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HISTORIES FROM BELENE

Histories from Belene, is a program implemented by the Sofia Platform Foundation from April 2022 to December 2024 with the support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation.

Histories from Belene is one part of Sofia Platform Foundation’s work to support the formal and informal education sectors in promoting knowledge on the recent past and civic education in Bulgaria.

Since 2013, the Foundation has initiated and implemented national and international projects, related to the Bulgarian totalitarian past. A vital part of the team’s effort and work on the topic has been focused on the city of Belene.

Belene is an extraordinary place. Besides being one of the few Catholic towns in predominantly Orthodox Bulgaria, it served as a location for the largest concentration camp of communist Bulgaria. The close-by Persin island is home of hundreds of different bird species and a beautiful nature reserve. For the past two decades, Belene has also been the construction site of one of the most controversial energy projects in Bulgaria – the Belene nuclear power plant.

A place like Belene provides various opportunities for dealing with the legacy of the past (Vergangenheitsbewältigung).

For almost ten years now, the Sofia Platform Foundation is one of the few organisations conducting educational formats/courses/training courses in Belene. One part of the activities is the annual 5-day summer school on the history of the recent past which has been organised since 2018 for more than 20 pupils and students from all over Bulgaria. Invaluable support for the Platform’s work is received from the local community, especially from Father Paolo Kortezi and Mihail Marinov from the Belene Island Foundation.

The program Histories from Belene builds on these joint efforts and achievements of the Sofia Platform Foundation and the local community in Belene.

The aim of the program is to preserve the remembrance of the totalitarian communist regime, and in particular the remembrance of the Belene camp. It contributes to attracting interest in the recent history of Bulgaria and specifically the history of Belene by, inter alia, increasing the number of visitors to the town.

Main activities

1. Creating virtual conversations with survivors

To preserve the remembrance of the totalitarian communist regime and the camp in Belene – the program includes interviews with former Belene camp detainees. The purpose of these interviews is to document not only the life in the camp, but also the experience of what it is like living under a totalitarian regime in general. Further to that a specifically-designed computer software would turn the recorded interviews in an interactive, holographic digital conversation with the interviewees.

2. Creating a virtual 3D-tour of Belene

The tour will include approximately ten steps, telling stories of Belene with special attention given to the communist period and the camp during that time. The users will be led through town by a map. 3D restorations of already missing buildings will be included in the tour.

3. Organising three 5-day summer schools for pupils and students focusing on the history of the recent Bulgarian past

Since 2018, the Sofia Platform Foundation has been organising summer schools with more than 20 pupils and students from all over of the country. During these 5 days, the participants will meet with former detainees, local residents, historians and researchers of the communist period, to work together on matters regarding the history of the totalitarian regimes in Europe and in particular the Bulgarian communist regime and the Belene camp.

4. Organising five 3-day training seminars on teaching history of the communist regime for civic educators from the formal and in-formal sector

5. Organising field trips to Belene for over 30 groups of students from the country who would have on the ground history classes

For more information, follow the Sofia Platform Foundation webpage and social media profiles.

Should you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us at office@sofiaplatform.org.

The program is supported by the America for Bulgaria Foundation. The America for Bulgaria Foundation (ABF) is an independent, nonpartisan, and nonpolitical American grant-making foundation working in partnership with Bulgarians to strengthen the country’s private sector and related democratic institutions. ABF builds on the success of the Bulgarian-American Enterprise Fund, an investment fund created in 1991 by the U.S. Congress with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Further information: https://us4bg.org/.