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Portrait of Vladimir Lenin, photograph by Oleg Popov
Portrait of Vladimir Lenin, photograph by Oleg Popov


Aug. 26, 2011

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To the ire of many eastern Europeans, the Bulgarian government is opening a museum of Socialist Realist art on Sept. 9, 2011 -- the anniversary of communism’s official takeover of the government in 1944. Bulgarian culture minister Vezhdi Rashidov, who is also a sculptor, says that the museum is intended to educate visitors on the nation’s history. Similar institutions already exist in Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. But some critics wonder if the scheme doesn’t go too far in celebrating totalitarianism. As one local paper recently put it: “Bulgaria’s Museum of Socialist Art -- Hall of Fame or Hall of Shame?”

The Museum of Socialist Art -- originally called the Museum of Totalitarian Art -- opens in the suburbs of Sofia with 100 art works, including statues of Stalin and Lenin, portraits of communist leaders and propaganda paintings of Herculean-sized laborers. Some locals argue that museum should balance the content with imagery of the work camps and persecution. Perhaps the New Museum’s current “Ostalgia” exhibition, opened in time with the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet regime, should travel to Bulgaria.

The museum is part of a recent government initiative to enliven the capital’s cultural scene. The new Sofia Arsenal Museum for Contemporary Art opened in June with an exhibition of Norwegian art, and another museum that’s being called the “Bulgarian Louvre” broke ground last year. Meanwhile, the National Art Gallery, home to about 4,000 paintings, is closing this weekend to begin a four-month-long restoration. Some of the works are set to go on loan to the Museum of Socialist Art.