Muslim Communities and the Communist Regime: Policies, Reactions and Consequences
Authors: Michail Gruev, Alexei Kalionski
Published by the Institute for Studies of the Recent Past, Open Society Institute and Ciela Publisheres
This book is result of the extensive research of Michail Gruev and Alexei Kalionski conducted as part of the Communism Research Project.
І. FROM “PROLETARIAN INTERNATIONALISM” TO “UNITED SOCIALIST NATION”: POLICIES TOWARDS MUSLIM BULGARIANS
- SEARCHING FOR MODELS OF “INCORPORATION” (1937 – 1959)
- COMMUNIST MODERNIZATION AND MUSLIM RELIGION: PRESSURE AND SURVIVAL IN 1960s
- THE NAME-CHANGING CAMPAIGN (1970-1974)
- RELIGION AND POLITICS: THE ISSUE OF THE BULGARIAN MUSLIM IDENTITIES
ІІ. FROM “HARMONIOUS AND UNITED THROUGHOUT THE CENTURIES” TO “REVIVAL PROCESS”: POLICIES TOWARDS BULGARIAN TURKS
- PROJECTIONS OF A HOMOGENIOUS NATION
- “THE REVIVAL PROCESS” OF 1984-1989
- THE “MAY EVENTS” AND THE “BIG EXCURSION”
CONCLUSION: THE LEGACIES OF THE FORCED INTEGRATION
This book investigates the policy of the Communist regime in Bulgaria (1944-1989) towards the two most significant Muslim communities – the Turks and the Pomaks/Muslim Bulgarians, its major successes and setbacks. It is based on archival material, newspapers, propaganda texts, relevant historiography and published sources, but also on ethnographic, ethno-demographic and sociological studies, including field research carried out by the authors themselves since early 1990s. Its main task is to try to outline the different projections of this complex phenomenon, its controversial results and long-lasting legacies, from a historical-anthropological perspective. That is why the text combines the official levels/registers with “subaltern voices” – oral stories, memoirs, interviews, unofficial documents.
The (political and media) euphemism “revival process” is applied here in a broader sense than its common historiographic and public meaning of an assimilation campaign against the Bulgarian Turks (1984-1989), covering a larger spectrum – from ideological postulates to practical measures during the whole period. Since early 1960s it is marked not only by the attempts at gradual or forced assimilation, but also by the strong modernizing impulse of the Communist ideology, finally – by a distorted, yet, at least in some aspects, successful version of social and cultural integration. The (traditional Muslim, Turkish-Arab) names changing campaigns (1964, 1970-1974, 1984-1989) are only the culmination of an increasingly nationalist attitude towards the ethnic and religious “otherness”, growing pressure and more or less systematic measures for wiping out the signs of the two distinctive Muslim identities.
The book is divided into two parts. The first one is written by Michail Gruev, the second – by Alexei Kalionski, but each of us contributed to the respective co-author’s text with ideas, data and stylistic interventions.
The first part analyzes the Pomak case(s), touching the Turkish one(s) only in the context of the general attack against the Muslim religion and identity, the traditional names considered to be the last and the most important symbol. The first chapter includes a reconstruction of the situation of the Pomak community during the authoritarian regimes in 1930s-1940s, some of their methods and ideas being “borrowed” since late 1950s under the cover of the official Communist ideology and Marxist terminology. The main theme here is the constant search of relevant models and instruments for “incorporation” of this Bulgarian speaking Muslim group as a part and parcel of the nation. The central role in 1937-1944 belonged to the state-supported “Bulgarian-Mohammedan Cultural-Educational and Charitable Association “Rodina” (“Fatherland”). Besides the activities indicated in its very name, this organization became the main tool for introducing and caring out of some of the radical steps, embraced by the authoritarian regime on the eve and during the Second World War. Among them were the forcible replacement of the traditional Muslim clothing and names with “secular” (”Bulgarian”) ones. What followed was a brief period of toleration of the spontaneous process of restoring traditional Muslim identity markers in the context of the antagonism between the Communist propaganda and “Rodina” before 09. 09. 1944. After taking power as part of the Communist-dominated coalition of the People’s Front, the Bulgarian Worker’s Party (later – Bulgarian Communist Party, BCP) sought a tactical support “from below” among the Pomaks and one of the first measures was the abolishment of “Rodina” under accusations of “chauvinism” and “fascism”, followed by show trials of leaders and activists. However, this “honey moon” between the new regime and the Pomaks ended in 1948. A new conflicting period began, initially marked by the measures for deportation of the Muslim population along the southern state borders to the interior, then by forcible “passportization” in 1953 and the next campaign for obliterating the traditional clothing in the late 1950s. Silently and gradually the Communist state resorted to the same, until now rejected and officially condemned, practices of “Rodina”.
The prohibitions concerning traditional Muslim costumes or their elements, the kurbans (ritual sacrifices), the circumcisions, finally – the first attempts to change the Turkish-Arab names of the Pomaks (1964), went side by side with the radical economic, social and cultural changes in the remote regions of the Rhodopes and part of the Central Balkan range. The second chapter analyzes the establishment of the specific model “modernization cum integration”, combining small privileges and the creation of new local intelligentsia with pressure, the rapid industrialization and the general improvements in social and economic conditions with sheer force. The third chapter investigates the name-changing campaign (1970-1974) with its different stages, forms and nuances varying from the desired “semi-voluntary” response in the regions of Smolyan and Zlatograd to collective protests, respectively – growing repression in the Western Rhodopes, where the violence escalated during the so-called “Kornitsa events”.
A long-lasting consequence of these campaigns is the spectrum of emerging (or diverging) contemporary Pomak group identities, analyzed in the fourth chapter.
The second part traces out the complexities and controversies of the policy towards Bulgarian Turks. Once again, the uneasy balance between the Communist state power and a troubled minority, integration and emigration, assimilation and conflict, are depicted in the context of ideological and social changes constructing and re-constructing the identities of all local Muslim communities. It means outlining some specific measures concerning also Pomaks in the period when they were considered more or less integrated and the stress was put firstly on gradual, than on forced assimilation and/or emigration of the Turks (to Turkey). Other, les numerous Muslim groups such as Tatars and Alians/Alevis are only mentioned in this general framework. That is how the second largest minority, viewed as “most marginal” and “underdeveloped” – the Gypsies/Roma, appears in this text, roughly half of them being traditionally Muslim. However, in this case the policies of integration, although also marked by the antireligious, atheistic pathos, were focused mainly on periodical attempts to solve a set of specific social problems. This part of the text is focused mostly on a distinctive period in the evolution of the regime, initially propagated as internationalist. Step by step, the ruling elite took the direction of forging an ideological hybrid between “practical communism” (“real socialism”) and the growing Bulgarian nationalism (1970s-1980s). This general trend is the predominant context of the book as a whole, so the first chapter of the second part outlines the next stage of constructing the Bulgarian Turkish minority after 1944 in the frames of the new secularist and progressist ideology and practice. It tries to demonstrate the consequences of modernization process in these specific conditions, the contradictions and complementarities of the (more or less) gradual process of integration. Given the significant success in this respect, the Turks continued to be viewed by the regime as “most distant others”, still “not modern and secular enough”, increasingly – as potential geopolitical and demographic “threat” in the context of the Cold War. That is how the Pomak name-changing campaign in mid-1970s “experimentally” included the local Turkish community in the Central Rhodopes. This time the argumentation mirrored the already predominant primordialist, almost bodily vision of a centuries-old nation on its way to final homogenization, only natural and inevitable in the times of the “developed socialist society”. In the particular case of the local Turkish community in the Devin area, the assimilation by force was argued by their “predominantly Bulgarian blood” (origin traced for generations of “mixed” marriages with the neighboring Pomak villages), regardless of their native language and ethnic identity. In the beginning of the 1980s this “creeping revival process” considerably broadens by encompassing all “mixed marriages” and their children, more and more individuals, thus approaching the core of the Bulgarian Turkish community.
The second chapter of this part offers an analysis of the assimilation campaign at large scale (1984-1989), its official and hidden motives, internal an external propaganda argumentation, the decision-making on different level of the party-state pyramid. It tries to demonstrate, both from “above” and from “below”, the predominantly reverse effect of an unprecedented systematic and harsh policy concerning not only the Turkish minority, but the Bulgarian society as a whole.
The third chapter of the second part is dedicated to the so-called “May events” and “Big excursion” (euphemisms for the collective protests of Bulgarian Turks against the assimilation and discrimination and the subsequent exodus on mass scale to Turkey, spring – autumn of 1989). They took place in the context of growing international isolation of Communist Bulgaria and the rapid radical changes in Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe, thus becoming the most spectacular demonstration of the final collapse of the “revival process” and Todor Zhivkov’s regime itself.