A person is AUTHENTIC if her or his actions are not influenced by external factors but are intrinsic, stemming from the person itself. That’s what German Wikipedia tells about “Authentizität”.
Peer pressure and manipulation undermines authenticity.
Applying this definition to a
city might seem weird at the first glance but at the same time provides
some impressions a visitor might have in an unknown city.
Let’s take Sofia centar where I am just now. If you come down from Vasil Levski Boulevard, one of the major roads in the city, you cannot miss the massive 34-metre
high Pametni na Sovetskata Armija ( Soviet Army Monument), the remarkable Stalinist sculpture on an even huger square: A Red Army soldier leads a Bulgarian couple with their child towards the promised land of communism. (As history has shown the couple – and not only the couple – got lost on their way and never reached it.)
If you come up from the opposite side after sunset you are likely to pass the monument without even noticing it. What you spot from miles away is even higher and on the very top of a corner house just next to the square. It’s
neither a Russian nor a Bulgarian figure; its name is Johnnie Walker, overseeing the square in red neon writing.
Photo: Kristin Höltge
East meets West and past meets present.
Whatever daytime, Johnnie Walker is shining red, walking with big steps
toward the crossroads while the Soviet hero lost his way (and might
need a Scotch whisky). The scene around: Good weather means teenage
skaters perform acrobatics on the makeshift ramps nearby.
Asking Stefan, one of the younger skaters, what he thinks about skating
in between the Soviet Soldier and Johnnie Walker, I only get an
irritated “I am [a] skater” – which in turn irritates me. However, in
the centre ofSofia, teenager meets Scottish multi-national company meets Soviet WWII hero.
Anything Bulgarian at all? Anything Authentic? Everything?
There was the Georgi Dimitrov Mausoleum, built in 1949 to hold the body of the previous Communist leader and destroyed in 1999 as a consequence of the fall of Communism.
Todor Zhivkov, one of his successors to lead the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, managed better to stay remembered. As Chairman of the State Council he ruled the country for almost two decades until 1989. Although he was refused a state funeral after his death in 1998, his magnificent Boyana residence survived the heated desire for the destruction of Communist symbols.
Photo: Kristin Höltge
Let’s get back to peer pressure, manipulation and authenticity.
Was it peer pressure to put the Soviet hero in the city centre of Sofia? Probably. Manipulation to install Johnnie Walker? Unlikely. Dimitrov Mausoleum and Boyana? Rather artificial than authentic.
Still, it’s all non-authentic puzzles of an authentic Sofia.
All the different pieces belong to the city, its history, and its collective and individual memory, its present. Sofia shaped its inhabitants as they – political leaders, investors, common (wo)men – shaped the city.
The diversity itself is authentic, real.
Transitions need political symbols: monuments,
destruction of old symbols, and maybe even advertisements to announce
new eras. But rubbing out symbols doesn’t delete old periods. Sometimes
symbols don’t look beautiful (as the Palast der Republik in Berlin,
for example) but still, they present the outcomes of authentic
decisions. Decisions made by those in power at a certain period.
Whether or not we are in a position of power we need to accept the diverse pieces of our own personality. It was formed at certain periods of our lives, intrinsic or extrinsic, and belongs to a whole authentic picture of ourselves.