World newswires

Bulgaria PM's 'leadership kitsch' painting gift mocked

A painting depicting Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov at the construction site of the TurkStream gas pipeline extension sparked memes in Bulgaria on Friday, with many mocking commenters saying it harked back to Soviet-era agitprop.

The painting shows Borisov -- whose popularity has plummeted since massive anti-government rallies last summer -- with Serbian President Alexandar Vucic, against a backdrop of helmeted workers moving a pipe section with a crane.

Social media users were quick to mock the apparently anachronistic style of the painting.

"Long live Socialist realism!" culturologist Ivaylo Dichev exclaimed, riffing on the communist-era art style that depicted construction sites, factories and farms.

"The idea for this gift is the peak of leadership kitsch," said advertising creative director and opposition activist Martin Dimitrov.

"The very idea that the laying of pipes can be the object of art is catastrophic and reveals the moral misery of our society."

Meme-makers had a field day, depicting the painting in place of the Mona Lisa in Paris's Louvre gallery or being admired in the White House Oval Office by new President Joe Biden.

One Facebook user even remade the image to add Russian President Vladimir Putin overlooking the scene from the sky.

The artwork was commissioned by Saudi company Arkad, which is building the pipeline.

It found its way to the hands of the Bulgarian government, which gifted it to Vucic "as a keepsake from (Vucic's) visit to Bulgaria last June", according to the Bulgarian government.

The artist behind the work, 75-year-old Simeon Krastev, told AFP he was indignant at the "wave of insults" he'd been subjected to on Facebook.

"It's just realism, not Socialist realism," he said, adding that people had just seized an occasion to express their hostility towards Borisov and the pipeline project.

Arkad had ordered a total of some 30 paintings from various artists, Krastev said, adding: "I had no idea that one of my paintings would be given to Borisov, let alone to President Vucic."