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Bulgaria and Europe: Shifting Identities

Bulgaria and Europe: Shifting Identities

by Stefanos Katsikas


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'Bulgaria and Europe: Shifting Identities' offers a unique analysis of Bulgaria's relationship with the European continent. Katsikas examines how Bulgarian historiography and literature over the centuries have created differing conceptions of Europe and, in the process, shaped the country's own shifting identity. Through his analysis, he provides the broader cultural context and historical perspective required in order to understand the country's EU accession process as well as its aftermath. This work ultimately addresses what has arguably been the key question facing Bulgaria in the post-Cold War period: 'Are we European?'

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781843318460
Publisher: Anthem Press
Publication date: 06/15/2010
Series: Anthem Series on Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies
Pages: 270
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Stefanos Katsikas holds a a PhD in International Relations from the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies at University College London, and works as a lecturer in the Department of History, Goldsmiths, University of London. He is also a visiting lecturer in the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies at the University of Nottingham and a Research Fellow in the Department of History and Archaeology at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.

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Bulgaria and Europe

Shifting Identities

By Stefanos Katsikas

Wimbledon Publishing Company

Copyright © 2011 Stefanos Katsikas
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84331-846-0



Wolfgang Hopken


In times of 'cultural studies' as a leading paradigm in historiography, a paper on institution building seems to be utterly outdated. Looking at institution building seems to belong to the suspicious tradition of 'modernization theories' in which institutions and their functional role were taken as crucial for any process of social change. The topic sounds like being part of the famous macrohistorical 'master narratives' of the past decades, focussing on 'big structures', but ignoring individuals and their experience, which for good reason have lost much of their attractiveness. In the opposite view, 'Europeanization' today is usually discussed in terms of identities, symbolic orders and cultural perceptions, but not in terms of structures or institutions. The newly risen interest in institutions that for a certain amount of time came up with the end of communism, in the meantime again has declined; even scholars, who in former times had little sense for culture in the explanation of social change, today have discovered culture as a crucial, if not as the decisive factor for 'failed' or 'successful' transformations. 'Culture matters', as S. Huntington and L. Harrison have claimed in a book discussing the preconditions of economic and social change. Francis Fukuyama has figured out that the cultural good of 'trust' is a major criterion for successful economic development, not formal institutions, and David Landes has explained world wide economic inequalities in terms of cultural preconditions.

With all respect for the benefits the cultural approach has produced in historiography over the last years, bringing to the agenda dimensions of history largely ignored for too long, the pendulum perhaps has swung too far in the opposite direction, today sometimes ignoring the 'hard' sphere of institutional structures in favour of the 'soft' sphere of symbolic expressions. Culture and social practises, mentalities and politics and institutions, however, can hardly be separated. Historians like Norbert Elias in his work on the process of civilization or, of course, Max Weber, brilliantly have linked and bridged structures and culture in explaining social change. Institutions and institution building should not be separated from culture. Institutions are not just agencies to produce decisions and to rule social relations, but, according to the German sociologist Rainer M. Lepsius, they create cultural sense by symbolically expressing the principles and the values of a given society. Institutions create room for experiences, and thus they contribute to the development of behavioural attitudes and identities. The institutions Bulgaria adopted in the late nineteenth century, as much as the institutions it adopted following the end of communism, were perceived as European and the experiences the people had with these European institutions heavily influenced not only their perception of 'Europe', but no less their self-perception and the identity of the society.

In this sense, institutions are not just political entities, but also cultural, and this is exactly the angle from which the rest of this chapter will look at the process of institution building in Bulgaria. The chapter will attempt to illustrate two general aspects:

1. 'Europeanization' as a process of institutional adaptation in nineteenth-and early twentieth-century Bulgaria

2. The procedure by which institutional adaptation has influenced social practises, Bulgarian society's self-perception and Bulgaria's perception of Europe.

Institution-Building as Europeanization

'Becoming European' in Bulgaria first and foremost took place as a process of adopting 'European' institutions after the Ottoman rule had ended. The creation of institutions was entirely an imported affair, leaning on various concepts and models, largely from Central and Western Europe.

There was a broad consensus among the young national elite, not regarding their ideological differences, that the institutional outlook of the new state by and large had to be modelled by the example of what was considered to be a modern and European state. Gregor Nacovic, the conservative politician, is only one out of many who claimed:

'We don't have another choice than to see how other nations are doing it, to evaluate and then to choose, not the most beautiful, not the most fashionable, but what is closest to our traditions and to our strengths.'

Even those, who — as 'young radicals' — by their own socialization, were closer to the ideals of Russian populism or the French 'early socialists, did not question the general institutional superiority of the (West) European state and its role as an example for independent Bulgaria.'

In fact, institution building in the early years of independence was a conscious distancing from most of the tradition the Russian administration had brought to Bulgaria and a shift towards central and Western European concepts. There were some who were suspicious about an unconditional adoption of the Western model. The Bulgarian scholar Rumen Daskalov has reconstructed the many ambivalences Bulgarian nineteenth-century intellectual leaders had in their relation with Europe. I won't recall Dobri Vojnikov or Penco Slavejkov's 'nie ziveem v Evropa, no ne sme Evropejci' (We live in Europe, but we are not European) as an example of this scepticism. Even cultural institutions like the theatre, which became one of the most prestigious elements of 'European culture', was questioned in the beginning as something apparently endangering traditional national Bulgarian identity and values. But this scepticism was more an expression of anxiety and less of resistance towards a 'Westernization' which did not really question the general consensus that the new state had to be built upon 'European' institutions. Compared with neighbouring countries like Romania and Serbia, the 'anti-Western' or antimodern discourse in Bulgaria remained surprisingly weak, at least until the interwar period, when 'antimodernism' among intellectuals became stronger in Bulgaria as well; now, however, as part of a general antimodernist discourse in many European countries. In nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Bulgaria, however, there was nothing like the Romanian Junimea with its strong anti-Western undertones,nor even something similar to the traditional, 'hidden' anti-Western attitudes a politician like Nikola Pasic was characterized by in many aspects in Serbia. It would be worth discussing these differences more in detail on a comparative basic, but this would go beyond the topic of this chapter.

German scholar Holm Sundhaussen has recently claimed that the rhetoric Balkan political elites have shown for 'Europe' was based more on a negative definition of what oneself did not want to be — namely 'oriental' — than on a positive understanding of what 'being European' meant. I don't think that this is entirely true; the understanding of what a European state should look like was quite clear among the Bulgarian elite. The problem was more the gap between these ideas and the social conditions for realizing them. There were at least three reasons why the Bulgarian elite so strongly favoured a European model of state building:

1. Firstly, the Ottoman state, due to its specifics, offered relatively few institutions which could be transferred into a post-Ottoman state. In fact, the Ottoman state itself, with the Tanzimat reforms, had begun to adopt European institutions in order to overcome the institutional crisis it was confronted with during the late nineteenth century. Despite the fact that the late Ottoman institutions — as more recent research has shown — in general were more open to non-Muslims than expected, they were not very attractive as an institutional model for the new Bulgarian state.

2. Secondly, Ottoman institutions and the Ottoman state were non-attractive, because they were perceived as symbols of 'backwardness' and inferior to their European equivalents.

3. Thirdly, it was the conventional theory of state, common all over Europe, to which the young Bulgarian elite was devoted. The young Bulgarian elite adopted this theory together with the idea of a nation-state.

But also, traditional Bulgarian institutions, which had survived during the Ottoman rule, like the Orthodox Patriarchate, were not seriously taken into consideration as a basic of modern state building. The Bulgarian Patriarchate had its reputation as an institution which had preserved the nation during the Ottoman rule and played a favourable role in the process of the so-called national revival, but among the majority of the Bulgarian elite, it was seen more as a remnant of a traditional past and not as the basis of a future 'modern' state.

The hardly disputed consensus about a 'European' type of state building in practise led to an almost complete adaptation of European institutions once Ottoman rule had ended; from the constitution, which, indirectly or directly, borrowed elements of various liberal European constitutions, the parliamentary system, the idea of political parties and public administration up to educational and cultural institutions. They all were meant not just as a form of organizing the society, but no less as a tool for fostering a 'European' identity among the population.

There is no need to go deeper into this process of legal and practical implementation of all these institutions. But what was the outcome of this imported 'institution building'? Historians, Bulgarian and non-Bulgarian alike, are deeply divided on this issue. Bulgarian historians of the communist and post-communist period usually tell an optimistic story of a largely successful process of state building, which, regardless its ebbs and flows, followed the European example with a surprising dynamic. 'The mechanical transformation of internal Western European practises and in particular institutions', as, for example, Andrei Pantev has written, 'showed such unexpected successes in the early years following 1878', no matter if the country, just like other European countries, was not able to and did not have the time to foster these successes. Others have spoken about a 'Bulgarian wonder' of a rapid and all-in-all successful transition towards a modern European political system. Non-Bulgarian scholars often have been much more sceptical, not only as far as Bulgaria is concerned, but speaking about the entire Balkan Peninsula, partly even questioning any real development towards modernization or Europeanization. Terms like a 'purely symbolic or facade modernization', as the late Hungarian historian Gyorgy Ranki once has called it, or speaking about the Balkans as 'European by courtesy', as Eric Hobsbawn in his Age of the Empires has done, characterize the perception of a largely failed or misled development. Others, more carefully, but with a similar undertone, have spoken about a 'blocked' or 'unbalanced' modernization.

I share the sceptical view of these authors, but I don't necessarily share their theoretical conclusions. In general, the performance of the imported institution was not very impressive. There certainly was an improvement, in particular after the era of Stambulov, whose authoritarian modernization had almost entirely undermined the constitutional role of any institution. Improvement towards stabilization of the political system, however, progressed slowly, and it did not really gained momentum until the Balkan wars. After the First World War, under the difficult circumstances of the lost war - due to which liberal institutions lost their credibility — the conditions worsened far more in many parts of Europe.

Political Participation

Political participation, for example, was extremely generous in theory. In practise, however, elections almost constantly fell behind any constitutional and legal norms, at least behind the spirit of the constitution. Indeed, voter turnout, which during the rule of Stambulov in particular had been small, increased constantly, with 50 per cent of the enlisted voters reaching, or even exceeding in some years, the level of Central European countries — something that shows a high inclusion of peasants in political participation. This picture is totally different from that in other Balkan countries, such as Romania, where peasants were excluded from the political process until the First World War. The procedure of elections, however, was dubious for long a time. Electoral laws changed frequently: three laws and 15 amendments in 15 years, each time creating new conditions for elections. Despite the fact that Bulgarian laws were more or less in total accordance with European ones in prohibiting any interventions into the electoral process, manipulation was frequent and politicians and local civil servants developed a great deal of fantasy in doing so. While, certainly, elections became more and more 'normal' toward the end of the century, with less and less severe 'incidents' and manipulation, irregularities never really disappeared. The historian Jordanka Geseva, in her analysis of the elections to the Great National Assembly (Veliko Narodno Sübranie) between 1878 and 1911, provides much evidence of many irregularities which happened after the turn of the century. In particular, local civil servants frequently interfered with the general elections.

There is no need to repeat the well-known fact that parliamentary practise remained highly unstable for the entire pre-communist period, with periods when, as during the Stambulov era, the parliament more or less lost its constitutional role entirely, and with small periods of regular work. It is not only that between 1887 and 1912 only three parliaments survived their regular term, which was the case in many other European countries as well, but also many parliamentary instruments, like interrogation, for example, were not used intensively as an instrument of control, and only after the turn of the century did it became more common and regular. Investigation committees, which were established several times, became instruments for political revenge. Political confrontation often developed into fundamentalist fights. Bulgarian political elites certainly were no 'consensus elites', based on accepted rules for political confrontation and also by compromise. Fundamentalist confrontation on programmatic differences often changed with a sudden change of political partners. Liberal lawyer Josef Fadenhecht, however, under the influence of the stormy years following First World War, in 1920 complained about the total lack of respect for laws and regulations among the political elite as part of what he called the Bulgarian 'moral crisis'. Violence was part of the political culture, going beyond the notorious use of political violence by Macedonian organizations. It was, as Georgi Markov, who was one of the first to study this phenomenon more systematically, stated:

... not just the sporadic occurrences by the bad will of individual dictators and illegal groups. But ruling and oppositional parties, military and revolutionary organizations systematically made use of it.

Political Parties

Political parties, which, in the early years of Bulgarian independence as elsewhere in Europe, were rather loose factions, clearly were developing into a more firm and stable party system, underpinning that the entire institutional system was not static. They developed more sophisticated organizational structures with local branches, more detailed programmes and institutional channels of participation. The organizational basis of the majority of the parties (at least until the emergence of the 'new' ideological parties of the agrarians and the socialists) remained unstable. Party institutions, in particular outside the cities, flourished when the party was in power, but they declined when the party had to go into opposition. Membership activity, without ignoring the substantial increase of members in some parties towards the turn of the century that reached several thousands, was usually stronger in times of electoral campaigns, but did not develop into steady participation. Party politics, in the end, remained highly personalized, as much as the entire political system over the entire pre-First World War decades remained in the hands of a relative small number of people.

'Ageing and death are fulfilling their job ... when a leader dies, the party loses the last reason [of its existence]', the Russian politician and historian Pavel Miljukov summarized in his analysis of the Bulgarian constitutional regime; personal and patron-client relations between the leaders and the locals were more important than formal institutionalized relations. Political programmes became more detailed, but their role for electoral decisions or political coalitions remained limited. When Miljukov saw 'all main parties more or less (as) similar, like two glasses of water' with only the names of the leaders differing, this certainly is underestimating the substantial controversies the parties had, for example, and in particular, in foreign political questions. He was, however, right in acknowledging the little linkage of individual parties with certain social interests. Attempts by pre-1989 Bulgarian historiography to identify certain parties as representatives of certain class interests (again not regarding the agrarians and the left) are hardly convincing. Despite preferences of some social groups for some parties at a certain times, the Bulgarian party system hardly was determined by social interests.


Excerpted from Bulgaria and Europe by Stefanos Katsikas. Copyright © 2011 Stefanos Katsikas. Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


List of Tables, Figures and Maps, ix,
Acknowledgements, xi,
List of Abbreviations, xiii,
INTRODUCTION The Europeanization of Bulgarian Society: A Long-Lasting Political Project Stefanos Katsikas and Peter Siani-Davies, 1,
CHAPTER ONE Institution-Building, Political Culture and Identity in Bulgaria: The Challenge of 'Europeanization' Wolfgang Höpken, 23,
CHAPTER TWO Appropriations of Bulgarian Literature in the West: From Pencho Slaveikov to Iordan Iovkov Galin Tihanov, 33,
CHAPTER THREE Communism and Cold War in Bulgaria: The Absence of Europe? Marietta Stankova, 43,
CHAPTER FOUR Bulgarian Turks During the Transition Period Iskra Baeva and Evgenia Kalinova, 63,
CHAPTER FIVE Women's Identity and Social Policy in Bulgaria Before and After 1989 Tatyana Kotzeva, 79,
CHAPTER SIX Legal Status and Migrant Economic Performance: The Case of Bulgarians in Spain and Greece Eugenia Markova, 91,
CHAPTER SEVEN Bulgaria's Path to EU Membership – and Beyond Dimitar Bechev, 113,
CHAPTER EIGHT Accession into the Euro-Atlantic Institutions: Effects on Bulgaria's Balkan Policy(-ies) Stefanos Katsikas, 129,
CHAPTER NINE Mirroring Gazes: Europe, Nationalism and Change in the Field of Bulgarian Art and Culture Elitza Ranova, 155,
CHAPTER TEN The Emergence of Regional Policy in Bulgaria and the Role of the EU Vassilis Monastiriotis, 173,
EPILOGUE Stefanos Katsikas, 193,
Appendix I. Tables, Figures and Maps, 197,
Notes, 205,
List of Contributors, 249,

What People are Saying About This

Vesselin Dimitrov

'This volume offers an enthralling, perceptive and multifaceted analysis of Bulgaria's "Return to Europe".' —Vesselin Dimitrov, Reader in East European Politics, London School of Economics and Political Science

From the Publisher

'Among the now extensive literature on Bulgaria's European accession, this collection of essays, written by an international team of well established as well as young scholars, will shine with its careful social and political contextualization of the issues, its longue durée framework, and its genuine comparative effort.' —Maria Todorova, Gutgsell Professor of History, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

'Provides an excellent introduction to the country… The contributions range widely over and dig deeply into Bulgaria's history, its current condition, its culture and its relations with the Europe of which it is now an integral part.' —Richard Crampton, Emeritus Professor of East European History and Fellow of St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford

'This volume offers an enthralling, perceptive and multifaceted analysis of Bulgaria's "Return to Europe".' —Vesselin Dimitrov, Reader in East European Politics, London School of Economics and Political Science

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