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Breaking the Wall: portraits from the Belene communist labor camp

БНР Новини
The Belene camp

An unusual exhibition has opened at the National Gallery of Art in Sofia featuring portraits of inmates of the communist labor camp at Belene, Northeastern Bulgaria. The display marks the 25th anniversary since the start of democratic changes in this country. The portraits were secretly drawn by Petar Baychev, a doctor of law and artist. He spent close to five years in the communist camp. The people from the portraits had been sent to Belene for political and biographical reasons. „Today more than ever the memory of their suffering is alive and will never be wiped out from the nation's history. We will not let this happen. I wish success to the exhibition. I hope that it is yet another breakthrough in the wall of deception and oblivion. Let truth be invariably our cause”, President Rosen Plevneliev said at the event's opening.

Inmates

The exhibition is the work of the Institute for Studies of the Recent Past. Its archives keep roughly 10,000 pages of interviews with political prisoners and labor camp inmates during communism. „We want to establish the truth and to hand it down to young generations”, the Institute's Director Prof. Ivailo Znepolski says. “It is important to show that period through the prism of the private lives. We have to find out what happened to a man when the machine of violence ran him over, broke him down, destroyed his life's program, rendered futile the skills, competences and talents he had and threw him into society's periphery? Petar Baychev was one of those new pariahs sent to the camps by the communist regime, divided forcefully from their families and placed to exist in inhuman conditions. Even after he was released he was banned from practicing law and from returning to his own home. Nevertheless, he has left a legacy suggesting that he was a gifted man with strong will who managed to be internally free even in the communist camp.”

Politician Stoycho Moshanov and General Ivan Vulkov

Self portrait“Selecting from a huge faceless crowd dressed in gray tattered military greatcoats or whatever they could get,  he focused on a group of people who had special value in his eyes”, Prof. Znepolski goes on to say. “This was t