Built in 1954 to honor the Soviet soldiers who died in Bulgarian efforts during World War II, the Monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia has become a popular site for protest and vandalism involving turning its figures into pop culture icons.
Although the huge monument is meant to be a stirring salute to Russian military forces who aided Bulgaria during World War II, the statues and their surrounding park have become a popular hangout for young people and counter-culture radicals. In addition to a tall central spire that sees a Russian soldier holding his triumphant weapon above a group of Bulgarian civilians, there are sculptural reliefs nearer to the ground depicting action-packed scenes of charging soldiers. One such life-size relief has been been redecorated again and again in various acts of protest.
In 2011 the charging military figures were painted to look like a mish-mash of American pop-culture icons such as Superman, Ronald McDonald, Santa Claus, and Wonder Woman. The slogan, “In Pace With Time” was scrawled beneath the figures. While this initial act may have been more prankish than political it started a trend that continues today. The figures have been covered in pink in honour of the anniversary of the Prague Spring in 1968, covered in balaclavas to look like the group Pussy Riot, and most recently painted the colors of the Ukrainian flag. Each time the statues are vandalized, they are promptly cleaned but not before the crowds of young people are able to spread images of the painting to the world.
The continued vandalism of the Monument to the Soviet Army has managed to raise the ire of not only the Bulgarian government, but Russian officials as well. Yet despite the outrage its highly likely that the bronze soldiers will not remain unmarked for very long.
Even without the painted figures, the Monument is an unwitting participant to contemporary life that ignores its history and symbolism. Directly opposite, just steps away, is a huge half-pipe ramp where skateboarders and in-line skaters practice tricks, while those waiting their turn lounge or climb on the Monument steps. Various quarter-pipe ramps are positioned in the walkway between the half-pipe ramp and the Monument steps. Small children sit on the same steps having mid-afternoon snacks or practice their climbing skills. Teenagers looking for love, or its equivalent, climb higher up for a bit of (relatively) alone time. The Monument to the Soviet Army is not quite a case of beating swords into plowshares, but it’s pretty darn close.