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BASIC BIOLOGY

Author: Metodi Popov

Editor's Note: "Basic Biology" /5th edition/ has been a primer tool for studying this science for a whole generation of students. I wish to emphasize a peculiar role for this book, since, it filled a gap for more than 20 /twenty/ years in bulgarian science. Have in mind a situation in the 50s and 60s of the past century, when, a Cold War was in its apogee and scientists from the former Socialist Block were persecuted for any ideas coming from the West on a progressive schedule. While this was a time for crude Darwinism and Empirical Criticism on the side of the former socialist countries, meanwhile, few worthy textbooks appeared in russian /i.e., as well as, in bulgarian translation/. This was a period of stagnation in biology for Bulgaria and in this climate M. Popov's book served as a buffer for a critically minded scholar. During this time and it was biology itself undergoing metamorphosis. It got a separate face as a science, while, a number of daughter sciences - namely, Genetics, Immunology, etc. - made their debut as items in academic curriculum. The process of differentiation and integration of sciences is complicated in itself and here we are going to interrupt our reconsideration for the material below.

 

This editorial was written for the purpose of another item in our booklist. We have been re-writing these materials on the life and works of Prof. M. Popov, since a continuously and expanding factology appeared on the item. For instance, we had to discard from our provisional database some schematic outlines for the biography of the distinguished scholar - viz., meaning some fictionalized information on his works and life in general. Here in these materials from well known socialist historians M. Apostolov, V. Hadjivalchanov, etc. we have a downward falsification of truth, in terms of presenting Prof. M. Popov as heartfelt adept of the socialist idea while the truth was far from there. It is obvious from our private research sources, that this international known bulgarian scholar was bitterly downgraded after the socialist revolution and ridden to the status of a mocking-stock. He was persuaded to reject all his pre-war writings on biology, genetics, anthropology, etc. and admit a firm stand on Lysenkoist biological positions. This was just another mechanism of ideological warfare and we see here how the communists treated the problem, after some other similar defeats of bulgarian medical science - cf., in our booklist materials on Prof. S. Konsulov /i.e., who spent his last years as lifetime prisoner/ or Prof. S. Vatev /i.e., who was deleted as an existing entity from all medical registers and informational sources/, ditto.

Let us try to be sequential and try to write a definitive biography for the titular at hand, while still reminding to our readers that we have been dealing mainly with primary sources that needed to be carefully read and interpreted. Obviously, what has been left by our socialist predecessors was not only falsifications but a rampant case of neglect in science with destroying original evidence and producing a historical scarecrow with unprecedented lament. Here is our story the way we see it and interpret it.

Part One, 1881-1921: Metodi Popov was born in the town of Shumen on 17 April 1881. His father Atanas was a mid-level merchant, trading with any kind of stock before Liberation War /1878/ and after that became an undertaker. His mother was a housewife. No more details are available for his early life, except that he graduated a classical gymnasium in Varna together with his brother Kiril /i.e., who later graduated a Sorbonne Universite de Paris and became a Professor in Mathematics/. Metodi Popov himself chose to study natural sciences and we see him enrolled as student of zoology in Munich, Germany from 1904-1908, under the tutorship of Prof. Richard Hertwig. The German school of biology was famous at that time and we are not going to comment on this item, while an interested reader could trace an adequate information whatever necessary. We have tried to clarify this early educational efforts of M. Popov and in terms of his resurgent publication activity from this period - viz., consisting some 30 articles in mainly german scientific journals, but also in bulgarian language as well. A precise estimate for the merit of this scholarly activity is difficult to present, suffice it is to say that a complete list of this published material is given as appendix to his "Textbook of Biology" and also in the "Almanac of Sofia University 1888-1939". Further we should say, that his doctoral dissertation in year 1907 was on the theme "Eibildung bei Paludina Vivipara und Chromidien bei Paludina und Helix. Mit Anhang: Zu der Frage nach dem Spermatozoendimorphismus bei Paludina Vivipara. - Arch. f. Mikrosk. Anat. u. Entwickl., Bd. 70, 1907, S. 1-89". This genera "Paludina Vivipara" is a type of mollusk, with particularly good disposition for genetic research but we couldn't elaborate more on that. Further, some of the articles are co-authored with R. Goldschmidt or with bulgarian S. Konsuloff, which indicates good international collaboration. From bulgarian side we have also some publications - viz., "Physiological moments in sexual and asexual (partenogenesis) reproduction" - Godishnik na Phys. Mat. Facultet, vol. VII (1910-11), pp. 1-20; "Serological investigation on vegetable oils" - Godishnik na Phys. Mat. Facultet, vol. X-XI (1913-14 and 1914-15), pp. 1-20 ; "On the old bulgarian viticulture" - Bulgarska Priroda, 1918, 1-80, etc. This period should be concluded with further mentioning of some short specializations on bacteriology in Robert Koch's Institute at Berlin /1911-12/ and on serology in Institute Pasteur at Paris /1915-16/, while already being appointed as adjunct professor of Zoology at Sofia University.

Part Two, 1921-1945: This period marks a culmination in the academic career of Prof. M. Popov. The newly established Medical Faculty at Sofia University /i.e., from 1 January 1918/ has been constituted and it had its first regular professors and deans of departments. In this case, a whole Department of Biology has been transferred from Physico-Mathematical Faculty - viz., together with the academic staff and for the purposes of the medical education. In academic year 1920-21, Prof. Metodi Popov as a distinguished scholar with rich publication background, serves as principal in the Rector's Office at the university. This high promotion is well based upon his already very popular textbooks published for the purposes of the academic curriculum - cf., i./ "Textbook of biology" - University Library № 9, 1919, pp. 500; ii/. "Histology of man and the vertebrate animals" - University Library № 13, 1921, pp. 314; iii./ "Comparative anatomy of the vertebrate animals" - University Library № 14, 1921, pp. 460. These books has been revised and enlarged later in the years and has been reflecting his outlook as a biologist and scientific researcher. Notwithstanding his work engagements with the university, Prof. M. Popov spent his next years in Germany - viz., from 17. XII. 1923 to 1. VIII. 1931 he serves as plenipotentiary ambassador in Berlin. This time frame is the most productive one in his career, while he contributes numerous written materials /i.e., estimated some 40 different titles, among which an editorship - with Dr. W. Gleisberg - of scholarly journal "Zellstimulationsforschungen", Berlin, Verlag Paul Parey, vols. I-IV (1925-1930); also, a separate monographic book "Die Zellstimulation ~ ihre Anwendung in der Pflanzenzuchtung und Medizin", Berlin, Verlag Paul Parey, 1931, pp. 375, etc/. We are not in a position to comment here and now on this enormous publication activity, while it is mainly in german language and reflects strictly the achievements of the german school of biology. Omitting this part of his scientific curriculum vitae and we come back to his activities in Bulgaria right in the 1930s. The advent of fascism in Europe gives a wide impulsion to the burgeoning sciences of eugenics and anthropology. Bulgaria's political and social life didn't stay off course from this streamline, while M. Popov becomes one of his main exponents. As representative of an initiative committee on natural sciences in the country - i.e., together with his lifelong friend and collaborator Prof. S. Konsulov - he undertakes a mass campaign on propagation of racial knowledge on the bulgarian people. This work is illustrated by the publication of two marvelous books in bulgarian language - cf., "Popov, M. Bulgarian Nationality among European Races and Nations. Sofia, 1938" and "Popov, M. Heredity, Race and Nation. Sofia, 1938", furthermore they exemplify racial anthropology knowledge at its best and are written in accordance with the best authorities of the time. Albeit, these publications provoked some wide disputes in the country, both from adherents of nationalist milieu and from anti-fascist revisionists. Prof. M. Popov was subjected to social pressure and since Bulgaria was already at war on the side of the Hitlerist coalition - viz., he was preempted to leave the country and go to Czechoslovakia to continue work. It is in war conditions that he conducted and published a comparative study on anthropology - cf., "Pohlad na antropologiu bulgarov s slovakov. Matica Slovenska, 1944, S. 1-18". From end of WWII and we see M. Popov back in Bulgaria.

Part Three, 1945-1954: This part was most difficult to write, since it was based not on scientific documentary but on various memoir materials, interviews, stenograms, etc. It is hard to believe that someone so evil minded should like to besmirch a honest man and put him in the backyard of science, per se. Yet this is what happened to the titular at hand and this was a model scenario for a whole cohort of bourgeois scholars from pre-war Bulgaria. The new communist government was merciless to those, who doesn't preach a perverse socialist morale. Here we have some of the fabrications on M. Popov and his scientific heritage - viz., i./ he was supposedly presumed to have been a married man and his wife was Fransizka Popova-Reagel, furthermore she was made to divorce him for a younger companion that presented herself as legitimate wife. Erratum, we couldn't find any evidence for marriage during his lifetime and neither any photograph of a wife; ii./ Metodi Popov was overtly made to denounce all his writings on biology and allied sciences, this being done on several occasions in home country and abroad with wide manifestations of friendship with such apologues of communism as Acad. Trofim Lysenko in Moscow. Erratum, all we could see from this period are some photographs of a dejected, sick looking old man who could hardly be anyone in the propaganda machine of the government; iii./ as a high spoken admonisher for the bulgarian racial doctrine and he was made to republish some of his main writings on anthropology, while this couldn't happen in his real lifetime or whatever new anthropological project he had presumably initiated. Erratum, this agenda of falsification has culminated with re-publishing a revised version of "Anthropology of the Bulgarian People" - i.e., under general editorship of Prof. A. Hadjiolov in year 1959 - which, regretfully doesn't reflect anything from the original work of the titular and is a rather lay compilation.

We preclude here, since it could take an effort for a whole new monograph to further discredit the life and works of Prof. M. Popov. As we promised, our research on the booklist will continue with further materials on the item at hand. Simultaneously, we should recommend this classical edition of "Basic Biology" from M. Popov to be reprinted and distributed among interested students of biological science in Bulgaria.

 

Picture 1: In the following note, we have included biographical data with some important publications from Prof. Metodi Popov.

Biographical Note: Metodi Popov was born in the town of Shumen on 17 April 1881. Graduated a classical gymnasium in Varna /1898/ and studied as student of natural sciences at Sofia University until 1904. Has specialized zoology in Munich, Germany from 1904-1908, under the tutorship of Prof. Richard Hertwig. Have been appointed as adjunct professor of Zoology at Sofia University /1911-12/. In academic year 1920-21, Prof. Metodi Popov as a distinguished scholar with rich publication background, serves as principal in the Rector's Office at the university. From 17. XII. 1923 to 1. VIII. 1931 M. Popov serves as plenipotentiary ambassador in Berlin, ditto. With advent of fascism in Europe, he becomes one of its main exponents for the burgeoning sciences of eugenics and anthropology. Subjected to social pressure and leaves the country to go to Czechoslovakia during WWII. After advent of communism in Bulgaria, from year1946 he is subjected to political propaganda which aims at ruining his prestige as international known scholar. Dies from deteriorated health in 1954.

Important Publications: Eibildung bei Paludina Vivipara und Chromidien bei Paludina und Helix. - Arch. f. Mikrosk. Anat. u. Entwickl., Bd. 70, 1907, S. 1-89; Die Zellstimulation ~ ihre Anwendung in der Pflanzenzuchtung und Medizin - Berlin, Verlag Paul Parey, 1931; Popov, M. Bulgarian Nationality among European Races and Nations - Sofia, 1938; Popov, M. Heredity, Race and Nation - Sofia, 1938; Popov, M. Basic Biology /5th edition/ - Sofia: Lekoop, 1946.

 

Addendum: This photo taken from the archive of Valchan Hadjivalchanov, presents Prof. M. Popov as lastly serving at Institute of Biology, BAS. Notwithstanding, see a picture of socialist realism in the background.

 

 

Copyright 2006, 2010 by the author.