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Bulgaria museum enshrines Soviet era

Associated Press / August 25, 2011

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SOFIA, Bulgaria - Giant statues of Soviet dictators Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin. Paintings of enthusiastic socialist laborers. A huge red star that graced Communist Party headquarters.

As Europe marks the 20th anniversary of the Soviet collapse, this nation is opening a museum dedicated to the totalitarian past. A debate is raging on whether the museum romanticizes the Soviet era or teaches new generations about its horrors.

Other former communist countries like the Czech Republic and Hungary have long had similar museums; the fact it has taken Bulgaria this long to open one is a sign of its fraught transition to democracy.

Pulled out of cellars and warehouses, more than 100 artworks will be put on display in the museum that opens next month in a Sofia suburb, and will showcase a period of Bulgaria’s history when art had to be created in line with strict ideological rules.

Along with the statues and busts of communist leaders, there are also oil paintings exalting the supposed “eternal friendship’’ between Bulgaria and the Soviet Union.

Bulgaria’s government recently adopted an ambitious strategy to promote the capital, Sofia, as an attractive culture and travel destination.

Along with the museum of totalitarian art, the initiative also includes a museum of contemporary art and a museum dubbed the Bulgarian Louvre, which is to showcase the best of the country’s culture stretching back to antiquity.

Georgi Lozanov, a media expert, said Bulgaria must have a museum of communism that will tell new generations the story of a period that should never again become reality. “We are the last country of the former socialist countries which has no such museum,’’ Lozanov said.

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