Rusting away in back yards and broken up for spare parts, what once was the pride of the East bloc generates qualified nostalgiaFalling
Issue 51-52, December 2010 - January 2011
by Gergana Manolova; photography by Anthony Georgieff
At the time, those were either the butt of jokes, or valuable possessions: objects of envy to be lavished with care. The cars of Communism provoked wildly diverging feelings while they were still being manufactured. To start off with, the planned economy of the Soviet bloc never succeeded in hitting the right production benchmarks, which means that citizens were unable to just walk into a shop and buy a car. Provided they had saved the money, they had to put their name on a waiting list, sometimes spanning over 10 years. Then, if they were lucky, a car would be offered to them (don't mention the colour!) That car was basically bought for life, necessitating frequent maintenance, mostly in backyards and makeshift garages. But these cars did look sturdy: designed, manufactured and dispersed by centralised economies, they felt almost like members of the family, as they transported people and goods along the broken roads of Eastern and Central Europe. Brands, models and capacity may vary, but the common denominator today is nostalgia in anyone over 30. This is the reason why people flock to popular retro car parades to marvel at the newly-painted Trabants, well-preserved Volgas or the compact Zaporozhets. The feeling is common among the older generation of car owners: now you can change your vehicle every few years, but in the good old days a car really lasted.
During its 22-year production, the Chaika was a status symbol. A near-clone of the Packard Patrician and Mercury, it was allotted to party officials and VIPs and not made available to the general public. In all its 1950s chrome glory, the GAZ M13 model was evidence that Western ideas did filter behind the Iron Curtain – albeit slowly. The Soviet Union produced two basic Chaika models from 1959 to 1981: the M13 with its 195 horsepowers and top speed of 99 mph and the 1977 version, the M14, with its 220 horsepowers and top speed of 109 mph. The Chaika was also the Bulgarian elite car of choice and the National Security Service had 60 of them. In 2008 the last 20 Chaikas, left over from driving around Party leaders and officials, were sold at an auction, with the best preserved fetching 32,000 leva.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers