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ROLE AND CULTURE OF THE BULGARIANS

Author: Geza Feher

 

This exposé could have been written elsewhere in our booklist, nonetheless it is appropriate for faculty purposes here and now. We give a short overview on the historical science in this country and mainly from a detached perspective of a foreign national thus avoiding too much affiliations or otherwise apprehensions on the subject.

It seems appropriate to divide the modern history discipline in Bulgaria, no matter whether in or out from academic circles, into two and better three sub-periods in time sequence with respect to its accomplishers. The third period is already reviewed in another article from the booklist — cf., "N. Iribadjakov. Clio on Trial ... Sofia, 1986". The first two periods are due to subjective re-evaluation in modern times and this is not only because new and unambiguous sources appeared recently in circulation. The main reason is because some old bulgarian authors were rediscovered in modern literature after a period of some 50 years or so of neglect or otherwise lost to citation.

Let us briefly reflect on the state of the art in conventional bulgarian historiography with its scholarly commentaries. It is mainly based on the voluminous workloads of basically two Nestors of classical historical thought in Bulgaria. Those are Prof. Marin Drinov and Prof. Vasil Zlatarski, respectively left some 4000 + 6000 pp. of mass historical product for the generations. However, the information value of this scientific stuff is comparatively low and even from the standpoint of comparative western literature in the field. Both authors are outdated, their sources relate to the past 19th century and are covered mainly from secondary sources of German, French and Russian origins. This is outward intolerable for modern history science, which even in Bulgaria tried to find a new face in the 50s and 60s of the 20th century. It was at that time that the first "Fontes Grecorum et Latinorum" appeared in systematized manner and good for further processing and dispensation in scholarly merit.

What is the fate of the "classic" bulgarian textbooks and monographs in lieu of the modernization process in present times? Are they viable for the national spirit and national propaganda, or they are simply remnant from the past than should be re-circulated with care. These are some of the questions in front of modern history and modern science in Bulgaria, per se. They are not to be solved immediately, but pending is also unreliable and particularly in terms of growing competition on worldwide scale.

We were aiming to take a position in this field of much debate for Bulgarian culture and science. The methods of this presentation are in no orderly way giving standpoint on the question. This is not a dialogue or some form of open poll to be commented on. Yet we did make a try and hopefully other ones could present better pros and cons in the future. As a complement we give a short list of recommended authors that are pertaining to history methodology in Bulgaria for the past two centuries:

First Period, with Nestor being Prof. Marin Drinov in the 19th century. His main opponents were multi-volume writers (i.e., though not professional historians by education): 1) Spiridon Palauzov, antiquarian from Odessa; have written a brilliant monograph on the regnum of King Simeon in the Middle Ages (1852), called by some authors the Charlemagne in the East. He wrote further volumes on mainly history of the Slavs, no mater whether they were bound in Russia, Austro-Hungary or the Balkans. 2) Georgi Rakovski, lawyer and revolutionary; he wrote a lot of stuff mainly as a journalist, but also left several monographs on bulgarian history with ethnography. Must be considered as father of the modern bulgarian nation, not only because he first raised a banner in the 1850s. 3) Gavril Krustevich, from the family of prince-governor Stephan Bogoridi; called by M. Drinov a traitor since he served extensively the Turks, but remained altogether bulgarian in his heart. The "History of Hunno-Bulgarians" (1869) which was written in Istanbul remains unsurpassed in its evaluation of sources — Greek and Latin — while, nobody in newly liberated Bulgaria dared even mention the hypotheses launched by this author. 4) Georgi Dimitrov, privateer and undertaker; the role of this man was outwardly ignored and even though he merited with such authorities like K. Irechek and F. Kanitz from abroad. This surveyor, since we don't know anything about him except that he was indebted to the publisher for printing his book, subsequently wrote the first narrative on Bulgaria from ancient times to modern perspective - viz., the "Kingdom of Bulgaria", in three volumes (1894, 1896, 1899).

Second Period, with Nestor being Prof. Vasil Zlatarski and the circle of the Bulgarian Historical Association (i.e., Petar Nikov, Petar Mutafchiev, Ivan Dujchev, Veselin Besheliev, etc.), spanning the first half of the 20th century. Main opponents here are the following: 1) Gantcho Tzenoff, graduate from Berlin in classical philology; have been rejected on several instances the Chair at the Faculty of History, Sofia University. His debates with Prof. V. Zlatarski on the origin of the Bulgarians have remained in the classical archive of bulgarian scientific literature. The author wrote 5-6 monographs in bulgarian language, printed by the Government Printing Office and as much as three monographs in german language, printed by W. de Gruiter Verlag. 2) N. Yonkov-Vladikin, nowhere mentioned in the catalogues of bulgarian literature; seemingly, an emigrant from the country before the WWI but his book remained in circulation. He treats the flow of time from pre-history, the dispersion of the Indo-Europeans and their arrival on the Balkan peninsula. Sometimes called fantastic writer, he has populated his two volumes of narrative (i.e., 8 octavo, 300 pp) with historical and imaginary heroes in the caliber of other semi-adventure or semi-scientific stuff and particularly attributive with french authors L. Jacolliot and C. Flammarion. 3) S. S. Shangov, esoterical writer and publicist; he was instrumental of much pre-war propaganda in the circles of the Royal government before WWI. Expatriated from the country after the Neuilly treaty, but remained active in politics. His book on history from the 1920s was acclaimed unbelievable and while many a professional writers threw an envious glance at its contents. This is because the book has a rich bibliographic apparatus, with references in Greek, Latin, Arabic(?) and Ivrit(?). 4) Dimitar Suselov, lawyer on private practice and sentenced to life imprisonment by the People's court but lingered to the pen-club until the 1970s. The history book on the "Trail of the Bulgarians" (1936) has been appreciated on a higher standard even by means of international comparisons. He firstly used Chinese sources on the Hsuing-Nu people, then traced their migration through Central Asia to Caucasus and from there to the Balkans, finally made explicit conclusions on the Occidental roots of the Bulgarian civilization. Recently his theories have been exploited by some modern authors in the 21st century.

There are more titles that could be deservedly included in the list of "forgotten" histories of Bulgaria. We do not want to depreciate the role of the classical school in bulgarian historiography, but this is unfortunately the case as of early recapitulation on the subject. A restful consideration should be given on the forgotten ones and last but not least we should have in mind that nothing is lost so far, since there are numerous substitutes in foreign languages and with particular reference to English literature.

As concluding lines, we give tribute in this essay to Geza Feher. This scholar spent almost all his life living and working in Bulgaria, having often been abused by the bulgarian authorities because of his numerous trips abroad and mainly to Budapest and Istanbul. The workload of G. Feher is also outstanding, however he was seldom referred as definitive starting point in historical debates. He remains as a substitute of the classicists in Bulgaria, notwithstanding, in an era where foreigners did their best in the name of this country.

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Pictures 1 & 2: Protective clothing of Bulgarian warriors in the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, debates on the history of the Bulgarians continue. As has always been the case, we have tried to illustrate the arguments from both sides — within and without, which does not preclude contest from a third party, ditto.

(i). Armor cladding from the First Bulgarian Kingdom or at least what the elite used to wear.

 

(ii). Knight outfit from the Second Bulgarian Kingdom or at least what the elite used to wear.

 

 

Copyright © 2008 by the author.