Bulgaria’s socialist museum coming – but not today

Rumors were swirling leading up to today’s 67th anniversary of the start of communist rule in Bulgaria. Would this be the day the government opened the country’s first museum of totalitarian art?

Some media reports said they would, and suggested the timing would be unseemly – an insult to those who feel strongly about the anniversary, as many do. Others said it wouldn’t open until Sept. 16. No one seemed to know.

I decided to find out. It was easy enough to locate, just east of Blvd. Dragan Stanchev on Lachezar Stanchev Street near the Dimitrov metro stop.

When I arrived there was a big crowd at the museum — all working feverishly to get the place ready. Construction crews were busy laying a new tarmac driveway, watering the grass, and ordering each other around. A guard had his own theory on when the place would open.

“19 Septemvri,” he said, wagging a stern finger when I asked whether it might be all right to take a look around today.

Actually, there’s plenty to see from the surrounding neighborhood. Statues of Lenin, Stalin, and other luminaries from Bulgaria’s socialist past are crowded together in a sculpture garden amid office buildings. The red star that once marked Communist Party headquarters in downtown Sofia, toppled in the democratic revolutions of 1990, has been restored to a place of honor.

Though honor, it must be said, lies in the eye of the beholder in a country that has struggled to gain a solid foothold in the capitalist world. Observers have made much of the fact that someone in the government decided to change a key word in the museum’s name – from “totalitarian” to “socialist” — at the last minute. On today’s anniversary of the violent communist takeover that coincided with the arrival of Soviet troops in 1944, some Bulgarians planned to celebrate while others would grieve.

Out at the museum, the preparations continued. At lunch time, a few laborers paused to eat beneath the shadows of past leaders. On this day, at least, the workers held center stage.

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