Madonna's Concert in Sofia: Ending Bulgaria's Post-communist TransitionEditorial |Author: Ivan Dikov | August 30, 2009, Sunday // 02:45| views
Madonna staged a pretty amazing show in Sofia Saturday night that impressed 60 000 fans in downtown Sofia. However, that was no regular concert; it seems to have the significance of a historical event...
Because chances are that in a few decades it might be considered by historians the watershed event symbolizing the end of Bulgaria's post-communist transition, and the beginning of a new historical period for the country.
As ridiculous as this may sound, the fact of the matter is that this is not just: A) Madonna's first ever concert in Bulgaria; B) the largest concert to ever take place on Bulgarian soil; C) an absolutely amazing show of music, dance, and light; D) all of the above... It is: E) a lot more than all that.
Since 1989 (actually, since about 1762 or earlier, but that is a different story), Bulgaria has been aspiring to become an unconditionally European (and Western) nation, to gain an indisputable legitimacy as such, to be part of Europe (read: Western Europe), and the West.
Other than the shattering of the formerly planned economy and the appearance of a Bulgaria mafia bosses with colorful names, the aspiration to at least look like a Western nation has been the major highlight of the country's post-communist transition.
This transition has lasted for about 20 years now, and many people have been wondering when it would end, and what watershed event would mark that end.
Bulgaria joined NATO in May 2004, and the EU in January 2007. According to popular opinion, however, none of these formal, high-politics events felt like the watershed launching a new historical period for the nation...
Perhaps a pop culture event such as Madonna's concert would better serve that purpose. It is true that only 60 000 people experienced it first-hand but, at least on the most superficial level, it was a much more tangible occurrence, with a much greater psychological event for many compared to the signing of treaties and formal handshake ceremonies in Brussels, or even in Sofia.
Because, for all I know, the atmosphere at Madonna's concert in Sofia Saturday night, was no different that at such events in New York City, London, or Paris, at least in principle. It simply felt like being in a Western country, i.e. an orderly state that is on the tour map of one of the top stars in the world. And that is a feeling that is not very common in Bulgaria yet.
The true significance of Madonna's glamorous show in Sofia is putting Bulgaria on the map. And not jus the Sticky and Sweet Tour map.
There has been one other concert in Bulgaria that people were similarly excited about, and left a lasting impression to the extent that it even became an expression in the Bulgarian youth slang - the concert of Metallica in Bulgaria's then second largest city of Plovdiv in 1999, attended by over 40 000 people. At that time Plovdiv was declared the cultural capital of Europe for a month.
The Metallica concert also had a "putting on the map" feel to it because of the coming of the top US heavy metal band - 10 years after the fall of communism Bulgaria hadn't seen many appearances of such kind. Unlike Prague or Budapest, or even Moscow, for that matter, Bulgarian cities remained a distant corner of Europe for any global Western pop culture events. And, by the way, at about the same time that Metallica sang in Plovdiv, the UK electronic music group Prodigy canceled their concert in Sofia because of the War in Kosovo/the NATO bombing of neighboring Serbia.
Much has changed and much hasn't since 1999; Bulgaria has certainly come closer to Western standards in many spheres. But it is not quite there yet psychologically.
The most important effect of Madonna's concert in Sofia is its psychological impact. Perhaps her show is indeed the beginning of the end of Bulgaria's post-communist transition, in which the country has been "still not there yet"... And perhaps the true end of the transition will come when the appearance of world stars like Madonna in Sofia, Varna, Plovdiv, or Sunny Beach will be seen as something a lot more commonplace, and not that big a deal, i.e. the rule, not the exception...