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ETHNOGRAPHY OF BULGARIA

Author: Vesselin Hadjinikolov

Editor's Note: This book deserves special attention, since it represents a first major collaborative study from the bulgarian side in the field of ethnography science. Besides the chronology aspects of development for this science in Bulgaria - i.e., for which we reserve a special chapter to be developed in one of our next publications in the booklist - subsequently, these volumes exert a special attention of the reader with two facts: i./ that, with the bulk of information contained in it and much more because the book is printed in big octavo with high definition printing; ii./ that, with the wide number of specialists participating in the project which come from different cultural background in science and are synthesized under the general editorship of Prof. V. Hadjinikolov. We present this book with a lengthy critical essay given below, but before this we wish to say few words from our personal point of view. The ethnography science in Bulgaria has separate development for this country in the reflection of the tumultuous 19th. and 20th. centuries. Although it has been in line with other major cultural and political processes worldwide, notwithstanding the branch of popular philosophy or whatever other names it contained like "folklore", "cultural anthropology", "social psychology", etc. has some specific patterns in our geographical region, which has been part of Europe and the Balkans in particular. The 19th century gave a forward push to the Balkan nations and they have awaken from the 500 years of lethargy under Ottoman Yoke. Happily for the Bulgarians, they gained their independence rather bloodlessly and compared to other nations with the same geography who walked through the transition in a much more tormented fashion /i.e., consider the case of the Macedonians and Albanians, who remained in Turkish slavery until almost the end of World War I/. On a global scale, this times of resurgence were characterized with two major applications of the ethnographic science ~ firstly, the romantic-mythological and panoramic with museums or exhibitions. The beginning of the 20th. century witnessed a new inclination for the discipline ~ secondly, the theoretical-methodological one and which around that time became a subject for the university curriculum. We finish our commentary with a short note on the first bulgarian scholar who held a tenure in Ethnography at the Sofia University from 1920s and 1930s. Unfortunately, the name of Stoyan Romanski /1882-1949/ and his contribution to theoretical ethnography was put into neglect by socialist historians of science. They postulated with unblemished staunchness one and the same theorem for the genesis and development of bulgarian science, which stemmed from common root with the other Slavic nations and the Russian / Soviet guidelines as paragons for ethnic propensity, ditto.

 

ETHNOGRAPHY OF BULGARIA

VOLUME I: INTRODUCTION TO THE SCIENCE OF ETHNOGRAPHY AND SOCIAL-NORMATIVE CULTURE

The objective of this paper is to present a brief analysis of a magnum opus, the authoritative three volume collection “Etnografija na Balgarija” [Ethnography of Bulgaria] published between 1980 and 1985 by the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. It represents the official synthesis which covers a wide range of subjects from ethnology and folkloristic. Under the general editorship of academician Veselin Hadjinikolov (Hadjinikolov et al. 1980), the first volume contains a substantial theoretical-methodological introduction plus chapters on Bulgarian ethnogenesis, demography, physical anthropology, psychology and two essays on traditional social organization and customary law. The second volume (Georgiev et al. 1983), is devoted to material culture, and the third (Genev et al. 1985), to spiritual culture (world-view, customs, rituals and beliefs, folklore). Clearly, the volumes intend to give a global picture of Bulgarian ethnographic production up to the time of publication. My aim is to specify the theoretical school of thought to which the contributions belong and to examine their ideological content.

From the beginning Hadjinikolov asserts that ethnography is a science, one of the many disciplines coming under the umbrella of history. Ethnography uses its own specific sources and applies its own research methods with the aim to study the historic development of ethnic entities, national cultures and lifestyles (vol. I: 57). Ethnography as practical history should clarify the ethnogenesis of large and small ethnic entities and search for the historical roots of specific customs, beliefs or cultural complexities. Obviously general ethnography has links with folklore, sociology, demography, physical anthropology, and linguistics but these links should in no way cloud its specific historical vocation. Marxist dialectical materialism should form the theoretical framework for contemporary Bulgarian ethnography. Indeed notions drawn from historical materialism inspire many analytic parts of the collection, especially when generalizations and evolutionary sequences are made.

In defining the subject matter of ethnography and its basic analytic units, Hadjinikolov regularly refers to the Soviet ethnographer Yulian Bromley and his notion of ethnos. From this somewhat narrow perspective a critique is presented of Western anthropological theories. Boas, Kroeber and Lowie are considered to be diffusionists, followers of the Kulturkreislehre. Malinowski is mentioned as a theoretician and defender of British colonial rule. As for the Culture and Personality School, its hidden aim is to demonstrate the superiority of the American way of life and to justify the subordination of lower groups. Durkheim and Levi-Strauss are criticized for their idealistic, mentalist theories, while cultural relativism (Herskowitz) should be rejected for its refusal to apply the evolutionist notion of progress. However, authors such as Julian Steward, Paul Bohannan, Marvin Harris and Morton Fried, it is argued, should be considered seriously since they are followers of Marxism-Leninism (vol. I: 19). It should be noted that all general theoretical elaborations and criticisms in this Bulgarian book are drawn directly from Soviet sources, although there are references to the original literature.

Following the Soviet ethnographer Julian Bromley and his concept of ethnos (Bromley 1977), the ethnogenesis of the Bulgarian ethnos becomes a primary research objective; “Macedonians” are consistently considered as part of the Bulgarian ethnos. In an erudite chapter three, the following ethnic strains are assumed to have contributed to the formation of the Bulgarian ethnos: 1. Turko-Mongolic Proto-Bulgarians who established the Bulgarian state in the year 681; 2. partly hellenized and romanized Thraco-Illyrians; 3. the numerous Slavs who are responsible for the core elements of traditional Bulgarian peasant culture. The synthesis of these three strains begins in the 6th and 7th centuries and is completed by the end of the 9th century with the adoption of Orthodox Christianity and the Cyrillic alphabet. By the 10th century, the Bulgarian ethnos is fully established as a stable socio-cultural formation. For the next millennium, Hadjinikolov largely abandons the perspective of cultural history and enters the polemics of political history. The destiny of the Bulgarian ethnos is considered parallel to the vicissitudes of the Bulgarian state. The Bulgarian ethnos and state are presented as passive political forces, reacting to aggressive attempts of hellenization and islamization.

At the end, however, the Bulgarian ethnos emerges as victorious by virtue of its sheer survival capacity. This historic context and the conception of the Bulgarian ethnos as an extremely stable formation naturally precludes an evaluation of the large number of Greek and Turkish culture traits which must have penetrated Bulgarian village communities at one time or another. Further, the Bulgarian ethnos is considered to be a highly original historic formation, somewhat self-contained, which excludes the need for comparisons with neighboring cultures as is more common in a historically oriented regional cultural approach. This ontogenetic conception of the Bulgarian ethnos is in harmony with the critique and rejection of diffusionism as stated earlier.

Interesting is the analysis of the Bulgarian National Revival movement. It emerges at the beginning of the 19th century (and possibly earlier) in the context of rapidly developing capitalist relations replacing the previous feudal forms. Here the notion of ethnos is abandoned and replaced by the concept of nation. Expanding production and accumulation, and intensified trade within the Balkans and beyond, led to the embryonic formation of a Bulgarian bourgeoisie which became active in the struggle for national liberation from the Ottomans. The bourgeoisie led, and the masses followed in an increasingly assertive manner. The development of a common literary language comprehended by everybody, the appearance of popular publications in that language and the emergence of pre-occupations and elaborations related to Bulgarian history, all led to the constitution of a strong Bulgarian national consciousness. This conscious identity placed stress on its Slavic roots and the brotherhood of Slavic nations. With the founding of the new Bulgarian state in 1878 capitalist relations were firmly established and at the same time class struggles intensified. Against all odds the Bulgarian Communist Party led the proletariat directly to the revolution of September 9, 1944. The communist state became the benevolent sponsor of the magnificent Bulgarian culture under socialism. The meaning of history is clear; the sequence feudalism (Ottoman slavery), capitalism (class exploitation), socialism (“Golden Age”) provides the framework for understanding the final liberation of the masses. The progress implied in the sequence is logical, necessary and inevitable, and represents essentially a local autonomous development, although foreign help from tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union is duly acknowledged. It is this local developmental sequence, heavy with value judgements and a Slavophilia centered in the far north, with which Bulgarian ethnographers are invited to labor.

The application of the ideological programme was multi-faceted. First, the pedagogical task of ethnography was to instill socialist patriotism (vol. I: 6) and national pride. Through ethnographic knowledge the masses (and essentially the young) were expected to develop affection and admiration for the past of their fatherland and to resist foreign reactionary and national nihilistic influences. In the context of the developed socialist society ethnography was to play a key role in the patriotic education of the masses.

Second, it was extremely important to proceed with a sort of “cleansing” of ethnographic and folkloric materials. These, as vestiges of the past, often contained elements of religion and a religious world-view of a people living in darkness. Ethnographers were requested to remove these “parasitic” traits from the folk rituals, festivities, and beliefs, and render to them their “rational” meaning. The theoretical point behind these recommendations was the rejection of any “natural” links between ethnicity (narodnost) and religion. All references to religion had to be removed from the ethnographic record, ethnography should be made clean and “rational”.

Third, ethnography was expected to contribute to the struggle against reactionary and “evil” vestiges of the past, such as gender inequality found among certain ethnic groups (ethnic Turks?). Ethnography should help with the “optimisation” of interethnic relations in the country (vol. I: 7). Such a statement, I suggest, should be read with reference to the second “revival process” that took place in Bulgaria in the 1980’s which aimed to assimilate the Muslims living in Bulgaria.

Fourth, ethnography was invited to contribute to the design of new “socialist” rituals in relation, for example, to name giving ceremonies, marriages and funerals. The scenarios should keep a few traditional elements within an invented form and should be applied throughout the nation to the detriment of local variation. This, I believe, represents a death sentence to the very traditional folk rituals that ethnographers were asked to define (cf. the article of P. Petrov in this volume).

Fifth, it was hoped that ethnography would contribute to the development of a “socialist, proletarian, and democratic internationalism”. This could be achieved only after the evolutionist sequencing was applied to other nations, leading to feelings of closeness and brotherhood amongst nations.

Sixth, following Party directives, ethnography should play an active role in the aesthetic and moral education of the masses. Elements of “cleansed” and redesigned traditional culture must be incorporated in the contemporary socialist lifestyle. The beauty of traditional material culture should be visible in socialist homes. Traditional humanism and morality, existing in the depths of people’s minds, could be used as a first step in the teaching of progressive socialist ethics.

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ETHNOGRAPHY OF BULGARIA

VOLUME II: MATERIAL CULTURE

The topical contributions in the three volumes are usually of a very high professional standard and cover many important aspects of traditional Bulgarian culture. Folklore (ritual and intellectual culture) and material culture were given maximum space somewhat to the detriment of social organization. Historicism, (looking for roots) in the context of the evolutionary sequence in its local Bulgarian version, is applied systematically throughout. Typically, articles begin with a quotation from Marx and Engels, then provide a reference or two from Bromley and continue with a serious survey of Bulgarian sources. Strangely, a holistic, integrated portrait of traditional Bulgarian culture at the village level for a particular historical period is not provided. This is probably due to the segmentation of the record according to the standard ethnographic rubrics.

Further, I expected to find a more thorough description of the “golden age” and socialist lifestyle where a synchronic approach could have been used to describe real actors coping with real life conditions. But such a description is not provided. We can better understand this omission with a quotation from Daniel Bertaux: “Of all the State secrets in the keeping of communist regimes, one of the closest guarded was undoubtedly the nature of everyday life, its practical contexts, its ground rules and its long-term effects” (Bertaux 1994: 238). Another omission is that almost no space is devoted to the numerous minorities inhabiting Bulgaria: ethnic Turks, Pomaks, Gypsies and others. The Pomaks are briefly mentioned as forcefully islamised Bulgarians (a process which occurred mainly in the 16th century). The ethnic Turks are present in a strange discussion of racial types in Bulgaria. It is argued that although the physical characteristics of the Bulgarians and ethnic Turks are basically similar, the rate of blondes among the latter happens to be much higher. This is explained by the prevalence of Slavic racial traits; ethnic Turks are islamised Slavs. This opens the way for the second Revival Movement of 1989 leading to the assimilation of the Muslim populations.

Finally, one should mention an interesting article on field methods and techniques practiced in Bulgaria. Field investigations seem to be of short duration, a few days or a few weeks. A team of several investigators is recommended when complex issues are to be researched. Further, the area approach is recommended with ethnographers covering a multiplicity of villages. The community study method is not mentioned.

It is clear that in the Bulgarian case Marxist-Leninist theory and methodology, the rigid slavophilism and certain peculiarities of field methodology did not constitute a favorable setting for the development of the social anthropological discipline. Political constraints resulted in the exclusion of the national minorities from the ethnographic record and the almost total absence of references to modern Western authors. My impression is that in these three volumes Bulgarian ethnography emerges as an isolated strain, certainly looking north to Slavic Russia for guidance but more often preoccupied with local historical issues. Nevertheless, my focus on the ideological and political constraints should in no way bear prejudice to the descriptive ethnographic record which, in my opinion at least, remains admirable.

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Picture 1: Schematic chart representing the diffusionalist theory for dispersal of the Indo-European languages.

(i). The founder of ethnolinguistics in Bulgaria is Prof. S. Romanski. His lectures in "Slavic Ethnography" were highly popular during the 20s and 30s of the past century. His initiative for Institute of Slavic Languages with working group on paleography of eastern indo-european dialects and grammar has been fundamental for the development of this knowledge branch among the cultural community in Eastern Europe. After the socialist revolution in Bulgaria, the work of S. Romanski in the field of ethnography was continued by his daughter Tzvetana Romanska-Vranska, from year 1959 as director of the Ethnographic Institute with Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

 

Miscellaneous: It has become word in a conversation that both Stoyan Romanski and Stefan Mladenov shared common interest in Indo-European linguistics. What were the differences between those two scholars and founders of scientific schools in bulgarian Academia?

 1. Firstly, Prof. S. Romanski was an antiquarian from the old professional milieu and follower of the Czech influence on bulgarian lands — viz., the work of Niederle, Skorpil, Dobruski, etc. — subsequently, branching itself in the field of theoretical ethnology and in more recent times being represented by researchers such as Hristo Vakarelski and others.

2. Secondly, Prof. Stefan Mladenov graduated classical philology in Germany under guidance of Gustav Cossina and became the exponent of nationalistic doctrines in bulgarian science. After WWII, this tendency was upheld by researchers like Vladimir Georgiev and collaborators; subsequently, they established a field of interest dealing with linguistic archaeology and others.

/to be continued/

 

 

Copyright © 2006, 2008 by the author.