J14. Western Diplomatic Relations during Bulgaria’s Stalinist Rule
From 1946-1991 Bulgaria was known as the People’s Republic of Bulgaria and was ruled by the Bulgarian Communist Party. The first Communist leader was Georgi Dimitrov (born 1882). He died in 1949 and power passed to the Stalinist, Vulko Chervenkov (1900-1980).
Bulgaria’s Stalinist phase lasted from 1950 until 1956 – the time in which this album was produced. During that time frame Chervenkov was Prime Minister and agriculture was collectivized and a massive industrialization campaign was launched. The results of those large capital investments are prominently displayed in this album.
In 1950 diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and the United States were broken off. France, however, remained a crucial link for Bulgaria to the West. Diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and France have a long history. The first treaty between the empires dates back to the Ninth century. Until the 1990’s, French was the most frequently taught foreign language in Bulgaria. France was also present at the time when Bulgaria began its return to democracy. In 1989, the visit of the French president François Mitterand in Sofia and his breakfast with Bulgarian dissidents marked the new stage of bilateral relations.
This album is a massive and elaborate endeavor created ca. 1955 (there are photographs dated September 1954 in the album) for either a French dignitary or French diplomat. The beautiful photographs represent every significant industry in many cities in Bulgaria (rose oil production, textile, agriculture, garment, transportation, etcetera) often featuring common workers (identified by their names!), factories, and schools, as well as the Bulgarian Party leaders Dimitrov and Chervenkov.
In a time when the United States no longer maintained diplomatic relations with Bulgaria, this album documents Bulgaria’s efforts to maintain a link to the West – through France. Diplomatic relations, of course, go both ways. France was not always pleased with U.S. cold war efforts and this album shows how they attempted to build a bridge between the Soviets and the United States through countries such as Bulgaria.