Who Owns the Past? The Politics of Time in a "Model" Bulgarian Village

Who Owns the Past? The Politics of Time in a "Model" Bulgarian Village

Who Owns the Past? The Politics of Time in a "Model" Bulgarian Village

Who Owns the Past? The Politics of Time in a "Model" Bulgarian Village


During the socialist period, the past in eastern Europe 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-a-vis post-socialist reform.


No communist nation can be formed without a history
(T. Zhivkov, Modern Bulgaria, p. 41)

One must know well Bulgaria’s history and the history of our cultural
development in order to be able to fully understand the meaning of the
experiment which we are carrying out

(T. Zhivkov, The Cultural Policy of Socialism, p. 149)

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. To quote one report (Iantra Dnec 2001) 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 support of the Bulgarian Socialist Party’s (BSP) presidential candidate, although not herself from this party. Following her speech, the visitor listened to villagers’ complaints: a Roma woman spoke about how in Zhivkov’s time they had had work while now unemployment was a big problem; others criticised the present government (the guest was from the opposition) for showing no concern about rural problems. the Mayor acknowledged that the Zhivkov family had ‘done a lot’ for Talpa and said that his appeal was for assistance to keep the village school open, presently under threat of closure (Iantra Dnec 2001). the member of parliament promised to carry their messages back to Sofia.

The name of the visitor was Jenny Zhivkova – granddaughter of Todor Zhivkov. She had been invited to Talpa by the present head of the village Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), Petur Pashev. Petur gave an account of her . . .

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