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Friday, August 27, 1999 Published at 17:34 GMT 18:34 UK

World: Europe

Communist bastion finally crumbles

After the second attempt the building still almost looked as good as new

It took Bulgarian workmen almost a week of round-the-clock toil to demolish one of the major symbols of communism in this Eastern European country.

For six days it looked as if Bulgaria's socialists would have the last laugh after the government failed again and again to bring down the white marble mausoleum in the capital Sofia that once contained the embalmed body of the country's first communist leader, Georgi Dimitrov.

In 1949 it had taken Bulgarians six days to erect it along the lines of Lenin's tomb in Moscow.

Using explosives and bulldozers, demolition gangs finally levelled the monument which Prime Minister Ivan Kostov had called a symbol of totalitarianism.

Embarrassment to the government

[ image: Free fun for all - partly at the expense of the government]
Free fun for all - partly at the expense of the government
The failure to destroy the building had become embarrassing for Bulgaria's Union of Democratic Forces government.

From the beginning hundreds of spectators were watching the demolition, often heckling the politicians present.

After the failed first attempt on 21 August some compared the fiasco with "the impotence" of the administration.

National debate

The decision to destroy the Dimitrov Mausoleum was taken after a heated national debate.

[ image:  ]
The former leader was embalmed and interred in the building in 1949. Mr Dimitrov's body was removed from the mausoleum and cremated in 1990, a year after the collapse of communism in Bulgaria.

The fate of the empty building remained a thorny issue.

While ministers said that the mausoleum was an obstacle to redeveloping the capital, some political opponents alleged that the plan was pure politicking ahead of local elections.

One opinion poll found that about two-thirds of the population disapproved of demolition and wanted the monument preserved.

Big bang not big enough

It always stood a good chance of survival. After all, it had been designed to withstand a nuclear attack.

At their first attempt, demolition experts packed the 1.5-metre thick walls of the building with some 600kg of explosives.

The first detonation rocked the capital, shattering the windows of surrounding government buildings and covering the central Batenberg Square in a thick cloud of smoke and dust.

As the dust settled, the iconic monument was still standing, albeit a little lop-sided.

The demolition team did not concede defeat and returned a few hours later for another go.

It failed in similar style. The government declared that a third detonation on Sunday evening would do the trick. Even more people turned up to watch the spectacle, this time with the promise of an extra 300kgs of explosives.

'Technical errors'

It was nother impressive failure, but the government was not prepared to take the blame.

Deputy Minister of Construction Teodor Dechev blamed the blunders on technical errors in the detonation.

Lessons had been learned from that wasted weekend though. Instead of going for the spectacular big blast, the government decided to gradually chip away at the obstinate marble giant.

On Monday the workmen returned with bulldozers and more explosives.

With a series of smaller detonations and mechanical demolition gear they finally razed the mausoleum to the ground.

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23 Aug 99 | Europe
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