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Author: Todor Panov


Religion, Nationalism and Civil Society

We are living in the aftermath of the collapse of a system which claimed to have superseded both religion and nationalism. Both have survived it and are flourishing among its ruins. We want first to take a look at these two forces and their interaction in history. Later, we shall consider what the reassertion of these forces may mean for the prospects of civil society.

In ancient societies, politics and religion were not separate spheres. They still are not for many millions of contemporary peoples: Muslims, for example, and Sikhs. Perhaps the most controversial part of those remarks will be an insistence on the antiquity of nationalism, nationalism as coeval with religion. Standard modern textbooks on nationalism generally date its emergence from the late eighteenth century. It might be more fruitful to think of what happened in the late eighteenth century not as an emergence but as a separation — the separation of nationalism from religion. Nationalism, or proto-nationalism if you prefer, had been conjoined with religion in antiquity, in both branches of our Judaeo-Hellenic heritage. The Hellenic side had the religious cults of those who fell for the polis and the patria. The Hebrew Bible, even more strikingly, had the concepts of the Chosen People and the Promised Land, surely a nationalist combination.

Christianity, however, as taught by Jesus and Paul, and later by Augustine, separated religion from politics: the things that were God’s from the things that were Caesar’s. It did not last; after the conversion of Constantine, under the Christian Emperors, it became increasingly hard to make that distinction. This was not yet a renewal of the old covenant, the conjunction of the divine with a particular people. The Roman Empire, both in its Christian and pre-Christian forms was a supranational entity; nationalism, or proto-nationalism, was as hostile to it as nationalism was to prove, long afterward, to the supranational Empire of the Hapsburgs or as nationalism is today to the supranational politics of the Soviet Union.

The Christian Empire, in the West, was destroyed, not so much by forces of nationalism or proto-nationalism from within, as by the migration of the Germanic tribes. But the tribes were the nuclei of new nations which eventually became the successor states of the Roman Empire. It is customarily said that the Germanic tribes became converted to Christianity. It would be nearer the truth to say that the Germanic tribes converted Christianity to their own use. And the use they made of it was to consecrate and exalt their own tribes and later their nations and nation-states in a long, still-continuing succession of new chosen peoples.

In a seventh-century Frankish oath occurs the phrase, “Christ so loved the Frank”. This might seem an odd idea. Christ’s message had been addressed to all human beings, and not pre-eminently the Franks, a people of whom it is not probable that Christ had ever seen a representative. Yet the Franks had clearly convinced themselves that Christ viewed them with peculiar favor, not accorded to other people. The medieval Church taught that Christendom collectively is the legitimate successor of ancient Rome. But it was already clear, within medieval society, that new claimants to that succession weere emerging among particular Christian nations; new chosen peoples, not just in some abstract theological sense but existentially, as peoples actively loved and favored by God in the here and now, above all other peoples.

By the late Middle Ages, this fusion of religion and nationalism was inflamed both in France and England. Joan of Arc, on the eve of her trial, declared in a dictated letter: “He who makes war on the Kingdom of France makes war on the Holy Kingdom of Jesus.” The English, who organized Joan's trial in British-occupied Rouen, were equally sure that Jesus was on their side. One of the charges against Joan was that she claimed that the heavenly voices she heard, St. Michael and St. Catherine, were speaking in French. This could not be, was indeed blasphemous, since everyone knows that the language spoken in Heaven is English.

Now in theory the English and the French, in those days, shared the same faith. Both belonged to the same supranational religious institution: the universal Catholic Church. But clearly the forces which were about to rend that Church were already at work, and one of the most powerful of those forces was nationalism. The Reformation was accompanied by an upsurge of national fervor, especially intense in Elizabethan England, and given its classic expression in John of Gaunts speech in Shakespeare's Richard II. The wars of religion were often also national wars, as was the long conflict between England and Spain.

The aftermath of the wars of religion saw an understandable revulsion against their ferocious spirit. The wars had discredited religion, in the minds of the most intelligent citizens; they had also, though to a lesser extent, discredited the more manic forms of nationalism, for a time. The spirit of the new age — which soon came to be known as the Enlightenment — was secular and cosmopolitan. Fanaticism was the enemy; tolerance the key to liberation. It was generally taken for granted that religion was the source of all fanaticism and intolerance. The discovery that irreligious people could be intolerant, and anti-religious people fanatical, was not to be proved until after the Enlightenment had been in progress for more than a hundred years.

By around 1760, the authority of the Church in France was gone among the educated classes: aristocracy, bourgeoisie, even the clergy itself. And with the authority of the Church gone, there was no longer any ideology which could sustain the Monarchy and the rest of the ancien régime. The King of France was the most Christian King; he derived his authority from God, as defined by the authority of the Church. This whole system now hung by a thread.

By the 1760s, then, the educated public in France was undergoing a crisis of identity, as we would now call it. The old certainties, the guiding lights for generations of French people over hundreds of years, had gone. The heart no longer responded to the appeal of faith in the Catholic Church, loyalty to the most Christian King. What would fill the vacuum? The answer, eventually, was nationalism. The French nation, soon to define itself as la grande nation, took the place of God and the King. There was nothing, any longer, above the nation.

The hinge of eighteenth-century history, and of world history in that epoch, was the Seven Years War. (The germs both of the American Revolution and of the French Revolution were in that conflict.) The Seven Years War represents the moment when religion and nationalism, hitherto closely associated, flew apart in France, and also the moment when the interests of the nation came to be seen as in conflict with the existing institutions of the State. The point about the Seven Years War was that France lost it spectacularly, and lost it in extremely bad company, by the standards of the French educated class of the period. In that war, two Protestant powers — Britain and Prussia — were seen as aligned against two Catholic powers, France and Austria, and the Catholic side, if you can call it that, lost decisively. French nationalism was humiliated (and there is nothing more dangerous in history than humiliated nationalism) and laid its humiliation at the door of the French Monarchy and the Catholic Church. Many historians have been myopic about that turning point in history.

Although most historians have tended to minimize the fact, the French Revolution was, in all its phases, an explosion of nationalism. The decisive political event that opened the Revolution was the conversion of the old States General into an entirely new, unprecedented institution, the National Assembly. Revolutionary France awarded itself the title la grande nation. “Marseillaise” became the greatest of nationalist anthems. The petition that prepared the way for the King’s deposition called for the punishment of “those who have blasphemed against the nation,” the only entity that can be blasphemed against. And when Louis XVI was executed, on 23 January 1793, the cry that followed his decapitation consisted of just three words: Vive la Nation! Le Roi est mort. Vive la Nation!.

As far as surfaces are concerned, French Revolutionary nationalism was entirely secular, purged of all religious content. In reality, French Revolutionary nationalism was a new form of religious upheaval, and a progenitor of other forms of religious upheaval, in secular and often nationalist guise. In December of 1791, Edmund Burke wrote a memorandum, “Thoughts on French Affairs,” to be read by William Pitt, then chief minister of the Crown. The memorandum was never published in Burke’s lifetime, and has been little noticed since, but it contains the most profound of all Burke’s profound insights into the French Revolution. Burke sees that the French Revolution was a revolution of an entirely new kind, different from any previously brought about in Europe, as he says, upon principles merely political. Burke went on, It is a revolution of doctrine and theoretical dogma. Burke italicized those nine words, then added, The last revolution of doctrine and theory which has happened in the world is the Reformation.

Burke saw the French Revolution as the first secular (or apparently secular) revolution of doctrine and theoretical dogma. The twentieth century has seen three major revolutions of the same breed — the Russian Revolution of 1917, with a dogmatic system around the idea of class; the German revolution of 1933 to 1944, with a dogmatic system around the ideas of race and nation; and the Chinese revolution with roughly the same dogmatic system as the Russian one.

The key word in that Burkean diagnosis is the word dogma. The philosophers of the Enlightenment had thought they were putting an end to the world of dogma and priesthood. But they had not destroyed dogma, only opened the way to new sets of dogmas, all the more plausible because they were apparently secular and scientific. They had brought down a feeble and somnolent priesthood, and had ushered in a far more dangerous breed of priests in plain clothes, using secular discourse to promote millenarian schemes. The new dogmas were enforced, as the dogmas of the ages of faith had been, by torture and terror.

Within the revolutionary system of secular dogma we can distinguish two versions of the secular apostolic succession. First is the left-wing version from Rousseau to Marx to Lenin. Second is the right-wing one from Gobineau through Houston Stewart Chamberlain to Adolf Hitler. Both lines of succession, of course, led to disaster on historically unprecedented scale.



Pan-Slavism vs. Hunnic Origin

Until the rise of Pan-Slavism there was practically no one to consider that the Bulgarians had anything to do with the Slavs. It was only in the 17th century that some Bulgarian Catholics readily accepted Mauro Orbini’s theories which precluded any relationship between the Bulgarians and the Turks and which apparently offered the opportunity of finding powerful allies against the Ottoman Empire. For too many Bulgarians Ottoman rule made intolerable the very idea of a possible kinship with the Turks. For this reason, when Father Paisij Khilendarski wrote in 1762 a national liberation program under the form of a Bulgarian history, he explicitly stated that the Bulgarians were a Slavic people, although he didn’t like too much the Serbs and the Russians. However, the Russians spared no means in order to propagate further the Slavic myth among the Bulgarians.

During the second half of the 19th century a Russian historian of Bulgarian origin, Marin Drinov, applied to Bulgaria what was basically true for Russia. He admitted that the Bulgarians did found a realm in the Balkans in about 679-681 but that these “Turkic” Bulgarians were completely assimilated by the “Slavic Sea” in the same way as the Eastern Slav assimilated the Scandinavian Varangians. Others like Gavril Krustevich and Gancho Tsenov went as far as to claim that even the Huns were Slavs. The prominent historian Vasil Zlatarski tried to make things less extreme by acknowledging that, at least until Chirstianization, Danubian Bulgaria was dominated by the Bulgarians, but he was also unable to overcome the myth about the “Slavic Sea”. Things became much worse after the occupation of Bulgaria by the Soviet army in September 1944, since everyone doubting about the Slavic origin of the Bulgarians risked persecution and even jail.

However, the struggle against Pan-Slavism began at quite an early stage. Back in the 19th century the prominent Bulgarian revolutionary and politician Georgi Rakovski rejected the Slavic idea and sought a kinship with the Indo-Iranians. In the 1930s Dimitur Susulov started to write about the Huns and the Bulgarians by stressing that the Bulgarians had no reasons whatsoever to be ashamed of their “Asiatic” roots. An ever-growing number of publications, rejecting the Slavic myth, appeared after the fall of the Berlin Wall, although some of them are not less fantastic than the theory about the Slavic origin of the Bulgarians.

As a matter of fact, written primary sources explicitly describe the Bulgarians and the Slavs as two distinct nations that are not only very different from each other, but also hostile to each other for most of the time. The Bulgarians are mentioned for the first time in Chinese sources back in the 2nd century BC, when they were one of the many peoples, forming the federal empire of Hsiung-Nu or the Huns. It was at that time that an outbreak of internal troubles forced a considerable part of the Bulgarians to migrate to the Caucasus, which is confirmed by Armenian primary sources as well.

Some of the primary sources give the impression of confusion between Bulgarians and Slavs. In fact, though, they talk about “Slavs from Bulgaria” and not about Bulgarians. Hungarian sources indicate, by the way, that the strategy of systematic expulsion of the Slavs from Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia was maintained even after the baptism of the Bulgarians in 864 or 865.

Genetically and racially the Bulgarians of today have nothing to do with the Slavs either. The Bulgarians belong to a southern European race and they are identical with the native population of the Balkans during the last four thousand years. True enough, the same applies more or less to the Serbs and the Croats as well, but the skeletons, found in medieval graveyards, evidence a strong, if not a predominant Slavic presence in Serbia and Croatia. Such skeletons are completely absent from Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia. In other words, the Serbs and the Croats result from a mixture of Slav with native Balkan people, while the Bulgarians are the product of some mixed marriages of Ural-Altaic people with native Indo-European, but not at all Slavic elements.

According to primary sources the Bulgarians used a surprisingly sophisticated and precise calendar that was almost identical with the Chinese one. It is highly probable, therefore, that the numerals and the days of the week were accepted by the Slavs and by the Hungarians from the Bulgarians, and not the other way round. In fact the Bulgarian and, hence, the Slavic and Hungarian numerals show a peculiar mixture of Ural-Altaic and Indo-European elements. For instance, “edin” (one) and “devet” (nine) may derive from the Ural-Altaic languages, “chetiri” (four), “pet” (five) and “shest” (six) probably originate from that ancient language that has given birth to the Indo-European and to the Ural-Altaic family, while “sedeni” (“sedem”) (seven) and “deset” (ten) are obviously of Indo-European descent, but they figure also in a number of Ural- Altaic languages.

This double character seems to distinguish the Bulgarian language as a whole. Both Proto-bulgarian and modern Bulgarian apparently have a Ural-Altaic basis but under strong Indo-European impact. The only substantial difference between Proto-bulgarian and modern Bulgarian is the presence of “Balkan” features in modern Bulgarian. Thus the Balkan languages, i.e. Bulgarian, Romanian, Albanian and Greek, form their future tense in an analytical way with the help of an auxiliary particle, deriving from a verb, meaning “to want”, “to will”. Besides, there is a functional merger of dative and genitive and, finally, direct and dative objects may be expressed in a duplicate form, i.e. by a noun and the respective pronoun or by two pronouns, the one being the enclitic version of the other. It goes without saying that these peculiarities are completely absent from the Slavic languages, including from Serb.

True enough, there are too many common words between Bulgarian and the Slavic languages, but most of these words have a Ural-Altaic rather than an Indo-European origin. Despite the analytical character of modern Bulgarian, Proto-bulgarian had, no doubt a well-developed declension system but it coincides with the Slavic one not more than with that of the Mordvinian languages. Moreover, the Slavic languages have a quite simple verbal system, whereas the Bulgarian verbal system is distinguished by a complexity and multitude of peculiar tenses and moods that are unknown not only to the Slavic, but also to the Indo-European languages altogether. Definite articles are absent from the Slavic languages, while there is a postpositive definite article in modem Bulgarian and most probably in Proto-bulgarian as well.

Although limited in number, the Proto-bulgarian texts, terms and phrases, preserved in written primary sources, are sufficient to suggest that the difference between Proto-bulgarian and modem Bulgarian is definitely smaller than that between ancient and modem Greek. The Slavic languages may be defined as Indo-European languages under strong Ural-Altaic impact, while Bulgarian, both in its Proto-bulgarian and modern version, may be considered a Ural- Altaic language under strong Indo-European influence. The closest Ural-Altaic languages to Bulgarian are Chuvash (an Altaic idiom) and Mordvinian (a Uralic idiom), which corroborates a series of ethnographical data, indicating a kinship of the latter two ethnicities with the Bulgarians.

Bulgarians can be neither a Slavic, nor a Turkic people because of the simple fact that they emerged as a separate ethnicity at least five centuries before the Slavs and the ancient Turks. Judging from Chinese sources, the original homeland of the Bulgarians was apparently a contact zone between Indo-European and Ural-Altaic tribes, situated in the territories of today’s north-western China. The Great Migration that started at the beginning of the new era took the bulk of the Bulgarians from the Far East to Europe. They probably founded a realm in 153 AD, while the first Bulgarian states in Europe appeared after Attila’s death in 453 AD. By the end of the 5th century, the Bulgarians began to settle in a rapidly growing number in Macedonia, Thrace and Moesia. The last Bulgarian hordes probably came to the same lands as late as the middle of the 13th century. However, the most important thing is that the Bulgarians came in Europe in search for land and they treated the native Balkan population in the same way, as the European settlers in North America treated Native Americans: they killed as many as they could and they put the rest of them into reservations. In the Bulgarian case a kind of reservation was the area to the north of the Danube. As to the population the Bulgarians found in the Balkans, it consisted chiefly of descendants of the Romans and of the ancient Thracians. Everything seems to indicate that the Slavs were considerably less in number than even the Greeks of the Black Sea coast.

The medieval Bulgarian society was typical of the Eurasian civilization. It meant, among other things, that the supreme ruler was a high priest at the same time, but according to Christianity the Church was supposed to be separated from the state. This caused extremely cruel and devastating internal clashes when the Bulgarian king Boris I (852-894) decided to baptize his people. Hoping to get a church, dependent on his own will, Boris I started negotiations with the Pope of Rome but the Byzantine Empire invaded Bulgaria with the only purpose of imposing its own version of Christianity. The very fact that the mission of Cyril and Methodius was sent to Great Moravia, but not to Bulgaria, proves quite convincingly that nobody considered the Bulgarians a Slavic people.

However, Cyril and Methodius were canonized as saints both by Rome and Constantinople. Boris I apparently decided to introduce their literary norm as a Church and official language in Bulgaria, thus avoiding the risk of being accused of heresy. In this way he created a kind of national church, submitted to his will, although the language was not Bulgarian. Church Slavonic influenced the Bulgarian language in a way similar to that of Latin on most western European languages. A new alphabet was created, which consisted of a mixture of Greek letters with with pre-Christian Bulgarian runes and that alphabet was promptly called Cyrillic after the name of Saint Cyril.

It was only during the centuries of Ottoman rule that, in their effort to deny any kinship with the Turks, the Bulgarians decided to become Slavs and in this way they changed their own national identity. Once a nation changes its identity, it is apparently easier for a part of that same nation to change its identity once again. That was the case of the Macedonians of Bulgarian origin who were separated from the rest of the Bulgarians by the 1878 Berlin Treaty.

Each national identity is based on some myth. In a number of cases this myth results from an aspiration to be as different as possible from those, whose power is to be rejected. In their desire to deny any similarity to the Serbs, some Croats go as far as to look for their roots not in the Slavic community, but in the name of the ruler of “Great Bulgaria” Kubrat (605-665), who is sometimes spelled in primary sources as “Chrobatos” and “Chrobatos” can be easily transformed into “Chroata”, i.e. “Croat”. By all means, however, the most pathological case seems to be that of the Bulgarians, who reject their own roots and want to be assimilated by a nonexistent Slavic multitude.

The Proto-bulgarian character of a number of basic words in modern Bulgarian is just a guess, but this hypothesis clearly shows how precarious the basis of a national identity may be, which reminds of the precariousness of human personality as well. One of the most severe mental disorders is the split of personality, called schizophrenia. Modern medical science seems to be helpless. The only way to recovery both of the individual and of the nation is to try to be what you really are.
Every human being is unique and the same applies to each nation. Every national community results from a unique cultural, historical, linguistic and geographic background. The only certain thing is that the human race can have a full and valuable existence only as a variety of many different nations and cultures. If a nation, however small, disappears, it means that some part of the human race is gone too. In the same way destruction of a particular ethnic or religious minority within a particular nation inevitably kills to some extent that nation as a whole.



Dimiter Suselov's Legacy

We will give here some information which could be interesting to them if they consider their-self as descendents of the Huns. We know from the Chinese version that the Huns (at that time "Hung-Yui", later "Xsiung-Nu") were formed of refused after their fall the last members from the dynasty of "Hsia". That was after 1764 B.C. This Chinese claim is not very correct, because the first Chinese mention about Huns tell us about the war against them of the legendary "Yellow Emperor" and this war was dated about 2600 B.C. We know at that time they were located in the territory northern of the elbow of the Huang-He river and also in the mountains of Inshan - northern of today's Beijing. But there was a Bulgarian historian - Dimiter Suselov (the leader of historiographical society "Bulgarian Horde" founded in 1936), who using Chinesian sources and contemporary researches claimed that the Huns were living before that in the territory of Tarim. The first known Chinese emperors were i.e. "legendary emperors", which ruling started about 2900 B.C. according to Chinesian sources. The problem is that all of this emperors have no Chinesian characteristics. They had fair eyes, thick beard, they were tall and spoke strange language. There is some typical "Hunnic" characteristics of these first emperors, as secondary skull deformation, the plait "chombas" on the top of the head, etc. So, if we accept that the people who founded Chinesian civilization was living in the Tarim area first, they should be there before 2900 B.C. Probably exactly their arrival destroyed the Yan-Shao culture. We told before, that there is some Summero-Akkadian sources mentioning the "people of Hu (after that Hun-Huri), who are the archer-people" and the first of this mention is before the foundation of the town of Uruk (in Summerian transcription Unuk/Unug), i.e. about 2600 B.C., which is LATER than the eventual "Tarim period". What conclusions we can make from this? Obviously, this people wasn't local in Mesopotamia, but where did they came from? Can we trust the "Jagfar Tarihi" about i.e. "Idel" around Volga-Ural area? If we do it, we should understand why the great Attila in his speech to the army recognize the Cimmerians as his predecessors. Our information about the Cimmerians is not earlier than 8th century B.C. Can we accept their deeper roots in this area? Anyway, if we accept the Cimmerian origin of the Huns, we should succeed to explain better the common elements between the Turkic and Scandinavian mythology and rune's writings.

There is another interesting detail about Huns. In "History of the three kingdoms" (written about 250 A.D.) the Chinese ambassador to Funan (today's Cambodia) says: "They have books and keep them in archive. Their letters is very similar to the Hunnic one". That means that the Huns had an alphabet, and confirm that the Orchon-Enissey writing wasn't belonging to the "Din-Lin" or any other people, but it was Hunnic writings.



Addendum: We should try to give a definition of nationalistic literature in Bulgaria and attempt to trace its raising in the early literature apologies in this country. Among those writers of "nationalism" and "folk spirit", the first in importance become Todor Panov (1880-1945) — a military attaché and leutennat-adjutant to King Ferdinand. Source biographical data on the titular are scarce, not to say non-existent, but T. Panov do held a lecturer post in Military Academy, Sofia, from 1908 to 1918. He was graduate from a Russian university (not specified, but evident from his lavish perusal and citation of that mother-language; still links to russian theoretical anarchists and utopists are not evident, and he was definitely not a socialist). The background of Panov's educational culture was very large, while evidently from his writings he had working knowledge of German, French and English. As stated by some bulgarian critiques, notably Prof. Mincho Draganov, T. Panov had been forced with the abdication of King Ferdinand to abandon Bulgaria and live abroad till his death by the end of Second World War.

Vehement patriotism is definitive feature of the volumes from his literary heritage — altogether, three books of monographic format, from which "Psychology of the Bulgarian People" (1914) is the bulkiest with 307 pp. But we chose for the purposes of this introductory essay to present his earliest writing, "Social Economy Utopias" (1911), that gives an evolutionary perspective to his formative thinking. Considering the period 1911-1914, an independent observer could have admonished the following facts: 1) Officer Panov as exponent of military intelligentsia in Bulgaria has outspoken worldview on universal matters of religion, mental philosophy, utopianism, Marxism and anti-socialism; numerous references are given to inevitability of war and conflict, yet he remains libertarian and optimistic for the future (albeit, his position as lecturer was to boost the morale of the soldier); 2) Defendant Panov in year 1914, after the Balkan Wars of Christian coalition against Turkey; here the militarism is milder but nationalism at its apex, while clinging to imminent revanchist because of lost Bulgarian lands. Hunnic heritage of the Bulgarians is outlined, and as summary Slavism is reproached even to hatred (hence, such metamorphoses of opinion are typical for the budding disciplinary realm of mass psychology); and 3) Social portrait of the bulgarian soldier is excellent; notable literary source is a striking publication on the mentality of bulgarian army from Frenchman G. Naude!

The elusiveness of the topic for national history of the Bulgarians is imminent. More elements are superimposed by extraneous factors — unequivocally, geography of the Balkan Peninsula; etymology of the Bulgarian language; ethnography of the Slavic Folklore, et cetera. Highly informative approach should be addition and complementation by other relative literary works, with spirit of Bulgarian nationalism before WW I. Consider for reviewing, for instance:

1) Nikola Hristov's "Social Regeneration of Bulgaria (1914), economic treatise in Neo-Malthusian style.

2) Vladimir Kotlyanin's "In the Name of Bulgarians" (1910), profile study in linguistic archaeology.

/to be continued/



Copyright © 2010 by the author.