Balkan Smoke

Balkan Smoke: Tobacco and the Making of Modern Bulgaria

Mary C. Neuburger
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Balkan Smoke
    Book Description:

    In Balkan Smoke, Mary Neuburger leads readers along the Bulgarian-Ottoman caravan routes and into the coffeehouses of Istanbul and Sofia. She reveals how a remote country was drawn into global economic networks through tobacco production and consumption and in the process became modern. In writing the life of tobacco in Bulgaria from the late Ottoman period through the years of Communist rule, Neuburger gives us much more than the cultural history of a commodity; she provides a fresh perspective on the genesis of modern Bulgaria itself.

    The tobacco trade comes to shape most of Bulgaria's international relations; it drew Bulgaria into its fateful alliance with Nazi Germany and in the postwar period Bulgaria was the primary supplier of smokes (the famed Bulgarian Gold) for the USSR and its satellites. By the late 1960s Bulgaria was the number one exporter of tobacco in the world, with roughly one eighth of its population involved in production.

    Through the pages of this book we visit the places where tobacco is grown and meet the merchants, the workers, and the peasant growers, most of whom are Muslim by the postwar period. Along the way, we learn how smoking and anti-smoking impulses influenced perceptions of luxury and necessity, questions of novelty, imitation, value, taste, and gender-based respectability. While the scope is often global, Neuburger also explores the politics of tobacco within Bulgaria. Among the book's surprises are the ways in which conflicts over the tobacco industry (and smoking) help to clarify the forbidding quagmire of Bulgarian politics.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6594-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    There is something about tobacco that drew me in; it was as if I were being deeply inhaled. Perhaps it was the picturesque garlands of lush green tobacco leaves that hung drying in the eaves of houses in the Rhodope and Pirin Mountains of southern Bulgaria. These leaves seemed to call me to explore the lives spent gathering them and hanging them to dry, sorting, packing, rolling them into cigarettes, trading them in distant smoke-filled rooms. I wanted to follow tobacco from these mountain plots to the smoky cafés, bars, and restaurants of Sofia—not the ones I inhabited between...

  5. Chapter 1 Coffeehouse Babble: Smoking and Sociability in the Long Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 11-42)

    Awash in smoke and sociability, Ganko’s kafene is the fictional social hub and main setting for the most widely read Bulgarian novel, Ivan Vazov’s Under the Yoke (Pod Igoto). With Vazov as guide, the reader experiences Ganko’s social panorama, its parade of archetypal characters from a Balkan mountain town in Ottoman Bulgaria who drink bitter coffee, ruminate and debate, laugh and observe, within a “dense fog of tobacco smoke.”¹ Set in the period before Bulgarian political autonomy, Ganko’s has an air of political excitement. On the canvas of the kafene Vazov skillfully paints a late Ottoman landscape the months leading...

  6. Chapter 2 No Smoke without Fire: Tobacco and Transformation, 1878–1914
    (pp. 43-77)

    In 1892 the young Bulgarian principality staged an International Agricultural and Trade Exhibition in Plovdiv, its second-largest city, with the idea of drawing crowds of international and domestic participants and spectators.¹ The fair’s organizers saw the event as fulfilling a number of important functions, prime among them the stimulation of trade and local industry. As in other fairs of the period, displays of Bulgaria’s rich resources, handicrafts, and manufactured goods shared the stage with entertainment and displays of folk and high culture, carefully ensconced in an ensemble of specially commissioned works of architectural and landscape design.² The resulting assembly of...

  7. Chapter 3 From the Orient Express to the Sofia Café: Smoke and Propriety in the Interwar Years
    (pp. 78-107)

    In the early years of the twentieth century a young Bulgarian woman traveling alone on the Orient Express nearly set the train on fire. Raina Kostentseva later related this tale proudly in her memoirs, recording neither her age nor the exact year of the incident. At a prolonged stop, Kostentseva stepped out of her compartment and onto the platform for a breath of fresh air. As passengers milled about, two foreigners engaged her in conversation and offered her a cigarette. Ready and willing to smoke, Kostentseva suggested that they adjourn to her compartment, where she had special Bulgarian cigarettes and,...

  8. Chapter 4 The Tobacco Fortress: Asenovgrad Krepost and the Politics of Tobacco between the World Wars
    (pp. 108-133)

    On a cool day in April 1922 thousands of people gathered in front of a cluster of tobacco warehouses huddled at the entrance to the town of Stanimaka (renamed Asenovgrad in 1934). Strains of the Plovdiv military orchestra echoed through the valley as a variety of guests including Sofia dignitaries and legions of villagers gathered in the street that morning. After opening remarks by the minister of agriculture, Alexander Obov, the more prominent guests made their way into the salon of one of the warehouses owned by the hosts of the event, the tobacco cooperative Asenovgrad Krepost. There they observed...

  9. Chapter 5 From Leaf to Ash: Jews, Germans, and Bulgarian Gold in the Second World War
    (pp. 134-166)

    Toward the end of 1940, Jacques Asseoff, a Jewish tobacco magnate from Bulgaria, got on a ship in Istanbul that was laden with his company’s tobacco purchases. Headed for the port of New York, the ship had a minor accident at sea but still made it to its destination in April of 1941. Asseoff probably sold his precious cargo—200,000 kilograms of tobacco (worth some $ 256,000)—to the American tobacco company Liggett and Myers. Since he was Jewish, Asseoff’s timing for his exit from Europe could not have been better. Though Bulgaria was not at war when he left...

  10. Chapter 6 Smoke-Filled Rooms: Places to Light Up in Communist Bulgaria
    (pp. 167-198)

    In August 1964 an article called “A Day of Rest” appeared in Turist, the Bulgarian communist journal dedicated primarily to hiking and mountaineering but also leisure and holiday travel. It was accompanied by a photo-essay that walks the reader through a carefully crafted parable of leisure in which the industrious, healthy Ivan Markov is juxtaposed to the slovenly and lazy Dimitŭr Ivanov. Both are enjoying their day of rest in diametrically opposed fashions, Ivan in a properly socialist, productive fashion and Dimitŭr in an idle and ultimately counterproductive way. On this precious Sunday off, Ivan Markov travels to an unspecified...

  11. Chapter 7 Smokes for Big Brother: Bulgartabak and Tobacco under Communism
    (pp. 199-228)

    In the summer of 1973 Dimitŭr Iadkov, the director of the Bulgarian state tobacco monopoly, Bulgartabak, was in the New York City headquarters of Philip Morris at the end of his tour of tobacco facilities in the American South. After a whirlwind tour of the sights and smells of American tobacco, Iadkov had the pleasure of coffee, smokes, and a chat with Hugh Cullman, then CEO of Philip Morris. It was in Cullman’s office that Iadkov was apprised of the real reason that the Bulgarian tobacco delegation had been wined and dined across the South:

    A few things were clarified...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 229-234)

    As the world gradually pushes tobacco smokers out into the cold, in Bulgaria they are still welcome inside. Smoking is still central to leisure culture; the gleaming new postcommunist café, cocktail bar, pizzeria, and even McDonald’s are still smoker-friendly. As of 2005, a law limiting smoking in public buildings did go into effect, though its enforcement has been sporadic. Having visited Bulgaria every year from 2005 to 2010, I do remember watching as the female staff members at the national archive moved their smoke breaks from the reading room to the hallway and eventually to the women’s bathroom. There they...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 235-280)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 281-298)
  15. Index
    (pp. 299-308)