Amateur filming by western tourists in Communist Bulgaria was relatively rare, compared to its neighbours in the same period. Here is some footage, shot by a group of British youths, who travelled from the Bosphorus to Bulgaria's Black Sea coast. They even filmed in the strictly prohibited border zone on the Bulgarian side!
Converted from Kodachrome Super 8 mm film
James Crouchman travelled mainly on foot across Bulgaria's North West - the mountainous lands between the Danube and the border with Serbia, today the Bulgarian province of Montana. He explored and documented on film an area full of history, where dialects overlap and once gold and silver miners came from as far as Saxony, brought in by the Ottoman Turks.
James: I met Asparuh from Glavanovtsi village. He gave me apples and told me he disliked Churchill. He was five during the worst bombing of WWII, but still remembers Allied planes flying overhead to target the oil fields in Romania just across the Danube, before returning and unloading their unused bombs on this part of Bulgaria. He told me about the sound the explosions made, echoing for miles around.
From Glavanovtsi I walked nearly 100km over four days to Belogradchik, crossing mountains and taking detours to villages on the way. People would often stop me and give me food or drink. In Protopopintsi village, two old ladies invited me in to their garden and gave me 'compot', not the British sort but fresh fruit juice from figs and peaches. It's a fascinating area, one that deserves to be spoken about more than just in terms of GDP and employment figures.
Photography © James Crouchman
A piece of visual history - the first photo album of the Bulgarian capital after the Communist takeover in 1944.
Most of the over 100 photographs were taken by Architect Nikolay Popov and Pencho Balkanski, both established internationally in the 1930, with exhibitions in Vienna and Belgrade.
(more to come)
Todor Zhivkov, Bulgaria's undisputed leader for 35 years, playing host to the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in a hunting lodge in Bulgaria. Early 1970s.
It is a unique photo - events like this were never reported, and usually no records were kept. The service personnel were sworn to secrecy, hence the facial expressions of some in the background!
The top Communist nomenklatura were often keen hunters. Some argue this was an attempt to emulate the old ruling classes they toppled, and in many cases managed to abolish, or 'liquidate' in their own terms.
"When I first moved to Sofia, I knew hardly anyone, and spent most of my free days wandering the streets around ulitsa Pirotska, taking photos and drinking coffee in 'Halite'.
One of the first people I got to know was a fellow English photographer, a 50-something divorcee working for a financial institution in Sofia. In emails he referred to the city as 'So Fear' and the name stuck. It became some kind of title to our photography of our Sofia. For a year I lived in a flat with paper-thin double glazing next to a busy junction on Dondukov, so the sound of So Fear for me has always been a trolley bus pulling away from traffic lights, perhaps why I take so many pictures of public transport. "
Photography © James Crouchman
49 years ago, at dawn on 21 August 1968, the armies of the Warsaw Pact countries (except Romania) crossed the borders of Czechoslovakia and toppled the government of Alexander Dubček. His attempts to reform the Communist regime and aspirations of a Socialism with a human face inevitably put Prague on a collision course with Moscow. The orders from Moscow were brief - the status quo had to be preserved at any cost, the Prague Spring was doomed and the tanks rolled in.
Do you remember the Prague Spring?
Five nations sent their troops, including Bulgaria. Most of the Bulgarian soldiers went via the Soviet Union, where they were briefed. Only a few of them knew the exact destination, though they were all told that their mission was to stop a counter-revolution and prevent a West German invasion. The Bulgarian soldiers stayed in Czechoslovakia till October.
Изминаха 48 години от най-мащабната операция на български войски след Втората световна война, при това не на учение, а инструктирани за бойни действия. Призори на 21 август 1968 г. войските на страните от Варшавския договор (без Румъния) навлизат в Чехословакия. Това е краят на Пражката пролет и на опитите на тогавашния водач на Чехословакия Александър Дубчек за реформи и "социализъм с човешко лице".
Бяхте ли с набори 1948-1949 в Чехословакия през лятото на 1968? Знаете ли нещо от вашите родители за тези събития?
A piece of visual history – Bulgaria's leader Todor Zhivkov lays a 'time capsule' in the foundations of a Communist monument in the Bulgarian mountains.
From the original booklet for the opening of the Buzludja Memorial Complex, summer of 1981 .
As Communist Bulgaria entered the last decade of the 20th century, it prepared to celebrate the 1300th anniversary of Bulgarian statehood with suitable pomp.
One of the highlights of the celebration was the opening of a giant complex in the mountainous area of Buzludja – it was here that the foundations of Bulgarian socialism had been laid in a humble meeting back in 1891. It was later to be transformed into Lenin's model of Communism.
Buzludja was a feat of mountain engineering. The construction which included soldiers and unpaid workers, even helicopters, lasted 7 years, costing the Bulgarian state a staggering amount of money.
After the collapse of Communism in 1989 the memorial complex was abandoned, and left unmaintained. It's now partly derelict, but is still of huge importance to the successor to the Communist party, which often brings its followers to this isolated corner for morale-boosting gatherings.
Bulgaria's Communist leader (1954-89) Todor Zhivkov at the heart of the "Banner of Peace" festivities in and around Sofia.
By 1989 four such gatherings were held in Sofia with thousands of children from over 130 countries participating. Supposedly non-political, the movement was nominally under the patronage of UNESCO and other UN agencies, but became a focal point of Communist Bulgaria's cultural management in the 1980s.
Are you in this film? Were you involved in this? We'd love to hear from you.
Converted from 16 mm film.
The Bulgarian village of Brashlyan has always sat at a crossroads. For nearly fifty years it was a remote outpost on the border with Turkey -- right on the faultline which separated Communism from the rest of the world.
Brashlyan's elderly residents still share stories about the horrific and sometimes surreal efforts to protect Bulgaria's frontier. The derelict relics of that time are still there, but Brashlyan is looking for a new role in life. One of the villagers, Maria Kichukova tells us about its painful past and her big hopes for the future.
Българското село Бръшлян в полите на Странджа е винаги било на кръстопът. Близо 50 години то е изолиран, ”преден пост” на границата с Турция, която тогава дели комунизма от останалия свят.
Възрастните жители на Бръшлян все още разказват за зловещите, а понякога и почти сюрреалистични усилия да се опази българската граница. Овехтялите съоръжения от онова време са все още по местата си, но днес Бръшлян търси нов облик. Една от неговите жители, Мария Кичукова, разказва за болезненото минало и за големите си надежди към бъдещето.
We follow 3 young Bulgarians to the former Communist Congress building Buzludja, located at the top of the Balkan mountains on the outskirts of the town of Gabrovo.
18 years after the collapse of Communism they talk about what they feel about this once mysterious building that has been both a symbol of suppression and a representation of freedom.
Directed and Edited by Stephen J Bell, 2007.
On 16mm film & DV.