The nostalgia for communism (in English) - an interview on the BNT

I was invited as a guest on the show ”Day starts with Culture” aired on the Bulgarian National Television last week. This is the translation in English of the interview and a link of the show in Bulgarian:

TH - Television host

K - Krasimira 

TH: Our
show continues with a topic related to the socialist nostalgia in relation to
one, or two projects of the young photographer Krasimira Butseva who lives in
the United Kingdom.

TH: Hello
and welcome!

K: Hello!

TH: I think
it is good to have this conversation right now. What is your opinion about the
destiny of the monument in front of the National Palace of Culture? Of course,
you may not share your thoughts, if you would like.

K: I think that it should be preserved. Because it is somehow
architectural work, a sculpture – and despite the period in which it was made.
I think that this is my opinion about all of the monuments from the Socialist
time, because they are all works of art done by artists despite the fact that
they were commissioned by the government or someone else. I don’t think the
monuments should be destroyed, they are our culture.

TH: Calling
them ‘’monuments’’ at the end of the day, they are related to our memory and
reminding us something. Actually your works is exploring how memory works for
this period of time. But not a memory that just preserves and collects, but a memory
that realizes and thinks, we can see this from the tittles of your practice –
we can see the word Utopia and Unhappy i.e. you are already giving your thoughts
about this time. Could we start from Slices of Red? This is what we see behind

K: Yes,
this project is inspired by personal family stories with which I grew up, but
which I’ve never seen as different or interesting. Only because they were told
to me when I was little, as any other person in my age would have heard the
stories of communism from their family. But when I left for England and spend a
few years there, I started to see the world very different from how I used to
when I was living here, the world in which I grew up and these stories started to
impress me. Especially when any of these stories are told to someone in
England, for them they sounded very absurd. No one believed me that this
happened in my country and to my parents, and that it didn’t happen hundred
years ago. And this was when I decided to try and create an image, an
impression of the experience of communism from my point of view, because the
stories I am using are very specific. But the feelings and memories are the
same as how other people have experienced them not only in Bulgaria but in any
other Soviet Republic.

TH: By the
way, you know what worries me in your work and specifically the way you write
in your work, that in these individual stories and subjective ways to live the
socialist time, you are trying to make a collective story that will sound

K: Yes.

TH: Aren’t
you risking here, because no matter what the time is there is no way for a
story to be collective and universal?

K: Yes, you
are completely right. But one of the stories in my book is from my Grandmother
and the story itself is about the nationalization – which is a process that
happened in every family, not to every person but in every family. Which was a
process when the government took people’s houses, hotels, businesses etc. And in
that sense, I was seeing this as a universal, because it happened to a lot of
people. Even though the story I am telling is from my grandmother who shared
her personal memory, the feeling and experience is the same. Some of the other
stories are from my father, who used to be a rebel – he wasn’t against the
regime but he was following what he thought was right. And I think that there
is a big part of the people who wanted to express themselves no matter if they
are against or supporting the communist system. And in that sense that the
stories are universal not literally.

TH: I was a teenager in the 80s and this reminds me of what you are
saying. I’ve always wanted to wear long hair at school and this wasn’t a
revolution against the system, but it was a big problem for them and this is a
fact. And the accent in the Utopian, another of your projects?

K: I am exploring the nostalgia of the Bulgarian society.

TH: Is this nostalgia fake?

K: I don’t think so. There are many different points of view which I’ve
explored regarding this topic. For example, I would never blame the people for
being nostalgic, because I completely understand them and why are they feeling
like this.

TH: We are nostalgic for our childhood. The fact that it happened to be
in that system doesn’t mean that we are nostalgic for the period.

K: Yes, this is one of the reasons. Despite the repressions and
restrictions of the communist time, for which people are completely aware this
is what have formed their individualities and identities. Also, they have lived
their childhood and adolescence through that time and they will always want to
go back there no matter from which country they are and despite the conditions
they have lived in.

TH: I don’t know if you are regularly in Sofia. But have you noticed
that on the buildings in the centre the graffiti aren’t the communist symbols
but are the swastika. Do you think this is nostalgia?

K: No, I think this is a kind of illiteracy.

TH: Yes, because the people drawing them haven’t been born in the 50s.

K: Yes, I don’t think they even know what they mean. They probably know
what they reference but that will be pretty much their whole knowledge. I think
this is a way for them to show they are rebels, rather than a well-thought decision.

TH: You are visiting labour camps from the 50s and photographing them?
What is the feeling of doing this?

K: Now, I am working on my final work for my Master’s degree, which is
for the labour camps. My family is not related to any of these events, but last
summer very randomly I watched a short film about the camps and after that I
was very shocked. Because I had no clue about these things, this information has
never reached me from the media, news, television, school or my parents. And
this made me feel as if I must try to tell this story again and see what
happened with these places. And specifically, to capture the passage of time on
these places. Some of the buildings are remaining on some of the locations,
while others are completely empty without a trace that something had happened
there and now they have turned into beautiful landscapes. But even where there
are remains the nature has taken over.

TH: I want to ask you a bad question, not a nice one. How old are you?

K: I am 23 years old.

TH: And have you studied in Bulgaria before going to University?

K: Yes.

TH: And were there lessons about communism in your history book?

K: Yes, they were. But they were at the end of the book which was
studied at the end of the year too when no one is paying that much attention.
Communism has been mentioned, but wasn’t studied in depth.

TH: So, you think that every young person should have a duty to remember
and preserve what the education officially hasn’t given or explained to them.

K: I don’t think so, not really. I think that it is good for people to
be informed despite of their age even. Because the new information expands the
way you see the world and then you look at some things in another way and
become interested in other things or you start to understand why the place you
live in is such. Because the past is the core of our present.

TH: The problem is that for the close past there is no consensus in
Bulgaria yet therefore this is still handing and left behind.

TH: On what else are you currently working now? Where could we see your
work in Bulgaria?

K: In September, on the 15th , 16th and 17th
there will be a group show in Plovdiv a part of the Night of Museums and
Galleries festival. The show will be with me and four other photographers who
are Bulgarian as well and whom I’ve met at University in England. We are all
exploring Bulgaria – different aspects of the country and there I’ll show the
project Slices of Red.

TH: Okay, great! When September approaches, we’ll remind our viewers to
stop by your show in Plovdiv. Thank you very much for visiting us! And wish you
good luck.

K: Thank you too. 

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