“Reploughed Boundaries. Collectivization and social change …”

gruev-bookCollectivization and social change in Bulgarian Northwest (40.s ­ 50.s of the XX century)

Author: Mihail Gruev
Published by the Institute for Studies of the Recent Past, Open Society Institute and Ciela Publishers
Sofia 2009

This book is result of the extensive research of Mihail Gruev conducted as part of the Communism Research Project.

ISBN: 978-954-28-0450-5


The book constitutes an attempt for a historical-anthropological reconstructive analysis of the social ground for the change in Bulgarian villages after World War II, the course of collectivization and the versatile consequences in the life of millions of people as a result of it. The research is focused on the development of these processes in Northwestern Bulgaria and with even more details in Vidin and Kula region. In this regard the so called .case study. method has been used. However, the events and processes on national (party and state) level are followed in parallel. Thus it is constructed on the principle of .double optics., which simultaneously examines local (and regional communities) and their attitude towards collectivization and at the same time the major political processes are taken into consideration. Thus an attempt is made by researching one regional case to uncover the nature and the consequences of this most large-scale cataclysm in the life of Bulgarian peasants during the last century and a half on a nation-wide scale. On the grounds of varied (archive, terrain, memoir) source materials a new periodization of cooperation is suggested, together with characterization of the various stages. The other parallel subject of the research follows the ongoing process of village modernization. Initially it is forced, unwanted and met with hostility, but together with the processes of adapting the peasantry towards the new economic and political system it becomes an integral part of the social change.

The first chapter focuses on the state of Bulgarian agriculture during the 30.s and the beginning of the 40.s, or with other words ­ before the communists came into power in the country. At the same time it reviews the main ideological trends in society and science, which are related to the agrarian problem, and their conceptions on its solution. Three main trends are outlined here. The first belongs to the so-called non-collectivists or “bourgeois” figures who build their plans for the future of the villages on the unconditional preservation of private property over the land and state assistance for the purchasing of equipment, use of artificial manures, etc. The other way relates to the so-called .semi-collectivists. and cooperativists. They are associated with the various trends in the agrarian movement, politicians and public figures who rely on free cooperativism competing and simultaneously supplementing the private agriculture. The third trend is the one of the so-called “collectivism”. It contains various extravagant varieties, such as Tolstoyism, but without any doubt the most widespread expression of the concepts of this trend is in the communist kolkhoz model. Farther on the chapter follows the efforts of the communist party in the country to propagandize its concepts regarding the agrarian matter in the period up to 1944. It devotes a special place to the state of the villages in Northwestern Bulgaria, the traditional agriculture and the pre-modern forms of village cooperativism, which leave no space for the kolkhoz system propagandized by the communists.

The next part of the exposition is devoted to the gradual imposition of the Russian kolkhoz model during the first years after the communists assumed the power. It indicates the flawless instruments used to accomplish that, namely: the ration system, the sowing plans, the price policy, the social stratification and segregation of the wealthier peasants, the wide range of psychological and direct physical pressure. Using an ethnographic terrain material it shows the picture of the painful separation of the peasants from their land, cattle and agricultural inventory ­ a process, which quickened the erosion of the traditional culture and resulted in the creation of conditions for various forms of resistance.

The book goes on to follow the specific steps of the new agricultural subject in the villages ­ the Labor­Cooperative Agriculture (TKZS), which is backed by the totalitarian state with all of its resources, for the gradual shoving out and marginalization of private owners, as well as of the old comprehensive cooperations. This is realized under the conditions of even more powerful pressure through increasing the amount of individual natural receipts by the country (the so-called rations) and demonstrative crushing of any forms of opposition. This also affects all non-agricultural professions in the villages, which still represent cores of economic independence of the wealthier peasants. One of the central plots in the exposition is about the various forms, varieties and means of the village resistance against the forced collectivization in the region in question. Individual paragraphs are devoted to the village riots in Oryahovo and Bjala Slatina district in 1950 and in Vidin and Kula region in 1951. Emphasis is put on the vicinity to the border, which under the particular conditions is one of the reasons for the mass and organized resistance there. The next paragraph also follows this subject. It reviews the straining of the relations between Bulgaria and Tito.s Yugoslavia after 1948 and the consequences for the population near the border. The region becomes the arena of intense activity of series of illegal detachments and groups formed by villagers who have escaped through the border, transferred and armed by the Yugoslavian Special Forces. Thus when the bipartite relations become drastically strained the problem with the vicinity to the border is logically added to the larger theme about collectivization and the village resistance against it.

The next part of the exposition is in the spirit of the initially stated intent that the process of collectivization should be reviewed .from below., i. e. at the level of a local community, a separate village and even a family. It is devoted to the slow and versatile process of adapting the Bulgarian peasants to the new social and political conditions. Here an attempt is made to change the instance, which is usually used in Bulgarian historiography to lead the narrative about the course of this process, and to give the floor to the ordinary man using the terrain material. And that man has no other option but to collaborate with the regime without any personal or ideological motivation to do so. This is exactly what contributes to the erosion of the classical system from the inside, when the conditions make it possible. It is also the foundation for the development of series of accompanying economic and social-psychological phenomena, which form a specific mentality and attitude towards the world. The phenomenon described brings up another issue ­ about the public and individual identity and the behavioral models behind them. It becomes necessary to speak and act in the open in a certain manner, and at home in the intimate space of the family ­ in a totally different manner. Of course, this is not characteristic of the villages only; this is common for the social nature of the whole communist system. In the villages however, due to the gigantic changes, it is particularly contrasting. It is exactly the necessity of situational assumption of a role in the private and in the public sphere what becomes a reason for the advent of disruption in the social and political identity of the ordinary man who is permanently affected by duplicity, passiveness and indifference. The last, sixth chapter of the exposition is devoted to some of the numerous permanent consequences from the collectivization of Bulgarian villages and to the overall change in the manner and rhythm of living in them. Here first come the demographic effects manifested in quick depopulation of the researched region, which started during the 50.s. In reality the so-called desertion from the villages is a common European phenomenon during the second half of the XX century, but the rapid rate, at which it happens in Bulgaria, is unmatched. Of all parts of the country Northwestern Bulgaria is the region with the fastest, mass and dramatic passing of this process. The collectivization appears to be the catalyst leading to the irreversible depopulation of hundreds of villages. The exposition includes several tables illustrating the rates and sizes of the urbanization in Bulgaria compared to the other Eastern European, and in particular of the region compared to the other parts of the country.

A separate paragraph is devoted to the changes in the structure of the family caused and/or quickened by the forced collectivization. Here the analysis is founded on the critical comparison between the existing main theories on the family and in particular on the fate of the so-called “zadruga” on the Balkans. Thus by examining one entirely regional case an attempt is made to rationalize some transformation processes on a national and beyond national scale. The final part of the exposition follows the changes in the traditional calendar-ritual system of the two ethnical groups inhabiting the region ­ Bulgarians and Wallachians. Here the issue again is brought up in the context of village modernization implemented together with the collectivization. Emphasis is put on the irreversibility of the processes of disruption of traditional culture, but at the same time it is shown how collectivization quickens these processes and what transitional forms arise. In the context of the atheistic undertakings of the regime conducted in parallel this leads to the creation of the so-called “new socialistic holiday-ritual system”.

As a conclusion some issues are brought up, the genesis of which is in the years and the process of collectivization, but which continue to be a burden to the state of Bulgarian villages and agriculture even to this day. To what extent the alienation from the land during the past decades has affected the mentality of Bulgarians nowadays, what new behavioral stereotypes are permanently formed and which of the gigantic consequences from all this are reversible ­ those are some of the questions, which the author tries to answer.