Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Who Owns The Past?

Who Owns The Past?: The Politics of Time in a 'Model' Bulgarian Village

Deema Kaneff
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 240
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Who Owns The Past?
    Book Description:

    In the decades since the collapse of socialism in eastern Europe, time has been a central resource under negotiation. Focusing on a local community that was considered a "model" in the socialist period, the author explores a variety of state-sponsored and unofficial pasts - history, folklore, and tradition - and shows how they "fit" together in everyday life. During the socialist period, the past was a central dimension of local politics and village identity. Post-socialist development has demanded a revaluation of temporality - as well as public and private space. This has led to fundamental changes in social life and political relations, reduced local resources, threatened village identity and transformed political activity through the emergence of new political elites.

    While the full implications of this process are still being played out, this study underlines some of the fundamental processes prevalent across eastern Europe that help explain widespread ambiguity vis-B-vis post-socialist reform.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-662-9
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Glossary
    (pp. x-x)
  6. 1. Introduction: Politics and the Past
    (pp. 1-26)

    On 17 October 2001, in the lead-up to the presidential elections, one of the national members of parliament accepted an invitation to visit the village of Talpa, northern-central Bulgaria.¹ To quote one report (Iantra Dnec2001) she was met ‘with pita bread, a bouquet of wild geraniums and to the chants of ‘‘Todor Zhivkov’’ [the country’s leader for the greater part of the second half of the twentieth century]’. As a member of the Coalition of Bulgaria, a political group of left-wing parties, the parliamentary member’s presence gave the event the atmosphere of a pre-election meeting, with her speaking in...

  7. Chapter 2 A ‘Model Village’
    (pp. 27-55)

    ‘Socialism,’ said the head of the Talpa Communist Party, Comrade Pashev, at the Annual Village Council meeting, ‘works by plan.’¹ No event displays this better than when Talpa was awarded the title ‘model village’. The occasion was the crowning achievement, the culmination of years of planning and preparation. The day state officials arrived in Talpa to announce the village’s success in the ‘model village’ competition, Talpa was the epitome of the organised socialist village.

    The purpose of state planning was to steer the development of society towards its Marxist-Leninist goals. As a theory about nature and human action, Marxism-Leninism had...

  8. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  9. History:: A Brief Introduction to Chapters 3 and 4

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 56-58)

      History, as an intentionally elaborated ideology about societal change, was a highly reflected-upon and well-articulated account of the past. In the following two chapters it is the collectively held, publicly expressed and state-approved rendition of the past, known as history, with which I am concerned. Marxism- Leninism formed the framework for this past, providing the source of its meaning and the limits for its debatability.¹

      In Talpa, references to history occurred in many contexts: from documentaries shown on television to songs that were sung after a few drinks. Indeed to the extent that all activities were informed by state ideology,...

    • Chapter 3 Socialist History, Politics and Morality
      (pp. 59-87)

      September the ninth was an occasion which was marked by nation-wide celebrations. It was the anniversary of the foundation of the socialist state in Bulgaria, holding parallel importance to the 7 November celebrations, the date of the ‘October Revolution’, in the USSR (see Binns 1979). In towns and cities across the nation, workers representing unions and factories marched in parades waving colourful banners, riding on floats past state officials who stood outside a prominent state building acknowledging the paraders. Confined indoors with the mumps, I watched the Sofia celebration on television in 1986. Zhivkov and other officials stood on the...

    • Chapter 4 Contesting History
      (pp. 88-105)

      In striving to establish relations to history, different versions were put forward by individuals concerned to highlight their own activities as most important. In so doing, the significance of history was at issue: to some the period surrounding the advent of state socialism was momentous, to others this time held no more value than any other in the past, and yet to others again history was relevant only in terms of present-oriented activities. This provided not only the basis of a multifaceted rather than unified notion of history, but also created ‘factions’ within the political sphere of public life. History...

  10. Tradition:: A Brief Introduction to Chapters 5 and 6

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 106-108)

      History was not the sole means by which the past was known. In Talpa a system of values that did not derive from Marxist-Leninist ideology – although valued in terms of it – existed ‘alongside’ history. Such a contemporary alternative order was rooted in a value system that was opposed to the chronological determinism sponsored by the socialist state. The following two chapters focus on traditional practices which provided a contrasting way of constructing the past, one quite distinct from history.

      I have suggested that history, as a state-supported construction of the past, was expressed largely through verbal-textual forms. It...

    • Chapter 5 The Character of Traditions
      (pp. 109-127)

      In the ‘model village’ event the greeting of state officials in the households was a clearly designated sign of the extent to which Talpians had accepted the state into their private lives. Nevertheless, much of the time that the villagers were not entertaining official guests, the household remained one of the few strongholds where the state had little direct influence. Apart from the dependency of household production on the state-determined market – especially in respect to the cash crop of decorative plants – the state’s influence was usually felt in more ‘passive’ or indirect ways, through, for example, government-run television...

    • Chapter 6 Tradition and History: Contrasting Constructions of the Past
      (pp. 128-138)

      Since the death ofleliaMaria’s husband in 1984, our next-door-neighbour,babaVera, had come toleliaMaria’s house every evening after dinner.Leliadid not like to be alone at nights. Even after I took up residence with her,babaVera continued to come. Together we spent the evenings watching television, knitting and talking.BabaVera would sleep at our house, returning home to her husband in the mornings. But on religious holidays when custom forbade work, she would not bring her handicraft. On one such evening, whenleliaMaria took up her knitting,babaVera reminded us that...

  11. Folklore:: A Brief Introduction to Chapters 7 and 8

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 139-142)

      Folklore celebrations became increasingly popular in socialist Bulgaria in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Indeed, a high-ranking Communist Party official in Sofia estimated that by 1987 there were as many as 36, 000 amateur folklore groups in villages and cities throughout Bulgaria.¹ Almost every village and many organisations (factories, unions) formed their own folklore collectives. In the case of Talpa, the village boasted a vocal group for much of its socialist period. The predominantly female group was connected to theChitalishte, which provided general support. In the late 1970s there was also an orchestral group, comprised of five musicians,...

    • Chapter 7 Defining Folklore
      (pp. 143-155)

      The growing popularity of folklore, and the distinction that can be made between traditional and folkloric customs, was underlined byleliaMaria, who said in relation to the observance ofsurvakane, a custom carried out in the New Year, that ‘I never made them (survaknitsi) for myself or my daughter, yet now I am making them for my grandson’. This comment highlighted the transformed significance of thesurvakanecustom over the years: from its dwindling relevance through the 1940s and 1960s, whenleliaMaria and then her daughter were young, to the more recent period, in the time of her...

    • Chapter 8 Folklore in a New Bulgarian Village
      (pp. 156-170)

      In this chapter I look at the role of folklore with respect to socialist identity. In the previous chapters on tradition, it was suggested that traditional practices created demarcations between villagers in terms of religion, ethnicity and other non-state-sponsored categories. Traditions served as local markers of difference. Folklore, on the other hand, as a state-approved means by which the traditional past was temporally and spatially dislocated from the contemporary socialist world, contributed to an identity which united Talpians under the banner of ‘Bulgarian’. It provided part of a state-approved national identity, designed, in part, to counter the fragmenting tendencies resulting...

    • 9. Conclusion: A New Model for the Village
      (pp. 171-196)

      Talpa was a model socialist village. But this does not make it unique or ‘atypical’. ¹ In the Nekilvaobshtina(district/municipality), comprised of nineteen villages, six were ‘model’ during the period 1986–89. In addition, the wholeobshtinaitself was designated a ‘model’ district. ‘Model’ titles were common and existed at a variety of levels: individuals could be ‘model’ workers, households could be ‘model’, the village or district or any other collective could be ‘model’. As a model village Talpa was actively involved in the sponsorship of a state-approved version of the past (history), and in return this placed the...

  12. Appendix 1: 9 September 1987
    (pp. 197-199)
  13. Appendix 2: Eulogy
    (pp. 200-201)
  14. References
    (pp. 202-209)
  15. Index
    (pp. 210-220)