Author: Ivaylo Znepolski
Published by the Institute for Studies of the Recent Past and Ciela Publishers.
The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) / ERC grant agreement No. 269608.
This research has taken the shape of a branched-out narrative, which has clustered a multitude of closely related life stories that shed light on a variety of political and ideological contexts, and offer interpretations of the social and political aspects of academic or public discourses in communist Bulgaria. There are theoretical condensations as well probing for some broader relevance into the crowd of individual-centred narratives. These stories were reconstructed through rather long archive research, personal testimonies and digging out documents so far unknown. They have been traced out step-by-step, with an amount of detail which sometimes may strike one as pedantic. All this carries the flavour and build-up of a novel, but this effect was not aimed at achieving the grip or make-believe of literary fiction. Its ambition is to bring the readers closer to the underlying meaning of the described events and assure them of the truthfulness of the historical narrative. From the distance of time and short memory, this narrative might really feel like fiction. I am aware that the feeling of reality is sometimes way apart from reality itself. This is why I was trying to do my best that the documentary woof – despite some emotional drag-in driven by individual situations or destinies – bring the reader closer to my key objective: to describe the genuine condition of the individual under communism and to unveil the reasons for the way all those stories wound up. I believe there is no better way to study the dance between the communist regime and society, the slow rotting of the system’s flesh and the distancing between the human beings and the regimentation that had been visited on them. And this is somewhat obliquely confirmed by the frequent manifestations of misunderstanding of the regime’s essential qualities – either in mundane lingo or in the realm of high theory.
In July 1972, the young philosopher Assen Ignatov, expelled from the communist party, sacked from the university and subjected to pressure and extortion by State Security, managed to slip through the latter’s iron grip and emigrate to Belgium. In Bulgaria, they prosecuted him for treason in absentia, confiscated his belongings and harassed his family. While in exile, Ignatov failed to obtain the understanding he expected; he was astonished by his Belgian colleagues’ inability to grasp his former situation and the reasons for his emigration. This is what he shared in a subsequent interview: “The people I went to met me with that degree of sympathy, which is driven by the sheer ideological rejection of communism – without personally knowing it. Anyhow, I bumped into quite a few bureaucratic paradoxes, into grotesque situations, into misunderstandings proceeding from simply not knowing an entirely different world; I was asked questions, which sounded naive to my ear – if I myself was less informed, I would have thought them mean-spirited or cynical. I was frequently asked a question that could have only annoyed a political émigré: “Won’t you be visiting Bulgaria this summer?” Earlier in my sojourn, they also asked me: “Couldn’t you possibly shut yourself in a world of your own?” Those who asked were bright people, but they didn’t know the communist world and hadn’t suffered its pain […] Soren Kierkegaard says: it is not enough to know the pain, you must experience it in order to understand it.”
— Ivaylo Znepolski, Introduction —