Ongoing: Democracy + Communism: Synopsis: Communism, across time + geography
Democracy + Communism
The visual and sociopolitical parallels between present day Cuba and pre-1989 Bulgaria are undeniable, and best understood when juxtaposed.
In 1989 - two and a half decades before my latest trip between my adopted home in America, and my birthplace, Bulgaria - Eastern European communism had crumbled in unison with the Berlin Wall, opening previously closed borders to Western influence and emigration. The hopeful arrival of democracy had created space for personal freedoms and a free market, but also for myopic political nostalgia. While Bulgarians can now freely vote, own private businesses, and protest without much threat to their freedom — the country seeing a rise in the support of human rights — corruption, crime and joblessness have became the new oppressor to prosperity. Another unintended effect of democracy has been an extreme decline in population - much of it due to post-1989 emigration, high death rates and low birth rates.
And Communism didn't die in 1989: it lives in people's minds, surviving political factions and visual remnants across Bulgaria — still-standing Soviet monuments, nostalgic graffiti, decaying factories, forced labor camps, now in ruins. The idea of an amnestic future, one so disconnected from its history, awakened in me an urge to examine the effects of democracy and communism in Bulgaria - and to explore similar political circumstance. Cuba, a communist time capsule, drew me in immediately. I observed life there as a native of the Soviet Bloc: noticing the nuanced decorum of Communism, that censure and control are often masqueraded as people’s choice. I did not look for connections between the two nations, but effortessly tuned into them: the child in a red scarf saluting voters, Soviet style architecture, fledgling entrepreneurship, those who dared protest despite danger of censure and violence, the aging families of those who’d fled, the suppression of artistic expression, and endless propaganda — all effortlessly brought to recall my youth.
And so, I attempted to bridge one country’s past to another country’s present, to show that political ideals, its profiteers and its victims, could remain unchanged by time or geography.
- The Cuban and Bulgarian portions of this project have been supported by The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. It has been published in National Geographic (Proof,) The New York Times (Lens,) TIME (Lightbox,) The New Yorker and Washington Post (In Sight,) and been a part of ICP's ¡Cuba Cuba! exhibit