin and a Denouncement of Russian Actions in the Ukraine
On 23 February 2014, the monument was once more painted. On this occasion one of the soldiers was painted in the colours of Ukraine. The phrase “Glory to Ukraine” was written in Ukrainian on the monument along with a number of insults to Vladimir Putin, including the somewhat witty Kaputin from the German Kaput (broken).
Every time the statues are painted the local authorities promptly clean them but not before trigger happy locals are able to snap pictures of the bronze sculptures and beam them around the world. The long rumbling debate about the monument is often reignited after one of these events and competing view points scramble to be heard. Some are not happy about the presence of such a dominant monument to a foreign army while other pro-Russia types wish to preserve the nostalgia of the past. In the mean time, watch this space for more updates!