Pleven stands out as one of the most crucial Bulgarian cities where the struggle for freedom during the Russo-Turkish War led to the country’s liberation in 1877. In 1977, the Communist Party issued an order that a big memorial complex is built commemorating the 100th anniversary of the epic events. A Panorama was built, which is a popular form of exposition in Russia, in a large park, with a display of old cannons, bombshells, memorial tablets and a big ossuary.
The complex, which is situated on a hill, can be reached via ceremonial steps that make up a significant part of the memorial complex itself: the flight of stairs has several landings for crowds to stop; places where tanks were brought in for the ceremonies; and a big sculptural composition called Mother Bulgaria—the latter is an allegorical figure breaking free from the shackles of the Ottoman yoke. The steps lead the way to the city art gallery, the history museum, a park with monuments dedicated to the Liberation of Bulgaria, beyond which lies the city square where the monument of this study was built. The Memorial to Brotherhood was dedicated to all who died in the struggle against fascism and capitalism. The whole city centre was planned around the idea of promoting the Communist regime, mixing Bulgarian nationalism and gratitude to the Russian Liberation Army (Russia was a monarchy in 1877, so this had nothing to do with Socialism) with loyalty to the USSR. And, it worked perfectly.
The monument Memorial to Brotherhood (Brotherhood Mound) consists of two concrete pillars measuring 12 meters in height, encased in marble with a star-shaped hole between them, a set of memorial tablets listing the names of perished partisan fighters and sculptural composition. The sculptural composition is a very interesting one. It is the work of sculptor Valentin Starchev and is called Pieta. The composition is a stylised depiction of a mother mourning her dead son. It was a popular type of composition for the period and it takes the name of the Catholic sculptural representations of the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus. In general, socialism didn’t promote religion, so the Pieta of socialism has nothing in common with that of Catholicism. The representation of the mother is a composite image of Bulgarian mothers, grieving over their sons killed in the partisan struggles for the victory of the Socialist Revolution.
Artists Valentin Starchev’s representation of the topic is unique—the mother is a hollow, dark, empty mantle whose silhouette is the only reminder of a person. The artist must have loved the idea this representation (or maybe it was the audience who loved it) because he replicated it many a time in different locations. They are not perfect replicas of this one, and we can’t be sure which one is the original. But even if we knew, there are several others spotted in different places. Pieta is part of the composition of the monument 1300 Years of Bulgaria in Sofia (built-in 1983, now destroyed); there is another similar sculpture close to an art gallery in Sofia and I’ve seen at least one more artwork, much the same, by the same author. This monument used to be the centre of the social and political life in the small city of Pleven. All big events happened there. There was always an honour guard stationed there because it was an important place: the burial mound of the fighters for socialism.
After 1989, the local authorities obviously decided that they couldn’t just take such an important landmark down. So they did what the Socialist Party did before them: they repurposed it, adding a different ideology to it. The sculpture on the monument was abstract enough so they just hid the star-shaped hole at the top of the monument (a symbol of socialism) with a military medal. They also added an inscription on one side of the monument “Eternal glory to the heroes who gave their lives for freedom” (from the Turks of course, with no mention of the socialist theme whatsoever).
The monument is still standing today but is in poor shape, most people are unlikely to remember what the monument looked like before.
Text by Aneliya Ivanova
1982Monument for annual events, ossuary
Form of government
1982 Totalitarianism under Soviet Influence
Spatial Planning Agency
Type of heritage and protection
1982 Monument with real cultural value of local importance
2018 Monument with real cultural value of local importance