Article by Richard Morten. 6 July 2018.
Edited: 1 March 2020.

Architect Dora Ivanova guides a BBC representative through the Buzludzha monument.

From the BBC, 2018.

Buzludzha’s recent feature on the BBC Travel Show raises awareness, but picks its words poorly.

A new documentary short for the BBC Travel Show offers viewers a glimpse inside the Buzludzha Memorial House. Originally broadcast on 28 June 2018, the segment was filmed on location – with the BBC team claiming to be the first international television crew officially permitted inside the building since it was closed. The show’s presenter, Mike Corey, is visibly impressed by the monument. “It’s incredible!” he exclaims as he enters the Solemn Hall, accompanied by Bulgarian preservation campaigner Dora Ivanova. In another section he describes the building as “powerful architecture.”

Features like this are generally good news for the monument. Not only do they raise the profile of the Buzludzha Memorial House worldwide, but the wording here is positive too. While other media have tended to present Buzludzha as a “spooky” or “haunting” ruin, the BBC’s focus is on the value of its architecture and the artistic accomplishment of its interior mosaics. The segment is relatively free from political comment.

The BBC short was not without a couple of problems, however. In one voiceover section the presenter claims: “Recently, the only people to have seen inside have been a select group of photo-hungry urban explorers who have broken in illegally.”

This is an unfortunate statement to make though, for a number of reasons.

Labelling all these previous visitors “photo-hungry urban explorers” is inappropriate. While the term probably fits for some, others were historians, academics, artists, journalists, television crews, fashion designers, musicians and athletes. Or indeed, those campaigning for Buzludzha’s preservation. There are also tens of thousands of Bulgarians who have visited over the years since the monument was closed, simply to see it for themselves. Many of these Bulgarian visitors paid into the original construction of the monument, and it could be argued they have more right to see it than anyone else.

It is also incorrect to suggest that these people have “broken in illegally.” For a long period of time it was possible to simply walk in through the front door, and of the thousands of people who make unofficial visits to Buzludzha every year, only a small handful ever break anything. The majority are deeply respectful of the place, and, as one commenter pointed out, if these visitors – many of them Bulgarian – shared the BBC’s influence and financial resources, then they may well have preferred to apply for a “legal” visit too.

It is perhaps better to view Buzludzha’s visitors as part of a process. Georgi Stoilov designed an incredibly photogenic building; people continue to be drawn to it, even when the building is officially shunned; and it was because of photographs some of these visitors shared online, that campaigners such as Dora Ivanova, or broadcasters such as the BBC, became aware of the monument and its plight.

Despite the problems above, coverage like this BBC documentary continues a good trend of publicity that could ultimately prove beneficial for the Buzludzha Memorial House. The monument is reaching a critical stage now, with its mosaics coming closer to destruction with every passing winter. “Time could be running out for Buzludzha,” says the BBC host, and he isn’t wrong.

Ultimately, it is hoped that features like this can help to inspire more people, in Bulgaria and elsewhere, to recognise that the monument has value beyond, and perhaps with the potential to outlive, its historical political associations. As Mike Corey concludes: “There’s no doubt that this is a controversial, but very powerful and iconic building; and because of that alone… it feels worth preserving in whatever form.”

Watch the clip for yourself below: