One of the symbols of Plovdiv turned 65 years old – the monument on Bunardjika hill, better known as Alyosha. The monument was created in honor of the thousands of nameless Soviet soldiers who bore the brunt of World War II.
It was erected on the second highest hill in Plovdiv, near the monument to Alexander II and the Russian troops who liberated the city from Ottoman rule. Depicts a standing Soviet soldier holding a Shpagin submachine gun with the barrel down. It faces east – towards Russia.
A five-pointed star is placed on the pedestal, and underneath is the inscription “Glory to the invincible Soviet Army of Liberation”.
In the years of democracy, the monument managed to divide the people of Plovdiv into two camps. Some wanted to remove him at any cost, while others were ready to defend him at any cost.
In the 90s of the last century, especially during the term of the mayor Sedesar Spas Gurnevski, there was also the fiercest campaign against Alyosha. The blue fortress of Plovdiv considered it sacrilege to live under the shadow of the Soviet soldier. Today’s war between Russia and Ukraine has reactivated the debate on whether the monument should be moved or destroyed.
An idea that seemed completely absurd on November 5, 1957, when the grand opening of the impressive monument took place, three years after the first sod was laid. The selection of the project is accompanied by several competitions. Exthe idea of the artist Dimitar Pavlov for the rotunda of white marble pillars with a figure of a warrior and eternal fire was returned.
Generals Dobri Djurov and Asen Grekov have the final say on the choice. In the end, they like the project of the architects Boris Markov, Petar Tsvetanov, Asen Marangozov and the sculptors Vasil Radoslavov, Lyubomir Dalchev, Todor Bosilkov and Alexander Zankov.
A particularly interesting figure among them is the future chief architect of the republic Markov, father-in-law of football legend Georgi Asparuhov-Gundy.
The price of the monument is BGN 10 million, of which BGN 6.5 million was collected as donations.
It is 17 meters high, the figure of the granite warrior is nearly 11 meters, and 100 steps lead to it
For the construction, 46 tons of concrete and 2 tons of iron were used, lined with granite and Sdnjegorski syenite.
Spruce trees around the monument were planted by prominent guests of Plovdiv, including the Soviet cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova.
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev inspected construction incognito in 1955 and was deeply outraged by the monument. “Not a warrior, but a collective farm hen,” exclaimed the eccentric Kremlin nobleman. He couldn’t swallow the fact that the warrior’s schmeisser was pointing down, not up like a victor. Khrushchev insisted on an amendment, but the project was already at too advanced a stage.
Another mistake was discovered by Soviet Marshal Sergei Biryuzov. The fighter’s hat is tilted to the left, not to the right as per statute. However, Biryuzov praised the monument and was the first to name it Alyosha.
The prototype for the statue is Alexei Skurlatov, a private soldier from the Altai Territory, a participant in the largest tank battle near Kursk, a recipient of orders for bravery.
When the Soviet troops entered Bulgaria in 1944, Alexey took care of the cable connection between Plovdiv and Sofia. His appearance personifies the Russian warrior – tall, blond, with blue eyes.
Skurlatov himself understood that he had a granite counterpart only in 1981,
when the name of the soldier who inspired the sculptors was made public. Alexey visited Plovdiv and even became an honorary citizen.
According to prominent people from Plovdiv, they posed for the figure of Vasil Radoslavov’s marble soldier the young handsome bricklayer from Pazardzhik, Georgi Milenkov, and a Russian White Guard actor.
The Plovdiv Alyosha is extremely popular even far from Bulgaria, especially in the countries of the former USSR.
In 1966, the poet Konstantin Vanshenkin and the composer Eduard Kolmanovski wrote a song dedicated to the monument, which until 1989 was the unofficial anthem of Plovdiv.
One of the more avant-garde ideas about the fate of the monument.
They range from blowing up, dismantling and moving the Bratska Mogila to turning it into a private television antenna, a revolving restaurant. There is also a proposal to put a bottle of Coca-Cola on Alyosha’s head.
Prof. Stefan Shivachev, historian:
Monuments are an important lesson,
which we have not learned
Prof. Dr. Stefan Shivachev is one of the most authoritative Bulgarian historians. Permanent director of the Regional History Museum in Plovdiv for three decades, before retiring from the post at the beginning of September. Author of valuable studies and historical works.
– Prof. Shivachev, how long will the Alyosha monument periodically cause disputes? For some, he is a symbol of the Soviet army of liberation, for others – a conqueror?
– Disputes will continue, as it is a Bulgarian tradition to play with history, to turn it into a bargaining chip for current political interests. Unfortunately, after each change, we try to rewrite history, to create a new one that pleases the new government.
Namely, history protects us from making the mistakes of the past.
Monuments are part of our history and they should stay where they are, not tear them down.
If we remove them, we risk repeating the follies we created decades ago.
After all, the monument to Alyosha was created for years, there were different ideas, one of which was a full-length statue of the then leader Joseph Stalin, which would be an absurd decision.
There was also an idea for the rotunda. The figure of a soldier was approved, a symbol of the victory of the anti-Hitler coalition over Nazism, achieved with millions of victims.
Let’s not forget that in the Second World War Bulgaria fought on the side of the losers of the Triple Alliance – Germany, Italy, Japan.
And the victory of the anti-Hitler coalition was achieved with the decisive participation of the then USSR, which gave 20 million victims. While at the Paris Peace Conference, Bulgaria was not recognized as a co-belligerent country, despite its participation in the final phase of the war.
And the future of Europe after the war is drawn by the winners. They set conditions – the memory of the war should not be erased, regardless of future conjunctural political interests. Over 4,000 monuments have been built in Europe and the world. And nowhere, including in Germany, in Austria, which suffered the most, is there no alternative to removing these monuments.
Not to mention that there is a monument to the plague in Vienna – it does not glorify the disease that destroyed millions of Europeans, but is a memory of a great evil.
– When will we learn to appreciate our past?
– It is a Bulgarian tradition, especially in our political life, to denigrate the past. After the Liberation, the revolutionaries were forgotten, the peasants were condemned as a reactionary class. After 1944, out of habit, we talk about fascist Bulgaria, which does not correspond to the truth.
After 1990, rethinking began again – with the Ottoman presence, with the glorification of the Ottoman Empire, which poured water into the mill of neo-Ottomanism.
In the last three decades, we have witnessed strange ideas around the monument of Bunardzhika – to wrap the Alyosha monument in a Coca-Cola bottle in order to put pressure on our new allies, to replace Alyosha with Levski.
Instead of waging war on monuments, today we should focus the energy of society on the serious problems to be solved – the crises, the crime, the reforms.
– But we can hardly lightly dismiss the criticism that it is unacceptable for a statue of the foreign soldier Alyosha to be on the top of the hill, and Levski at the foot?
– Alyosha will never rule over Levski in the Bulgarian national consciousness. Throughout the year, there are flowers in front of Levski’s monument on Bunardzhika, and Alyosha’s is placed by accident, usually on May 9. For Bulgarians, Levski is the undisputed national icon.
It’s time for our society to mature. The evolution of the former enemies, the Germans and the French, who put aside enmity in the name of partnership and competition in the fields of economy, science, and culture, is indicative.
– How well does Plovdiv protect its monuments?
– Unfortunately, in the 90s, monuments that did not deserve such a fate were insulted and removed. Among them, young people, participants in the anti-fascist resistance, which is part of the war of the democratic world with the dictatorial regimes in Europe.
At the beginning of the changes in Plovdiv, a very human monument to the prominent politician, MP Dimitar Blagoev was also removed from the garden of the Maritsa pharmacy. Blagoev lived in Plovdiv for more than 10 years, he was a favorite teacher at the Men’s High School, where he publishes the authoritative magazine “Novo Vreme”. At the same time, he was far-sighted – he opposed the instigation of the September Uprising, which unleashed the war of Bulgarians against Bulgarians in the 1920s.
– But our city also has sins in the direction of ideological overdoing it with the monuments?
– Yes, there are dozens of examples. The result of ideological considerations is the monument to Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin in front of the International Fair in Plovdiv, which really stood ridiculously.
In 1941, after Bulgaria entered the Tripartite Pact, after our entry as an ally of Germany and Italy, a real bacchanalia took place and the main boulevards of Plovdiv took the names of Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Today is the time to stop overdoing it.
How is it in Europe?
They are being dismantled in the Baltics, Germany is keeping them
There are over 4,000 memorials in Europe dedicated to the victory of the Soviet army against Nazism. However, Russian aggression in Ukraine has ricocheted into fierce debates about the fate of the monuments.
The most extreme is the attitude in Poland and the Baltics, where they consider the Soviet and Hitler occupation to be the same evil.
Already in 2017, the Sejm in Warsaw adopted the decommunization law, which provides for the removal of monuments symbolizing communism. A year later, all Soviet monuments in Warsaw were dismantled, including the Red Army memorial.
The Estonians are also acting with a firm hand – the dismantling of nearly 400 Soviet monuments is underway.
The Latvian government has approved the removal of 69 monuments and plaques praising the Soviet regime.
They don’t even care about Finland, which recently decided to join NATO. In Helsinki, they removed the World Peace Monument, a gift from the USSR. The monument has often been the object of encroachments – smeared with tar and feathers by students, there was also an attempt to blow it up.
Germany is obliged to maintain and honor the Soviet monuments – it was written in the state treaty concluded in 1990 between the FRG, the GDR and the four countries – winners of the Second World War.
But recently, the calls of deputies to remove the monuments in Berlin and Dresden have become more frequent.
There are over 200 Soviet memorials in Austria, but encroachments are rare.
In most former socialist countries, anything reminiscent of the Red Army is now met with great irritation. An exception is Hungary, where Soviet monuments are treated with respect. Probably also because of President Orbán’s friendly relations with Moscow, in spite of the Atlanticists from the EU.
Bulgaria probably holds the record for Soviet Kalpak monuments, as many as 128. All of them are subject to bilateral agreements for the protection of historical heritage. However, this does not save the monument to the Soviet Army at the navel of Sofia from constant ridicule. The monument often dawns with offensive inscriptions, and the sculptures were even painted as characters from American comics.
WAIT A LITTLE BIT!
Dispute between former mayors about Alyosha’s fate