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

Trends in interpretation

If Bulgarian archaeology proceeds according to ideological precept and is firmly rooted in early state formations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, then what can be inferred about contemporary trends in archaeological interpretation in Bulgaria? Bulgarian archaeological interpretation is deeply rooted in a descriptive and a culture historical approach. It seeks answers in terms of the formal typologies of artefacts to questions of ethnic movement, migration and invasion. Interpretations of eco-determinism have recently gained favour (see recent explanations of the 'Neolithisation' of the Balkans and of the demise of the Copper Age - H. Todorova 1986).

What is most striking is the absence of the scientism which bore processualist traditions in the West during the late 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. This absence feeds Western perceptions of Bulgarian archaeology and archaeologists as exotic. The absence of a processualist move in the development of Bulgarian archaeology is significant for two reasons. First, it helps to explain why interpretation (and, hence, research designs) have remained cosseted in the descriptive warmth of culture history. Second, without a processualist trend, postprocessualism has nothing against which to struggle and to measure itself and thus remains still-born.

Why has Bulgarian archaeology developed in this way? One answer is that it is stuck in a retarded stage of development in the evolution of archaeological theory: it hasn't yet caught up. Surely this answer is both naive and condescending. Not only does it rely on unacceptable applications of linear evolution onto socio-political trends but it also assumes a pretentious Western righteousness of method. A more accurate answer is to recognise current and contemporary Bulgarian archaeology as a synthesis of the discipline's culture historicism (descended from the discipline's modernist origins) with its position as a socio-political ideology.

A processualist approach can never develop within a synthesis of culture history and political ideology such as that present within the development of Bulgarian archaeology. This is because processualism threatens both the culture historical approach and, perhaps more importantly, the control of knowledge and interpretation which lies at the heart of ideological archaeology. One of the fundamental advances of processual archaeology was its demand for, and provision of, explicit, objective standards for evaluating archaeological interpretation.

While it is clear that a processual approach to archaeology is incompatible with ideological archaeology because the former threatens the existence of the latter, the absence of processualist archaeology in Bulgaria makes sense for another reason. In its quest for objectivity, a processual approach to archaeology claims that archaeology (like all sciences) is separate from politics. Clearly, the very long links between Bulgarian archaeology (like all Bulgarian sciences) and Bulgarian politics make Bulgarian archaeology, by definition, ineligible for any approach to science which claims apolitical status.

The absence of objective criteria for the assessment of alternative archaeo-logical explanations raises a related issue: the larger goals of the scientific process within Bulgarian archaeology. In Bulgarian archaeology, explanation is pre-determined: often archaeological research entails little more than recovering more and more data which can be assigned to pre-determined chronological and social stages. The definition of these stages and their relative positioning are pre-set within the mono-paradigmatic reconstruction of social organisation derived from the Leninist-Marxist-Morgan-Engels model of human social development. An editorial applying the decree of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party and the Council of Ministers for the development of Bulgarian science and the tasks of Bulgarian archaeology calls for archaeologists to use their data to 'prove the progressive evolution of societal development' (Arkheologiya 1960: 1).

Related to the pre-set interpretation of social stages is the absence of any serious, critical, self-reflective studies by Bulgarian archaeologists on the developments of archaeology in Bulgaria. The absence of self-reflection within archaeology is part of a larger trend which reaches across the historical disciplines in Bulgaria. In her study of Bulgarian historiography, Maria Todorova despairs over the almost complete absence of interest by young historians, even in post--1989 research, in the methods and suppositions of their profession (M. Todorova 1992a: 1112). The same can be argued for archaeology. Despite a number of articles on the history of Bulgarian archaeology (Chichikova 1960; Dimitrov 1964; Ovcharov 1962; Vaklinov 1969), I could find no critical assessment of current (or past) methods or interpretations. The articles which purport to provide historiographies of archaeology offer little, other than selective description of the study of individual periods (e.g. Rumen Katincharov on the Bronze Age - Katincharov 1975; H. Todorova on the Chalcolithic - H. Todorova 1986), or programmatic statements applying Party Congress results to the discipline (Arkheologiya 1960, 1963, 1967; Dimitrov 1955; Ovcharov 1976; Vaklinov 1971), or necrologies of deceased archaeologists of high status (see Georgieva and Velkov 1974: 400-6). The Bronze Age specialist, Ivan Panayotov, suggests that accurate comment on current practices is not possible due to the 'impossibility of gaining an objective perspective on a period in which one is working [and] to the imprecise formulation of the trends in current research goals' (Panayotov 1995: 246). Bibliographies abound (see Georgieva and Velkov 1974: 407-8 for a listing of those published between 1878 and 1966) but critical interrogation of existing methods and assumptions are significant in their absence.

The absence of disciplinary self-criticism, and the straight-jacketing of explan-ation inherent in pre-set interpretation, exemplify Bulgarian archaeology as distinct from the post-processual trends in recent Western archaeologies. In light of the inherently political nature of Bulgarian archaeology, this distinction from post-processualism appears at first to be a paradox: if a major goal of post-processualism is the injection of politics into archaeology, then surely Bulgarian archaeology has long contained a basic tenet of post-processualism. The politics inherent in Bulgarian archaeology, however, are not the politics of post-processualism, which are the politics of empowerment and revolution. Rather, the politics of Bulgarian archaeology are the politics of centralised ideology. [14]

The absence of a desire to inject an interpretation of politics (i.e. of exploit-ation and confrontation) into archaeological discourse may also be a reaction against the constant official demands made by Party Officials for archaeologists to be more politically focused in their work. Indeed, the demand for archaeologists to develop and apply theory to archaeology (and to practice self-critique) are common themes in the editorials published in the main Bulgarian archaeological journals (Arkheologiya: Izvestia na Arkheologiya Institut) which converted the directives of the five-yearly National Communist Party Congresses to the work of archaeologists (Arkheologiya 1963: 3, 4; Dimitrov 1955: 5; Ovcharov 1976: 4). A silent reaction by the majority of archaeologists against any demand made in such disciplinary distillations of party dictates may well be a major reason for the atheoretical nature of Bulgarian archaeology.

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14. There is yet another side to the paradox of the absence of interpretive politics in Bulgarian archaeology. This is that the majority of Bulgarian archaeologists strive not to engage political issues in their archaeologies. They do this, they believe, to preserve their archaeology as one of the only apolitical zones in their lives. For them, the world of archaeology, and especially that of archaeological interpretation, remains a world of escapism, free of the worries, political and otherwise, of life in very difficult personal and eco-nomic conditions. See M. Todorova (1992b: 162) for a well-argued discussion of potential causes for this.