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

The praxis of Bulgarian archaeology

Bulgarian archaeology is an historical discipline. In her incisive study of Bulgarian historiography Maria Todorova details the central territory which history has occupied in the national consciousness (M. Todorova 1992a: 1105). Todorova illustrates how, through its development, even before the birth of the Bulgarian nation (i.e. from 1878 de facto, from 1908 de jure), the practice of history has remained inseparable from political practice.

In the period of early nationhood (between 1878 and the end of World War 1) most historical effort was directed to the discovery, recovery and study of a common heritage (ibid.: 1106). Indeed, in his review of Balkan archaeology, Kaiser has noted that at the end of the Ottoman Empire Balkan states needed to 'sift' the remains of the pre-Ottoman eras in order to recover previous territorial boundaries. As with most of southeastern Europe, the Bulgarian historical machine operates to produce indigenous histories. Balkan history is largely ethnic history, a history of ethnic movements and ethnic conflicts. Modern existence is inseparably constituted in terms of ethnic history and ethnic boundaries. The same is the case for archaeology (Kaiser 1995: 104-109). As Shnirelman has argued, in employing etimonational ideas and facts or fictions of ethnic history, effort is concentrated to establish an ideological background and basis for modern politics (Shnirelman 1996: 220).

Maria Todorova has argued that the modern study of history in Bulgaria is more of an ideology than it is an academic discipline (M. Todorova 1992a: 1106). History and the other historical sciences have developed as active ideological and political factors in Bulgarian social life. Furthermore, historical scholarship was highly politicised from a very early period, well before the communist period. Walsh has documented the close ties which existed between scholarship and politics during the inter-war years (Wahh 1967). Following M. Todorova, I suggest that Bulgarian archaeology itself is an active socio-politics and ideology: it is not a passive tool of socio-political, nationalist, totalitarian, or other state--level political structures. Bulgarian archaeology's long-established position as a socio-political ideology is one of the conditions which makes it appear exotic to Western eyes. [5]

As an historical subject and thus as active socio-political ideology, Bulgarian archaeology occupies an unrivalled position as justifier and legitimator. In this sense, the past is an arbiter of the present and those who can read the past are arbiters of justice and, as such, possess considerable power. The ideology of the past as arbitration is not limited to the recreation of national histories and prehistories: it drives a social logic through the reality of all elements of daily life. A particularly strong recent manifestation of this logic was the enthusiastic (and in most cases successful) drive by Bulgarian families, in the early 1990s, to reclaim property confiscated by the communists during their forty-five years in power. Property reclamation rested on the simple principle that proof of ownership in the past justified the right to regain ownership in the present. The past arbitrates the present.

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5. The language of the editorial precis and the application of Party Congress theses as they appeared in the main archaeological journals are heavy with archaeologists' active role in the struggles of the 'ideological front' (Arkheologiya 1963: 4; Dimitrov 1955: 8).