- Mitch Brezounek
- 30 sec
- 0.032 ETH
Ghosts appear and disappear in the darkest corners of our minds
but when the drums resound, they line up,
transparent, hissing the echoes of the past.
Like rattlesnakes, whispering in our closed ears.
The Monument of the Soviet Army in Plovdiv (Alyosha) dominates the skyline from the second highest hill Bunardzhika, today “Hill of Liberators” (234 m).
During the period of Plovdiv’s greatest glory (Trimontium), when the city was the capital of the Roman province of Thrace, a statue of Heracles was erected at the top of the hill. It stood on the very spot where Alyosha stands today.
In 1881 a modest monument of the Russian Army that liberated Bulgaria from Ottoman rule in 1877-1878 was built on the hill. It has the traditional form of a cut pyramid. The two monuments coexist today. The Russian monument is a soldier’s memorial and has never been covered with inscriptions or graffiti.
The new name “Hill of Liberators” replaced the traditional Turkish name of the hill in 1934, following the advice of King Boris III of Bulgaria. At the foot of the same hill, a modest monument of Vasil Levski, (the most notorious figure of the Bulgarian National Revolutionary Movement against the Ottomans in the 19th century) was erected in the 1930s and is now half-hidden in the park.
The Soviet Army monument in Plovdiv is known by the name Alyosha. (It’s not just because of the prototype’s name - Aleksey Skurlatov. In many places in Bulgaria Soviet officers were part of the groups that started the Red Terror after the occupation of Bulgaria by the Red Army in September 1944. They became known by the common name “The Alyoshki”). In 1947, the decision to erect a monument of the Red Army in Plovdiv was made by a city committee headed by General Assen Grekov, the head of the Plovdiv garrison. In 1948, the idea became publicly known. A capsule with a message to future generations was placed at the foot of the hill. 10 million BGN were allocated for the project and numerous civic associations donated to the monument.
After several unsuccessful competitions, the team was announced in 1952, and Vasil Radoslavov was chosen as the leading artist. He was a member of the State Commission for Monumental Propaganda. Work began in 1954, and the monument was unveiled on November 5, three years later. Its height is 17.30 meters, and the figure, made of granite, has a height of 10.80 meters. The head weighs 7 tons, and the gun – 2 tons. The monument was constructed using 46 tons of concrete and 2 tons of iron. It depicts a Soviet soldier holding a Shpagin assault rifle pointed toward the ground. The statue faces East, representing the direction of the Soviet Union. A pentagram was placed on the pedestal, and the inscription underneath reads: “Glory to the invincible Soviet army liberator.”
The team for the implementation of the monument was the following:
Architects: Boris Markov, Petar Tzvetkov, Nikolay Marangozov; Sculptors: Vasil Radoslavov, Geоrgy Kotzev, Ivan Topalov, Alexander Zankov (with the participation of Lyubomir Dalchev and Todor Bosilkov); Stone carvers: Nikola Totev, Sasho Spasov, Valcho Kadiyski, Grigor Mihov.
In 1955, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev came incognito to the site and wanted the gun replaced with one pointing to the sky, but Nikola Totev convinced Prime Minister Valko Chervenkov that this would be impossible to implement.
Alexey Skurlatov, a highly decorated liaison soldier of the Red Army from the village of Nalobiha, Kosihiski region, Altay, stationed in Plovdiv, became the prototype of the statue. The team used his photograph from 1944 to complete the stone monument. Skurlatov became aware of this fact only in 1981, during his first visit to the city on his 60th birthday. He then received the distinction “Rosette of Pliska”. He would later, in 2007, be the guest of honor at the celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the erection of the monument. Aneliya Krushkova, head of the State Agency for Tourism, traveled to Russia to personally invite Skurlatov for a second visit to Bulgaria. Plovdiv authorities made a plaque with the monument’s photo to mark the anniversary. When in 2013 Skurlatov died at 92, the event became news in local media.
In the 1960s, several Soviet cosmonauts, including Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova, visited the hill and planted pine trees along the Russian Army Monument - because there was no room for trees at the granite monument to the Soviet soldier.
A song titled Alyosha was commissioned by the famous composer Eduard Kolmanovski (and the poet Konstantin Vanchenkin) and was released in 1967. It was first performed by the Soviet Army Ensemble in the USSR and became popular in Plovdiv and all over the country as well as in the USSR. It became a ritual for newlywed couples to visit the monument and lay flowers at the foot of the statue immediately after they got married in a non-religious ceremony. High school graduates visited the monument in the mornings after their prom ball – without any idea about the meaning of the monument itself. In the 1970s opera festivals were also organized at the sight of the monument. For Verdi’s “Aida" this was the most suitable decor. The far-right Russian rock group “Night Wolfs” revisited Alyosha every year, until they were banned from entering Bulgaria.
Removal or transformation
Repeated attempts have been made to remove the Alyosha monument in Plovdiv, but all remain unsuccessful.
The first avant-garde group of artists in Plovdiv, called “Edge” (1990) came out with various proposals for deletion of the symbol - from “wrapping” the statue (following Christo’s artistic example) to renaming it to Alyosha Karamazov.
In 1993 the local authorities decided to remove the monument. Activists fiercely resisted this decision. Following a follow-up decision taken by the Plovdiv City Council, in 1996 the Bulgarian Supreme Court declared that the monument could not be demolished because it had “specifically high cultural value”.
During the “Night of Museums” in 2013, the statue was wrapped in a red cloak, and disguised like its “brothers” in Sofia.
In February 2017, the monument was covered with controversial inscriptions, including a swastika, triggering a diplomatic protest note on the part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation against “vandalism on Soviet monuments in Bulgaria.”
In 2019, when Plovdiv was the European Capital of Culture, a project called “Becoming Alyosha”, which explores the monument from different perspectives, was launched.
The artistic tandem Bogdanov/Misirkov created a new souvenir of the city – the “Alyosha” lollipops, available in different colors, selling for BGN 4,40 (around EUR 2,30).
In January 2020, the following inscriptions appeared on the monument: We will not forget! Bulgaria above all!
The inscriptions were washed immediately, and video surveillance was installed around the monument.
In February 2021, around the statue, the first fire flash mob was organized by the lawyer Stanimir Stanev, in commemoration of the victims of the People’s Tribunal in 1945, supported by the fans of the Soccer Clubs “Levski” and “Lokomotiv Plovdiv”.
Most Recent Controversy
March 7, 2022, | Appeal to transform Alyosha into a monument of Vasil Levski, initially proclaimed back in 2019 by a group of intellectuals from Plovdiv:
“The Monument of “Alyosha” is an everyday insult to the intelligent and tolerant citizens of Plovdiv… The intolerable and impossible cultural, historical, ethical, and psychological anomaly around “Alyosha” should end!”
May 9, 2022 (TASS) | Russian Ambassador to Bulgaria Eleonora Mitrofanova said the Russian Consul in Plovdiv Georgi Gergov and Plovdiv Municipality are taking good care of Alyosha by adding video surveillance around the monument.
May 15, 2022 | Bulgarian Socialist Party Minister of Labour and Social Policy Georgi Goyokov objects to the monument’s removal, linking Alyosha with the Soviet Army monument in Vienna. That is an incorrect analogy as it is a memorial to a soldier. The one in Plovdiv is not one, because in 1944 there was no battle in Bulgaria.
Author of the text: prof. Evelina Kelbetcheva