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Balkan Smoke

Tobacco and the Making of Modern Bulgaria

by Mary C. Neuburger

Publication Year: 2012

In Balkan Smoke, Mary Neuburger leads readers along the Bulgarian-Ottoman caravan routes and into the coffeehouses of Istanbul and Sofia. She reveals how a remote country was drawn into global economic networks through tobacco production and consumption and in the process became modern. In writing the life of tobacco in Bulgaria from the late Ottoman period through the years of Communist rule, Neuburger gives us much more than the cultural history of a commodity; she provides a fresh perspective on the genesis of modern Bulgaria itself.

The tobacco trade comes to shape most of Bulgaria's international relations; it drew Bulgaria into its fateful alliance with Nazi Germany and in the postwar period Bulgaria was the primary supplier of smokes (the famed Bulgarian Gold) for the USSR and its satellites. By the late 1960s Bulgaria was the number one exporter of tobacco in the world, with roughly one eighth of its population involved in production.

Through the pages of this book we visit the places where tobacco is grown and meet the merchants, the workers, and the peasant growers, most of whom are Muslim by the postwar period. Along the way, we learn how smoking and anti-smoking impulses influenced perceptions of luxury and necessity, questions of novelty, imitation, value, taste, and gender-based respectability. While the scope is often global, Neuburger also explores the politics of tobacco within Bulgaria. Among the book's surprises are the ways in which conflicts over the tobacco industry (and smoking) help to clarify the forbidding quagmire of Bulgarian politics.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-x

I would like to thank a number of people and institutions that extended the support and resources that made the writing of this book possible. First and foremost, the University of Texas granted me the supported leave-time to pursue this research and fill these many pages with my findings. My colleagues in the University of Texas history department offered encouragement, helpful commentary, and pointed critique. ...

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pp. 1-10

There is something about tobacco that drew me in; it was as if I were being deeply inhaled. Perhaps it was the picturesque garlands of lush green tobacco leaves that hung drying in the eaves of houses in the Rhodope and Pirin Mountains of southern Bulgaria. These leaves seemed to call me to explore the lives spent gathering them and hanging them to dry, sorting, packing, rolling them ...

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1. Coffeehouse Babble: Smoking and Sociability in the Long Nineteenth Century

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pp. 11-42

Awash in smoke and sociability, Ganko’s kafene is the fictional social hub and main setting for the most widely read Bulgarian novel, Ivan Vazov’s Under the Yoke (Pod Igoto). With Vazov as guide, the reader experiences Ganko’s social panorama, its parade of archetypal characters from a Balkan mountain town in Ottoman Bulgaria who drink bitter coffee, ruminate and debate, laugh and observe, within a “dense fog ...

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2. No Smoke without Fire: Tobacco and Transformation, 1878–1914

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pp. 43-77

In 1892 the young Bulgarian principality staged an International Agricultural and Trade Exhibition in Plovdiv, its second-largest city, with the idea of drawing crowds of international and domestic participants and spectators.1 The fair’s organizers saw the event as fulfilling a number of important functions, prime among them the stimulation of trade and local industry. ...

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3. From the Orient Express to the SofiaCafé: Smoke and Propriety in the Interwar Years

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pp. 78-107

In the early years of the twentieth century a young Bulgarian woman traveling alone on the Orient Express nearly set the train on fire. Raina Kostentseva later related this tale proudly in her memoirs, recording neither her age nor the exact year of the incident. At a prolonged stop, Kostentseva stepped out of her compartment and onto the platform for a breath of fresh air. As passengers milled about, two foreigners engaged ...

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4. The Tobacco Fortress: Asenovgrad Krepost and the Politics of Tobacco between the World Wars

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pp. 108-133

On a cool day in April 1922 thousands of people gathered in front of a cluster of tobacco warehouses huddled at the entrance to the town of Stanimaka (renamed Asenovgrad in 1934). Strains of the Plovdiv military orchestra echoed through the valley as a variety of guests including Sofia dignitaries and legions of villagers gathered in the street that morning. ...

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5. From Leaf to Ash: Jews, Germans, and Bulgarian Gold in the Second World War

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pp. 134-166

Toward the end of 1940, Jacques Asseoff, a Jewish tobacco magnate from Bulgaria, got on a ship in Istanbul that was laden with his company’s tobacco purchases. Headed for the port of New York, the ship had a minor accident at sea but still made it to its destination in April of 1941. Asseoff probably sold his precious cargo—200,000 kilograms of tobacco (worth some $256,000)—to the American tobacco ...

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6. Smoke-Filled Rooms: Places to Light Up in Communist Bulgaria

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pp. 167-198

In August 1964 an article called “A Day of Rest” appeared in Turist, the Bulgarian communist journal dedicated primarily to hiking and mountaineering but also leisure and holiday travel. It was accompanied by a photo-essay that walks the reader through a carefully crafted parable of leisure in which the industrious, healthy Ivan Markov is juxtaposed to the slovenly and lazy Dimitur Ivanov. ...

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7. Smokes for Big Brother: Bulgartabak and Tobacco under Communism

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pp. 199-228

In the summer of 1973 Dimitur Iadkov, the director of the Bulgarian state tobacco monopoly, Bulgartabak, was in the New York City headquarters of Philip Morris at the end of his tour of tobacco facilities in the American South. After a whirlwind tour of the sights and smells of American tobacco, Iadkov had the pleasure of coffee, smokes, and a chat with Hugh Cullman, then CEO of Philip Morris. ...

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pp. 229-234

As the world gradually pushes tobacco smokers out into the cold, in Bulgaria they are still welcome inside. Smoking is still central to leisure culture; the gleaming new postcommunist café, cocktail bar, pizzeria, and even McDonald’s are still smoker-friendly. ...


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pp. 235-279


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pp. 281-297


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pp. 299-307

E-ISBN-13: 9780801465949
E-ISBN-10: 080146594X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801450846
Print-ISBN-10: 0801450845

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1