During my visits to Central Asia and the Balkan I began noticing these amazing buildings and art meant to show the power and political ideals of a Soviet communist workers’ empire. It’s referred to as Soviet béton brut or simply, brutalism. Soviet architecture systematically gets a bad rap: too much concrete and seemingly beamed in from a remote planet. But, I’ll let you be the judge. These are some photos I took in Kyrgyzstan, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania, all of them former Soviet satelites.
Unnamed, Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan)
This piece of art stands in a park behind the International University of Kyrgyzstan. It bears no sign, name or explanation.
Main Post Office, Skopje (Macedonia)
The post office in Skopje is remarkable. It consists of big soviet style concrete blocks combined with a construction added on years later representing a “futuristic insect with upturned legs” made in reinforced concrete.
The Wedding Palace, Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan)
The communists banned all public religious expressions. Marriage was reduced to a formal affair carried out in government offices. The Kyrgyz people however insisted that they had a right to wed in religious establishments. The authorities were unwilling to accept this, but were willing to compromise. And so emerged the non-religious wedding palace which looks like it could be a castle, a church, a temple, something from science fiction or a combination of all of the above.
Statue of Lenin, Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan)
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin, was the founder of the Russian Communist Party. This statue depicts him showing the masses the correct path to Peace, Land and Bread. He’s pointing here to the North. Curiously this statue used to be in a more prominent spot before 2003 where he was pointing to the South. A powerful symbolism of the state of affairs of the communist ideology?
The National Museum of History, Tirana (Albania)
This is the largest museum in the country. It was opened on 28 October 1981. Above the entrance of the museum is a large Soviet-style mural mosaic titled The Albanians that depicts purported ancient to modern figures from Albania’s history.
The Circus Building, Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan)
The communist state viewed circus performances as an egalitarian form of entertainment to be enjoyed by the masses and built many permanent circus buildings in the Soviet Republics. The shape of this building, which was constructed in 1976 looks a bit like a UFO or something slightly unworldly. There are still regular shows being held here.
Friendship Monument, Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan)
This is a monumental Soviet art opened in 1974 in the honor of the 100th anniversary of the voluntary accession of Kyrgyzstan to Russia. Two tall pylons made of white marble are girded with expressive high relief with the figures personifying the Russian and Kyrgyz people connected by ties of unbreakable friendship. Kyrgyzstan became independent in 1992.
The Pyramid, Tirana (Albania)
On 14 October 1988 this structure opened as the Enver Hoxha museum in honor of the Albanian communist dictator who had died three years earlier. The structure was co-designed by Hoxha’s daughter. Some claim that at that time it was the most expensive individual structure ever constructed in Albania. Many would like to destroy the specter of communist rule, whilst a vociferous group of Albanians wants to keep it.
Ala Too Cinema, Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan)
Located on the main square in the heart of Bishkek is Ala Too Cinema. It is the largest cinema in Bishkek. In addition to watching a movie, you can enjoy the sculptures decorating the walls of the building that depict Soviet cosmonauts and other Soviet heroes.
Partien Dom, Sofia (Bulgaria)
At the end of Independence Square in Sofia is the evidence how former Communism leaders in Bulgaria made their effort to follow the whole Communism concept and establish a grandiose building. It used to house the Communist Party. A massive Soviet red star used to crown this building. However, when Bulgarians attempted to torch the building in 1990, the star was removed in a hasty manner and substituted by the flag of Bulgaria. Today the building is mainly used as Government offices.