Article by Richard Fawcus. 16 July 2017.

The BSP's leader, Kornelia Ninova, during a speech on Buzludzha's ownership.

Photograph from the BSP, 2017.

The past months have seen a renewed interest in the ownership of the Buzludzha Memorial House.

Since the Buzludzha monument was nationalised in 1992, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) have expressed interest in claiming ownership on the grounds that it was their predecessor organisation, the ruling Bulgarian Communist Party, who built it. Their most recent bid was made just a month ago: a formal application submitted on 16 June 2017.

The BSP had previously filed for ownership of the monument in 2011. The preliminary request was approved at the time, and the Bulgarian government invited the claimants to enter the necessary contractual process in order to hand over possession of the structure from the state, to the party. This offer from the government included only the monument itself however, not the ground beneath it, and the BSP made no response to the 2011 proposal. The monument has remained in the possession of the Bulgarian state ever since, managed by the regional governor of Stara Zagora province.

The BSP’s application in June this year comes as a late response to the government’s previous offer—though now the options open to them have changed somewhat. A new Bulgarian law passed in February 2017 makes it impossible for state property to be given freely to private individuals or organisations. Rather than receiving the monument freely therefore, the only deal currently open to the BSP (besides buying it from the government outright) would be to manage the Buzludzha Memorial House for a 10-year period, after which ownership would automatically revert to the Bulgarian state. During that time they would be unable to use the monument for commercial purposes, which limits the potential for events and functions that might otherwise have helped them to raise the funds necessary for any kind of restoration plan.

The BSP’s June 2017 application for a 10-year ownership deal was rejected on Wednesday last week: with seven government representatives voting in favour of the transfer of the monument, and twelve against. The rejection comes in large part due to the BSP’s lack of any clear plan for the future of Buzludzha.

Socialist MP Krum Zarkov, interviewed by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, gave the statement: “The first and foremost thing is to stop the decay because the monument is in a horrible condition.” Beyond that sentiment however, no actionable plan was presented. Sources close to the Socialist Party suggest that there is still division within the ranks; some want to restore the monument exactly as it was in its heyday (an extraordinarily expensive option) while other members talk about turning the structure into a national museum, or even a museum dedicated to the socialist movement worldwide.

It is allegedly this lack of cohesive direction—and the absence of any written documents evidencing a consideration of purpose, costs and timeframe—that have led to the ownership bid being rejected by the Bulgarian government.

For some, this rejection will come as welcome news. There have been widely speculated concerns that BSP ownership would establish Buzludzha as a more potent political symbol than it has been for years. It is no accident that much of the vandalism and graffiti at the site is political in nature: after the collapse of Bulgarian communism, the Buzludzha Memorial House served as a focal point for many people keen to express anti-communist sentiment. Many Bulgarians today are fiercely opposed to the legacy of the former Bulgarian Communist Party, and for Buzludzha to be tolerated in such a society it would seem necessary to prove that the monument holds no ongoing connection to the political ideology that created it. While the BSP themselves have expressed similar wishes for the future of the site—for it to be a place that all Bulgarians should be able to take pride in—critics warn that any involvement by the Socialist Party could risk undoing a vast amount of work that has already gone into rebranding Buzludzha as a de-politicised heritage site.

There is nothing to stop the BSP from reapplying for ownership in future, but for now at least, the monument remains the property of the Bulgarian state.

[With thanks to Dora Ivanova for additional reporting.]