Tag Archives: Lea Cohen

18% Brown: the downfall of a Bulgarian intellectual

The countries of Eastern Europe continue to struggle with the classification of their history and the people and currents that shaped it. This is especially true for the legacy of the time immediately before the Communist seizure of power. In many Eastern European countries, since the 1920s, there were fascist or openly National Socialist groups that enjoyed widespread popular support; they generally combined radical anti-communism with a totalitarian idea of society and eliminationist anti-Semitism modeled after German National Socialism.

From these groupings, the Nazis gained before and at the outbreak of WWII many fanatical supporters for their policy of violence and extermination, a policy that aimed at the complete eradication of whole races, especially the Jews and Roma. The prejudices and social exclusion that had prevailed for centuries, as well as the existing willingness to use violence against these population groups in Eastern Europe, were taken up by the Nazis and made serviceable for their barbaric extermination project. The anti-Semitic and fascist organizations of the “elites” in these countries disappeared apparently later with the Communist seizure of power, but the persons and attitudes of course remained largely unchanged.

While many leading members of fascist groups settled in the West in time, and others being executed or sentenced to lengthy prison terms in trials that were usually not according to the standards of constitutional democracies, there were also many who remained undisturbed. Among other things, the collapse of the communist bloc in Eastern Europe led to the formation of political groups that deliberately leaned towards pre-war organizations and that see themselves as following the values of such organizations. As a rule, the anti-communism of these pre-WWII groups is emphasized, but the totalitarian-fascist and anti-Semitic tradition is often concealed or relativized.

Hard-boiled anti-Semites and racists who have survived the communist regime and who are still proud of their (mis)deeds against Jews, and who in some cases spent decades behind bars in a communist prison, were suddenly revered by many despite (or perhaps because of?) their open advocacy of the ideology of their youth as anti-communist martyrs and heroes and role models for 21st century youth. And frequently, there are willing intellectuals who wholeheartedly support this revisionist narrative.

I want to report on such a case here. The focus is on the Bulgarian writer Zachary Karabashliev, whose novel 18% Gray is also available in English translation.

What is it all about? On his Facebook profile Karabashliev describes a visit to a 97-year-old retiree, and he provides photos and explanatory text. This encounter has, in his own words, strongly impressed him. The old man, apparently still astonishingly vigorous for his age, was harassed several times by intruders in his home and probably also physically abused. Karabashliev demanded in a letter from the competent ministry a better protection and an increased pension for the war veteran, who also spent many years in a prison of Communist Bulgaria as a regime opponent.

So far so good. There is no one who does not regret the poor living conditions of pensioners in Bulgaria, and also the frequent lack of recognition that many innocent victims of the communist system (in)justice have received in today’s Bulgarian society. So quite a noble action, which honors also the initiator, one could believe at first glance. Another picture, however, comes to light when you are digging a bit deeper.

The old man, whom Karabashliev praises, and whom he has repeatedly dubbed in public statements – even on television – as a hero, is called Dyanko Markov. Markov was imprisoned in communist Bulgaria for political reasons and was rehabilitated in the years after 1989. He was then a member of parliament for a right-wing party and became the most prominent living symbol of the political Right in Bulgaria because of his strong anti-communist stance. Markov wrote his memoirs, he often appeared as a speaker at public events (for example at the European Parliament) and was repeatedly interviewed. He is not just any pensioner, but in Bulgaria a well-known figure of public life. We are dealing with someone whom many – Karabashliev, for example – consider to be an exemplary hero and as such he was and is always present in the Bulgarian public.

In the first version of his Facebook post, Karabashliev also mentioned in detail and admiringly a part of the biography of Markov, which he interestingly later edited and completely deleted. This section referred to Markov’s membership in the so-called “Legions” and his alleged heroic deeds during World War II.

The Union of Bulgarian National Legions was an anti-Semitic and openly fascist paramilitary organization led by Hristo Lukov from 1933 on (he used the title “National Leader”). The youth organization of the Legions used the swastika as part of their emblem, the uniforms of the Legions and also the program were directly based on the blueprint of the German SA and also otherwise this movement was regarded as an arm of Hitler in Bulgaria and was strongly supported accordingly by Nazi Germany.

Eliminationist anti-Semitism was particularly actively promoted in Bulgaria by radical groups such as the Legions. Lukov, who eventually rose to become a general, Minister of War, and the “gray eminence” in the background, used the Legions as a base to gain more and more political influence and power; the Gestapo seriously debated whether they should support a coup d’etat by Lukov against Tsar Boris III who was for opportunistic reasons – the defeat of the Nazis was already forseeable – reluctant to carry out the Final Solution in Bulgaria; a replacement by a dictator Lukov, would according to the reasoning of the Gestapo, “deliver” the Jews for extermination without any problems. Before these ideas could be carried out, Lukov was assassinated by Violeta Yakova, a 19-year-old Jewish partisan (she was later brutally raped and tortured to death by Bulgarian security forces); the strong resistance of many Bulgarian citizens, some politicians (such as Dimitar Peshev) and the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria meant in the end that Bulgaria did not extradite their own Jewish citizens to the Nazis.

The Jews in the Bulgarian-occupied and annexed areas of Thrace, Macedonia and the Pirot region of Serbia were less fortunate: they were the only inhabitants of these areas who were formally declared as non-Bulgarians, and with this “trick” the Bulgarian authorities had laid the basis for deporting them. The deportation in these areas was organized and carried out by Bulgarians, members of the Union of Bulgarian National Legions were particularly eager, since the murder of the Jews corresponded to their own program. More than 11,000 Jews were deported to Treblinka and murdered on arrival.  

The founder and “leader” of this organization, which carried out much of the dirty work in the murder of Jews, Hristo Lukov, is the idol of many neo-Nazis in Europe to this day, he is “honored” with a torchlight parade every year in the center of Sofia by groups of neo-Nazis from all over Europe. Lukov is also the idol of Dyanko Markov, and he still propagates the ideas and “values” of the Legions to this very day. His memoirs sing a song of heroism of this organization. The Holocaust in the territories occupied and annexed by Bulgaria was commented by Markov in a speech in the Bulgarian parliament in 2000, in which he stated that the deportation of a “hostile population” was not a war crime. In 2018 he added that the deportation of the Jews to Treblinka was “relatively humane”. Almost at the same time Markov received from the Bulgarian state a high Order of Merit. One wonders, however, for what exactly…

At this point lies the real scandal, in the center of which Karabashliev has now maneuvered himself, probably out of the deepest conviction from the bottom of his heart.

If he and his notorious co-propagandists had wanted to draw attention to the fate of the veterans, the former inmates and victims of the communist regime of injustice or, in general, the shameful situation in which many elderly people in Bulgaria have to vegetate, one could easily choose almost any older person in Bulgaria as an example. The fact that a Dyanko Markov of all people is chosen to make this point, a person whose appearance in the European Parliament triggered a major scandal just a few years ago, after his continued advocacy of an inhumane organization and ideology and his Holocaust relativization became known, is, of course, a hint to the fact that the small group’s political program that keeps repeating Dyankov’s instrumentalization aims mainly at a complete rehabilitation of criminal fascist organizations from pre-war Bulgaria, a rehabilitation on which the group obviously plans to capitalize politically.

Anyone who points out that an inhumane ideology is being propagated here, the ideology of a group whose main historical aim was the mass murder of certain population groups and a cruel war of aggression in the East, anyone who questions why such people should be made into heroes must be prepared for a few things, from – in the end unsuccessful – slander trials to vicious, hate-filled personal attacks from the camp of Karabashliev’s co-propagandists. Unfortunately, such tendencies are probably in the spirit of the times, because in Bulgaria, which is governed by a coalition of right-wing and right-wing extremist parties, intellectual currents that relativize or deny the Holocaust and who claim that it is “the Jews” who need to be blamed for all atrocities of communism (which, as a matter of course makes their mass murder an excusable response); even the age-old anti-Semitic topos of the Jews as Christ-killers celebrates resurrection, e.g. in the columns of the once respected portal “Kultura”. The fact that Bulgarian writers such as Karabashliev and a few other second- and third-rate figures are initiating or supporting such shameful acts is a declaration of moral bankruptcy.

The case Karabashliev weighs particularly hard because of its influential position in the Bulgarian publishing industry. Significantly, with the exception of Angel Igov, who has contradicted the account of Karabashliev and his allies with reference to the facts, and Lea Cohen, who as a Jew is a traditional target of the Bulgarian anti-Semites, no other author has to my knowledge yet intervened in this scandal. Too big is obviously the fear to lose access to publication outlets in the small Bulgarian book market, or to estrange readers, of which a considerable part probably sympathizes with Markov‘s and Karabashliev’s historical revisionism. One may call this cowardice or complete dullness towards moral values; in any case it is a tragedy and a worrying symptom of the state of Bulgarian society these days.

© Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-9. 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.

Again Women in Translation Month

Incredible how fast one year has passed – another Women in Translation Month! My modest contribution to Women in Translation Month is an overview regarding the books by female authors (or co-authors) I have reviewed, mentioned or from which I have translated texts (poetry) that I have published on this blog since last years’ Women in Translation Month: Bozhana Apostolowa: Kreuzung ohne Wege Boika Asiowa: Die unfruchtbare Witwe Martina Baleva / Ulf Brunnbauer (Hg.): Batak kato mjasto na pametta / Batak als bulgarischer Erinnerungsort Veza Canetti / Elias Canetti / Georges Canetti: “Dearest Georg!” Veza Canetti: The Tortoises Lea Cohen: Das Calderon-Imperium Blaga Dimitrova: Forbidden Sea – Zabraneno more Blaga Dimitrova: Scars Kristin Dimitrova: A Visit to the Clockmaker Kristin Dimitrova: Sabazios Iglika Dionisieva: Déjà vu Hug Tzvetanka Elenkova (ed.): At the End of the World Tzvetanka Elenkova: The Seventh Gesture Ludmila Filipova: The Parchment Maze Sabine Fischer / Michael Davidis: Aus dem Hausrat eines Hofrats Heike Gfereis: Autopsie Schiller Mirela Ivanova: Versöhnung mit der Kälte Ekaterina Josifova: Ratse Kapka Kassabova: Street Without a Name Gertrud Kolmar: A Jewish Mother from Berlin – Susanna Gertrud Kolmar: Dark Soliloquy Gertrud Kolmar: Das lyrische Werk Gertrud Kolmar: My Gaze Is Turned Inward: Letters 1938-1943 Gertrud Kolmar: Worlds – Welten Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird Sibylle Lewitscharoff: Apostoloff Nada Mirkov-Bogdanovic / Milena Dordijevic: Serbian Literature in the First World War Mary C. Neuburger: Balkan Smoke Milena G. Nikolova: Kotkata na Schroedinger Nicki Pawlow: Der bulgarische Arzt Sabine Rewald: Balthus: Cats and Girls Angelika Schrobsdorff: Die Reise nach Sofia Angelika Schrobsdorff: Grandhotel Bulgaria Tzveta Sofronieva: Gefangen im Licht Albena Stambolova: Everything Happens as it Does Maria Stankowa: Langeweile Danila Stoianova: Memory of a Dream Katerina Stoykova-Klemer (ed.): The Season of Delicate Hunger Kathrine Kressmann Taylor: Address Unknown Dimana Trankova / Anthony Georgieff: A Guide to Jewish Bulgaria Marguerite Youcenar: Coup de Grâce Edda Ziegler / Michael Davidis: “Theuerste Schwester“. Christophine Reinwald, geb. Schiller Rumjana Zacharieva: Transitvisum fürs Leben Virginia Zaharieva: Nine Rabbits Anna Zlatkova: fremde geografien The Memoirs of Glückel from Hameln What remarkable translated books by women have you read recently or are you reading right now?
 © 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.
 

Bulgarian Literature Month 2016 – a few suggestions (2)

In my latest blog post, I gave an overview regarding some of the translated Bulgarian authors and their works. If you want to have a bit more background information about contemporary authors from Bulgaria, I would recommend you to have a look at the website Contemporary Bulgarian Writers.

The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation is since years successfully supporting particularly the translation and publication of books by contemporary Bulgarian authors, and the website is also a result of their work. Apart from short authors’ bios, there are plenty of translation samples that will for sure be a useful starting point not only for publishers, but also for readers. The English-language Bulgarian journal Vagabond (a well-written and edited periodical for anyone with an interest in Bulgaria) publishes in every new edition a story or a chapter of a novel by a contemporary Bulgarian author. So there are now quite a lot of accessible media that can tease the curiosity of readers for Bulgarian literature.

Although the main focus of this first Bulgarian Literature Month 2016 is on the works of contemporary Bulgarian language authors, I want to be not too strict. Also non-fiction works by Bulgarian authors can be included. The same goes for works by Bulgarian-born authors that write in another language than Bulgarian. I am even open for reviews of books (fiction or non-fiction) by foreign language authors that are related to Bulgaria.

Here are a few recommendations for all above mentioned categories:

Bulgarian-born authors that write in other languages:

The only Bulgarian-born author that was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature was Elias Canetti. Canetti’s only link with Bulgaria is his birth in Ruse and the first years of his early childhood he spent there, and which had nevertheless a strong lifelong impact on him. More on his childhood in the first volume of his brilliant autobiography:

The Tongue Set Free (Granta Books 2011)

Some time ago, I reviewed the debut of Miroslav Penkov, his story collection East of the West, enthusiastically. The English-language author Penkov has now published his first novel, again focused on Bulgaria and similarly enticing:

Stork Mountain (Farrar, Straus , and Giroux 2016)

Kapka Kassabova, another English-language author with Bulgarian roots, left the country of her birth in 1991. Many years later, she came back for a longer visit and her impressions there brought back a lot of mostly not very pleasant memories. A somewhat controversial book, not liked by everyone in Bulgaria, but definitely an interesting read about the difficult process of transition which is still going on 25 years after the fall of communism:

Street Without a Name: Childhood and Other Misadventures in Bulgaria (Skyhorse Publishing 2009)

One of the most prolific contemporary German-language authors is Ilija Trojanow (sometimes transcribed as Iliya Troyanov in English). Of his so far translated works I recommend particularly the following books:

Along the Ganges (Haus Publishing 2005)
Mumbai to Mecca (Haus Publishing 2007)
The Collector of Worlds (Haus Publishing 2008)
The Lamentations of Zeno (Verso 2016)

Together with the photographer Christian Muhrbeck, Trojanow published an impressive book with photos from Bulgaria:

Wo Orpheus begraben liegt (Carl Hanser 2013) – this book, as all other works of Trojanow related to Bulgaria, are still not translated in English

Unfortunately Dimitre Dinev’s books, written in German, are so far also not translated in English. His touching and brilliantly written novel about two families is one of my favourite books:

Engelszungen (“Angel’s Tongues”) (Deuticke 2003)

Several other Bulgarian-born authors write also in German. I can recommend (this so far untranslated book) particularly:

Rumjana Zacharieva: Transitvisum fürs Leben (Horlemann 2012)

Bulgaria is also a topic in the work of a few fictional works by authors that have no connection by birth with this country:

Many of Eric Ambler’s books have a story that is located in some frequently not precisely named Balkan country. The following two books of this fantastic author have a Bulgarian setting (the first one partly, the second one is clearly based on the show trial in Bulgaria in the aftermath of the Communist takeover):

The Mask of Dimitrios (in the United States published as A Coffin for Dimitrios) (various editions)
Judgment on Deltchev (Vintage 2002)

Another author who is using the twilight of the Balkans as a setting for his spy novels is Alan Furst. Bulgaria features for example in the following book:

Night Soldiers (Random House 2002)

Two remarkable novels by younger international authors who spent a longer time in Bulgaria and who received excellent reviews (especially the second one, which was published recently has caused really raving write-ups in all major literary journals and even the mainstream media):

Rana Dasgupta: Solo (Marriner Books 2012)
Garth Greenwell: What Belongs to You (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 2016)

Julian Barnes visited Bulgaria after the transition and witnessed the trial of Todor Zhivkov. His novel based on this experience is worth reading:

The Porcupine (Vintage 2009)

Two historical novels by men who lived or live in Bulgaria. I haven’t read them yet, but the synopsis sounds interesting in both cases:

Christopher Buxton: Far from the Danube (Kronos 2006)
Ellis Shuman: Valley of the Thracians (Create Space 2013)

A few more books by German authors that have a Bulgarian setting and that I enjoyed (with the exception of Apostoloff, but maybe you think otherwise). Only the book by Lewitscharoff is translated so far.

Michael Buselmeier: Hundezeiten (Wunderhorn 1999)
Nicki Pawlow: Der bulgarische Arzt (Langen-Müller 2014)
Roumen M. Evert: Die Immigrantin (Dittrich 2009)
Uwe Kolbe: Thrakische Spiele (Nymphenburger 2005)
Sibylle Lewitscharoff: Apostoloff (Suhrkamp 2010)

Angelika Schrobsdorff (also known as an actress and wife of Claude Lanzmann) came 1938 to Bulgaria as a Jewish child from Germany and stayed there until 1947. Several of her works are based on her experience in Bulgaria or on her attempts to re-connect with friends and relatives at a later stage:

Die Reise nach Sofia (dtv 1983, introduction by Simone de Beauvoir)
Grandhotel Bulgaria (dtv 1997)

And finally some non-fiction recommendations:

The Bulgarian journalist and author Georgi Markov was one of the most prominent dissidents and victim of a so-called “umbrella murder”. The following book is the result of years of investigation and gives an extremely interesting insight into the real power central of communist Bulgaria, the State Security:

Hristo Hristov: Kill the Wanderer (Gutenberg 2013)

Works of Georgi Markov is available in a three-volume edition in German:

Das Portrait meines Doppelgängers (Wieser 2010)
Die Frauen von Warschau (Wieser 2010)
Reportagen aus der Ferne (Wieser 2014)

In the context of the attempts of certain right-wing circles in Bulgaria to whitewash the fascist regime of Boris III from its share of responsibility in the holocaust, it is particularly useful to read the following book by Tzvetan Todorov, who is together with Julia Kristeva one of the most prominent French intellectuals of Bulgarian origin:

The Fragility of Goodness (Princeton University Press 2003)

Another very heated discussion about a particular period of Bulgarian history  was the so-called Batak controversy a few years ago. Whereas in most other countries a conference about certain aspects of 19th century history would go unnoticed outside a small circle, it resulted in this case in big and very unpleasant smear campaign with involvement of Bulgarian politicians and almost all major media in the country who, either without knowing the publication or in full disregard of the content, organized a real witch hunt against a few scholars that had in the end to cancel the conference because they had to fear for their lives. The re-evaluation of certain historical myths that were in the past used to incite ethnic or religious hatred targeted at certain groups of Bulgarian citizens is still a difficult issue. A book that is documenting the Batak controversy and the historical facts behind it is available in a Bulgarian/German edition:

Martina Baleva, Ulf Brunnbauer (Hgg.): Batak kato mjasto na pametta / Batak als bulgarischer Erinnerungsort (Iztok-Zapad 2007)

A book on the history of Bulgaria may be useful for all those who dive into Bulgarian literature. Bulgarians love their history and love to discuss it with foreigners; or more precisely: the version of history they were taught in school…

R.J. Crampton: A Concise History of Bulgaria (Cambridge University Press 2006)

A fascinating book on how tobacco, its cultivation and production, shaped Bulgaria – until today, when there is still a political party that at least on the the surface mainly represents the interest of the – predominantly ethnic Turkish – tobacco farmers:

Mary C. Neuburger: Balkan Smoke (Cornell University Press 2012)

A German in Bulgaria is the subtitle of the following book, and of course I read the very interesting, insightful and sometimes funny work by Thomas Frahm (not translated in English, but at least in Bulgarian) with great interest and pleasure. Frahm is also one of the few excellent translators of Bulgarian literature (Lea Cohen, Vladimir Zarev):

Die beiden Hälften der Walnuss (Chira 2015)

And if you are planning a walk through the Balkans or a boat trip on the Danube, the following classical works should not be missing in your luggage:

Claudio Magris: Danube (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 2008)

Patrick Leigh Fermor: A Time of Gifts/Between the Woods and the Water/The Broken Road (NYRB)

In my next blog post I will give more information on how to participate in Bulgarian Literature Month 2016. And yes, there will be also a few giveaways! 

PS: The information in the two blog posts is of course not complete, and can never be. Still, I think I should include the following as well (which I have simply forgotten):

John Updike: The Bulgarian Poetess – one of Updike’s best stories, available in several of his short story collections, for example in The Early Stories, 1953-1975 (Random House 2004)

Will Buckingham: The Descent of the Lyre (Roman Books 2013) – a beautiful novel that catches the magical atmosphere of the Rhodopi mountains, the region of Orpheus, written by an author who knows Bulgaria, its history and culture very well.

Dumitru Tsepeneag: The Bulgarian Truck – a brilliant postmodernist novel by an author from neighbouring Romania (Dalkey Archive Press 2016)

The online journal Drunken Boat recently published an issue devoted to Bulgarian literature and art. A good selection and the perfect starting point for the Bulgarian Literature Month.

© 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.

 

 

 


Bulgarian Literature Month 2016 – a few suggestions

As already announced some time ago, Mytwostotinki will host a Bulgarian Literature Month in June. In case you are a reader with or without blog, here are a few suggestions for that month in case you want to participate. Additional suggestions and information on how to participate will follow very soon.

Very little is available in print in English language from the non-contemporary Bulgarian belletristic literature. Among the classical works presently available in print are:

Ivan Vazov: Under the Yoke (various editions available) – the most famous classical work in Bulgarian and the first Bulgarian novel, written 1888 and based on Vazov’s own experience and historical events related to the so-called April uprising against the Ottoman rule. Full of action and romanticism, a story that is still read by almost every Bulgarian (usually at school) and that is therefore having a great influence on how Bulgarians see their own history (and themselves).

Aleko Konstantinov: Bai Ganyo (University of Wisconsin Press 2010) – originally published 1895; the adventures and misadventures of the rose oil trader Bai Ganyo are a satirical masterpiece. Bai Ganyo knows always where to find a free lunch in Vienna, Dresden, Petersburg and how to bribe, bully and rig elections in Bulgaria. No wonder not all Bulgarians like this book and its author (who was murdered in 1897), especially since not all has changed very much since Bai Ganyo’s days.

By the same author, a travel account – one of the first by Bulgarian authors:

Aleko Konstantinov: To Chicago and Back (Abm Komers 2004)

The poet Nikola Vaptsarov had a short and tragic life. His poems are available in English:

Nikola Vaptsarov: Kino (ed. Georgi Gospodinov) (Smokestack Books 2014)

The grand old lady of Bulgarian literature was without doubt Blaga Dimitrova. Available by her:

Blaga Dimitrova: Forbidden Sea (2002), and Scars (2003), both by Ivy Press Princeton – Dimitrova was one of the most beloved and prolific writers in Bulgarian language after WWII and after the fall of communism she was for some time Vice-President of the country. Two of her longer poems are available in bi-lingual editions. Dimitrova wrote also prose but in this moment, none of her works in prose seems to be available.

Since we are at poetry, here are a few more titles (mostly in bi-lingual editions):

Konstantin Pavlov: Capriccio for Goya
Konstantin Pavlov: Cry of a Former Dog
Alexander Shurbanov: Frost-Flowers
Danila Stoianova: Memory of a Dream
Edvin Sugarev: Secret Senses
Edvin Sugarev: Kaleidoscope (all titles by Ivy Press Princeton)

Shearsman Books, another small publisher, has two Bulgarian poetry books:

Tzvetanka Elenkova: The Seventh Gesture, and
At the End of the World – Contemporary Poetry from Bulgaria (ed. Tzvetanka Elenkova)

Translator is in both cases Jonathan Dunne who is with Tzvetanka Elenkova, his wife, also the publisher of Small Stations Press.

Another excellent anthology of Bulgarian poetry:

The Season of Delicate Hunger (ed. Katerina Stoykova-Klemer), Accents Publishing 2014

The following poetry works are published by small publishers – if you are interested in them let me know; these books are probably not available via the usual distribution channels in your country:

Boris Hristov: Book of Silence (Mythographies, 2008)
Ivan Hristov: American Poems (DA, 2013)
Kiril Kadiiski: Poetry (Sofia University Press, 2006)
Toma Bintchev: The Sea is Blue (Augusta 2008)
Dimitar Minkov: Contemplation (Initsiali 2014)
Karol Nikolov: Shared Spaces (ZOF 2009)
Lyubomir Nikolov: Street Poems (Carnegie Mellon University Press 2005)
Kristin Dimitrova: A Visit to the Clockmaker (Southword Editions 2005)

German readers can also try:

Elin Rachnev: Zimt (Leipziger Literaturverlag 2012)
Anna Zlatkova: fremde geografien (edition exil 2014)
Tzveta Sofronieva: Gefangen im Licht (Biblion 1999)
Boris Paskov: Zehn Traumgespanne (Biblion 2001)
Gerhard Gesemann(Hg.): Zweiundsiebzig Lieder des bulgarischen Volkes (Biblion 1996)
Radoj Ralin: Späte Brombeeren (Avlos 1999)
Mirela Ivanova: Versöhnung mit der Kälte (Das Wunderhorn 2004)
Pejo Jaworow: Den Schatten der Wolken nach (Weihermüller 1999)

The most renowned contemporary Bulgarian writer is Georgi Gospodinov. His two excellent novels (The Physics of Sorrow was just nominated for the Best Translated Book Award 2016) and a book with stories are available in English:

Natural Novel (Dalkey Archive Press 2005)
And Other Stories (Northwestern University Press 2007)
The Physics of Sorrow (Open Letter Books 2015)

Gospodinov is translated in many languages. In German the following books by him are also translated:

8 Minuten und 19 Sekunden (Droschl 2016)
Kleines morgendliches Verbrechen (Droschl 2010)
Gaustin oder Der Mensch mit vielen Namen (Wieser 2004)

The other internationally well-known name in translated contemporary Bulgarian literature is Alek Popov. His two fast-paced novels (the first one previously reviewed by me favourably) contain a lot of – sometimes black – humour, and it is not surprising that the first one was already adapted as a successful movie:

Mission London (Istros Books 2014)
The Black Box (Peter Owen Books 2015)

Again, German readers have more choices. Apart from the two books just mentioned they can also read the following by the same author:

Für Fortgeschrittene (Residenz 2009)
Schneeweisschen und Partisanenrot (Residenz 2014)

One of the most interesting female authors from Bulgaria is Virginia Zaharieva. As regular readers of this blog will remember, I enjoyed her first and so far only novel a lot:

Nine Rabbits (Istros Books 2012; Black Balloon Publishing 2014)

A publishing house that has various translated titles in his excellent program is Open Letter Press. Apart from The Physics of Sorrow it published also an excellent novel by Zachary Karabashliev (favourably reviewed by me):

18% Grey (Open Letter 2013)

Other titles from Open Letter Press:

Angel Igov: A Short Tale of Shame (Open Letter Books 2013) – Igov is one of the most interesting younger Bulgarian authors. His second – and so far untranslated – novel Krotkite was recently nominated as Best Bulgarian novel 2015.

Milen Ruskov: Thrown into Nature (Open Letter Books 2011) – a brilliant picaresque historical novel

Albena Stambolova: Everything Happens as it Does (Open Letter Books 2013) – a novel that was not completely unjustified compared to Albert Camus’ The Stranger.

Georgi Tenev: Party Headquarters (Open Letter Books (Open Letter Books 2016) – a novel about the turbulent time of transition in Bulgaria in the 1980s and 90s.

Deyan Enev is one of the masters of Bulgarian short prose. One of his collections is translated in English:

Circus Bulgaria (Portobello Books)

The following two books by Bulgarian publishers are maybe not great literature, but light and humorous summer reads:

Boyan Bioltchev: Varoe’s Amazon (Bulgarian Bestseller 2007)
Mikhail Veshim: The English Neighbour (Siela 2015) – a must-read for all foreigners who plan to buy a house in the Bulgarian countryside and want to live there

A young author that published a story collection whose main protagonist is the city Sofia itself – I like this book very much:

Alexander Shpatov: #LiveFromSofia (Siela 2014)

Another book by the same author is available in German:

Fussnotengeschichten (Wieser 2010)

Nikolay Fenersky is another interesting writer of short stories. The following short book is available as an ebook:

The Apocalypse is a Private Affair (Fenersky 2014)

Ludmila Filipova is a bestseller author in Bulgaria, her most popular book available in English is:

The Parchment Maze (Create Space 2013)

Another popular book is this novel about a Bulgarian emigrant in Paris:

Marko Semov: The Price (Bulgarian Bestseller 2006)

Dimitar Tomov has published a collection of Gypsy stories that is available in English:

The Eternal Katun (Bulgarian Bestseller 2004)

One of the most remarkable Bulgarian movies of the last decades is Dzift by Javor Gardev. This film noir is based on an equally remarkable novel I can recommend heartily:

Vladislav Todorov: Zift (Paul Dry Books 2010)

Many good Bulgarian authors are not translated in English, some not at all. German readers are comparatively lucky, since they have access to excellent authors such as Vladimir Zarev, Lea Cohen, or Christo Karastojanov, to name just a few. Here is an overview without further comments regarding some more remarkable titles available in German translation:

Bozhana Apostolowa: Kreuzung ohne Wege (Dittrich 2010)
Boika Asiowa: Die unfruchtbare Witwe (Dittrich 2012)
Dimitar Atanassow: Die unerträgliche Freiheit (Dittrich 2012)
Lea Cohen: Das Calderon-Imperium (Zsolnay 2010)
Georgi Danailov: Ein Haus jenseits der Welt (Wieser 2007)
Kristin Dimitrova: Sabazios (IG Elias Canetti)
Thomas Frahm (Hg.): Gegenwarten: Bulgarische Prosa nach 1989 (Chora 2015)
Georgi Grozdev: Beute (IG Elias Canetti)
Georgi Grozdev: Unnütz (IG Elias Canetti)
Konstantin Iliev: Die Niederlage (IG Elias Canetti)
Jordan Iwantschew: Die Farben des Grauens (Dittrich 2011)
Jordan Jowkow: Ein Frauenherz (Biblion 1999)
Christo Karastojanow: Teufelszwirn (Dittrich 2012)
Viktor Paskow: Autopsie (Dittrich 2010)
Palmi Ranchev: Der Weg nach Sacramento (Dittrich 2011)
Maria Stankowa: Langeweile (Dittrich 2010)
Kalin Terziyski: Alkohol (INK Press 2015)
Kalin Terziyski: Wahnsinn (IG Elias Canetti)
Todor Todorov: Hexen, Mörder, Nixen, Dichter (Größenwahn Verlag 2012)
Angel Wagenstein: Leb wohl, Shanghai (Edition Elke Heidenreich bei C. Bertelsmann)
Angel Wagenstein: Pentateuch oder Die fünf Bücher Isaaks (btb 2001)
Vladimir Zarev: Familienbrand (dtv 2013)
Vladimir Zarev: Feuerköpfe (dtv 2014)
Vladimir Zarev: Seelenasche (dtv 2015)
Vladimir Zarev: Verfall (Kiepenheuer & Witsch 2009)

In a second blog post I will give very soon a few recommendations related to books by Bulgarian authors writing in a foreign language, and also a few non-fiction book recommendations related to Bulgaria.

A third blog post will give finally additional information on how you can participate in the Bulgarian Literature Month – and stay tuned: there will be also some giveaways!

PS: In case you are a publisher – you can contact me for more information on the books and authors, sample translations and translation rights’ information.

© 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.

 


A case of revisionism – short update

A Bulgarian version of my previous article on the Boris III campaign by revisionist circles was published recently on the popular website Площад Славейков (Ploshtad Slaveykov), together with articles by the Bulgarian novelists and writers Lea Cohen and Angel Wagenstein

There is also an interesting article related to the publication of the Bulgarian translation of Tzvetan Todorov’s book Тоталитарният опит (L’expérience totalitaire: la signature humaine) that deals with this question in a philosophical context on the same website.

Todorov

Tzvetan Todorov: L’expérience totalitaire, Points, Paris 2011

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. 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 case of revisionism, or How interested circles in Bulgaria try to turn the main responsible for the killing of 11,363 Jews into someone that is “more than a Bulgarian Schindler”

The events about which I am talking here took place more than 70 years ago and are extremely well documented. But until today there are two competing narratives regarding the interpretation of these events and a recent interview of the former Bulgarian Czar and later Prime Minister Simeon Sakskoburggotski (Simeon von Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha) brought them to the surface again and created a quite heated discussion in the public sphere in Bulgaria.

The facts: Bulgaria, whose government at that time had since long very close ties to Nazi Germany, joined the Axis officially on March 1, 1941. Bulgaria had lost territories in the Balkan Wars and WWI that it considered to be rightfully part of Bulgaria, and Nazi Germany supported these territorial claims to Macedonia, a part of Kosovo, the Dobrudzha, and the Greek part of Thrace. Part of the deal to join the Axis was on the other hand to actively support the extermination of the Jews – it was later agreed that Bulgaria will “deliver” as a starter 20,000 Jews to the Nazis. So, in the end of the day it was a deal “territory against handing out the Jews for extermination”.

Even before joining the Axis, the Bulgarian government started to support actively the anti-Semitic policy of the Nazis. Bulgaria issued laws that deprived Bulgarian Jews of most of their rights; the laws were inspired by the anti-Semitic laws in Nazi Germany that in a way prepared the population to accept the fact the Jews were no citizens, and actually not even human beings in the ideology of the Nazis and their willing helpers.

In spring 1943, the Bulgarian parliament issued a supportive vote to deport for now 20,000 Jews from the territory of Bulgaria (including those territories that were to be annexed by Bulgaria) to Poland. 11,363 Jews from Bulgarian-occupied Macedonia and Western Thrace were rounded up by Bulgarian police and military, put in trains guarded by Bulgarians and sent mainly to Treblinka. There was literally only a handful of survivors.

When in March 1943 the Bulgarian authorities started to announce their intention to round up also the Jews from the “Old” Bulgarian territory, i.e. Bulgaria in the borders before 1941, courageous Bulgarian citizens, a few politicians with a conscious (such as Dimitar Peshev), and some of the leaders of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (Metropolit Kiril and Metropolit Stefan), organized public resistance in Kyustendil, Sofia, Plovdiv, and other places. A demonstration of the illegal Communist party in Sofia resulted in the arrest of more than 400 participants.

Bulgaria was a country where antisemitism was not a mass phenomenon, most Bulgarians traditionally held good relationships with their Jewish neighbors and felt that they were Bulgarian citizens just like everybody else. It became obvious to the government and to the powerful Czar Boris III that they had underestimated the supportive reaction of the Bulgarian population for the Jews; at a time when it was already clear that Nazi Germany will lose the war (this happened after the capitulation of Stalingrad), the Czar and the government decided to “play on time”.

In order to avoid a serious crisis and threat to their power by a possibly very strong reaction of a considerable part of the Bulgarian population if they would deport the remaining Jews to Poland, they found all kind of excuses to delay the deportation – much to the anger of Dannecker, the highest Nazi representative in Bulgaria who was dealing with the organisation of the endlösung, and of Hitler personally. But knowing fully well that he was on the losing side, Boris (who died a few days after he visited Hitler in Germany) tried to gain some leverage for the time after the war. And to be considered the “savior” of the Bulgarian Jews would be possibly part of that leverage, so he hoped.

As a result, all Jews within the pre-1941 territory of Bulgaria survived (unless they perished as part of the partisan movement); almost all Jews in the annexed territories were killed.      

In his recent interview with CNN, the son of Czar Boris III, the former Czar Simeon II, and later Prime Minister of Bulgaria, mentioned his hopes that his father will be declared one of the Righteous Among the Nations, a title awarded by Yad Vashem to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

The basic criteria to be awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations, according to the official website of the Yad Vashem Memorial are as follows:

  1. Active involvement of the rescuer in saving one or several Jews from the threat of death or deportation to death camps;
  2. Risk to the rescuer’s life, liberty or position;
  3. The initial motivation being the intention to help persecuted Jews: i.e. not for payment or any other reward such as religious conversion of the saved person, adoption of a child, etc.;
  4. The existence of testimony of those who were helped or at least unequivocal documentation establishing the nature of the rescue and its circumstances.

It is obvious that Czar Boris III is not fulfilling a single one of these criteria.

I would not have mentioned the attempt of a son to whitewash his father from his responsibility of the death of more than 11,000 people, if it would be a private matter only. But Simeon is not a private person only. He came back to Bulgaria after decades of exile to become Prime Minister, making the promise that after 800 days the Bulgarians would live better under his rule (he and his sister live indeed much better now – one of the first laws he issued was about the restitution of the private property of the family of the Czar, and now he and his sister own land and properties that were never theirs, and which make them the by far biggest landowners in Bulgaria).

The reason why I am writing about this topic is another one. What we can witness in Bulgaria is the attempt of interested circles to whitewash history, to deny historical responsibility for the deeds of the past, or even for serious crimes that were committed in the past. That is not limited to Bulgaria of course, and it is not limited to the role of the Czar in the survival of the Bulgarian Jews living on the pre-1941 Bulgarian territory. Revisionism is in my opinion a very serious threat for Bulgaria. Only when you know who you are and what you did in the past and for what you are responsible, you have a chance to learn from history.

An article written by Manol Glishev, a poet and intellectual, shows clearly the very ugly side of this kind of revisionism. I was really shocked and aghast when I read it.

After an introduction which he is using to insult everyone who dares to be critical regarding Boris’ role and Simeon’s objective lies about that part of history (see below), saying that “negativism transferred from father to son or from son to father is a totalitarian practice”(!!!), we “learn” in his article how Boris III was working hard for years to preserve the life of every Bulgarian – but “unfortunately” the Jews in the occupied and annexed territories were not Bulgarians, so there was nothing he could do. (This is ignoring the fact that it was Boris III and his government that “made” all inhabitants of the occupied and annexed territories into Bulgarians – except for the Jews, for which he had already other plans.)

In one of the paragraphs that is dealing with the fate of the Macedonian and Thracian Jews, Glishev is writing that Macedonia was not part of Bulgaria at the time of the deportation and that the Czar made “big efforts” to save the Macedonian and Thracian Jews. Both is simply a fabrication. I would recommend Mr Glishev to read a bit about the historical facts. As a start I could recommend him the excellent book by Rumen Avramov: “Salvation” and fall: Microeconomics of the state antisemitism in Bulgaria 1940-1944, which shows among other things the very strong involvement of the Bulgarian state, its government and its ruler, Czar Boris III in the deportation and killing of the Jews in the annexed territories. That the Bulgarian state and Boris himself bear the responsibility for the extermination of the Jews in Macedonia and Western Thrace is also evident from the documents published recently by Avramov and Nadia Danova from the archives of Alexander Belev, the “Kommissar für Judenfragen” in Bulgaria, the organizer of the activities against the Jews. Mr Glishev could also inform himself by reading the Dimitar Peshev biography by Gabriele Nissim. Or Arno Lustiger’s excellent book Rettungswiderstand, in which the author describes clearly and with plenty of documentary support that the main responsibility for the extermination of the Jews in Macedonia and Western Thrace was with the Bulgarian government and Boris III.

When Mr Glishev even writes that “Boris is more than a Bulgarian Schindler” (headline of his article), I feel really that I am running out of words. To read a headline like this from an intellectual and poet is sickening. His intervention on behalf of an opportunistic ruler who sided with the Nazis because it suited his policy to increase the Bulgarian territory (and let – if possible – others do the dirty job for him), someone who didn’t have the slightest problem to turn the Bulgarian Jews into slaves that were deprived of almost any human rights, someone who ordered his policemen and military to round up the Jews in Macedonia and Western Thrace and send them to Treblinka, is not a worthy cause by any means.

According to the logic applied by Mr Glishev, Joseph Goebbels should be given the title of a Righteous Among the Nations too. It was Goebbels, who ordered the release of about 2,000 Jews in Berlin in 1943, after a group of women demonstrated in the Rosenstrasse in Berlin, after the arrest of their Jewish husbands and fathers. As a result of these unexpected demonstrations, and after a major bombing raid, Goebbels decided not to fuel possible protests and to release these people – for the time being. Does that make Goebbels a “savior of the Jews of Berlin”? The answer is obvious, and I feel ashamed that some people, among them even intellectuals and writers have the chutzpah to make a “savior of the Jews” out of an opportunist and bootlicker of the Nazis, who partnered in their crimes whenever it was favorable for him.

In an emotional, but factually correct response, the writer and survivor Lea Cohen answered to Glishev’s unsupportable article and Simeon’s interview.

Contrary to what Simeon said in the interview, Bulgaria was not an occupied country; Macedonia and Western Thrace were occupied by Bulgarian troops; to say that Boris “was hiding the Jews in labor camps” is so ridiculous and outrageous as to say Stalin was “hiding the opposition in labor camps”; it was not Simeon’s mother, but the Spanish ambassador that issued passports to the Bulgarian Jews; it was not the Nazi administration, but the Bulgarian administration that sent the Jews from Macedonia and Western Thrace to Treblinka; Boris III name was removed by the Jewish National Fund from all commemorative signs after a committee headed by an Israeli High Court judge came to the result that he in no way was responsible for saving the Bulgarian Jews – Simeon is just outright lying in this interview.

It makes me angry to see a person spreading so much obvious revisionist lies as Simeon does; it is sickening to see some intellectual and writer running to his help for his outrageous lies, trying to manipulate the public opinion in Bulgaria in accordance with Simeon’s revisionist agenda.

That the Jews in the pre-1941 Bulgarian territory were saved, is and will always be an honorable act by the part of the Bulgarian population responsible for it and by those people who voiced their resistance to the planned deportation; Boris III doesn’t belong to that group of honorable people, and revisionist campaigns like the one his son, with the support of interested circles, is running now, will hopefully have no success. This is not only a question of the interpretation of historical events; it is also a question of morals and ethics.

It is high time to admit that also Bulgaria had its share of responsibility in the Holocaust, and that the saving of a part of the Jews is just a (convenient) part of the whole story. It is also important to remember who was responsible from the Bulgarian side for this participation in the Holocaust: the Bulgarian government at that time, and the monarch Czar Boris III. That may be painful for some people who still prefer a made-up version of history to the truth – but it is indispensable for the country’s future. Only a Bulgaria that acknowledges its past – and not a revisionist parody of it – will be able to build a future free of the ghosts of antisemitism, racism and fascism.

kniga_roumen_1

Румен Аврамов: „Спасение“ и падение, Университетско издателство „Св.
Климент Охридски“, 2012 (Rumen Avramov: “Salvation” and fall: Microeconomics of the state antisemitism in Bulgaria, 1940-1944), Sofia 2012

Румен Аврамов и Надя Данова: Депортирането на евреите от Вардарска Македония, Беломорска Тракия и Пирот, март 1943 г./ Т. I-II (Rumen Avramov and Nadya Danova, eds.: The deportation of the Jews from Vardar Macedonia, Aegean Thrakia and Pirot, March 1943, 2 vol.), Sofia 2013

Arno Lustiger: Rettungswiderstand. Über die Judenretter in Europa während der NS-Zeit. Wallstein, Göttingen 2011

Gabriele Nissim: The Man who stopped Hitler, I. Borouchoff, 2002

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. 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.