Dissident Cultural Movements in the Eastern Block

Project “EUnderground” wants to bring the history closer to young citizens with a very unique topic which has received less attention so far. The project reveals a hidden and less accessible cultural heritage of former socialist countries: the field of underground cultural movements in Eastern- and Central-Europe between 1948-89. The project’s scientific, cultural and non-formal educational activities about counterculture helps significantly the acquaintance of the era, which creates a better understanding the importance of free speech and civil dialogue in a democracy. We show different forms of cultural protesting against the repression of the freedom of thought and conscience through censorship, and accent the contrast between the dictatorship of the party state and the democratic system of the EU nowadays.


Intercultural Student-Journal Workshops

We would like to organize creative workshops for European students (under 20) about the cultural censorship in the communist past. A guest speaker (historian) from a partner country will visit a school in another partner country and will deliver lectures about the life of artists under communism of his/her own country. With the help of the foreigner teachers the students will learn how the totalitarian propaganda was worked, and what happened if somebody had “different thinking” in the field of literature, painting, music or any other type of arts. At the end of the workshops the young participants from all countries have to make together a “samizdat” newspaper with old photos about a specific event from the past like rock concerts, underground cultural gatherings or alternative artworks. With this censorship-circumventing journal, they have to explain the truth against the totalitarian propaganda. We will translate the student articles to every partner’s language and publish it.

European Traveling Exhibition

It will be a traveling exhibition about the underground cultural movements in the Eastern Block countries. We would like to display the tragic fates of artists who were exiled from the “official” communist culture because of their political views, artistic styles or their subjects. We try to show a wide variety of culture and art forms. We will use the case-studies from the Knowledge-Center and we will introduce around 3 artists/groups per countries (18 together). We want to tell their stories mainly with innovative visual and iconographical elements. The location of the exhibitions will be held in unconventional places, like main walking streets, squares, shopping malls, or busy public places. With this method we can reach much more quantity of visitors and more diverse target groups. The national opening ceremonies will include performances and talks with the artists too.

Censorship Festival

It will be a one day long cross-national cultural festival to remembering the victims of the totalitarian censorship. With this festival we would like to commemorate to the oppressed artists and the cultural opposition movements from the Soviet Block. Our main aim with the festival is to get the attention of the young generations and with cultural examples from the past, explain the democratic EU values nowadays. The programme of the festival: art performances from underground and dissent artists from the former socialist countries, concerts, opening ceremony of the traveling exhibition, displaying the student samizdat-journals from the workshops, public readings, interactive debates with the witnesses, exhibitions, film projections, etc. Location: Budapest, Hungary.

Transnational Knowledge Center

We would like to develop a crowd-sourcing online community surface. Here will be loaded up all of the project related educational and scientific materials. At the beginning it will contain 30 case-studies with multimedia elements (interactive maps, images, films) about the life of oppressed artists or illicit groups. After the end of the project we would like to expand continually the center with new contents from other European countries.

Organizer: Laterna Magica (Hungary)
European partners:
SAN- Social Sciences University (Poland)
University of Bucharest (Romania)
Art Kontakt (Albania)
Educentrum (Czech Republic)
Institute for Studies of the Recent Past (Bulgaria)
Period: 2018-2019

Full data on implemented activities can viewed in the attached document.

Images from Persin, Belene – Drawings from a Communist Labour Camp

The immediate aim of the project is by using the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the accompanying public interest to process and present as a traveling exhibition under the auspices of the Bulgarian President an unique collection of original and first-hand testimonies about the communist totalitarianism and its victims to different social mediators and communities, especially to engage and provoke younger people who does not have direct experience of the communist past.

Period: 2014

The vivid and realistic imagery of the drawings made by Petar Baychev during his detention on the Belene Island from 1950 to 1954 has a huge potential to revitalize discussions and remembrance about the communist regime and its impact on Bulgarian society.

Through the project ISRP also intends to catalogue, classify, digitize, describe and analytically communicate in series of publications these findings, as well as translate the whole corpus in English and prepare its dissemination beyond the national scope.

Remembering and understanding communism in Bulgaria

Тhe main challenge before our Institute now is to change the research perspective and direct our attention deeper into the everyday functioning of the regime, to elucidate the social system it created and to observe and understand the specific professional and social groups that communism has “designed” and nourished.

Period: 2013 – 2016

The aim of this project is to go beyond these dividing lines and to explore the period from an independent and methodologically informed academic perspective that guarantees the accumulation and communication of academic knowledge to the wider public.

Most of the nowadays political, economic and social downsides in Bulgarian democratic development are deeply rooted in the decades of communist totalitarian rule. The thorough analysis and profound understanding of the regime-society relations and practices during these times can help decision makers, stake holders and society as a whole to proper identify and deal with these pressing challenges.

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Oral History of Communism in Bulgaria (1944–1989)

a) In-depth interviews with the “inhabitants” of the communist regime and

b) Call for life narratives and authentic diaries from the communist times.

Period: 2010 – 2012

Our general goal is by introducing to the interested audience the private, intimate experience of the people under communism to enrich and broaden the critical historical knowledge and social capacity for moral evaluation of our common recent past.

The project team tries to achieve these through the development of a rich database of people’s testimonies from the times of the communist regime in Bulgaria. As it is noted in the proposed project title it will consist of two types of resources: (1) interviews and (2) written life narratives gathered through an open call for recollections and authentic diaries from 1944–1989. These two forms of witnesses have things in common but also presuppose a different level of self-awareness and varying proportion of spontaneity and auto-censorship. Viewed from this perspective they are complementary and provide an additional validation for each other. It is hard to foresee who and how many will answer the call for written life stories. However, in respect to the anthropological survey and according to the financial and human resources the project team can conduct from 150 to 200 in-depth interviews.

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Knowledge and Memory Policies

“Knowledge and Memory Policies: Public (Mis)Use of the Recent Bulgarian Past” is three year research project. Its basic premise is the lack of critical and profound mass of knowledge about the communist period which hinders the independent evaluation of the past.

Period: 2007 – 2010

Implementing partners: National Art Gallery, Paideia Foundation, Political Science Center.

At different stages of the project implementation the Institute will closely cooperate with Faculty of Philosophy, Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication at Sofia University, other universities, Bulgarian Media Coalition, The Victims of Communism Union.

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Historical Research on the Communist Period

Period: 2005 – 2008

The Institute for Studies of the Recent Past started a common research project with Open Society Institute in Sofia on the communist years in Bulgaria. Researchers are writing on 16 actual topics from the recent past. Outcomes to be announced and published in the following years.

  • The “Revival Process” (Cultural assimilation of the Muslims in Bulgaria), Alexey Kalionski
  • Bulgarian Communist Party and its Policy toward Bulgarian Emigration, Boyko Kiryakov
  • Bulgarian Rural Areas, Mihail Gruev
  • The Political Regime and the Bulgarian Muslims, Mihail Gruev
  • State Security, Momchil Metodiev
  • Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Momchil Metodiev
  • The Party Nomenclature, Alexander Vezenkov
  • Governmental and Social Organizations, Alexander Vezenkov
  • The Foreign Debt of Bulgaria 1944 – 1989, Daniel Vachkov and Martin Ivanov
  • The Socialistic Reform “during the 80-ies”, Martin Ivanov
  • Currency Policy without Currency, Roumen Avramov
  • “The Real Socialism”. Political and Cultural Analyses, Ivaylo Znepolski
  • The Cultural Policy during Communism, Ivan Elenkov
  • The Production of Historical Knowledge during Communism, Ivan Elenkov
  • Policies for Construction of Cultural Memory, Evelina Kelbecheva

Memory Awakened – Voices from Below

The project aim is to involve people from the countryside (village, small town, medium-sized town), ordinary people in reflecting on their past (life under communism 1944-1989) and put their own stories in the public debate, looking for reasons of silence, non-participation, alienation and melancholy.

Period: 2005 – 2008

The voices from below are voices of people from the periphery of the system, performers of prescribed roles who were trampled or privileged by the system, people who have failed to conceptualise their life experience and are therefore still helpless in the changing times.

The project has three components which are not only mutually complementary but also follow a logic of deeper investigation of the problems in question: oral history, reflective seminars, open competition THIS IS MY PAST.

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