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Bones of Contention

The living archive of Vasil Levski and the making of Bulgaria's national hero

By Maria M. Todorova

Publication Year: 2009

This book is about documenting and analyzing the living archive around the figure of Vasil Levski (1837–1873), arguably the major and only uncontested hero of the Bulgarian national pantheon. The processes described, although with a chronological depth of almost two centuries, are still very much in the making, and the living archive expands not only in size but constantly adding surprising new forms. The monograph is a historical study, taking as its narrative focus the life, death and posthumous fate of Levski. By exploring the vicissitudes of his heroicization, glorification, appropriations, reinterpretation, commemoration and, finally, canonization, it seeks to engage in several broad theoretical debates, and provide the basis for subsequent regional comparative research. The analysis of Levski's consecutive and simultaneous appropriations by different social platforms, political parties, secular and religious institutions, ideologies, professional groups, and individuals, demonstrates how boundaries within the framework of the nation are negotiated around accepted national symbols.

Published by: Central European University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xxi

This book is about documenting and analyzing the living archive around the figure of Vasil Levski, arguably the major and only uncontested hero of the Bulgarian national pantheon. In the course of working on the problem, it became clear that this cannot be a finite...

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Part I: Bones of Contention, or Professionals, Dilettantes, and Who Owns History

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pp. 1-173

It was in late December 1985 when my old friend Diana Gergova called me over the phone, and asked to meet her urgently. We had been inseparable since the 1960s in high school, and later as history students at the University...

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1. A “Social Drama” at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

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pp. 9-38

Social dramas, as Victor Turner describes them, are “in large measure political processes, that is, they involve competition for scarce ends—power, dignity, prestige, honor, purity—by particular means and by the utilization of resources that are also...

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2. From Breach to Crisis

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pp. 39-64

It was only 23 years after the excavations, in 1979, that a journal article appeared which revived Giaurov’s thesis.78 What was remarkable was that one of the authors was a direct participant and witness of the excavations...

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3. No Redress, or Where Are Levski’s Bones?

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pp. 65-82

When all was said and done, there were two lingering problems that at times were posed directly, at other times were present only obliquely. One was the archeologists’ question why all the noise when nothing could be proven...

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4. A Socialist Public Sphere?

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pp. 83-108

At first glance, Khaitov’s geopolitical confabulations might serve to delegitimize his general credibility. But one shouldn’t apportion too much guilt by association. Khaitov’s general motivations and his onslaught on the archeologists should be taken...

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5. “Professionals” and “Dilettantes”

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pp. 109-137

When speaking of the BAN debates as Turner’s redressive phase, what is peculiar about the Bulgarian case is that the whole framework upon which the redressive mechanism was based was itself in a legitimacy crisis from the mid-1980s on...

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6. Recognizing the Schism, or What Is Worse: Bad Professionals or Good Nationalists?

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pp. 139-173

Already at the end of the BAN debates it was clear that a compromise, let alone a consensus, could not be reached between the two sides. While Khaitov’s framing imagination may have taken him too far—both in the deployment...

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Part II: The Apostle of Freedom, or What Makes a Hero?

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pp. 175-346

In the summer of 1998, I visited the artist Todor Tsonev, who had become famous after 1989 with his exhibition of cartoons of Todor Zhivkov that he had painted during communism, one of the very few cases where the expectation...

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1. What Is a Hero and Are Heroes Born?

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pp. 185-201

It should be no coincidence that the great interest in heroes as well as the beginning of the study of heroic myth falls on the high age of nationalism. It was also the high age of revolutions, of the advent of mass politics, of science...

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2. The “Making” of Vasil Levski

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pp. 203-235

The first post-Liberation decade—the 1880s—saw the publication of the first biography of Levski by Zakhari Stoianov (1883) that immediately engaged contemporaries in a heated debate about the assessment of Levski’s...

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3. A Banner for All Causes: Appropriating the Hero

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pp. 237-266

The voluminous body of scholarly work on Vasil Levski, among which some genuine and masterly contributions stand out, is focused entirely on the historical figure and its activities. The first and only analysis of Levski’s posthumous fate...

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4. Contesting the Hero

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pp. 267-288

In 1898 when Blagoev mentioned that Levski had his enemies, and was lamenting the insufficient attention to his person and ideas, he was not far off the mark. Despite the icon-like and, as we shall see in Part III, literal iconic status...

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5. The Literary and Visual Hypostases of the Hero

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pp. 289-305

For a long time the “novelization” of Levski was resisted. Vazov’s oeuvre introduced the fictional genre in the treatment of Levski (both in his poetic ode as well as the short stories), but the latter somehow acquired the status of documentary evidence...

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6. From Hero for All to Dissident and Back

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pp. 307-346

The review of Levski’s reception and appropriation in the interwar period, especially in comparison to the respective reception of Botev, shows that both figures, despite certain idiosyncratic trends in their legacy highlighted by different political...

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Part III: The National Hero as Secular Saint: The Canonization of Levski

On July 14, 2000 in the tiny and, as yet, empty interior of the newly-built chapel of “All Bulgarian Saints,” a part of the Vasil Levski Museum ensemble in Karlovo, a couple of men were leveling a marble and glass container...

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1. The Split, or How a Bicephalous Organism Functions

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pp. 359-371

The birthday of the split was May 25, 1992 when Metodi Spasov—the then director of the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), an agency directly under the cabinet of ministers—issued decree No. 92 declaring Patriarch Maxim and his...

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2. The Canonization and Its Implications

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pp. 373-398

This, then, is the background against which the elevation of Levski to a sanctified status has to be understood. To reverse the popular definition of historical background as the limbo inhabited by people who do not really interest us, it is precisely the inhabitants of this limbo...

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3. Levski and the Bulgarian Church: Memory and Narration

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pp. 399-428

A few comments about Levski’s standing in the church while he was alive are in order. While there exists consensus between most biographers on the main stages of his career, there are differences in interpretation, and nuances of articulation that are important...

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4. The Orchestration of a Grassroots Cultus

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pp. 429-446

The church “Sveta Bogoroditsa” (“Holy Virgin”) in Karlovo cuts a handsome profile with its blue and white bell tower. The bell tower is relatively new, from 1897, but the church building, as the inscription above the western entrance tells us...

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5. Commemoration, Ritual, and the Sacred

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pp. 447-475

How do we begin to think about all of this? What is the proper framework of interpretation? One may be tempted to see the phenomenon of Levski’s present veneration and canonization fall under the rubric of what Katherine Verdery calls...

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6. Heroes and Saints: the Dialectics of Reincarnation

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pp. 477-501

Of the different theorists of heroic myth, it is Lord Raglan who insisted most adamantly on the link between myth and ritual and became, as it were, the father and chief exponent of myth-ritualism.290 While one does not have to adopt...

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pp. 503-513

This book has been an argument for the relevance of microhistory, an attempt to demonstrate the significance of local knowledge in approaching the big issues of the profession and of life in general. It is taken for granted that a narrative, written in a few...


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pp. 515-586


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pp. 587-600


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pp. 601-616

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9786155211638
Print-ISBN-13: 9789639776241

Page Count: 640
Publication Year: 2009