Bulgarian archaeology. Ideology, sociopolitics and the exotic, Douglass W. Bailey


The common Western perception of Bulgarian archaeology is of a blinkered, nationalist discipline, either dominated by Party Congress reports or slowed by theoretically challenged practitioners. Soviet and Marxist-Leninist inspired reasoning is often blamed for both conditions. In the background of the Western perception we glimpse an archaeological record of colossal depth and variety. There are few important developments of European (and Eurasian) human existence which have not left traces in the modern territory of Bulgaria: from the earliest appearances of Anatomically Modern Humans in Europe to the devel-opments of plant and animal management, the earliest explosion of metallurgy and the dynamism of nomadic Iron Age warriors to Medieval Kingdoms.

Despite the depth and breadth of its past, the modern nation-state has remained enveloped in an atmosphere of isolation. Isolation is evident in political and economic progress, in the presence of linguistic and political barriers and in many traditions of scientific research. The sense of archaeological isolation is heightened by limited Western publication coverage of Bulgarian prehistoric and historic developments and by the absence of Western (or Eastern) historiographies of Bulgarian archaeology. In the rash of recent English language publications on developments in archaeological thought and method across Eurasia, there have appeared few accounts of the Bulgarian scene. [1] One of the aims of this chapter is to seek the reasons for the West's apparent ignorance of Bulgarian archaeology as a discipline and as part of a European past. This is not a chapter about nationalist uses of archaeology in totalitarian or fascist states. Nor is it a review of local political battles over ethnogenesis (e.g. the question of the origins of the Slavs). It is not to excuse, nor to apologise, nor to condemn. Quite simply, it considers Bulgarian archaeology as it is currently practised. Where relevant, it refers to the discipline's development over the past one hundred years and, where necessary, it outlines the potential for the discipline's future.

The thesis I propose has three components. The first is that Bulgarian archaeology is best characterised as an exotic other. It is exotic in the eyes of the (mostly Western) outsiders and, perhaps more surprisingly, it is exotic in the Bulgarian perception of its own internal organisation, methodology and development. Second, I contend that as a discipline, Bulgarian archaeology perceives (and actively conceives) its object of study (i.e. the past) as an exotic: a rich, at times technically and aesthetically brilliant, element of a national past. The third component of my thesis is more active. Through it I suggest that the elements of exoticism be exorcised from Western perceptions of the tradition as well as from internal Bulgarian perceptions of their objects of study. The agenda proposed is that by dissolving the double exoticism (which in fact defines the praxis of Bulgarian archaeology), Bulgarian archaeology, archaeologists and their object of study (the Bulgarian past) should no longer be given ideological priority. This means that archaeology be viewed, and employed, as a tool for studying diversities of human behaviour and not as a weapon in battles of ethnic or political genesis. This requires that archaeolo-gists (and politicians) use the past, not as powerful building blocks for modern political or territorial claims, but as a tool to understand ourselves in the here and now.

To make these points requires an understanding of the reality of the praxis of Bulgarian archaeology. To do this I consider the exotic condition of Bulgarian archaeology in the following manner. I argue that Bulgarian archaeology is part of a geographic and political region which is perceived by the Western community (and which actively promotes itself) in images of exoticism. I investigate the identity of the discipline of Bulgarian archaeology as an ideology, a socio-politics and an arbiter. I suggest that the participation in the discipline (both in terms of practitioners and audiences) follows rigid ideological criteria. I examine how the discipline has formulated particular capacities to contain the danger inherent in archaeological data and its interpretation. And finally, I argue that, because of its exotic condition, Bulgarian archaeology contains the potential to revolutionise not only the study of Bulgaria's past but, more importantly, the modern and future perception of Bulgarians of themselves and their relations to others.

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1. The only two of which I know are the late Velizar Velkov's short piece in a section of Antiquity devoted to central and east European archaeology (Velkov 1993) and an introductory chapter in an edited volume on Bulgarian prehistory (Bailey and Panayotov 1995). Critical comment on other countries in the region and across Europe are accumulating quickly with considerations of the development of archaeology in the countries of the former Soviet Union especially well represented.

(For central, eastern and southeastern Europe, see Bogucki 1993; Bokonyi 1993; Kaiser 1995; Kobylinski 1991; Kotsakis 1991; Laszlovszky and Siklodi 1991; Milisauskas 1990; Miraj and Zeqo 1993; Neustupni 1991, 1993; Raczkowski 1996; Schild 1993; Sklenar 1983. For the former Soviet Union, see Chernykh 1995; Dolukhanov 1993, 1996; Kohl and Tsetskhladze 1995; Puodziuas and Girininkas 1996; Shnirel-man 1995, 1996; Trigger 1989. For Western Europe and Eurasia in general, see d'Agostino 1991; Bogucki 1985; Champion 1991; Cleere 1993; Cleuziou et a]. 1991; Diaz-Andreu and Champion 1996; Gringmuth-Dallmer 1993; Harke 1991; Hodder 1991; Kohl and Fawcett 1995; Myhre 1991; Sklenar 1983; Trigger 1989; Vizquez Varela and Risch 1991; Yeit 1989; Whitley 1987.