Tag Archives: Bulgaria

Two Books on the Ottoman/Turkish Heritage in Bulgaria

The territory of what is today the Republic of Bulgaria was for more than five centuries part of the Ottoman Empire and I think it is fair to say that the fight for liberation from what Bulgarians call either the “Ottoman Yoke“ or “Ottoman Slavery” is until today a defining moment for the identity of most ethnic Bulgarians.

Nations are, as Benedict Anderson puts it in his famous book, “Imagined Communities”. And the community called “Bulgarians” is defined not so much by historical events as they really took place, or by what certain historical figures (such as Vasil Levski or Hristo Botev) really did, and by what it meant in a strictly historical perspective, but more by the image Bulgarians have of these events and personages, the narrative that they learn in school or via the media. Hence the trend to mythologize the fight for liberation in the 19th century, hence the permanent exaggeration and distortion of certain historical facts, and the glossing over of others that don’t fit in the narrative that is generally accepted, but that is maybe not factually accurate. This is of course nothing specific to Bulgaria, it could be said for the national identity of all nation states: they are based on these kind of “constructs”. I have at least read a dozen Bulgarian novels, starting from Ivan Vazov’s “Under the Yoke”, to Anton Donchev’s famous (many say infamous) “Time of Parting”, to the remarkable more recent novel by Milen Ruskov “Uprising”, that deal in one way or the other with the liberation fight, or the relation of Bulgarians and Turks in the time of the Ottoman Empire. And the same can be said of Bulgarian Cinema: three of the biggest Box Office hits of the last years had exactly the same topic – the Bulgarian liberation fight in the 19th century.

But while these events that are formative to the Bulgarian identity seem to be part of the distant past, Bulgarians and Turks live still together in today’s Bulgaria. The material heritage of the Ottoman Empire, in the form of the remaining buildings from that time, as well as the people of Turkic origins (Turks, Gagauz, Tatars) that are living in comparatively peaceful coexistence with their ethnically Bulgarian neighbors in the country, are present, not past. When I say “comparatively peaceful” it means that there have been conflicts, especially in the time of communism when a ruthless policy of forced assimilation was introduced: Muslims (including Roma and Pomaks), as well as the non-Muslim Gagauz had to change their names, celebration of religious feasts was banned as well as the speaking of Turkish, and hundreds of thousands of Bulgarian citizens of Turkish origin were forced to leave Bulgaria and were stripped of their citizenship in 1989, just a few months before the (formal) end of communism rule in Bulgaria. A wave of terrorist acts (at least some of them perpetrated by the communist State Security) and self-immolations took place in the 1980’s, and while after the changes in the 1990’s these people were at least given back their citizenship and their own names, the relation between ethnic Bulgarians and Turks remains still strained and is frequently used by different political groups to incite ethnic unrest or even hatred.

As a country with great religious and ethnic diversity, Bulgaria should consider its material heritage from the Ottoman times as well as the diversity of people, ethnicities and religions that live in the country and are Bulgarian citizens as a treasure, not as a threat to some old-fashioned concept of nationalism.

For English-speaking readers I can heartily recommend two books that deal with the Turkish/Ottoman heritage of Bulgaria. A Guide to Ottoman Bulgaria by Dimana Trankova, Anthony Georgieff and Hristo Matanov (Vagabond Media 2012) takes the reader on a journey all over Bulgaria that leads to the mosques in Sofia, Samokov, Shumen, Plovdiv, Razgrad and Stara Zagora, but also to lesser known Ottoman buildings and traces in Gotse Delchev, Vidin, Ruse, Silistra, Belogradchik, Varna, Suvorovo and Uzundzhovo. A special chapter deals with Ottoman bridges (bridges similar to those described in Ivo Andric’s Bridge over the Drina or Ismail Kadare’s Three-Arched Bridge), and also with Ottoman fountains and abandoned mosques. The combination of highly knowledgeable text and beautiful photographs makes this book much more than another coffee table book. I am quite sure that most readers of this book will feel tempted to immediately undertake a tour to some of these buildings. The cover shows the so-called Devil’s Bridge at the Arda River in the Rhodopes.) Some photos from the book can be found here.

Turks of Bulgaria

While the previous book deals with the material heritage of the Ottomans, The Turks of Bulgaria (2012) is about the non-material heritage of the Ottomans in Bulgaria, the people and their history and culture. Chapters on history, including the forcible Bulgarisation campaigns against Turks already mentioned above; culture; folklore; religion; cuisine; music and dance; language. There is a detailed chapter on Pomaks (Bulgarophone Muslims) and Gagauz (Christian Turks), and the book is like the first one richly illustrated.

Vagabond Media is doing a terrific job in documenting the immense cultural heritage of Bulgaria in beautiful editions that combine high-quality photography with excellent essays that guide the reader. Titles like “A Guide to Jewish Bulgaria”, “The Bulgarians” (a book that I reviewed some time ago here), “A Guide to Thracian Bulgaria”, or “A Guide to Communist Bulgaria” , to mention just a few, make people aware what an incredible cultural richness Bulgaria represents, but they also document buildings that are frequently endangered and in disrepair. And in some cases, like with many of the buildings from Communist Bulgaria, it is rather obvious that in a few years’ time, all that will remain from them will be photos and books.

In any case, the books of Vagabond Media (and the high-end journal Vagabond too) are an excellent source for anyone with an interest in Bulgarian culture and architectural heritage. 

This review was first published at Global Literature in Libraries Initiative, 12 June, 2018 for #BulgarianLiteratureMonth.

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Пациентът България

Всеки, който последва политическа дискусия в социалните медии в тази страна, разбира че пациентът България е много болен.

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 


A menetekel

One of the key messages of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Two Hundred Years Together” is that the October Revolution, Bolshevism, and communist ideology in general are essentially Jewish “projects.” The intelligence apparatus, the systematic murder of regime opponents, the creation of the Gulag system in which millions of people were enslaved and murdered: it is mainly the Jews who are to blame. (He does not say it so flatly, but in the end this is what really matters to him). So whoever today is an anti-Semite, one could conclude by implication, only proves his anti-communism convincingly. And if there were acts of violence against Jews in Eastern Europe apart from the Nazi crimes, it was self-defense or revenge for communist injustice suffered, and in fact they meant only the Jewish political commissars … – so justifies for example Paul Goma today the murder of Jews, committed by Romanians during WWII. And in Bulgaria, too, this form of anti-Semitism is a daily affair among staunch anti-communists. The more so today, where openly anti-Semitic parties are in the government.

Therefore, when the Bulgarian writer Theodora Dimova publishes a strangely conspiratorial text in the otherwise respectable portal “Kultura”, which ostensibly commemorates the anniversary of the bombing of Sofia’s Sv. Nedelja Church in 1925, while emphasizing the struggle of the Bolsheviks against the Christian religion (which in the context of this terrorist act represents a falsification of history, since its motivation was quite different), this may at first sight seem a little outlandish. But the author, who often refers to “Christian values” in her public statements and laments the lack of a “spiritual elite” in Bulgaria, may be having in mind the approaching Orthodox Easter?

What follows is a long-winded series of biblical quotations and hermeneutical remarks, all of which point to the continuity of the hatred of the enemies of Christ and Christianity – then as now: the Jews, as many readers who understand Dimova’s wink will surely say. They murdered Christ and they are behind Bolshevism, the ideology of the Anti-Christ. Dimova is too clever, she does not mention the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But the Jewish Passover feast and the invention of Jews abducting and slaughtering Christian children to drink their blood are well known to most Bulgarians, and the timing of the publication is obviously no coincidence. The ritual murder legend is believed by many or at least found to be “interesting”. And there are also openly violent-pornographic anti-Semitic works, from Adolf Hitler to Henry Ford and Fred Leuchter, prominently placed and advertised in almost every bookstore in Bulgaria and sold by the tens of thousands. In such an environment, it is no longer necessary to be more explicit. Almost anyone who wants to understand the subtext understands it. One mentions the religious hostility of the early Bolsheviks, spreads long and broadly about the Christ-killers (everything from biblical sources, thus unsuspiciously), and publishes everything fitting to Passover. “We understood”.

Of course, all this is not conclusive proof of an intention. But the subtext is there. And the author is not naïve. However, anyone who babbles about “Christian values” and “spiritual elite” and then uses anti-Semitic clichés, only shows that he / she stands neither for these values, nor belongs to a spiritual elite, but to a dull mass of eternally-yesterday.

The dilemma of the democratic right wing and conservatism in Bulgaria is that apart from militant verbal anti-communism, they have nothing to offer. There are no real values that they stand for and the ideology that they are shouting about and whose monuments they want to dispose of, is already dead (its enterprising heirs though are alive and kicking). There is a lack of a unifying, positive thought, a social vision. Moreover, there is no delimitation from the enemies of a democratic and pluralistic community from the extreme right. The tsarist and fascist dictatorship before the Communist takeover are glorified, the main responsible for the murder of more than 11,000 Jews is counter-factually declared the “savior of the Bulgarian Jews”, General Lukov, a particularly close friend of the Gestapo and head of the Bulgarian legions becomes a hero and brave anticommunist, surviving members of these organizations who participated in crimes against humanity, are portrayed as great democrats and true patriots and given every podium (including the European Parliament) to spread their fake version of history to the applause of many Bulgarian intellectuals. The terrorist anti-Semitic VMRO is today a ruling party in Bulgaria. And so it goes on – the media and history books are now being “adapted” accordingly.

Today, Bulgaria is even further away than ever from making progress on the way to an open society. On the contrary, we are experiencing today the almost complete collapse of any intellectual honesty and decency. Bulgaria’s misery is not primarily due to the existence of corruption and organized crime, but to the indolence, cynicism and moral failure of a large part of the Bulgarian intelligentsia. The intellectually completely irrelevant article by T. Dimova is a menetekel.

28008677

Alexander Solschenizyn: Two Hundred Years Together, Herbig 2015 

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 


“Евреите са нашето нещастие!”

Подтекстът на тази статия: евреите са убийците на Христос и са отговорни за болшевизма и атаката срещу Св. Неделя. Авторката не го казва буквално, но посланието е лесно да се чете между линиите…

Жалко е, че на “Култура” се появява статия, използваща антисемитски клишета. Това не съответства на това, което “Култура” беше за мен досега.

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 


New Social Poetry from Bulgaria

There are not really a lot of poetry collections or anthologies by Bulgarian authors available in English. Therefore I take the opportunity to let those readers with an interest in poetry, or in Bulgarian literature, know that these days a new anthology with poetry by contemporary authors from Bulgaria has seen the light.  

New Social Poetry: The Anthology, translated by Christopher Buxton, is comprised of texts by a wide range of authors, some of them well-known in Bulgaria since decades, some of them very young and at the beginning of their poetic journey. The following authors participate in the anthology:  Zlatomir Zlatanov, Alexander Nikolov, Ani Ilkov, Atanas Petrov, Vania Valkova, Ventsislav Arnaoudov, Violeta Zlatareva, Vladimir Sabourín, Gancho Petrishki, Dilyana Parvanova, Ileana Stoyanova, Kiril Vassilev, Kristina Krumova, Marco Vidal, Michaela Angelova, Nikolaj Bojkov, Nikolay Fenerski, Plamena Girginova, Rositsa Bakalova, Ruzha Velcheva, Teodora Taneva, Thomas Hübner, Christina Vassileva. The title of the anthology refers to a literary movement that was founded 2016 in Sofia, and to the literary journal of the same name.  

I should mention in this context that the initiator of New Social Poetry, Vladimir Sabourin, recently published a book that deals with the origins of this literary movement: Towards a New Social Poetry: Aesthetico-political Theses (also translated by Christopher Buxton), an interesting and controversial essay, whose core, the Manifesto for New Social Poetry created quite an uproar in literary circles in Bulgaria, mainly because it was considered as a frontal attack against the literary establishment in Bulgaria and a type of literature that the author refers to as “lifestyle literature”. 

Alexander Nikolov, Atanas Petrov, Vania Valkova, Ivan Marinov, Kristina Krumova,  Ventsislav Arnaoudov, Vladimir Sabourín, Nikolay Fenerski, Christina Vassileva (eds.): New Social Poetry: The Anthology, translated by Christopher Buxton, CreateSpace 2018

Vladimir Sabourin: Towards a New Social Poetry: Aesthetico-political Theses,      translated by Christopher Buxton, CreateSpace 2018 

Both books are available at Amazon in printed form, the latter also as e-book. 

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 


In Ruse with Elias Canetti

In the first volume of his autobiography Die gerettete Zunge (The Tongue Set Free), Elias Canetti writes about his early childhood in the Bulgarian city of Ruse – Canetti uses throughout the book the old name Rustchuk -:

“Everything that I experienced later, had already happened once in Rustchuk…On any one day you could hear seven or eight languages.”

Despite having spent only his first six years in the city of his birth – the family emigrated to Manchester in 1911 and Canetti came back only once for a visit in 1915 – Ruse and its unique multilingual and multicultural atmosphere at that time left a lifelong mark on the future writer.

A small book in Bulgarian language with the title In Ruse with Elias Canetti (В Русе с Елиас Канети) sheds additional light on this early period of Canetti’s life, family background and social surrounding.

In the middle of the 19th century Ruse had developed into a thriving city. Located at the Danube it had by then attracted a lot of trading activities and the port of Ruse was the main artery through which goods were imported and exported from and to the whole region. An additional boost to the economic development was the fact that Ruse had a fast-growing Jewish (Sephardic) community which was one of the driving forces for Ruse’s modernization; this together with a general economic boom in the then revived Bulgarian state (until the Russian-Turkish War 1877-78 it had been part of the Ottoman Empire for almost five hundred years) made Ruse the then most modern and truly European city in Bulgaria.  

The authors give us interesting information about the origin and growth of the Jewish community in Ruse and trace back also the family background of Canetti’s parents. Grandfather Elias Canetti (the namesake of little Elias) came from Adrianopel (Edirne) to Ruse and became a successful trader, first with his partner in Constantinople, later on his own. He reigned his firm and his family like a benevolent despot, a true family man that cared a lot for his grandchildren and particularly his oldest grandson Elias; but at the same time he expected that his sons gave up on their own plans and would be part of the future family business with branches in all other important Bulgarian cities.

For Jacques, young Elias’ father, this was a source of permanent inner conflicts – he was a talented violinist and dreamed of a career as a musician in a chamber quartet. Also Mathilde, his wife and Elias’ mother, was a talented amateur musician (she played the piano); there are photos that show the parents as musicians in a public concert in Ruse. Another photo shows Jacques, then a dashing young man, in a carnival costume – both parents who had spent years in their youth in Vienna loved the theatre and literature, things for which Grandfather Canetti had not much interest and which he might have considered at best as harmless hobbies, but as nothing serious.

Beside this latent conflict between Jacques and Elias Senior, another quite open conflict clouded the childhood of the future Nobel Prize winner. Mathilde’s family, the Arditis, were against the marriage of their youngest daughter with Jacques Canetti. The Arditis, one of the oldest and high-ranking Sephardic families could trace back their origin until the 13th century when some of their ancestors were astronomers and doctors at the courts of the Kings Alfonso IV and Pedro IV. After 1492, the family settled in Livorno and later in the Ottoman Empire, where several of their members became famous rabbis, kabbalists and scientists; the Arditis were among the first Jewish families in Ruse and looked down on Elias Senior and his family as upstarts, who had just arrived from the Orient and were no match for the famous and cultured Arditi family. One of the remaining (and traumatic) memories of his early childhood in Ruse was for Canetti a visit in Grandfather Arditi’s house. This grandfather, who never paid much attention to Elias and never gave him a present, asked his grandson on one occasion, which of his grandfathers he loved more – Grandpa Canetti or Grandpa Arditi. When the poor boy said “Both!”, he was immediately called a liar and hypocrite by his maternal grandfather. 

One of the most interesting chapters for me was the one on the artistic talent of Canetti’s parents, especially that if his father. Ruse had quite an active social and cultural life, and much of it was initiated and kept alive mainly by its Jewish citizens. Ruse has a beautiful theatre that regarding its size and architecture could be as well in Vienna or Budapest. During Ruse’s best times, many famous international troupes visited the Danubian city, the same goes for many musicians and orchestras. There were amateur theatre groups and concerts that raised funds for the education of poor but talented Jewish children, the Bnai Brith Loge played an important role in the social fabric of the Jewish community, and there were also some of the first Zionist organisations in Bulgaria which had their headquarters in Ruse. Other chapters cover the donations made by Canetti’s grandfather and father, the efforts of Jews from Ruse to support the war effort in the Balkan Wars and WWI, either as soldiers or by financial support. Another short chapter describes how Canetti learned some folk rhymes and stories from young Bulgarian peasant girls, stories he later found again in a German book about Bulgarian fairy tales and folk stories and that left obviously a deep impression on him. Philately, the role of the different newspapers in the Canetti household (in Ladino and in German), and the comet Halley are also covered by short but instructive chapters.

The Orator is the title of the longest chapter of the book, and it deals with Canetti’s relationship with one of the most colorful members of the Canetti-Arditi family, Elias’ cousin Benjamin ‘Bubi’ Arditi (Canetti calls him ‘Bernhard’ in a letter addressed to him that is reproduced in the book). Bubi, just a few years older than his cousin, was for some time a strong influence for Canetti and he is explicitly mentioned in the second volume of Canetti’s autobiography Die Fackel im Ohr (The Torch in My Ear).

After Canetti’s parents moved to Manchester with their three sons (Elias, Nissim and Georges), Elias saw his cousin during both visits in Bulgaria; in Summer 1915 in Ruse and in 1924 in Sofia. During this period Bubi had became a fervent Zionist and public speaker. Elias was so impressed by his cousin who engaged himself with all his energy in something much bigger than himself, a cause for the Jewish community, that we find traces of The Orator also in Masse und Macht and in his Aufzeichnungen. For a short time, young Elias seemed also to have considered to become a Zionist. Bulgarian Jews were in those days frequently targeted by the terrorist IMRO (today this extremist right-wing political party that is still proud of its criminal and antisemitic origin and which propagates quite openly violence against ethnic minorities and refugees is part of the Bulgarian Government!), that openly threatened to kill those who didn’t pay hefty sums to them; blackmail, collection of “protection” money and contract killings were the main financial sources of this “patriotic” group – today, being part of the Bulgarian government, they use means that are only slightly more subtle – that was in its high time considered the most ruthless group of assassins in Europe.  – When Canetti fell in Vienna under the spell of an even greater orator, Karl Kraus, this interest in Zionist politics faded away completely. 

The book reproduces several letters of Canetti to his cousin Bubi and to people in Bulgaria who got in touch with him in his later life. He found touching words for his attachment to Ruse and the importance of the city for himself and his development as a writer.

This small book is not only very informative, it is also an important document of the renewed connection of the writers’ birthplace with this extraordinary son of Ruse. Canetti’s daughter visited Ruse for the first time in 1998 and initiated together with Penka Angelova from the University Veliko Tarnovo and other supporters the International Elias Canetti Society, which is now very active to promote the literary work of Elias Canetti, and the values for which he stood. The three engravings that show Old Ruse and that were among Canetti’s most treasured belongings, are now back in Ruse – a donation by his daughter. And there is a chance that not only the former building of the trading house Elias Canetti (Senior) in Slavyanski Street 14 in Ruse will be revived, but maybe also that the author’s birthplace at Gurko Street 13 will be turned into a museum one day. (Interestingly, the English Wikipedia page about Canetti, claims that the building at Slavyanska is his birthplace – a building that the author has rarely ever entered, since it was an office and a warehouse, not a residential building.)   

While the book provided me with interesting, new to me information and is written with real love and devotion to the subject, I have to mention two points with which I had a problem.

The book contains many reproductions of photos and other documents; that’s a good thing since it adds considerably to the quality of the given information and makes the book even more interesting and readable. However – and this really unforgivable – the book mentions absolutely no sources of any of the photos and documents, and therefore also not of the owners of the copyright of these illustrations. That is highly disappointing and doesn’t correspond with the standard of a book publication; it is even infringing the copyright – something that is considered in Bulgaria unfortunately as no offence at all by many people. For me it is a question of honesty and intellectual integrity not to disregard in such a shameful way the intellectual property of others, and it is a real pity that such an otherwise recommendable book has such a very serious flaw. 

I had also a problem with a question regarding a detail in the chapter devoted to The Orator. Bubi Arditi, a lifelong supporter of the revisionist Zionist Vladimir Zeev Jabotinsky, the Irgun, and other right-wing groups, was also politically involved with the last Czar Simeon II (and later Prime Minister Simeon Sakskoburggotski).

Simeon launched a long time ago a campaign to depict his father Boris III as the “saviour” of the Bulgarian Jews during WWII, a claim that has been a long time ago discarded by serious historians. In the contrary, Boris III was the main Bulgarian responsible for the extermination of the Jews in the annexed territories in Macedonia and Thracia. I don’t want to go into the details here regarding this topic, but it is important to know that Bubi Arditi wrote a book that supports Simeon’s revisionist theory.

After referring Arditi’s position that Boris III was the “saviour” of the Bulgarian Jews and his blaming the “Jewish communists in Bulgaria” that they are liars, the book claims surprisingly that Canetti shared his cousin’s opinion on this question. But while there can be no doubt about the fact that Canetti rejected the communist system in Bulgaria with harsh words, he was never a supporter of the thesis that Boris III was the “saviour” of the Bulgarian Jews and the reproduced letter proves – if anything – the opposite. The rather ambiguous wording of the authors in this particular context leaves room for the interpretation that they think that Canetti shared his cousin’s opinion. But Canetti was never ever a supporter of revisionist ideologues and I was rather annoyed by this passage in an otherwise very recommendable text.   

P.S. In case you wonder, the French actor Pierre Arditi is also a member of the Canetti-Arditi family. His father Georges and Elias were cousins.

.В Русе с Елиас Канети

Veselina Antonova / Ivo Zheynov: In Ruse with Elias Canetti, MD Elias Canetti, Ruse 2016

Elias Canetti: The Tongue Set Free, Granta Books, London 1999, translated by Joachim Neugroschel 

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-8. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Visiting a painter’s studio

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit the painter Dmitrie Peicev (Димитър Пейчев) in his studio in Chisinau. Peicev was born 1943 in Burgugi, a Bulgarian village in the Budzhak region, the part of Bessarabia that belongs now to Ukraine (Odesa oblast). He received his artistic education in Chisinau and Moscow. The influence of the French impressionists, Courbet and of his teacher (and father-in-law) Mihai Grecu is visible in many of his paintings, although Peicev has his own distinctive style.

Peicev is also a poet. He has published three collections of poetry in his native language in Bulgaria. A fourth collection is in preparation. Many of his poems circle around childhood memories from his beloved Budzhak.

It was supposed to be a friendly, short visit; but we ended up (supported by some Moldovan wine) to discuss for about six hours a big variety of topics from the world of art, poetry, and life in general. For me it was particularly interesting to learn about the life of the Bulgarian minority in the region and their history and culture. And of course it was an opportunity to see quite a number of his artworks, mainly from recent years; portraits, landscapes, still lives.

Although the artist, a very humble person, who didn’t say anything bad about anyone during our meeting, has done a lot of efforts to keep his Bulgarian identity and to keep the Bulgarian community in the region together, I had the feeling that his experiences in Bulgaria were a bit mixed (to say it friendly). While he has some close friends in Bulgaria and spoke very fondly of his visits there, he is not very well known in Bulgaria, and a big exhibition tour years ago ended in a disaster for the artist: most of his 80 paintings exhibited there were stolen, and his experiences with Bulgarian art galleries (and the customs) were not of the kind that make him very eager to exhibit again in Bulgaria. Still, I hope that one day we will see a big exhibition of his artworks in Bulgaria.

The friendly artist suggested to paint my portrait; although vanity is usually not one of my sins, I am considering it…

I truly enjoyed to meet such an interesting person! My special thanks goes to my friend Kate Baklitskaya, who not only introduced me to the artist, but who was also brave enough to listen for the biggest part of the visit to our conversation in Bulgarian.

Some works of Dmitrie Peicev:

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
© Dmitrie Peicev and National Museum of Art Moldova, Chisinau, 2010-2017

Един ден…

Един ден ще гласувам за “DADA, България”…

 

Disclaimer: This is not a political statement.

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Georgi Markov – a footnote on a recent edition

I am reading right now (in Bulgarian) a three-volume edition of the essays of the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov, who is for me one of the most remarkable Eastern European intellectuals of the time between the end of WWII and the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Unfortunately he is in the West mainly known for the fact that he was assassinated in a rather bizarre way by a hit-man in the service of the Bulgarian State Security, and not for his work and the brilliant analysis of the Bulgarian and other regimes in Eastern Europe.

The edition contains many essays that are – according to the information in the books – published here for the first time in print, and it is remarkable how fresh and highly relevant these essays that are at least four decades old, are today. A fact that says also something very unpleasant about the situation in Bulgaria – still very much run by the networks of people with links to the former Bulgarian State Security and their underlings – and most other Eastern European countries.

The publisher, who brought recently among others also Varlam Shalamov, Yevgenia Ginzburg, and works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn to the Bulgarian readers, has to be praised for this deed.

However, I have also to mention that the footnotes are to me very annoying. While some of them are ridiculously inadequate – is it really necessary to try to explain in two lines who Thomas Mann or Pablo Picasso were, and does the fact that the publisher added these footnotes mean that this edition is intended for an audience that is missing even an elementary Bildung? -, others are inaccurate, and even manipulative.

One example: Pablo Neruda is described in a footnote as an author that was “occupied by communist ideas”, which is clearly a strong understatement; he was in reality a Stalinist hardliner and active GPU/NKWD agent with blood on his hands; he played a big role in the Trotsky assassination, and allegedly some others, and he personally took care of deleting non-Stalinist leftists from the list of people that would be granted a place on a rescue ship and visa to Chile, people desperately trying to leave unoccupied France in 1940; Neruda knew perfectly well that his selection (I am almost tempted to write Selektion here) was in fact a death sentence for almost all of them, executed either by the Nazis, or by the assassination squads of Stalin (Victor Serge has written in detail about such murderous “intellectuals” as Neruda). The footnote about Neruda is in this context extremely misleading.

Another example is Günter Grass, who according to the footnote was a “far-left” writer. For those who don’t know it, Grass was a life-long supporter of the German Social Democrats, even when he left the party for few years out of disappointment; he wrote speeches for his close friend, Chancellor Willy Brandt, one of the most fervent German anti-Communists, and he was himself a lifelong anti-Communist. The German Social Democrats, and also Grass himself, were never “far-left”, and the footnote is either reflecting a completely uninformed editor, or is – what I don’t hope, but cannot completely dismiss as a possibility – intentionally manipulative, “far-left” being in Bulgaria a common epithet for a Communist sympathiser.

On the other hand, it is mentioned that Salvador Dali left Spain after the Civil War, but “refrained from political activities”; those who don’t know who Dali really was, might get the impression that he was an active anti-fascist who left the country to avoid persecution – while the truth is exactly the opposite: he showed a servile attitude towards the dictator Franco and open sympathies for fascism, and he had even the bad taste to (figuratively speaking) spit on the grave of his former best friend Garcia Lorca, who was murdered by Dali’s new friends. There was a reason why Max Ernst crossed the street when he got sight of Dali during his emigration, and it was not only for artistic reasons that he didn’t want to face his shameless plagiarist!

Unfortunately, all intellectuals with sympathies for the (democratic) left seem to be described in a way similar to Grass, while in cases of intellectuals or artists with fascist sympathies a sudden amnesia seems to have taken hold of the editors. 

But not only when it comes to Western artists and intellectuals, this edition goes astray; almost all Bulgarian authors – most of them household names for the readers of this edition; even the famous Blaga Dimitrova has her two-line resume – have a footnote; only Lyubomir Levchev, a key figure of Bulgarian literary life in the time of Communism is not worthy(?) of a footnote. This gifted poet, a close friend of Markov while the later dissident was still living in Bulgaria, who made a career as an orthodox Communist literary functionary, played for example a very active role in the persecution and partly expulsion of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria in the 1980’s (euphemistically called “Revival process” by the Communists), a role in which he seems to take pride until today.

I doubt very much that the missing footnote for Lyubomir Levchev was an editorial oversight (I have privately my suspicion for which reason the footnote is missing), and this missing footnote, together with the other inadequate, wrong, and manipulative footnotes decrease my pleasure in this otherwise great and valuable edition very much. I hope that this edition will see many reprints, and that many especially young Bulgarians will read it – but with more appropriate and correct footnotes!

Георги Марков: До моя съвременник; Ненаписаната българска харта; Ходенето на българина по мъките (3 volumes), Communitas Foundation, Sofia 2015-2016

My remarks are mainly based on the first of the three volumes, which I have finished so far.

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

News from Retardistan (9)

The Bulgarian Ministry of Culture in Sofia hosts an exhibition room that is very suitable for art exhibitions, and indeed it could be a good, central place to showcase artworks by various contemporary artists.

I remember that the last time I paid a visit to the premises, there was an exhibition with works of Vezhdi Razhidov, a sculptor and painter of modest talent. What annoyed me was not that such a – in my opinion – unremarkable artist was given exhibition space in the Ministry of Culture, but the fact that this artist is – the Bulgarian Minister of Culture himself. He uses this space obviously to promote himself and thus trying to increase the market value of his artworks by exhibiting in the Ministry that he seems to consider as his quasi-private property. That a Minister is using government resources or even premises of the government to promote his own business activities would cause a major scandal, and even investigations by the relevant authorities about misuse of taxpayers’ money in probably any other country; there can be no doubt that such a Minister could not remain in office after such a blatant show of disrespect of elementary rules of political integrity and misuse of governmental resources for private profit-oriented purposes. But there was no major protest, no investigation, no replacement of the Minister.

Some time later, the big opening exhibition of the expensively renovated former Museum of Foreign Art (now part of the National Gallery) took place. As I wrote in my blog post about this exhibition, there were quite a lot of major complaints to make about this exhibition. One of them was related to the fact, that the only living artist representing the period after 1989 in this exhibition was (with two of his works), the Minister of Culture, Mr. Vezhdi Razhidov. Again, the host used his governmental position to promote his artwork, in order to increase his market value. Again, there was no major protest, no investigation, no replacement of the Minister. 

One of these days, I have been again accidentally passing by the Ministry of Culture. And what do I see? The windows of the exhibition room are decorated right now with three big posters that advertise three art exhibitions of works of Minister Razhidov. Again, the host used his governmental position to promote his artwork, in order to increase his market value. Again, there was no major protest, no investigation, no replacement of the Minister. 

I guess these small but symptomatic observations give you an idea regarding the state of cultural policy in Bulgaria.

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-6. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.