Prof. PhD in History of Arts
South-West University N. Rilski, Blagoevgrad
Civilization paradox: Bulgaria- Europe
/Parallel of identities: Cultural profile from the beginning of the 20th century and social processes during the 21st century in Bulgaria/
The problem of collective identity is among the most discussed since it is related to the collective awareness of one’s own national destiny comprised of the past, present and future, as well as of the realization of cultural identification characterizing a specific region such as the Balkans, for example. The element of sustainability is vital for the cultural identity as it becomes a reference point and a cultural landmark for a given period and region. The cultural marks for Bulgaria and the Balkans in the 20th century and those established as a public profile in the first two decades of the 21st century make the subject of this text.
Benchmark analysis is the tool for making a parallel between the already established cultural identities of the 20th century that have transformed into characteristic images and emblematic events enabling the transfer of community values and experience between the generations and the dynamic and controversial portrait forming the survival profile of Bulgarians during the first two decades of the 21st century. This is about a benchmark analysis having tradition as its grounds, on one side the already formed identity of Bulgarians in the 20th century compared to the realities forming into trends during the first 20 years of the 21st century. Along this risky parallel at first sight we search for common typologies in our national destiny; as well as for different forms of identity, qualitative outstanding changes in typologies, including in the graphics of identity. The signs of the 20th century are outlined in the research based on the cultural profiles, already created and formed as attitudes in the Bulgarian society, while for the 21st century what is used are the social processes and studies in the direction poverty-economic immigration-values in the background of our EU membership. It is clear that the comparison intends to review and analyze the identity adopted by Bulgarians after the Liberation while building the new Bulgaria – until the 20-ies of the 20th century – and the modern Bulgarian trying to build a democratic Bulgaria within the EU. And, of course the aim is to outline the realities of cultural memory, to the extent that it serves as a corrective for the modern Bulgarian, and to show the most outstanding typologies which are being formed currently.
My assumption is that problematizing the typologies which are characteristic for the beginning of the 20th and the 21st century will point out the dynamics of the identity of Bulgarians and their different profiles. I expect to outline what is lasting in Bulgarian identity, including the metamorphoses imposed by the new challenges of the 21st century. The established maxim that from civilizational point of view Bulgaria had been in Europe long before the accession to the European Union, having in mind values and development strategies common with those in the Old Continent, will be confronted with the realities of the eight years of the 21st century while our country is a real member of the Community, and when as a result of membership Bulgaria is at the bottom of all rank lists – the poorest, lagging behind and unreformed country. The value aspiration for catching up, making up to reach Europe which is characteristic for the social climate, focused on the building of a new Bulgaria in the beginning of the 20th century has transformed in the 20th century into an attempt for survival in Europe through education, economic emigration. Actually, this exsanguination of Bulgaria of the most educated, active and entrepreneurial Bulgarians as of today is dooming the development and modernization of our country. It is namely that paradox in the interrelation Bulgaria – Europe (in the beginning of the 20th century – as a spiritual Europeanization of Bulgaria and in the 21st century – Europe as the shelter for survival of the Bulgarians) that is the leading one in the comparison. Exactly that parallel which outlines the qualitative distinctions in the actions of Bulgarians, denoting our identity during the different periods is under the focus of this text.
Stepping upon key problems for support of analysis which are concentrated in several major units – as a cultural memory or identity of the group, communicative memory – memory of the generations, narrative memory – dialogue between fathers and children, including community mythography-characteristic images, events and ideas with the help of which the delivery of the community values between generations is taking place. This parallel will uncover the qualitative changes in the Europeanization project and its meaning in the beginning of the 20th century and the realities in the first two decades of the 21st century.
The Europeanization project is on the agenda in Bulgaria as early as the first two decades of the 20th century, in liberated Bulgaria that aspiration is extraordinarily strong. The spiritual inclusion of the values of the Old Continent, opening, dialogue, synchronization of our searches and objectives with that cultural community, while preserving the parameters of originality and uniqueness of the Bulgarian – these are the processes the results of which we are today pointing out as an important part of our cultural heritage. The native and the foreign, the Bulgarian and the universal – these are not only reference points of opposition, our movement is not only the results of influences and dominations, but rather the inevitable typology of our historic existence, of our lot as a crossroads nation, with unevenly going fate – great upswings and agonizing standstills, with powerful protectors but with mighty conquerors too.
In fact Bulgaria acts as the salvation buffer between the Ottoman invasion, Islam and Europe with its Christianity. Nevertheless, after our liberation from the Ottoman yoke, the Great European powers repeatedly reshaped the boundaries on the Balkans. Right after the Liberation Bulgaria was torn into the Principality of Bulgaria, Eastern Rumelia and Macedonia which remained in servitude. This is probably the reason why our instinct for self-preservation as a nation and identity, our survival dominates before the realization of the Bulgarian as an individual, a citizen of the world. In the beginning of the 20th century, during the active period of building of the New Bulgaria was the start of the hectic catching up, opening to the world and tackling universal problems. Our national fate reflected in the compound meters of our folklore songs and dances has apparently encoded the originality of our character and the typically Bulgarian road to Europe. The open-mindedness of the crossroads person from the Balkans, his constant readiness for dialogue adds to the profile of objective historic circumstances. The specific Bulgarian way to Europeanization is one of an uneven dynamics – leaps, catching up, stagnation – this is a way that outlines our originality. What is born, develops and dies on the Old Continent, as a way of thinking and method of recreation in arts as artistic schools and directions, as visions for development is taken on in Bulgaria at an accelerated rate, at a pace of catching up and adaptation to our local environment. The schools and searches of Europe get mixed up here and exist within an original artistic collage. Furthermore, what stands as basics of the Bulgarian expression of modernity or school is primarily the mission work, the catching up. This is a sustainable specific feature, both of our culture and the profile of our artists, even of the most talented and searching ones: they are missionaries and innovators at the same time.
Within the 20th century this regularity stands out with its mirror-like relation to its beginning and end, the synchrony between the Post-liberation epoch and the Post-communist times is evident. Those two significant periods during the 20th century are characterized by the categorical walking out of the situation of reticence and isolation; in the explicit strive towards new partnerships and communities. After the Liberation Bulgaria appears on the map of Europe, having won its Union and Independence. The strong revival ideal, the collective conscience of Bulgarians motivated by the wars for national liberation is replaced by the individualism of the modern Man, the universal hardships of the free Bulgarian. Thus, in the fields of spirituality the Young (Pencho Slaveykov, Yavorov, Petko Todorov, Dr Krastev) replace the Old (Vazov and his circle) in the beginning of the 20th century.
Mirror-like processes run in Post-communist Bulgaria too – the collective conscience of socialism was destructed; egoism which was considered a negative of human behavior has become a fundamental value for the new Bulgarians in the end of 20th century. Educated abroad and pursuing their own realization beyond Bulgarian borders, they are still inextricably bound to the Bulgarian way to Europe; however rather different from that of the spiritual missionaries from the Misal („Thought”) circle. That is because they return from the European universities and capitals to build the new spirituality of Bulgaria carried away by the Post-liberation upswing in our newly established country. This section of spiritual union with the European and the universal during the 20th century is referred to by our great intellectual Petar Uvaliev as „the parallel Europe”. In his open lecture at the Sofia University „St. Kliment Ohridsky” /1985/ Uvaliev as a real European, having realized himself in the Old Continent, outlines the personalities, processes and values characterizing Bulgaria as a parallel Europe, as a partner of the Old Continent in spiritual leadership.
The beginning and the end of the 20th century have one more characteristic in common – the unleashing of the furious initial accumulation of capital – the expressive Bulgarian character of Bay Ganyo from the beginning of the century and later, in the end of the 20th century – the imposition of the thugs, the mafia who became the principal characters of the wild capitalism entering for a second time the Bulgarian realities. The low-culture public, „the louts“ as they are called by Slaveykov in the beginning of the century, as well as the pop folk (chalga) culture of the post-communism are their synchronically accompanying phenomena. This barbarian and primitive environment also creates its antipodes. After the Liberation the foursome Misal („Thought”) was formed by Slaveykov, Yavorov, Todorov and Dr Krastev as cultural missionaries, as the Bulgarian emissaries of our Europeanization in the entire spiritual field – from literature, through theatre, to the press, art criticism and translation. In the end of the 20th century the hopes for cultivation of the public environment and rules for democratic development are once again associated with Europe. Especially in the era of communications and globalization the Balkanization, isolation, stagnation are no longer possible. Europeanization, openness and dialogue are on the agenda. Europeanization reached the peak in its fulfillment with our membership in the European Union which creates the framework and actual opportunities for changes in the beginning of the 21st century.
If we look upon the 20th century through that wider blend of our cultural and historic development, important processes and typologies of our identity will be outlined and considered on the way to Europe. And if these are surveyed by the fields of spirituality, culture and publicity, the focus will inevitably fall upon the vivid characters associated with the epoch of Liberation – the Exiles and the Uncles: the vehement rebels and the unstoppable chatter in Ganko’s coffee shop and the rather funny, indecisive, idle characters. They are followed by the Place-hunters, also created by Vazov in the beginning of the 20th century to confirm the fixation in the model of Misinterpreted civilization. It is confirmed by the possibility in such a deformed society to impose Golemanov, a personage created by St. Kostov – the always greedy for power, mediocre politician. Bulgarians express their identity through the prism of the satirical; these characters precisely show how the way to Europe deviates into our specific deformed idea of civilization. In our walking to Europe for us Bulgarians what is characteristic is not only the compound meter but also the absurd of the fixation upon deformed phenomena such as Bay Ganyo, for example. Through satire – of the literary characters, the stage, the public- this comes to show that we are conscious of this fixation and that it is difficult for us to move along from a civilizational point of view towards the searches and directions of the first half of the 20th century. These characters are still the emblems of own way to Europe, they are markers, warning signs in our development.
Entirely Bulgarian identities of the first half of the 20th century are focused upon in works of art and characters such as „Mother-in-Law“ by Strashimirov as proverbial for the cruel family dictate; in „At the Foot of Vitosha Mountain“ by Yavorov and „Albena“ by highlighting the way cruelty of customs and the prejudice kill love. These are rather painful, however typical conditions of our national identity. We could also add here the tragedy of emigrant workers – in the play „Masters“ by Racho Stoyanov, also the type of the Brick-layers who are trying to build a new Bulgaria at the cost of great sacrifice according to the play of P. Y. Todorov. The latter are not so much popular with the public, remaining as an addition to the primary satirical characteristic types of the first half of the 20th century.
In its second half, if we put in front of the brackets the socialistic realism and the pathos embedded in the particularly skeptical and realistic Bulgarian realism, more sustainable typologies come to the surface: the turmoil and its heroes created by Radichkov, the lack of direction for the those travelling on Stratiev’s „Bus“ who are going nowhere; the self-destruction in the „Female Maneater“ of Ivan Radoev to the „Titanic Orchestra” by Hristo Boychev – sinking but not hopelessness …There is always one point of view in satire – from that viewpoint both the authors and the public understand deformations; they want to deny their involvement in them, especially if loudly voiced by the publicity of the theatre, cinema and television.
Actually this is the most important typology outstanding in the cultural landscape of the 20th century – the values and liveliness of the Bulgarian who understands his own faults. We still keep on laughing at Bay Ganyo and Golemanov. Through them we also cast a look at new turmoils. From characters and works of art these discoveries of the 20th century in the Bulgarian literature, dramaturgy and theatre have become public attitudes, proverbial in our public space. In the same way as Tartuffe, Don Juan or Misanthrope from Moliere’s works in Europe. In the same way as European identity is studied through these characters, Bulgarian identity could be discovered absolutely successfully through the aforementioned national types.
The rule that time says farewell to its heroes by laughing is characteristic for the end of the 20th century. Exactly this period reports the peak of the types formed throughout the 20th century.
Statistics shows that cultural exchange and mutual familiarization go just along the line of the types emanated by a nation or a region. Very interesting in that respect is the fact that until 1989 only two films were exchanged between Bulgaria and Macedonia – the comedy „Witty Peter” by the Bulgarian side against the tragedy „Macedonian Bloody Wedding”. In the last years of the 20th century our National Theatre made a visit to Skopje with the „Exiles” by Vazov and „Money Kills” by Risto Krle of the Bitola Theatre had a guest performance in Sofia. An exchange of types – the typology of exiles against that of emigrant workers – equally topical in present days.
During the last decade of the 20th century until present, in the beginning of the 20th century, changes are definitely observed in these vivid Bulgarian types, especially concerning people making a living abroad, the emigrants. What is common with the past 20th century is the poverty forcing the young and enterprising Bulgarians to leave their homeland in present days too. The thesis for „emigration as a family fate” has its roots in the objective fact that Bulgarians are forced to survive through economic emigration both in the first half of the 20th century and in the beginning of the 21st century. Today going abroad to make a living which was characteristic for the first half of the 20th century is not only a matter of making money but rather an immediate act of survival. And the question here is for a lasting process of emigration that started on a mass scale in the end of the 20th century and is continuously maintained until present. This already concerns more than 2 million Bulgarians, the most active population. Even as a member of the EU, even in the 21st century, Bulgaria is the poorest and most problematic region of Europe with respect to development, modernization, standard of living. The present-day problem is paradoxical: democracy-poverty-social isolation and it becomes more and more expressed although Bulgaria has been a member of the EU for eight years now. It turned out that neither the post-totalitarian changes, nor the transition, including our participation in the EU structures could change that scenery of a backyard, poverty and lagging behind in Bulgaria. It is evident that old problems are transferred to the new century. However, new types appear here which are socially rather tangible. For example, the profile of the famous Bulgarian gardeners in Hungary /first half of the 20th century/ where they transferred new technologies and skills and became renowned and demanded is obviously different from the profile of the Bulgarian economic emigrants of today. They are ready to do any kind of non-specialized work, a very small percentage of them succeed to find realization on the European market with their occupations. They are mainly led by the „fear from poverty”, the survival at any cost – „here and now”. „Quick” money quench another great fear – to secure the family and children. However, this is how exactly in the beginning of the 21st century education and professionalism in Bulgaria is devaluated. And this is a process that became a dangerous social phenomenon, still valid in Bulgaria today which gave a severe blow to the values, the relations between the generations. It appears that in the century of technologies, of innovations, Bulgarians as a part of the EU do not realize the spirit of the fundamental principle of the Community – free movement of people, in the meaning of supply of better prepared workforce and not as low qualified workers looking for the „quick money“ and survival.
As a main problem forming in my culturological studies over the last decade definitely stands out the commercialization of education, culture and the media. The deformation of these three important pillars in the modern civilizational profile of Bulgaria is an encroachment upon the values, the national Bulgarian identity which was preserved for centuries thanks to literacy and culture. Our transition to democracy in the last 25 years gave severe blows to traditional values such as the replacement of the Cyrillic alphabet with Latin to make it easier to use the Internet and mobile phones, the attempts to ruin our historic memory as insignificant compared to learning new technologies /the students are learning how to use a computer, it is useless for them to read Vazov/, the attempts to turn the community centers – cultural gathering points for the Bulgarians for over a century – into commercial areas such as cafeterias, gambling halls, etc. All those of our local attempts at a misinterpreted civilization already gone past were corrected by the EU membership. Language diversity, cultural practices, national values are highly respected there. The Cyrillic alphabet is already an official alphabet of the EU alike the Bulgarian language, our community centers are particularly respected in Europe as unique cultural centers with traditions all over the country – in small and big cities. Unfortunately attempts still exist in our public practice to make education equal to commodity, as well as to determine the value of a stage performance or a film only based on the tickets sold. Such extreme commercialization, treatment as a commodity and not as value with respect to traditional cultural spheres which are an important part of Bulgarian identity definitely result in an uncertain civilization landscape in modern Bulgaria. The same as filling our media space with entertainment programs, lack of the necessary percentage of Bulgarian works related to our history and culture. This entire controversial process of the last 25 years has its consequences and is especially indicative for the civilization paradox Bulgaria-Europe in the beginning of the 21st century.
There is one very important fact regarding the preservation and formation of the Bulgarian identity, much more in the beginning of the 21st century. After 1989 following the start of the Bulgarian transition to democracy a new generation was formed which grew up in this period of changes, with values and in an environment that again forced Bulgarians to survive and not to develop – a main defect of our misinterpreted civilization of the past 20th century. Apart from all the pros, democracy left the young in particular to get to know the problems with poverty, the lack of perspective which resulted in the mass emigration. This process has not stopped since 1989 and continues to be topical today. Statistics shows that*22% of the population of our country is abroad. Moreover, this is the most active, working, educated and enterprising part of Bulgarians. Statistics points out that a small percentage of those economic emigrants have an occupation corresponding to their education, most of them are economically forced to accept a low qualified job to make a living for themselves and their families. The new generation is brought up in abnormal conditions, with separated parents and children taken care of mainly by their grandparents while the parents are working abroad / according to the latest statistics these are about 300 000 adolescents/. For them Skype and Internet are the communications with the relatives. This may appear as one of the paradoxes of our modernization – when grandmothers in the village chat in Skype or Internet in order not to lose the connection with their relatives. With that model imposing itself, under the present-day conditions in Bulgaria it is difficult to create a bond with tradition, to form a feeling of community. In a period distinguished by the typical knot for Bulgaria: democracy – EU-poverty, definitely leading to crisis, to questioning the rules of democracy, as well as the norms of the European Union as a whole. The Europeanization of Bulgaria at present is characterized with its falling to the bottom of all rank lists of standard of living in the 21st century. The society does not have the civil energy to overcome its problems, to progress.
Characteristic is the strong family bond instinct and not the civil responsibility. The reason here is in the collapse of our transition to democracy because it rules out corruption, poverty, lagging behind. Bulgaria has been governed for 25 years by politicians who alienated their people from public priorities. The Europeanization, the modernization of the country was left behind; survival is on the list, with all its consequences. Reality shows that Bulgarian families proved to be extraordinary sustainable in all the chaos and difficulties of our 25 years of transition. Exactly this patriarchal spirit made it so that Bulgaria relies on the money our emigrants earn and afterwards send to their relatives in the homeland. This form of family life and solidarity established itself as particularly characteristic for Bulgarians in the first half of the 21st century. This really passes beyond borders and clearly shows that it is not only a form of survival but also for preservation of the bond with the Bulgarian roots. Data show that from January to October 2014 EUR 800 000 million have come from Bulgarian emigrants to their families in Bulgaria, double the amount of the direct investments in our country for that period. These data show the emigrants are the biggest investors in Bulgaria; however they invest in the survival of their own families creating the so-called cross-border households. Thus, they build the „family Europe”, live and bring up their children with a higher living standard than the Bulgarians who remained to work in the country in a period of economic crisis; they preserve the generic line but not the Motherland, the national identity. And they namely – the educated, enterprising Bulgarians – do not participate in the most important strategy for Bulgaria: the change and development of the social environment in our country. For the sake of keeping their families the latest generation of Bulgarian emigrants works in Europe but stays away of the civil priorities of our Europeanization of values. This specific feature of Bulgarians is to become a cultural sign and proverbial during the 21st century.
The civilization knot Bulgaria-Europe led our country also to the most threatening demographic catastrophe. Data show that in 2014 2000 people have left the country and 500 have returned. Poverty definitely restricts the possibility for upsurge of the national identity and development of Bulgarians. Bulgarians in Bulgaria are disappearing. The question is how, without the motherland and its revival and economic stabilization will the Bulgarian identity be preserved? How will the bonds with tradition, with the Bulgarian identity continue to exist?
The civilization paradox characteristic for the Europeanization of Bulgaria, its strategic objective during the entire 20th and 21st century, is possible to overturn, to be normalized once the need for civil contribution for a change of the critical situation in Bulgaria is realized, as well as the need to turn our country into a better place for living. The escape from economic hardships and turning a back on their solution with democratic means is not the way to Europe. These are also the obstacles for the preservation of Bulgarian identity, the reasons for complication of the dialogue between generations and thinning the threads of traditions and values. Especially indicative is, for example, that the new generations do not have elementary civil culture, they know nothing about dates such as 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the beginning of the transition in Eastern Europe and in Bulgaria. This is actually the newest history of democratic Bulgaria, its values and causes, its leaders and processes. The momentary profile of today indicates broken links between generations and in particular that the civilization objective – the Europeanization of Bulgaria, its real democratization and civil activity with preservation and development of its identity- is undergoing serious crises. This required the development of my thesis for the civilization paradox: Bulgaria – Europe: with its own features and own profile. The possibility for a new visionary outlook of the next decade of Bulgaria for its modern identity and new traditions is hidden in the analysis of these difficult processes.
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