Today was not a good day for trains. There were various shenanigans at the station.
First I got on the wrong train, the driver had to let me off.
Then I managed to board the correct train for Pernik, but got off at the wrong station - Pernik ‘Distribution’, a stop in an industrial zone1 far out from the town centre.
So I had to walk the rest of the way into the town, although I did enjoy going through the factories and good yards. It was a welcome change of scene after visiting the Roman ruins in every other town.
The square in the centre of Pernik holds a monument complex dedicated to the miners. It was closed off for repairs, but the gate was ajar and there weren’t many people around. I had a look inside.
There was a series of statues showing blocky miners in expressive poses. You see the figures bent over, sitting down, pushing a cart - all quite different from the upstanding poses of heroic statues. The area is sunken relative to the rest of the square and the statues are surrounded by black overhanging stone, the scenery is definitely evocative of an underground mine.
I went to the miners museuem, with a tour of some old mining tunnels out of use since 1966. The tunnels were part of a working coal mine, most of the tour involved showing off increasingly sophisticated mining machinery and the progression of technology from horses and pick-axes to a modern2 industrial operation. The old man doing the tour did not speak english, but I generally got the idea, there was lots of pointing at heavy equipment and enthusiastic nodding.
This is a reinforced internal shelter.
I’m not sure the two are comparable, but my memory of visiting old mines in the UK involved much older industrial history than the most recent technology. The focus point of cultural (and industrial) heritage here seems fixed at a different point in time.
Afterwards, I tagged along with the rest of the small mine tour group3 to see the old Miners club nearby. The ground floor of the club is now a bank, it required some negotiation to see the rest of the interior.
The Miners club contained a hall, and a stage decked out with wood panelling.
That hall was as much a historical experience as the tunnels, like stepping back into a time capsule.
Behind the club there are old miners cottages, and further into the town a cinema, theatre, swimming pool, library; lots of cultural amenities for a small industrial town. All that could be down to socialist modernisation - the intention to create a place where the mineworkers and their families were well served by opportunities for art and leisure.
I noticed a small plaque at the front of the Levko shopping centre, which reads (in Bulgarian):
The Pernik Party Organisation was established here in June 1908.
The plaque doesn’t specify which party organisation. It looks like it dates back to the socialist period, but the Bulgarian Communist Party was only formally constituted in 1919. My best guess is the plaque refers to the BCP’s predecessor, the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers’ Party (tight socialist faction), formed in 1903.
Finally, I took a detour to go and see the large statue of Georgi Dimitrov on a hill in the central park.
Unfortunately the plinth of the statue was covered in neo-Nazi graffiti, which at least underlines the continued relevance of Dimitrov’s work. His home village was not far from here, and some of his early political activity involved leading mining strikes around Pernik. A short biography4 written by Petra Radenkova notes that he was arrested on February 19, 1919, during a strike by the miners of Pernik. Another passage from the same biography reads:
In May 1911 the miners from Pernikd declared a strike and sent for G. Dimitrov. In a torrential rain and a strong wind he walked all the way from Pernik to Sofia, a distance of 30km, together with the striking miners.
Dimitrov is mainly known today for his role as a politician and as a theorist of (anti) fascism, I wasn’t aware of his background as a union organiser.