Between Propaganda and Cultural Diplomacy: Nostalgia towards Socialist Realism in Post-Communist Bulgaria

  • Abstract:
    During the Communist period Socialist Realism was part of the superstructure, as understood by the Communist ideology; as such it was subordinated to politics and articulated its objectives functioning as propaganda, thus seeking to create an idealized image of the Communist life both within the country and as a foreign policy. More than 20 years after the fall of Communism, in the fragmented post-modern and post-Communist art world of the country, developed in pluralistic national and transnational dialogues, surprisingly or not 38% of the population prefers the Communist state (“Barometer of the New Europe” study, 2005). Nostalgia towards the Communist past and Socialist Realism emerges as a substantial sign of an unfulfilled debate over the past and questions the status of fine art in the post-Communist situation. This paper argues that nostalgia towards Socialist Realism is one of the impediments, which hinder fine art to function as cultural diplomacy because it maintains a sense of an illusory wholeness, which connects the art world of the country to the closeness and the grand recit of Communism. Introducing aspects of a current practice based research; this paper focuses on institutional and personal examples of nostalgia, examined in relation to the functions of fine art as propaganda. Nostalgia is scrutinized through the strategies of display of Socialist Realist monuments and paintings, strategies that provoke images to be ‘read’ as myths instead of critically discussed, as well as in attempts to be institutionalized by private museums of Communism. Critical views on nostalgia are explored through the works of the contemporary artists Nedko Solakov and Luben Kostov. Discussing debates on Socialist Realism and its status, this paper seeks to explore ways fine art to function as cultural diplomacy, ways that derive by an open dialogue on Socialist Realism beyond the political and provoking free exchange of ideas.