Masquerade and Postsocialism
Ritual and Cultural Dispossession in Bulgaria
Publication Year: 2011
Gerald W. Creed analyzes contemporary mumming rituals in rural Bulgaria for what they reveal about life after socialism -- and the current state of postsocialist studies. Mumming rituals have flourished in the post-Soviet era. Elaborately costumed dancers go from house to house demanding sustenance and bestowing blessings. Through the analysis of these rites, Creed critiques key themes in postsocialist studies, including understandings of civil society and democracy, gender and sexuality, autonomy and community, and ethnicity and nationalism. He argues that these events reveal indigenous cultural resources that could have been used both practically and intellectually to ease the postsocialist reconstruction of Bulgarian society, but were not.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Series: New Anthropologies of Europe
Introduction: Cultural Dispossession
Each winter the seasonally quiescent countryside of Bulgaria is assailed by menacing masked figures. Sporting elaborate costumes that range from the animalistic to the fantastic, and bedecked with heavy bells that produce a deafening accompaniment, they invade the yards of villagers demanding food, drink, and money in exchange for invocations of fertility and...
1. A Mumming Season
Two periods of concentrated mumming activity bookend winter in Bulgaria, with a large number of villages performing the rites in early January and others in late February to mid-March. Commonly the former are linked to New Year’s celebrations and the latter to the beginning of Lent. Prominent festivals are scheduled purposefully between these periods of intense activity, or soon...
2. Gender and Sexuality
Driving to the village of Brezhani in southwest Bulgaria is a fitting prelude to a mumming encounter. Located at the northern edge of the Pirin Mountains, at an elevation of nearly six hundred meters, the first-time visitor has the feeling of leaving the known world behind. This impression is hardly unique to foreigners; I was traveling there in 2002 with two Bulgarian sociologists from...
3. Civil Society and Democracy
If Brezhani is snowed in, the village of Varvara in south central Bulgaria is a great alternative for ringing in the New Year. Although located on the northern slopes of the western Rhodope Mountains at 320 meters, it enjoys climatic (as well as scenic and economic) benefits from the closely adjacent valley. An evening wind prevents heavy frosts and ameliorates winters, ...
4. Autonomy and Community
Approximately thirty kilometers due north of Varvara, across the valley defined by the Maritsa and Tolpolnitsa rivers, sit the adjacent villages of Lesichevo and Kalugerovo. Mumming here, as in Varvara, is one of the most anticipated events of the year, although it occurs later in the winter. Varvara residents associated this difference with geography, saying that villages north...
5. Ethnicity and Nationalism
In the winter of 2002 I began to focus pointedly on representations of Roma in mumming. Not having worked on Romani issues previously I began first with local scholars who had. By that point Romani studies was a burgeoning field for Bulgarian researchers, justified intellectually and politically by the dearth of attention under socialism. As Isabel Fonseca (1996:129) notes, ...
Conclusion: Modernity in Drag
The issues refracted through mumming in the preceding chapters share a connection: all are elements of a Euro-Ameri can vision of modernity. Sexual equality, democracy, civic engagement, and minority rights are commonly (mis)understood as uniquely modern, Western accomplishments. Such glorious achievements seemingly provide a self-validation of the modern project, ...