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Center for Metropolitan Studies (CMS)
Ernst-Reuter-Platz 7, TEL 3-0
Sofia: The Socialist City in Its Monumental
Vision and Practice
The dissertation explores the changing political ideal of the socialist city as it was articulated in the socialist reconstruction of Sofia – its blueprint and plans as well as their incomplete realizations – throughout the Cold War era. Looking for the essence of the socialist city, the research focuses on the city center of the capital, which was planned and designed to showcase the ideology embraced by the regime. Therefore, the center of Sofia is studied first and foremost as a space of visualization of power and, accordingly, the urban plans and architectural projects for its arrangement are treated as expert solutions of a political task rather than as autonomous creative ideas.
Tracing the manifestations of the state ideology in the urban landscape of the socialist city, the analysis employs a dynamic notion of ideology understood as an operative set of policies of state crafting and social engineering, which underwent regular changes despite invariably pledging adherence to Marxism-Leninism. The urbanist enactment of the operative ideology is analyzed through the dual lens of monumentalization and discipline. In this approach, monumentalization is understood as transcending architectural monumentality in the strict sense and also affecting the politically determined use of public space as well as the public conduct of the “New Man” as imagined by the Party. Similarly, the disciplinary functions of the city are identified not only in the pursued projects of social engineering but also in the architectural frame of public life, which was likewise informed by the political imagery.
Within this analytical framework, the dissertation gauges the interrelations between operative ideology, urban monumentality and discipline in three distinctive phases of the Cold War era, each shaped by specific policy priorities. Initially, during the Stalinist period, the socialist center of Sofia was developed primarily as a political stage. The monumental aspirations invested in urbanism gave expression to the leader cult dominating the political imagery at the time. Within an architectural frame of power towers, the disciplinary functions of public space were best represented by the mass parade that mobilized popular support in semi-military fashion. Subsequently, in the period commencing with de-Stalinization, the regime sought to enhance its legitimacy with soft techniques of social engineering that relied on the promise of mass prosperity and material satisfaction. In accordance with this change of raison d’être, the city center was diversified with places of everyday leisure and consumerism. The disciplinary effect that the city center was anticipated to exert was to educate citizens in “politically correct” consumer tastes and practices, whereas its monumental mission was to showcase the superiority of the command economy of socialism. The third and final period of research, which covers the last two decades of socialism, witnessed a nationalist turn in Party politics that reached its symbolic pinnacle in the celebration of the 1,300th anniversary of the Bulgarian state in 1981. Before becoming the main stage of this event, the center of Sofia was redesigned with special concern to highlight the cultural continuity of the nation. In this context, discipline and monumentality functioned through aesthetization of space and cultural refinement of citizens.
Studying the path of socialist urbanism throughout these three periods, the analysis takes into account both the implementation of politically sanctioned projects and the frequent impediments and non-realizations. The detected inconsistencies and changing priorities in the urbanist realm are not treated as a sign of failure in the implementation of the socialist city model but rather as an essential part of its idiosyncrasy as they reflected the shifts in the regime’s operative ideology over time.
Lebenslauf / Curriculum Vitae
February – May 2006
Visiting Fellow at Berliner Kolleg für vergleichende Geschichte Europas, Freie Universität
December 2005 – January 2006
Visiting Fellow at Geisteswissenschaftliches Zentrum Geschichte und Kultur Ostmitteleuropas, Leipzig
PhD student at HU (thesis advisors: Wolfgang Hardtwig, HU and Ivaylo Ditchev, Sofia University), fellow at Transatlantic Graduate Research Program Berlin-New York
Associate Editor of Critique & Humanism journal (Bulgaria)
2004 (fall semester)
Teaching Assistant at Plovdiv University, Bulgaria (seminar on Ontology)
2003 – 2004
MA in History, Central European University – Budapest
2003 (summer semester)
Teaching Assistant at Plovdiv University, Bulgaria (seminar on Introduction in Philosophy)
1997 – 2002
MA in Philosophy, Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridsky”
Publikationen, Vorträge etc. / Publications, Lectures etc.
In preparation: “Sofia: Building a Nation-State Capital (1878-1939)”; to be included in Makas, E.G., T. Damljanovic (eds.). Planning Central and South-Eastern European Capital Cities in the Age of Nationalism. Routledge
2006. “Football and the City. An Extraordinary Month in the Life of Berlin.” Sotziologicheski Problemi, 3-4: 114-130 (in Bulgarian)
2005. “Sofia Trams (1901-1934): A Discourse on Urban Modernization.” Critique & Humanism, 2: 259-282 (in Bulgarian; English version forthcoming in Eurozine Electronic Network)
2004. “The Market Hall in the Modern Topology of Sofia: Symbolic and Socio-Political Projections.” Sotziologicheski Problemi, 3-4: 289-306 (in Bulgarian)
2004. “International Atelier for Photo and Video Documentaries “Visual Roads for the Intercultural Dialogue” (11-14 November 2004, Tzigov Chark).” Sotziologicheski Problemi, 3-4: 394-7 (in Bulgarian)
2004. “Visual Roads for the Intercultural Dialogue.” Kultura, 45 (26 November): 2 (in Bulgarian)
2001. with D. Denkov, V. Vidinsky. Roma Schools in Bulgaria 2001. Sofia: Open Society Foundation (Bulgarian and English editions)
CONFERENCE PRESENTATIONS & INVITED LECTURES
2007 (April) From Palace to Mausoleum: The Scenography of Power, Sofia (1879-1956); invited lecture at Sofia University, Department of Sociology, MA Program “Sociological Diagnosis of Contemporary Times”
2006 (September) The Central Square: Stage and Décor of the Political; invited lecture at International Summer School “Globalization and Intercultural Communication,” Kiten/Bulgaria
2005 (May) Social Differentiation Translated into Spatial Arrangement (Sofia, 1878-1924): From Ethnically Enclosed Neighborhoods towards Class-divided Residential Quarters; presentation at InASEA Conference “Urban Life and Culture in Southeastern Europe,” Belgrade
2004 (November) Restructuring of the Market Center of Sofia – Visualization of Political Strategies and Ideologies; presentation at International Atelier for Photo and Video Documentaries “Visual Roads for the Intercultural Dialogue,” Tzigov Chark/Bulgaria
2000 (October) The Migration of Bulgarian Turks in 1989; presentation at International students’ seminar with a comparative curriculum in humanities, Ankara