Memorial monument to the defenders of Stara Zagora, Bulgaria

The landscape of Balkan countries is dotted with monuments, showcased in cities or hidden in mountains. Many were built after the Second World War, to commemorate victims and heroic acts. The brutalist imposing yet purified style renders an aura of respect and solemnity for the events the monuments symbolize. Unlike the prefabricated blocks, each monument is unique, conveys something different, and surprises by its original shape. A vivid example is the Bubanj Memorial Park, located in a field near the city of Niš, in the south of Serbia, where inmates from the concentration camp in the city (weirdly, next to a school) were executed. Three fists stand in the spot where more than 10 000 prisoners were shot by German Nazis.

Bubanj Memorial Park, Niš, Serbia, from the website Monumentalism
Same symbol of fists in the concentration camp

In a Russian doll way, during the socialist period, these monuments were the legacy of the fights and massacres and victims of the Nazis. Today, the monuments in themselves, because of the time that they were built, their architectural style, and the nationalistic feeling they instilled, are a legacy of socialism.

This is a heated issue, in Croatia particularly, where monuments are vandalized by a part of the population who believes that the socialist and Yugoslavian meaning they carry in order to honor victims of fascism and anti-fascist struggle, should instead be turned into commemorating the victims of the socialist regime. Structures are destroyed (mostly during the 1990s independence war, where the idea of Yugoslavia, a product of socialism, was being rejected, but there has been a resurgence in the recent years); or they are altered. For example, names of victims from an anti-fascist uprising are replaced by names of victims of a battle in the independence war.

Numerous other monuments across the Balkans are dedicated to the fight against the fascism of the Second World War, and more largely, capitalism. One can assume that of the many goals of building them during the socialist era, one was to nurture a hate towards capitalist West, and certainly a feeling of pride in the nation that stood up against it and won.

Every victim and every event, from all political periods, deserves to be remembered with respect. That is why monuments should be left in peace, regardless of the political belief of individuals, and should be properly preserved. These monuments are a tangible trace of history and have a special meaning, especially regarding the nation building process of the Balkan countries that were emerging from centuries under the Ottoman rule. They are national treasures, a part of history’s safeguarding, and serve in its teaching, to locals and to tourists.

Then there are what I consider now-monuments that were not erected as such. A massive building dedicated to the communist party, for example, would now have become, against the intent of the architect, a monument to the vanished regime, preserving the style, grandeur and ambition it wished to convey, and carrying the weight of the socialist legacy and what it meant. I am thinking for example of the Buzludhza monument in Bulgaria. It was built to host meetings of the communist party and is now abandoned on the top of a mountain. The brutalist style is coupled with futuristic elements that make it look quite literally like a spaceship. The red star is still chillingly visible, a reminder of the hold of the regime on the country, and a famous socialist heritage.

Buzludhza Monument, Bulgaria

On a less serious note, but also because in order to be protected, monument must be known and appreciated, here are some visually striking examples:

Valley of Heroes Monument, Bosnia and Herzegovia, from the Instagram page « socialistmodernism« 
National Library, Pristina, Kosovo, from the Instagram page « socialistmodernism«  (what I would consider a building that became a monument)

14 commentaires »

  1. Is the famous white Rubik cube, called Dialogue, formerly found at Place de Paris in Québec city can be consider a brutal monument, at least in our memories…??!
    (Is it ok to make jokes in a very serious blog like this one…Sorry, I don’t do better, one day maybe.)

    And what about Habitat 67 in Montréal? Brutality…or work of architecture at it’s best?
    Like you can see my references are not the same…and more local, IMHO !

    Note to you
    Have fun answering all my very judicious questioning ! 😉
    Good work btw !



  2. This is very interesting. It makes me wish to ride my bike and go see by myself. Am I too sensible? all this seems very ‘chargé émotivement’ (sorry for my limited English here 😊) All this fells very dramatic too me.
    I love your blog, you know how to catch my attention!


    • That would for sure make an amazing bike ride!
      I feel it too! With monuments and even just ordinary blocks, this architectural style has a certain weight and is indissociable from the suffering and hope built into it
      Ça fait vraiment plaisir, merci de prendre le temps de commenter ❤ 🙂


  3. Bon un vrai commentaire. Les images parlent d’elles mêmes et ton travail est remarquable, connaître l’histoire qu’a vécue ce peuple peut expliquer beaucoup de choses, une belle ouverture à d’autres population qui n’ont pas toujours la vie facile. Effectivement ça donne le goût de voir et comprendre en personne ce pays.



  4. Me voici, coucou! Je n’ai pas tout compris mais je suis certaine que ce que tu dis est intelligent, et que tu as travaillé très fort pour faire ce travail. Tes photos sont biens choisies. J’ai surtout compris que tu as l’intention de retourner visiter l’Europe de l’est. Quand???


    • Allo, merci! J’aime beaucoup revisiter mes vieilles photos pour décorer! Si tout va bien, j’aimerais y retourner dans l’année, à suivre, ça va dépendre du virus…


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