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Author: Petar Dinekov


The Bulgarian Revival elaborated into a historical epoch has a certain duration with a beginning and an end, and is divided internally into sub-periods. It stands between the first centuries of Ottoman Rule (emotionally described as "yoke") and independence. It forms the last century or so of the Ottoman period for the Bulgarians. The preceding period has often been depicted as "dark ages", a regression from the glories of the medieval kingdom into a state of debasing submission, in which the Bulgarians suffered under double oppression: Ottoman political dominion and the "spiritual" or cultural domination of the Greeks (through the agency of the Greek Patriarchy). Deprived of their aristocratic ruling class and educated priests, they sank into ignorance and became predominantly peasant. The early historians Vasil Zlatarski and Dimitar Mishev in particular darkened the colors in their picture of physical terror long after the initial conquest, with the persecution of Bulgarian priests and teachers, the burning of Bulgarian manuscripts, the introduction of Greek in the "cell" (monastic) schools of the churches, the paralysis of cultural activities, etc.

Although this was subsequently criticized as resting on scanty evidence and misrepresenting the realities (or even as a "myth"), a residue still persists in popular versions of Bulgarian history in textbooks and school teachings, in historical fiction, etc. At the other end, the Revival is clearly delimited by the fact of liberation. It is contrasted in substance, too, by pointing out that the (disinterested) national ideals of the Revival were overshadowed during the post-liberation epoch by the murky "primitive accumulation" of capital and unscrupulous political strategies (known in Bulgarian as "partizanstvo").

The Bulgarian Revival has been dated in various ways by both as to external boundaries and internal sub-division. As mentioned previously, some contemporary activists put the beginning of the Revival in the 1820s, with the reforms of the Ottoman Empire initiated by Sultan Mahmud II and continued under his son Abdul-Mecid. The reason for making the Bulgarian Revival coincide with the reforms is that by allowing the building up of churches and schools with teaching in the native language, and by proclaiming rights and guarantees in general, they facilitated the national upsurge and gave the formal possibility for raising the "Bulgarian question" before the Sublime Porte, of which the Bulgarian activists took advantage.

With his reputation as the first Bulgarian professional historian, Marin Drinov shifted the beginning of the Revival back to the year 1762, when Paisi Hilendarski finished the manuscript of his "Istoriya Slovenobolgarska" (Slavonic-Bulgarian History), considered as a kind of national manifesto. Other authors, Ivan Shishmanov at first, have argued that a single personality or event cannot be taken as the beginning of a new epoch as they do not come into being in a vacuum. Marxist scholarship, with its economic tenets, was particularly loath to date a period by a personality. The beginning of the Bulgarian Revival was thus moved further backwards toward the beginning of the eighteenth century on the assumption that an economic upsurge began then. However, this dating is quite preconceived and the tension becomes stronger given the effort to detect parallel "revival" phenomena and changes in all spheres: the economy, social life, culture, etc. The a priori logic that there must have been economic "preconditions" for what came later is not borne out by the insufficient and uncertain data, which leave the impression of an artificial adjustment.

A period of "early Revival" as far back as 1600 to 1830 (or, in another version, 1700 to 1830) was defined by Hristo Gandev in his early works published before the Communist rule. In his view, the Revival starts with the beginnings of the new Bulgarian language and ends with the formation of an organized society and a cultural nation. The eighteenth century in particular is characterized as the beginning of the modern period in Bulgarian history. H. Gandev portrays the early revival as a primarily native (local), social and cultural process that was self-promoted and almost independent of external European forces and influences.

The idea of an early initial boundary of the Revival is shared by some earlier literary historians such as Benyu Tsonev, and particularly Ivan Shishmanov, with regard to literary development. The appearance of the "damaskini" from the early seventeenth century is arguably the beginning of the new Bulgarian literature, on the grounds that they were written in a pure Bulgarian vernacular. This view was criticized and subsequently rejected by the literary scholars Aleksander Balan and Boyan Penev on account of the still religious character of the "damaskini". The significance of the time from the beginning of the seventeenth century to the middle of the eighteenth century (i.e., until Paisi) was later restored, first by Emil Georgiev, under the label of "proto-revival" or "early revival" marked by the appearance of writers of a new type.

The best-known Bulgarian "bourgeois" literary scholar Boyan Penev puts the beginnings of the new Bulgarian literature (and, together with it, of the Revival) in the middle of the eighteenth century on the grounds that it was then that the new national and national-educational spirit began to spread. The synchronization between literary and social-political history is argued by B. Penev with the existence of an intimate relationship between literature and social-political conditions in the period before national independence, when the creative personality served the needs of the milieu, merging individual with public ideas and in contrast to the subsequent period, when literature became the expression of mostly individual aspirations and acquired a purely esthetic value. The beginning of the 1870s, with the solution of the "church question", presents, in B. Penev's view, an important dividing line in the evolution of both Bulgarian literature and public life, which then entered the phase of political struggles for liberation. This is reflected in the revolutionary literature of Lyuben Karavelov and Hristo Botev, preceded by Georgi Rakovski.

The highly regarded literary historian Petar Dinekov, who began his career before 1944 but had to re-orientate  himself to Marxist positions afterwards, had the unseemly task of criticizing the periods and partly the concept and method of Boyan Penev, and to replace them with the "correct" view. This again happens to be a synchronization of literary development with the "total-historical" development, but with greater regard to the revolutionary movement. The basic internal divide then became the 1850s, instead of the 1870s, with reference to the Crimean War (1853-1856) that was followed by deep economic, social, and political changes and the rise of the bourgeois-democratic revolution.

There are different views as to the end of the Revival, as well. Some authors (e.g., Petar Nikov) put it at the year 1870, when an autonomous Bulgarian Church or Exarchate was established by a Turkish "firman" that meant, in effect, official recognition of the Bulgarian nation. But the majority of the authors, especially later authors, regard the Russo-Turkish liberation war of 1877-1878 as the end of the Revival, thus including into it the last decade of revolutionary struggles. Some historians (e.g., Nikolai Genchev) advance the end of the Revival until the Balkan Wars and World War I, on grounds that a strong Bulgarian self-consciousness had survived (Macedonia under Ottoman rule), and the efforts for uniting all Bulgarian lands had continued.

The end of the Revival is also put at World War I by the historian Mikhail Arnaudov, who in a work from 1938 included the processes taking place in Bulgaria itself, ipso facto. Moreover, this author added to the usual periodization a "late Revival" process from the Liberation to the World War I, reasoning that the winning of independence did not break with the general trends of the national Revival and with the ideal of uniting all Bulgarians, and that the national formation continued under the auspices of the nation-state. This brings the understanding of the Revival as a nation-building process to its logical consequences. Later on, when Macedonia was joined as a fruit of the pact between Bulgaria and Nazi Germany, M. Arnaudov carried the end boundary further on to World War II, on the grounds that the national unification processes were then completed. This view was also endorsed by Georgi Konstantinov.

The internal sub-division of the Bulgarian Revival has also been the subject of controversies. The literary scholar Ivan Shishmanov, followed by Boyan Penev, divided it into a "spiritual revival" proper reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance in some respects, which ended with the establishment of the Bulgarian Exarchate in 1870; further, the awake of a "political revival" with secret committees and revolts, which began in 1860 with Rakovski's efforts to transform the armed bands ("cheti") of outlaws ("haiduti") into revolutionary units and ended with the national liberation.

On contrary, Mikhail Arnaudov in his turn subdivided the Revival into four phases: (i). an "early revival" from Paisi  at 1762 to the peace treaty of Edirne at the exit of the Russian-Turkish war (1829); (ii). the "revival proper" from 1829 to the Crimean War (1853-1856); (iii). a "high revival" from the Crimean War to the Liberation (1878); (iv). the already mentioned "late revival" from Liberation until the Balkan Wars and World War I. The Revival started with symptoms of national regeneration under the signs of the historical past and love for the mother tongue and the idea of the motherland; national efforts accelerated to reach a peak in the "high revival"; the impulse continued after liberation but gradually abated. Wars always served to mark the sub-periods in the periodization thus proposed.


Picture 1, 2 & 3: Theory and chronology of literature in modern Bulgarian language. Here are samples of some of the first textbooks in the History of Bulgarian Literature. These are rare editions and full review of their contents would be presented elsewhere.

(i). "Dimitar Marinov. History of Bulgarian Literature. Plovdiv, 1887".


(ii). "Aleksander Teodorov. Bulgarian Literature ~ a Short Historical Review. Plovdiv, 1907".


(iii). "Bojan Angelov. Bulgarian Literature ~ Part II: Historical Essay on New Bulgarian Literature. Sofia, 1923".


Addendum: Also find below a short treatment on the "History of Modern Bulgarian Literature" by Clarence A. Manning (1960). Though very well written it doesn't give fullest account on the processes in Bulgarian Literature, which are further expanded by another author - Charles Moser in the 1980s. By far the golden standard on genesis of Modern Bulgarian Literature remains Prof. Boyan Penev's 4 volumes study /in Bulgarian/. Equals Prof. Vasil Zlatarsky's historical treatment of the subject in magnitude, ipso facto



Copyright 2007, 2013 by the author.