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We, the People

Mishkova Diana

Part II. Nationalization of Sciences and the Definitions of the Folk

Who are the Bulgarians?

“Race,” Science and Politics in Fin-de-siècle Bulgaria

Stefan Detchev

Texte intégral

  • 1 Barkan (1992), p. 17.
  • 2 Fenton (1998), p. 36.

1In national ideologies and definition of the nations, the issues of “race” and ethnicity were in many cases central ones. In the 19th century the emerging national consciousness in many cases received rational shape through a scientific revolution. At that time nationalism was, in fact, the driving force behind “racial” differentiation. In the scientific investigations one obvious area was that of “race,” which often had political objectives as an attempt to assert the existence of a national identity based on innate “racial” characteristics. As Barkan emphasizes, the intensification of national rivalry in Europe in the latter part of the 19th century stimulated pursuit of still greater “racial” differentiation as a mode of justifying nationalism that was sanctioned by the growing repute of biology and evolutionary theory.1 Part of this process of constructing national ideologies in the 19th century was the search for racial antiquity, “ancestors” and common descent. Special importance had been assigned to different branches of modern science where the idea of inherent difference found legitimacy, and “race” was perceived primarily as a scientific concept.2 Inasmuch as national ideologies played a crucial role in the public political domain, the intersection between “race,” “ancestors,” ethnogenesis, science and politics was quite obvious.

  • 3 Brubaker (1992), p. 211.
  • 4 For examples of such uses, see the contributions to this volume by B. Bilmez, A. Puto, D. Lilova, (...)

2The meaning of the term “race” has changed over time. Most of the authors trace the origin of the modern, biological concept of “race” to around the middle of the 18th century. At that time it superseded the previous common definition of “race” as “lineage” meant to distinguish primarily the noble status. “Blood” lost its genealogical/class connotation, gaining a biological grounding, and national categories received racial overtones. By and large, the 19th-century use of the term “race” was quite loose. It generally referred to a group believed to be united by common descent, something that today would be called “ethnicity” rather than “race.” Common descent was thus one element emphasized by “race” theoreticians, but it combined in varying ways and proportions with an acknowledgment of other factors such as geography, climate and institutions.3 Nevertheless, at the beginning of the 20th century, the scientific usage of “race” continued to be multiple and at times self-contradictory. The term was used to refer to any geographical, religious, class-based or color-based grouping and most frequently to lingusitic and ethnic divisions.4

  • 5 MacMaster (2001), p. 1.
  • 6 Barkan (1992), pp. 3–4.
  • 7 Brubaker (2004), pp. 78–79, 81.

3Nowadays, it is largely acknowledged that “race” has no ontological status, that it is a social and ideological construct. Racial categories cannot be explained through a scientific system of classification based on biological methods.5 Thus, the decline of “race” as an analytical category resulted from the inability of racial typology to define any consistent demarcations, as well as from the fact that the dispute over the relative impact of heredity versus environment could not be resolved.6 As a definition, for the purposes of my study, I subscribe to Brubaker’s thesis that one should not treat “races” as things that really exist in the world but more as perspectives on the world.7 One should think of “race” in terms of a practical category, ideology, narrative, cognitive schema and a way of seeing, thinking, talking, and framing claims. It could be also a tendency to naturalize and essentialize, to emphasize “the tie of blood.” More specifically, drawing upon theoretical and historical racial studies, I would define “race” as a notion, or a perspective, of innate biological or genetic differences. “Race” presupposes the belief that people are members of a biological group with all that this implies. Sometimes racial thought could emphasize visible physical characteristics of human variation, the differences in outward appearance. They included such characteristics as face, shape of the head and the skull, complexion, skin color, lips, nose, hair texture, etc. In some cases all those features were linked to the human character—and the capacities of human beings were seen as “racially” inherited. In fact, the innate qualities and defects were described as genetically transmitted through “blood” and “genes.” Therefore, we can speak about racial thought whenever we find visions that people were different because they represented constant types; when we come across the belief in hierarchy and inheritance; whenever hierarchy and inheritance are used for a causal explanation of social and cultural issues. Due to the variety of possible implications this sometimes gave crucial importance to the theme of common descent and the “ancestors” of the nation in national ideologies.

4The purpose of this study is to investigate the instrumentalizations of the concept of “race” in the public sphere, as well as in supposedly scientific discourse in the fin-de-siècle Bulgarian case—that is, in the years roughly from the 1880s until the Balkan wars of 1912–1913. By exploring the interaction and dissemination of various European ideas within the Bulgarian context, I will try to reveal the meaning of the term “race” and its intersections with other similar terms; to trace how Bulgarian authors imagined the nation’s “ancestors”; what meaning they conferred on “Bulgarian blood”; how contemporaries perceived and interpreted certain historical figures or groups of the population; how, through this concept, the Bulgarian intellectual and political elite tried to cope with racial hierarchies; and with the idea of “white” supremacy. I would like also to investigate how the race discourse manifested itself in various texts across political and ideological boundaries as well as different theoretical and philosophical perspectives on “race.”

5I have chosen the term “fin-de-siècle” because it provides a commonly accepted description of the European context at that time, conjuring up certain accepted aspects of the period that were important to the Bulgarian case. At that time Europe was marked by an anti-liberal shift in politics, cultural pessimism, growing militarism and the emergence of a new nationalism and imperialism. The scientific racial discourse achieved increasing power and legitimacy and nationalism became more focused on “race.” Social Darwinism was omnipresent throughout European higher culture. Contemporaries used terms like “race” and “nation” interchangeably. The nation was viewed as a distinct biological group carrying essential characteristics in the germplasm or “blood.” “Race” as a term and evolutionary and medical language influenced by Darwin entered intensively into the historiographic discourse. Even the notions of social groups, castes and classes were influenced by racial language and the conflict of “races” within nations became part of public discourse.

  • 8 Hobsbawm (1992), pp. 108–109; MacMaster, p. 56.

6During the second half of the 19th century in Europe the transformation of “race” as a central concept in the social sciences encouraged and strengthened the thought of how the “nation” was perceived. Especially after the Franco- Prussian War (1870–71), explanations of history, culture and politics in racial terms became popular following the established visions of “ancestors,” the Aryan myth, the racial hierarchy between Europeans and non-Europeans as well as the hierarchies within the “white race.” Darwinian evolutionism, supplemented later by genetics, provided racialism with what looked like a powerful set of “scientific” reasons for stressing the importance of “racial purity.” It induced the practice of using “race” and “nation” as virtual synonyms insofaras “nation” was seen as the above-mentioned distinct biological group.8

  • 9 Hannaford (1996), pp. 235–276.
  • 10 Bell (2002), p. 60.

7In what follows, priority will be given to that part of the European racial heritage which was concerned with proving essential differences within the European family itself.9 As Bell has emphasized, the intellectual framework of these narrower racial differences was largely the same as the one of global racial classification, only that here “science” developed in the service not of slavery and imperialism, but of nationalism.10 Thus the catalogue of “national characters” emerged under the classification of “races,” and Europeans were classified on a hierarchical scale from the dark-skinned and passionate Southerners to the fair-skinned and rational Northerners. The Northern and Western Europeans (“Nordics”) were thereby thought of as inherently more intelligent than the “Alpines” and “Mediterraneans” from Eastern and Southern Europe.


8Although according to law, the theoretical concept of “subject” or “citizen” was intended to be inclusive, largely under German intellectual influence, Bulgarian nationalism had also been swept along by the Romantic passion for the folkloric rediscovery of the “people.” It emphasized mostly linguistic and cultural differences and saw the “nation” as having existed since time immemorial. As in other parts of Europe, nationalism appealed to “language,” “blood” and common descent. National myths and historiographies continued to eagerly seek “ancestors” as a part of nationalist concerns with cultural authenticity.

  • 11 Hobsbawm (1992), p. 63.
  • 12 Christie (1998), p. 37.
  • 13 Smith (1991), p. 22.

9However, since the populations of the territorial nation-states were almost invariably too heterogeneous, the common ancestry of the “people” was always to some extent fictive. No nation possesses an ethnic base naturally or biologically. As Hobsbawm has emphasized, the demographic history of Europe had been such that the origin of ethnic groups was extremely multifarious.11 Christie stresses that for nationalist propagandists, scientific racial investigations were never satisfactory because the historical processes of migration and intermarriage meant that it was impossible to define clearly innate racial differences, except in categories that were as broad as “Mongolians” or “Indo-Europeans.”12 As far as the Bulgarian case was concerned, the mixture of pre-Roman Thracians, Romans, Greeks, Slavs, Old Bulgars (proto-Bulgarians), Vlachs, Pechenegs, Cumans, Tartars, Armenians, Ottoman Turks, Roma, Jews, Arnauts, etc., made the character of the “Bulgarian race” debatable. Situated in the European context, the Bulgarian discourse about “race,” and “descent” was largely appropriation, accommodation and assimilation of the racialist discourse and established racial hierarchy of the West. The Bulgarian elite was forced to invent and elaborate a myth of common ancestry and make this pedigree putative for the sense of ethnic identification.13 The ideas of “the people” originating in the French Enlightenment, French Jacobinism, and Mazzini’s nationalism combined with universalism and humanitarianism, Anglo-Saxon liberalism and civic humanism were circulating among this elite. However, the Romantic ideas of the Volk, the Blutsgemeinschaf, the Volksseele and the Volksgeist had their own place as well. In that context, “the people” became an important dimension in the political transformations of fin-de-siècle Bulgaria.

  • 14 Even sometimes, disclosing the ideological character of Romanticism, some Bulgarian authors explic (...)
  • 15 Dimitriev (Balabanov) (1888), pp. 682–725.
  • 16 Nezavisimost [Independence], (8.03. 1886), no. 2, 1.
  • 17 Nezavisima Bălgaria [Independent Bulgaria], (25. 10. 1886), no. 16, 2.
  • 18 Svoboda [Liberty], (10. 12. 1886), no. 12, 1; Svoboda [Liberty], III, (11. 01.1889), no. 234, 1; S (...)
  • 19 Dragomanov (1894), p. 74 sqq.
  • 20 Kisimov (1886), p. 25.
  • 21 Nezavisimost [Independence], I., (3. 05. 1886), No. 15, 2.

10It should be noted that the main authorities that were important for the development of 19th-century racial thought were not translated into Bulgarian. However, one did not need to have read them in order to be influenced by their discourse. The entire public atmosphere—through different translations in the Bulgarian press—was impregnated with the then current racial discourse coming from the Western European and Russian press. It deserves mentioning that none of the major authors of the extreme racial thought: Arthur de Gobineau; Francis Galton; August Weismann; Vacher de Lapouge; Otto Ammon; Ludwig Gumplowicz; or Houston S. Chamberlain were translated into Bulgarian, although it was clear that their basic ideas were familiar among the intellectual elite. During the first years after the establishment of the modern Bulgarian state (1879)—as in the previous decades—the usage of the term “race” was rare. Bulgarian authors spoke about “narod” [folk, people] and/or “narodnost” [nationality], with the meaning of “nation” [natziya]. In fact, the term “Bulgarian people” was interchangeable with “Bulgarian nation.” In the Romanticist discourse this “people” was associated with “national physiognomy and self-consciousness.”14 The term “narodnost” was semantically equivalent with “nation” [natziya]. Thus in 1888, Renan’s celebrated lecture at the Sorbonne Qu’est ce qui un nation? (1882), was published in a Bulgarian journal with the title Shto e narodnost?15 Those cases when the Bulgarians used the term “nation” were very rare, and when they did, it usually designated some foreign people. When describing the Bulgarian nation, Bulgarian commentators usually preferred the term “nationality” [natzionalnost]. Bulgarian notions about the “folk” were largely formed under the German Romantic influence as can be discerned in the rhetoric about the Bulgarian uniqueness focusing on “our national physiognomy and our popular language,” on “our own face.”16 Therefore, like “every other people” the Bulgarians were considered to be a “people” with “its own history, its own past, its own rights and customs, its own literature.”17 Special importance was ascribed to “our language.”18Race” as a term began to be used relatively late, and for a very long time it sounded awkward within the Bulgarian context. There were instances when the whole of humankind was represented as a “race.” In many other cases “race” stood for a common descent based on a language family, as in the “Slavic race” or “German race.” In those and in other cases, explicitly or implicitly, the races in Europe were considered to be the German, the Latin and the Slavic. It was very similar to the way in which the term “tribe” was often used as the “Slavic tribe” or the “Western German and Roman tribes.” However, in other cases the different nations were designated as “tribes” (“Slavic tribes,” “English tribe,” “Great Russian tribe,” and “Bulgarian tribe”). There were yet other examples when “tribe” was implicitly considered as having a lower status than “nation.” Perhaps that was why sometimes the word “tribe” was left to designate a supposedly “non-civilized” community (“Asiatic tribe”). “Race,” as a factor, was distinguished and counterposed to “history,” “geographic” and “cultural” conditions.19 In other instances the term was dissociated from “common blood” and made to indicate temper and culture formed by history.20 Sometimes the “Bulgarian people” was defined in racial and organicist terms as “anyone in whose veins the pure Bulgarian blood is flowing.”21 But in many other occasions the Bulgarians were represented as related to the other Slavic peoples with “the same blood.”

11During the whole period the usage of the term “race” was rather ambiguous, fluid and multiple. It could vary from designating members of a linguistic family to a biologically differentiated people sharing common “pure Bulgarian blood.” More often than not the Bulgarian authors would rather use some other word than “race” in order to express the sense of community. The very concept of “race” was not essential to any of these designations or explanations. The word had little analytical value and it was not used to designate especially external physiological differences. Instead, the Bulgarian nation was described with terms like “нароδ” and “нароδносm,” frequently used interchangeably.


  • 22 See Bernal (1991), p. 224; Lewis, Wigen (1997), pp. 76–82; Mosse, (1996), p. 39; Smith, (1998), p. (...)

12In the 19th century, many authors saw history as biography of “races,” which retained permanent essences. For the organically thinking nationalists, the Romantic quest for “our true ancestors” was essential for the cause of the nation. That is why several myths of ethnic descent appeared combining historical fact and legendary elaboration. The Romantic idea of the transmission of “blood” and kinship gave racialist thinking and the notion of “racial peculiarities” intellectual respectability22 with “ancestry” turning out to be one of the most important centers of gravity for the concept of “race.”

  • 23 Hobsbawm (1992), p. 108; Barkan (1992), p. 23.
  • 24 Hill (1958), p. 50; Wallerstein (2003), pp. 670–671; Dixon (1976), pp. 25–26.
  • 25 Hutchinson, (2000), p. 1400.
  • 26 Hannaford (1996), pp. 246–248.
  • 27 MacDougall (1982), p. 2.
  • 28 Ibid., l, pp. 91–97.

13At that period the English were quite exceptional in boasting of their mongrel origins, refering to Britons, Anglo-Saxons, Scandinavians, Normans, Scots, Irish etc.23 However, even in England, it was the theory of the “Norman Yoke” or usurpation that was put forward and counterposed to “ancient Saxon liberties” in the 17th century.24 Although, according to A. Smith, the conflict over the “Norman yoke” was more ideological than genealogical25—it opened space for later reconstructions of the English past. These reconstructions refered to a Germanic origin and forefathers representing the Germans, Scandinavians, Frisians, and Angles as the “ancestors” of the “races” qualified to reign.26 It was considered that the English, better than any other Germanic people, represented the traditional “genius” of their “ancestors.”27 English historians, drawing on the work of their German counterparts, were proud of their “pure Teutonic blood,” “our Gothic or Teutonic ancestors” and the transmission of Saxon “genius.” They considered the “English race” as “superior to others.”28

  • 29 Brubaker (1992), p. 101; Smith (1998), p. 175; Hutchinson (2000), pp. 1410–1411; Bell (2001), AHR, (...)
  • 30 Fleury-Ilett (1996), p. 200.
  • 31 Wallerstein (2003), pp. 670–671.
  • 32 Kemiläinen (1998), pp. 90, 101.
  • 33 See Castro (1954), pp. 69–88; Maravall (1954), pp. 320, 354.
  • 34 Costa (1879).
  • 35 Zapatero (1996), pp. 181, 185, 189.
  • 36 Turda (2004), esp. pp. 102–103.
  • 37 Boia (1997), pp. 14–15.
  • 38 Kemiläinen (1998), p. 117.
  • 39 Shnirelman (1996), p. 22.

14French revolutionaries turned to the “Franks” and “Gauls” for a natural justification for change of governance. They harked back to “Gallic ancestors” and represented Frankish aristocracy as foreign usurpers.29 Moreover, at the end of the 19th century, the fashion for Gaulish studies interpreted classical civilization as superior and representing the Roman invasion of Gaul as an action that brought Gaul into a civilized world.30 A parallel argument emerged in Italy with Etruscomania as well.31 Moreover, Swedish intellectuals began to look for “ancestors” in the family of Germanic nations. They considered the people of Gotaland to have been “Goths,” or members of an Ancient Low-Germanic tribe.32 In medieval Spain, the nobility tried to identify with “Goths” [Godos], overestimating Germanic “blood” at the expense of conquered Iberians.33 However, by the end of the 19th century, when the concepts “Indo- European,” “Aryan” and “Celt” were frequently conflated and confused, science argued that the Celtiberian “nation” was the first manifestation of Spanish nationality.34 Even in order to be as Aryan as possible, the Celtic element was more highly valued than the Iberian.35 In Russia, Pan-Slavism fought for the eventual unification of the “entire Slavic race.” While in Hungary, intellectuals cherished the idea of the “Turanic race”;36 in Romania, where the Slavs and other “migratory” peoples were being marginalized, they advocated twofold Daco-Roman purity.37 In the 19th century, Finns were still proud of a supposed Turanian origin.38 In the beginning of the 20th century Kazan Tartars identified their roots with the Golden Horde.39

  • 40 40 Kemiläinen (1998), pp. 40, 66, 83, 209.

15The logic of Bulgarian imagination about “our ancestors” can not be explained without reference to the contributions of history, philology, anthropology and other disciplines on this topic in Europe. Since the end of the 18th century, theories that the “Bulgars” of Asparuh (who settled the Balkan Peninsula in the seventh century) were “Tartars” or “Turks,” and contemporary Bulgarians were “Slavinized Tartars” were popular in the West. However, the idea of the Slavic descent of the Bulgarians dominated overwhelmingly during the 1830–70s and notions about the “Tartar,” “Hun,” “Turkic,” “Finn” or “Hungarian” origin of the “Old Bulgars” were either rejected or neglected. It was exactly the Slavic identity that gave the Bulgarians a chance for a symbolic escape from the Ottoman Empire and better self-positioning according to the established racial hierarchy, the “Aryan myth” and different visions that circulated about the family of Indo-European people and languages. Moreover, within this European interpretative framework, the Tartars and Turanian languages were represented as inferior to the Aryans. Therefore, the wide reception of the idea of Slavic descent can be interpreted as the accommodation and appropriation of the racialist discourse and established hierarchy in Western Europe, which still put the Slavs among the Indo-Europeans. Moreover, the question of whether language relationship corresponded to a biological one was hardly discussed at that time. It was believed that all peoples belonging to the same linguistic family had the same ancestors.40 Besides, the idea of Slavic descent was a solution that the Bulgarian elite took in the frameworks of 19th-century international policy and the development of the Eastern Question.

  • 41 Napred [Forward], (10.08.1889), No. 10., 4–5.

16The Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78 and the establishment of the modern Bulgarian State (1879) further strengthened in the Bulgarian public sphere the already axiomatic idea of the Slavic pedigree of the Bulgarians, as well as the self-perception of the elite that the Bulgarian nation was part of the “Slavic tribe.” Relations with Russia and the other Slavs were depicted as “blood ties” and “tribal ties.” The Bulgarians were represented as “pure Slavic,” “pure European” and “Indo-European type” but “Asparuch’s group of glorious Chuds, Finns or Tartars” was neglected.41 Although the word “race” was not used, the very vocabulary of the “Indo-European type” as a permanent one and of the “purity of blood” clearly shows the borrowings from the established racial thought in Europe at the time.

  • 42 Jireček (1995), p. 259.
  • 43 Svoboda [Liberty] (17.03.1890), No. 348, 2.

17Ironically, at the beginning of the 1880s the theory of “the Turkic” origin of the Old Bulgars was even strengthened internationally among the academic community. Moreover, many representatives of the Bulgarian political class began to share this theory in their private discourse, or as the last and convincing word of science. However, as Petko R. Slaveikov admitted in a private conversation with the Czech historian Konstantin Jireček, the Bulgarian politicans were alerted of its public recognition for “political reasons.”42 During the Stambolov government of 1887–94, when diplomatic relations between Sofia and Saint Petersburg were broken for a period of nearly 10 years, many nationalists continued to insist that the Bulgarians were “pure Slavs.”43 This firm identification with the Slavic pedigree and avoidance of the “Tartars” or “Ugro-Finns” was a way to emphasize that the Bulgarians were Slavs and (Indo-) Europeans.

  • 44 Kritika [Critic], 1891., VII–VIII., 277.
  • 45 Svoboda [Liberty], IV, (20.12.1889), No. 326.
  • 46 Stenografski dnevnitzi…, (1893), pp. 56–58.

18Nevertheless, during that same period of the Stambolov government, different interpretations appeared of the Bulgarian “blood” and of the qualities and temper that this “blood” had determined. Although still isolated and lacking in elaboration and coherence, these interpretations marked a crucial rupture with the prevailing paradigm of the “pure Bulgarian blood” as a “Slavic one.” As it has already been mentioned, the Bulgarian intelligentsia was aware of the achievements in the prestigious international academic studies on the descendancy of Old Bulgars or “proto-Bulgarians.” Even on the pages of literary journals the reader could learn about the “strong Turko-Finn tribe,” which populated the Balkan Peninsula during the seventh century and gave its name to the state.44 Moreover, in that period of conflict with Russia, obviously some Bulgarian public figures tried to find an escape from the idea of Slavicdom. In this regard they evoked the origin of Asparuh’s Bulgars and underlined it with its different versions—Tartar, Finn, or Turkic. This was sometimes made in a typical racial language that spoke of Bulgarian “talent,” “innate instinct,” and “gift” as qualities inherited from “our ancestors” identified with Asparuh’s Bulgars. In this context it was confessed that “there is some Tartar blood in our veins” and this “blood” determined the military qualities of the Bulgarians in comparision with the Serbs.45 On another occasion it was the Bulgarian Prime Minister Stambolov who, echoing a widespread racial view about the “Slavs,” described Bulgarians’ qualities such as “a certain talent, innate instinct to govern and organize” as intrinsic and inherited from “our ancestors,” referring again to Asparuh’s Bulgars. To these virtues Stambolov juxtaposed arbitrarily the failed “Poland, populated by pure Slavs.”46

  • 47 Svoboda, [Liberty], (26.03.1893), No. 1063., 1.
  • 48 See for example Wolff (1994), pp. 300, 312; Malia (1999), p. 133.
  • 49 See note 28.

19These versions were evoked at a time when the racial language became more visible in the Bulgarian public sphere. Characteristically sometimes the “temper” and “qualities” of a “people” were represented not as products of history, culture or social conditions but as determined by “descent” from a certain “race.” It was combined with accidental attempts to propagate negative racial visions of the Slavs as “feeble and of weak temper” at the expense of some more positive characteristics of the “German race.”47 Moreover, the Western racial prejudice was adapted according to which the lesser breeds in the East were inherently incapable of state building, and hence fit only to be ruled by the others.48 The availability of “certain Tartar blood,” next to the Slavic one, was represented as a guarantee for the higher military qualities of 19th-century Bulgarians in comparision with those of such pure Slavs as the Serbs.49

20At the same time, these examples also indicate how the vision of a racial mixture was already seen as something superior and not leading to the nation’s “degeneration.” In fact, the elements inherited from the Old Bulgars were seen as putting late 19th-century Bulgarians higher than the “Pure Slavs” such as the Poles and the Serbs. The plural pedigree gave to some Bulgarian politicians and opinion makers an opportunity to represent a richer transmission of certain spiritual values within the lines of descent. However, it is known that myths of origin furnish the criteria for judging what is inauthentic or impure. There was even something more at stake here. These versions contained a latent future clash of interpretations of authenticity, possible reformulations of what was intrinsic to the Bulgarians and what was foreign and extraneous. It could also generate different projects of “rebirth” in order to achieve self-purification in a direction opposite to the one previously endorsed. Nevertheless, the above-mentioned lack of a coherent non-Slavic or anti-Slavic discourse shows the limits of this “race mapping.”

  • 50 See for example Bobchev (1882); (1883); (1896). In Dr. Manchov’s textbook Old Bulgars were “one Sc (...)
  • 51 Barkan (1992), p. 19.
  • 52 Dermanchev (1896), p. 114.
  • 53 Bobchev (1899), p. 9.

21It is noteworthy that in history textbooks, the shift to a more racialist language did not take place. The term “race” was not used at all. The interpretation of the “ancestors” also followed the version that had been established since the late 1860s. The problem of the pedigree of the Old Bulgars was not emphasized either. “Finnic Bulgarians” were seen as easily melted into the Slavs, and the “Bulgarian people” were said to come from a “pure Slavic tribe.”50 It is evident that there were no above-directed efforts to make changes in those interpretations. However, at the end of the 19th century one can come across some slight nuances that were not dependent upon the political context. The possible explanation could be the above-mentioned renewed importance of the “Aryan myth” abroad, positing racialism underwritten by an increasingly reputable science.51 In the second half of the 1890s, we can see for the first time in some textbooks explicit descriptions of the “Slavs” as “Aryans.” In one, the Slavs were depicted as the “last Aryans who came from Asia to Europe,”52 in another, a child could read: “The Slavs migrated from Asia to Europe. They left their Aryan fatherland after the Germans.”53 These sentences were missing from the previous textbook editions. In this regard, they are, at least partially, more revealing about what was at stake with the insistence on “Slavic ancestors” that had continued for decades. This insistence gave the Bulgarian elite a chance for self-positioning among the “Aryans.”

  • 54 Lilova (2004), pp. 199, 256.
  • 55 For more see Detchev (1997), pp. 326–337.
  • 56 Moreover, how “pure” “Bulgarian” and “Slavic” was this “blood”? It is very well-known that the pro (...)

22There was yet another facet of this search for a symbolic link between the contemporary Bulgarians and their “ancestors.” At times of political crises and campaigns for mass mobilization, political writers invoked the names of Bulgarian medieval monarchs and their aristocratic “blood” representing them as “true ancestors” of males who were commoners. This demonstrates again how ancestry was socially constructed and culturally elaborated, how writers chose to venerate some remote ancestors and to discard others. In that way, they tried to provoke a sense of honor, virility and “knighthood” in their contemporaries. Since the beginning of the Ottoman Tanzimat, Bulgarian history textbooks had tried to create a cult of the “military spirit of the forbears” emphasizing the great moments and events of the medieval history of the First and Second Bulgarian kingdoms and the figures of their rulers.54 There was also a political tradition already established by the national revolutionary movement against Ottoman rule during the 1860s and 1870s that referred to the “pure Bulgarian blood” of the medieval kings. During the political crises of 1886–87 the political associations called “Bulgaria for itself” released many proclamations and revived this discourse. The proclamations tried to summon the patriots ready to defend their country (this time against the menace of Russian interference) as “descendants” of the “glorious Bulgarian kings” Krum, Boris, Simeon, Samuil, Asen, Kaloyan.55 These political documents extended a symbolically privileged descent and a noble lineage to the whole Bulgarian people. The “blood” of the ordinary Bulgarians was depicted as aristocratic and directly coming from the “veins” of the medieval monarchical figures qualified to reign but never to submit to anyone else. These monarchs and their victories were invoked to embody the real “essence” of the “people,” symbolically all Bulgarians were raised to men of noble blood. This was to vindicate the uprising against Ottoman rule in the first case and the fight for “independence” from Russian tutelage in the second. Typically it was the quality of “honor,” traditionally considered to be imminent for the aristocratic “lineage,” which was transmitted through the “blood” and formed a very important part of this discourse. The irony here was that the great majority of Bulgarian peasants had neither heard the names of their medieval rulers, nor did they know that such had once existed.56

23The above-mentioned instances demonstrate that although the word “race” was not very often in the Bulgarian public sphere or in scientific or academic language, the notion that the “people” had some essential permanent qualities and virtues that were transmitted through “blood” was very salient. Nevertheless, very often the belief was employed metaphorically. Moreover, skin color, hair form, eye form, and other facial features were not discussed in public discourse. Physical differences that were typical for the racial thought had not turned into important social or national markers. However, as far as the periodical, literary and political press was full of reviews and translations from the major international newspapers and journals, the category of “race” was represented on their pages. The literate Bulgarians must have been informed that in Europe, “race” was already equal to “nation” [нapoδ] in many cases when the press referred to “French race,” “German race,” “English race,” etc. There was a process of a relative racialization of the notion of the “people.”


  • 57 Dimitriev (Balabanov) (1888), pp. 690, 698, 700.

24History as an academic discipline was not very much influenced by the idea of “race.” The word was usually translated as “пתеме” [tribe] in the broadest sense of the term. However, in 1888 the French-educated, famous Bulgarian lawyer, journalist, politician and later university professor, Balabanov (translating Renan), instead of “tribe,” used “paca” [race], describing it as a “foreign” word. “Race” was used to describe ethnic or linguistic differences between groups and it was among other factors forging the nation such as “language,” “geography,” “religion,” etc. In that way, Balabanov tried to distinguish “race” from the French word tribu that he translated as “пתеме” Otherwise, in the text “tribes” and “tribal” could be substituted in the translation by “races” and “racial” in the sense of ethnic or linguistic division between different communities in the Balkans, medieval France, or Switzerland.57 Balabanov felt a need to clarify for his readers:

[…] the question here is not at all about the primary and widely known division of the humanity in 4–5 main tribes or races, different between them in color of the body, yet different in their intellectual qualities, in their capabilities or inabilities for state organization, in their historic development or centuries-old stagnation.

  • 58 Ibid., p. 705.

25He added that it was talking about the “so called white race of the Caucasian or Iranian peoples,” about “the peoples from this white [author’s bold] race…”58 Moreover, some traces of racial thinking widespread in Europe at that time entered the pages of the Bulgarian Periodical journal of the Bulgarian literary society. Balabanov admitted that the question of races as a whole, which had been left or forgotten or underevaluated before, for some time had acquired great scientific importance, it was often raised and it was treated in various ways.

  • 59 For similar insights that had circulated in the previous decades, see D. Lilova’s contribution to (...)
  • 60 Dimitriev (Balabanov) (1888), p. 707.
  • 61 Dragomanov, (1894), p. 74.

26According to Balabanov, the peoples from “the white race” were “more lofty and elevated than all other races, Ethiopian, Yellow, etc.” and they were called “with justice” “the peoples of history.” However, it was exactly the publication by Renan that subverted the concept of “race.” Balabanov himself definitely opposed the racial theory as well. More precisely, he was against the hierarchies within the “white” or “Indo-German race” according to “intellectual development” and “state life.” According to Balabanov, some authors had already made exaggerated statements, and he quoted Bluntchli who stood for the “unity of the human kin” and “common human nature even in the lowest tribes.”59 Moreover, in order to attack the view that the Slavs were racially inferior to the peoples from “Aryan” or “Semitic tribes,” he quoted Danilevski’s idea that the future belonged to the “Slavic tribe.”60 This stance against racial explanation was not isolated, other university professors were at odds with it as well. The Ukranian historian Dragomanov, who thaught at the University of Sofia, announced that the differences between the Slavic institutions, on the one hand, and the Roman and the German ones on the other, resulted from “geographical” and “cultural” conditions, not from racial factors. From this point of view, he emphasized the differences in the political institutions among the Slavs themselves.61

27This said, there was a Romantic notion of the “history of fatherland” that strongly prevailed among the professionally trained historians and specialists in the humanities. Historiography was irrevocably bound up with the ideas of nation and the nation state. In 1901, the Bulgarian Historical Association was established to study above all the “history of the fatherland.” The Association admired what was seen in science as a 19th-century critic of the “rational method” of the Enlightenment. According to the Association’s philosophy:

  • 62 Belezhki (1905), pp. 4, 6.

the life of the peoples is an organic development, that is determined by multiple, various factors, which do not always obey to human will and they have their own natural development.62

  • 63 Dimitriev (1888), pp. 687, 692.

28Thus, history was called to demonstrate that the unified and homogeneous community remained the same despite the processes of historical change over centuries. Even Balabanov, despite Renan’s idea that nations were “something fairly new in history,” regarded them as something eternal in the Balkans. He wrote how the “different peoples fell silent” during the “4–5 ages under Turkish domination” keeping their “tribal affiliations” which began to “awake” during the 19th century.63 Perhaps the author found it impossible to ignore completely the reality in which the Bulgarian nation still had to be forged. That is why he said that:

  • 64 Ibid., p. 722.

there is much more to be desired, much to be expected, much to be done and much to be added.64

29Some professional historians like Zlatarski, particularly at the beginning of his career, were not able to avoid contemporary Romantic terminology. Having in mind medieval phenomena, he spoke in one of his lectures about the “raising of national spirit” and “the establishment of the popular ideal.” He represented the “nation” that developed “its own national principles” at the medieval age. At the end of the lecture, Zlatarski even began to mention the future fulfillment of the “common popular ideal,” which the Bulgarian people should aim for in order to fulfil:

  • 65 Zlatarski (1896), p. 30.

with success the task destined from the beginning in the history of the whole Slavdom.65

  • 66 Quoted from Shishmanov (1900), pp. 565–566.
  • 67 Dimitriev (1888), pp. 721–725.
  • 68 Ibid., p. 720.

30From the point of view of “race” these notions were controversial, and in certain contexts they could have different additional developments. In Zlatarski’s vision one could see the language of Romantic nationalism and its insight of an “organic nation” as well as a possible opportunity for this interpretation of the “nation” to turn into a definition of the nation itself in more racialized terms. The organicism somehow presupposed genetically transmitted differences and inheritance. In this regard, there were strong racial elements hidden in Romanticism. Moreover, the historiographic notions about a “community of blood” and “national spirit” situated this presumably scientific disciplinary language very close to the “pure” national ideology that was dominating in political journalism. According to German Romanticist canon and its Russian Slavophile version, as far as the “spirit of the nation,” and therefore its language, reflected the body, nationality was based on “blood” that was supposed to be “pure.” It explains why even the Bulgarian academic history canon for a very long time supported Marin Drinov’s narrative from the late 1860s, emphasizing the Slavs and neglecting the Bulgars in the story about Bulgarian ethnogenesis. This canon illustrates how interconnected were “language” and “blood” and why when referring to Asparuh’s Bulgars it should be emphasized that the Bulgarian people are “not their descendent and there is nothing in common with them” counterposing Old Bulgars to “our ancestors the Slavs.”66 However, there was still a difference between this self-assertive national vision of the past and a biological theory of “race.” It could emphasize the priority of some internal essence, although even transmitted through “blood,” over external physiological differences. Moreover, it was evident that still the word “race” had not acquired its honorable place in scientific vocabulary. Nevertheless, Balabanov interpreted Renan’s “spiritual principle” or “soul,” in a more Romantic fashion representing “spirit” and “soul” as penetrating into the “organism” of the “Bulgarian people” and creating the Bulgarian “habitus” [bit].67 He even wrote that according to Renan, “history renders the grandchildren equal with the ancestors.”68

  • 69 Zlatarski (1896), pp. 26–27.

31Therefore, Balabanov was able to realize and use the hidden potential in Renan’s text for a more Romantic and less civic or political interpretation. In 1896, Zlatarski asserted that the “history of fatherland” began with “the emergence of the Bulgarian kingdom” in the late seventh century. The rulers in the First Bulgarian kingdom united “the kins of the same Slavic tribe” and later “the parts of the same nationality [narodnost]—Bulgarian.”69

  • 70 Ibid., p. 27. 71
  • 71 Ibid., pp. 31–32.

32What did Bulgarian academia say about the “ancestors”? Definitely, it spoke about “the disappearance of the Thracians without any trace.”70 The young Zlatarski also ignored any role of the Old Bulgars in the establishment of what he called “Bulgarian nation” [bălgarska narodnost]. According to him, during the Great Migration of the peoples, “this country” was “devastated by a majority of barbarian peoples and tribes.” Nevertheless, he stressed, it received “its national physiognomy, which it keeps until present time.” The Balkan Peninsula was populated by “Slavic tribes, who gradually united themselves and founded an entity, one nation [narodnost]—Bulgarian.” Later he was much more revealing when writing about the “unification of the Slavic tribes in one Slavic nation [narodnost].”71 In this regard, Zlatarski strictly followed the interpretative canon and moral implications established in the late 1860s by Drinov.

  • 72 Hannaford (1996), pp. 328, 332.

33At that time in Europe appeared the above-mentioned amalgam of biological theories of social change known since the 1890s as Social Darwinism. It possessed a potency to attract and incorporate both racial thinking and nationalism into a new matrix. Darwinism was applied to support theories of mental and physical degeneration through heredity and acquired traits. Several thinkers like Le Bon, Galton, Weismann, Lapouge and Gumplowicz contributed for the elaboration of those ideas. The works of Otto Ammon and Woltmann had special importance. By the end of the 19th century, as a result of those developments, it was accepted that man could be recognized for what he/she was from the instant signs of his/her material appearance. The cephalic index was applied as an analytical tool and scholars began to make judgements about “race” through measuring the shape of the skull and using racial rhetoric.72

34New methods concerning a measuring of the thousands of army conscripts received positive responses among some circles of the Bulgarian scientific community. It was 1894 when some comments appeared on Otto Ammon’s measuring of thousands of military conscripts and pupils. It was believed that if even part of Ammon’s conclusions were right, it would mean that:

  • 73 Bălgarski pregled [Bulgarian Review] (1894), II, p. 167.

from the anthropological explorations and dry tables that are now a matter of interest only for the specialists, after some time it will be possible to be drawn not a few instructive conclusions.73

35It was a sign that in the near future the Bulgarian context would not be untouched by the respectability that racial theories achieved in anthropology at the late 19th century. As a result of the European trend within the Bulgarian intellectual field, one can regard the great number of publications that covered the fashionable and more prestigious topic of heredity as being used to explain a great variety of social phenomena.

  • 74 See for example Engelgard (1903), p. 43.
  • 75 Ibid., pp. 43–45.

36However, the educated Bulgarian was also aware of the intellectual developments in biology and the achievements of other scholars like Haeckel, Huxley and Virchow. Therefore, he was informed of many warnings against current ideas about “race struggle” as a key to human development. He knew that there were no “pure” or “higher” and “lower races,” but only mixtures of morphological types and that differences between people were more cultural than physical. This educated Bulgarian knew about the existing hostility against some aristocratic and chauvinistic theories of an ancient “Aryan race.” Very soon Bulgarian academia and intelligentsia became very suspicious especially towards Lapouge and Ammon’s “laws,” their “ultra-Darwinistic spirit” and “suspicious precision.” Some intellectual circles were even against “this Darwinist sociology” that was regarded imprecisely as a “pointless repercussion of Nietzsche’s teaching.”74 The Bulgarian educated public was aware of the difference between the Darwinist theories in sociology some 40 years ago with Haeckel and Lapouge and Ammon’s ideas about “race struggle.”75

  • 76 Barkan (1992), pp. 4, 19–20.
  • 77 Vatev, Znachenieto (1900), pp. 68–85.
  • 78 Ibid., pp. 76, 84–85. See also Vatev, Oshte edin otgovor… (1900), pp. 100–105.
  • 79 Yurinich (1900), p. 117.

37Nevertheless, at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, internationally the science of race, which traditionally had belonged to physical anthropology, reached its zenith in Europe.76 That is why in Bulgaria it was impossible for some physicians not to take anthropometry so seriously. Following the practice of anthropological societies in Germany, they started to measure “the color of eyes, hair and skin” and to discuss the importance of these features for the “racial disposition” of the people. It was explicitly stated that the final goal of the project was to write “a monograph about the Bulgarian race.”77 Notwithstanding, in those cases, not radical thinkers like Lapouge and Ammon, but the moderate Virchow was the main point of reference and authority for the Bulgarian specialists. Moreover, these studies subscribed to the opinion that the “peoples are only mixtures that express nowhere the real race.”78 The methods of physical anthropology provoked a serious discussion among specialists and university professors joined the debate. Although some of them were definitely opposed,79 it seems that others were ready to rely on these measurings.

  • 80 Shishmanov (1900), pp. 748, 751.
  • 81 Ibid., pp. 748–749.

38This trend reached some figures working in other branches of science as well. It is true that when exploring the Old Bulgars, philologist Ivan Shishmanov was not very optimistic about the definition of the “Bulgarian type” with “anthropological data” and “craniologic measuring,” basically because there was not sufficient data.80 However, in other cases he took these measurings more seriously, even those made by Bulgarian specialists “for good honor.” He was ready to excuse the “physical anthropology” for possible mistakes because it was a young discipline. What is more, Shishmanov was the one who prepared the plan for some anthropological research including “height, eye color, hair color, physiological features” as well as “heredity,” “acclimatization,” and “mixing.” He explicitly stated that “complex ethnogenetic questions” could not be resolved only with a grammar in hand. According to him, especially the linguist who often was compelled to build theories on “much more unhealthy material than the skulls,” should received “cordially” the help that was given to him by anthropologists as well as the one given by historians, ethnographers, and archaeologists. Despite his caution to physical anthropology, Shishmanov referred to craniological data and measuring among which included the work of Broca, Virchow and John Beddoe.81

  • 82 Ibid., pp. 748–750.
  • 83 Ibid., p. 751.

39Shishmanov’s study, marking the fundamental shift in treating the problem of Bulgarian ethnogenesis was written in the best traditions of 19th-century science. It was a demonstration of the serious professionalization that Bulgarian academia had passed from the late 1880s onwards. Not discussed in the history textbooks, the problem of the pedigree of the Old Bulgars had already been represented in academic writings and debated in the best traditions of European thought. Shishmanov stated that the problem about the “descent of proto-Bulgarians” was still not resolved. However, he announced many times in the text that in the previous decades the “science” had subscribed to the long debated hypothesis of “Turkic-Tartarian origin.” The success of the hypothesis Shishmanov explained with the “development of lingustics.” He also represented definitely the failure of the last representative of the Slavic hypothesis, D. Ilovaisky, since he had not been very well equipped and the “sober critic” of other scholars had broken his arguments. The readers could also see that according to craniologist Broca and his measuring of “pure Bulgarian skulls” which were “non-Slavic.” Shishmanov added as information Virchow and Beddoe’s achievements that rejected the Slavic descent of Bulgars too. Even according to the most detailed “craniological data,” presented by Bogdanov, the population near Volga had already been “non-Slavic” whilst the “contemporary Bulgarian craniological type” was the one of the “very mixed population.”82 Shishmanov also presented Bogdanov’s final conclusion that “Old Bulgars had not been Slavs” but they had not been “Chuvash” either.83 This argument clearly demonstrated a double shift in the Bulgarian academic field. It testified that the study on ethnogenesis became less Romantic and more professionalized, converted in a wissenschaftlich exercise. The vision about the historical ethnic mixture among contemporary Bulgarians was conspicuous.

  • 84 Zlatarski (1902), p. 205.
  • 85 Ibid., pp. 214–219.

40To a certain extent, this trend of professionalization is confirmed by Vasil Zlatarski’s lecture course on medieval Bulgarian history for the academic year 1901/02. He supported “the most widespread and commonly accepted by the famous and authoritative scholars view” about the ethnic origin [нapoδ нocmma] of Asparuh’s Bulgars. They were “neither from Slavic, or at all of Aryan origin.”84 According to Zlatarski: “Bulgarians were neither a Finn, or Slavic tribe, but they always were a people close to the Huns.” He announced that almost all new historians consider the Huns as part of the “family of the Turkic peoples.” However, subscribing to the “Turkic-Tartarian” theory, Zlatarski emphasized that he was against “Tunman-Engel’s theory” that “contemporary Bulgarians are rather Tartars or Turks than Slavs.” He referred to Drinov’s thesis that the “ancestors of the contemporary Bulgarians we should not consider part of the group of Asparuh but as Slavs.” Nevertheless, he defined Drinov’s interpretation as too an extreme one. Zlatarski was against the insight that Asparuh’s Bulgars disappeared in a way that “no one drop of blood from this people could enter in the veins of surrounding Slavic tribes.” According to him, the “disappearance of the Bulgarian element” did not happen so fast and it did not finish around the middle of the ninth century. Moreover, he emphasized that it survived especially in the northeastern part of the Balkan Peninsula where even later “other Asiatic peoples such as Cumans and Tartars” were to settle.85

  • 86 Bobchev (1909), p. 635.

41However, this professionalization of Bulgarian science was not a linear process and it had its discontinuities. Stefan S. Bobchev, for example, was a university professor and a specialist on the history of Bulgarian law. In 1909, celebrating the release of Drinov’s historical works, Bobchev continually referred, as Drinov had done some decades earlier, to things that were “Bulgarian and Slavic” and he spoke about Bulgarian history many times as being a “native and Slavic” one. At first glance, like Shishmanov, he admitted that Drinov’s thesis about the “Chudo-Finn descent” of the Bulgars of Asparuh later had been transformed in “Turkic theory” (“miopκamma meopuя”). However, he emphasized that the “last word” on the topic had not been said. Moreover, whilst Shishmanov presented Drinov as a biased scholar, Bobchev still stressed his insight about how the proto-Bulgarians of Asparuh “imported political unity among the fragmented Slavic tribes” and how they were “swollen” into “this Slavic element.”86

  • 87 Shishmanov (1900), p. 512 sqq, 556, 570.
  • 88 Ibid., p. 752.

42Shishmanov’s study also demonstrated a shift to phraseology, which included “race” as a legitimate scientific domain. At that time, international science legitimized the racial idea and it turned the concept of “race” into a respectable scientific category. In the academic discourse, the ideas of “race” and “ethnicity” existed side by side, intertwined and overlapping. This step to “racialization” of science was not that unexpected. To a certain extent, there was always a risk involved that sciences in Bulgaria were deeply embedded in the paradigm of Romanticism. It is apparent that, like other scholars at the time, Shishmanov was not immune to the usage of contemporary terminology in describing past reality either. Several times, having discussed the descent of Old Bulgars, Shishmanov wrote about their “nation and language” [narodnostta i ezika] and the “quarrel upon the nationality and the language of proto- Bulgarians” [razprata vărhu natzionalnostta i ezika na prabălgarite].87 Moreover, in Shishmanov’s text the term “race” was overwhelmingly appropriated. Its meaning moved between “descent” and “group of people” with common origin. Shishmanov also expressed his own faith that it had been a mistake to draw some conclusions about the “race” of Old Bulgars only upon linguistic data. Following time’s fashion and referring to Kopernicki’s studies, Shishmanov used the term “Aryan,” “Aryan skulls,” “Semitic and Finn skulls” charging them with a scientific weight and not contesting their explanatory power. Nevertheless, as I have already mentioned, Shishmanov used the term “race” with a great fluidity and he took racial differentiation as being limited to physical characteristics without accepting race typology as an element of causal cultural explanation. Besides, Shismanov clearly informed his readers that according to some new data announced by Niederle, the Slavs and the Germans had no “genetic difference.” He also added Bogdanov’s conclusion that the Slavs together with “the Germans, the Finns, and the Scythians” had a common descent in a “proto-European tribe.”88 Therefore, it is evident that as science legitimized the idea of “race” it made it also very vulnerable in the case of changes in scientific outlook. A more attentive observer is able to see that science has its own internal dynamic. Its professionalization could lead to questioning and later disappearance of a primordial race of mythical ancestors. However, politics of culture and coming wars would put limits to this process.

43This direction in the academic field increased a sense of “racial,” namely ethnic duality and even plurality in Bulgarian history. The awareness of ethnic complexity in their own past could encourage some Bulgarians to stress the benefits of racial and cultural mixture at least among the Europeans or among the “whites.” It could provoke in British or some French historiographic manner reluctance to attribute notions of racial and cultural purity in a more German way. However, as far as “non-whites” were concerned, intermixture was definitely considered dangerous and disastrous. In fact, in the Bulgarian case, as we have seen, some important politicians and journalists had already stated publicly the benefits of this duality or plurality of “blood,” “talent” and “instinct.” However, perhaps the position of Old Bulgars on the European racial scale, combined with political conjecture and the traditional strong element of Slavism in Bulgarian national ideology, were obstacles to being able to subscribe more firmly to a similar vision. Moreover, in European fin-de-siècle fashion, “race” turned out to be, in an unprecedented way, a part of the Bulgarian intellectual environment. There is no space here to go into details, but the period after 1900 brought enthusiasm for racial interpretations combined with a hereditarian fervor. It was especially visible in journalism, non-academic historiography and literature, where these ideas were much more readily received, and became part of new directions in the thematization of the Bulgarian nation, political and cultural figures, different segments of the Bulgarian population and the “mapping” of certain regions. Undoubtedly, in many cases the new ways of making judgments were based on merely pre-modern ethnocentric and not racially conceived stereotypes and exclusions. However, they cannot be explained without adding the contribution of modern knowledge that paid attention to biological determinism and considered outward features and capacities as crucial differences of “racial groups.”


  • 89 Turda (2004), pp. 23–27.

44Despite some early examples, “race” and modern scientific racial thinking in Bulgaria was a latecomer. It is evident that in most of cases, theoretically and stylistically, Bulgarian thinkers and scholars depended on the influence of foreign authors. The sources of Bulgarian fin-de-siècle racial thought were a combination of Bulgarian ethnocentrism, the rise of Bulgarian national ideology, German Romanticism, Russian Slavophilism, different currents in French racial thought in science and literature, some interpretations of Social Darwinism, the ideas of heredity, etc. The ideas of the existence of “national soul,” “national spirit” or “national character” transmitted through biological processes were very often used methaphorically. However, in the beginning of the 20th century, these ideas legitimized biological determinism that appeared as fundamentally racial when it was applied to the idea of the nation. These ideas also brought about the rationalization of social and national hierarchies. In this respect, in the beginning of the 20th century, one can register the prominence of natural and biological laws that had been more visible in other places in Europe since the 1880s.89 Even so, racial ideas were used in Bulgaria in addition to other more basic cultural and historical arguments.

  • 90 See for example B. Bilmez’s contribution to this volume.
  • 91 D. Lilova demonstrates this in her contribution published here.

45The racial thought borrowed from Western Europe was adapted and accommodated to serve the specific political and cultural purposes coming from the Bulgarian context. It should have helped Bulgarian leaders to situate their nation biologically among the “whites” and “Europeans.” Moreover, “Aryan myth,” which was somehow energized during the fin-de-siècle, situated some white races superior to others. In this regard, the other geneologies of the Old Bulgars put them not among Indo-Europeans but still among the whites (Ugro-Finn, Turkic, Turanian). To a certain extent, it was enough that they were not “Mongoloids” or “blacks.” It is worth thinking about the possible associations between Old Bulgars whose state was put north of the Caucasus and the “Caucasian race” from the textbooks in geography and history. And why not think about the beginning of appropriation, to a certain extent, of the European fascination of the East, Orient, and Asia? One should keep in mind that at the end of the 19th and the very beginning of the 20th centuries, there were voices that the Turanian or Finno-Japanese races were “the forerunners of civilization in Europe.”90 Even in the 1870s the geographical textbooks, translated from Russian, represented the “Caucasian” and “Mongolian” as “races” common in Europe.91 Moreover, the Slavs as “ancestors” were considered enough to support and to underpin the Aryan disposition of the 20thcentury Bulgarians. Even at this point, one comes across strategies that tried to represent the Slavs as equal or superior to the “Germans” through inverting the hierarchies.

  • 92 For the Hungarian case, see Turda, (2004), pp. 161–162.
  • 93 As M. Turda has recently shown, in Hungary at the time Vámbéry represented the mixture between Tur (...)

46In comparison with many other countries at the time the racial discourse in Bulgarian society was not that strong. Here one encounters less racial thinking in comparision with Central Europe and especially the Austrian part of the Habsburg monarchy from where some prominent racial thinkers originated. The Bulgarian case can be rather compared with the Hungarian one. There, according to Turda, the dissemination of racial thinking and Social Darwinism was not the work of intellectuals, but the product of a multitude of sources embedded within the Hungarian tradition of theorizing about the nation. At the same time, nationalist preoccupation with inner racial qualities in Bulgaria seems to have been weaker than in Hungary. In the Bulgarian case it was more appropriation of racial and Social Darwinist vocabulary than genuine racial thinking.92 Most of the Bulgarian academics who adapted racial science did not subscribe to its value judgments but to some of its methods. For them it was more a purely scientific exercise with a sincere hope that these “racial” methods could help some scientific issues to be resolved better and would bring the scholars to the right answers. Moreover, most of the authors who somehow utilized the racial language and value judgments speculated on “race,” following a fashionable current of thought in Europe rather than subscribing firmly to racial ideas and prejudices typical of the time. Despite their inclinations to ethnic national perspective, the majority of the Bulgarian authors in humanities rejected racialism in the pseudo-scientific narratives. Historiography in Bulgaria was even linked less to biological and racialist ideas and more to the idea of a cultural nation. That is why other ethnic elements were not at the core of Bulgarian historical narrative. Moreover, the Bulgarian educated public was aware that there hardly existed a racially pure nation. In this regard, the Bulgarian case was not close to the German one, but to the context of other countries when the unification of “races” was seen as harmonious.93 The Bulgarian case was close to the European states that were not preoccupied by racial mixture.

47Changes in politics not always and not overwhelmingly brought changes in the interpretation of “ancestry,” especially in history textbooks and academic science. As far as scientists were concerned as individuals, they were the ones who elected—in this debate about the ancestors—which theory to support. Presumably, their participation was not determined solely by pure scientific motives. Although they were committed scholars, they also thought of themselves as Bulgarian “patriots.” However, they did not fulfil this task and they did not devote their craft to the “nation” in a way that several decades ago their forerunners had done. The above-mentioned combination of professionalization of science on the one hand, and the “racialization” of the public sphere on the other, were just a historical coincidence. The very political and cultural context as well as the configuration of international politics still made some constraints on the paradigm of “ancestry.”



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Dve i dve pet, Deveti Avgust, 19 fevruarii, Demokrat, Duma, Dobrudzha, Makedoniya, Malak vestnik, Napred, Nezavisimost, Nezavisima Balgaria, Plovdiv, Pravda,, Svoboda, Svobodno slovo, Slavyanin, Sredec, Svetlina, Saedinenie, Tarnovska konstituciya.


1 Barkan (1992), p. 17.

2 Fenton (1998), p. 36.

3 Brubaker (1992), p. 211.

4 For examples of such uses, see the contributions to this volume by B. Bilmez, A. Puto, D. Lilova, B. Aleksov, A. Vezenkov, T. Marinov and B. Trencsényi.

5 MacMaster (2001), p. 1.

6 Barkan (1992), pp. 3–4.

7 Brubaker (2004), pp. 78–79, 81.

8 Hobsbawm (1992), pp. 108–109; MacMaster, p. 56.

9 Hannaford (1996), pp. 235–276.

10 Bell (2002), p. 60.

11 Hobsbawm (1992), p. 63.

12 Christie (1998), p. 37.

13 Smith (1991), p. 22.

14 Even sometimes, disclosing the ideological character of Romanticism, some Bulgarian authors explicitly mentioned that the “national physiognomy and self-consciousness” should be created through state action, Svoboda [Liberty], VII, (15.05.1893), no. 1100, 1.

15 Dimitriev (Balabanov) (1888), pp. 682–725.

16 Nezavisimost [Independence], (8.03. 1886), no. 2, 1.

17 Nezavisima Bălgaria [Independent Bulgaria], (25. 10. 1886), no. 16, 2.

18 Svoboda [Liberty], (10. 12. 1886), no. 12, 1; Svoboda [Liberty], III, (11. 01.1889), no. 234, 1; Svoboda [Liberty], III, (22. 07. 1889), no. 286, 2.

19 Dragomanov (1894), p. 74 sqq.

20 Kisimov (1886), p. 25.

21 Nezavisimost [Independence], I., (3. 05. 1886), No. 15, 2.

22 See Bernal (1991), p. 224; Lewis, Wigen (1997), pp. 76–82; Mosse, (1996), p. 39; Smith, (1998), p. 2.

23 Hobsbawm (1992), p. 108; Barkan (1992), p. 23.

24 Hill (1958), p. 50; Wallerstein (2003), pp. 670–671; Dixon (1976), pp. 25–26.

25 Hutchinson, (2000), p. 1400.

26 Hannaford (1996), pp. 246–248.

27 MacDougall (1982), p. 2.

28 Ibid., l, pp. 91–97.

29 Brubaker (1992), p. 101; Smith (1998), p. 175; Hutchinson (2000), pp. 1410–1411; Bell (2001), AHR, pp. 1233–1234.

30 Fleury-Ilett (1996), p. 200.

31 Wallerstein (2003), pp. 670–671.

32 Kemiläinen (1998), pp. 90, 101.

33 See Castro (1954), pp. 69–88; Maravall (1954), pp. 320, 354.

34 Costa (1879).

35 Zapatero (1996), pp. 181, 185, 189.

36 Turda (2004), esp. pp. 102–103.

37 Boia (1997), pp. 14–15.

38 Kemiläinen (1998), p. 117.

39 Shnirelman (1996), p. 22.

40 40 Kemiläinen (1998), pp. 40, 66, 83, 209.

41 Napred [Forward], (10.08.1889), No. 10., 4–5.

42 Jireček (1995), p. 259.

43 Svoboda [Liberty] (17.03.1890), No. 348, 2.

44 Kritika [Critic], 1891., VII–VIII., 277.

45 Svoboda [Liberty], IV, (20.12.1889), No. 326.

46 Stenografski dnevnitzi…, (1893), pp. 56–58.

47 Svoboda, [Liberty], (26.03.1893), No. 1063., 1.

48 See for example Wolff (1994), pp. 300, 312; Malia (1999), p. 133.

49 See note 28.

50 See for example Bobchev (1882); (1883); (1896). In Dr. Manchov’s textbook Old Bulgars were “one Scythian group of Bulgarians.” Manchov, (1881), 5th edition, pp. 9–10. In Ganchev they were “not from Slavic origin, but Fin.” Ganchev (1888), p. 5; (1892), p. 6. In 1899 they were from “Ural-Fin origin, spoke Finnish language, mixed with Turkish words.” Ganchev (1899), p. 8.

51 Barkan (1992), p. 19.

52 Dermanchev (1896), p. 114.

53 Bobchev (1899), p. 9.

54 Lilova (2004), pp. 199, 256.

55 For more see Detchev (1997), pp. 326–337.

56 Moreover, how “pure” “Bulgarian” and “Slavic” was this “blood”? It is very well-known that the proto-Bulgarian Dulo dynasty had had a monarchical lineage that had come from the designation “Bulgarian” not as an ethnonym but as politonym. Although identifying themselves with the Bulgarian political and monarchical tradition, the ethnic descent of King Samuel and his brothers is contestable and perhaps Armenian. The same political identification was also valid for the three dynasties of the Second Bulgarian kingdom—the Asen, Terter and Shishman. However, it seems that ethnically they were predominantly of Cuman descent.

57 Dimitriev (Balabanov) (1888), pp. 690, 698, 700.

58 Ibid., p. 705.

59 For similar insights that had circulated in the previous decades, see D. Lilova’s contribution to this volume.

60 Dimitriev (Balabanov) (1888), p. 707.

61 Dragomanov, (1894), p. 74.

62 Belezhki (1905), pp. 4, 6.

63 Dimitriev (1888), pp. 687, 692.

64 Ibid., p. 722.

65 Zlatarski (1896), p. 30.

66 Quoted from Shishmanov (1900), pp. 565–566.

67 Dimitriev (1888), pp. 721–725.

68 Ibid., p. 720.

69 Zlatarski (1896), pp. 26–27.

70 Ibid., p. 27. 71

71 Ibid., pp. 31–32.

72 Hannaford (1996), pp. 328, 332.

73 Bălgarski pregled [Bulgarian Review] (1894), II, p. 167.

74 See for example Engelgard (1903), p. 43.

75 Ibid., pp. 43–45.

76 Barkan (1992), pp. 4, 19–20.

77 Vatev, Znachenieto (1900), pp. 68–85.

78 Ibid., pp. 76, 84–85. See also Vatev, Oshte edin otgovor… (1900), pp. 100–105.

79 Yurinich (1900), p. 117.

80 Shishmanov (1900), pp. 748, 751.

81 Ibid., pp. 748–749.

82 Ibid., pp. 748–750.

83 Ibid., p. 751.

84 Zlatarski (1902), p. 205.

85 Ibid., pp. 214–219.

86 Bobchev (1909), p. 635.

87 Shishmanov (1900), p. 512 sqq, 556, 570.

88 Ibid., p. 752.

89 Turda (2004), pp. 23–27.

90 See for example B. Bilmez’s contribution to this volume.

91 D. Lilova demonstrates this in her contribution published here.

92 For the Hungarian case, see Turda, (2004), pp. 161–162.

93 As M. Turda has recently shown, in Hungary at the time Vámbéry represented the mixture between Turanians and Aryans as a successful union between Europe and Asia, between Turanian herosim, on the one hand, and Aryan deligence and tenacity, on the other. See Turda (2004), p. 104.


Stefan Detchev is a lecturer in Bulgarian history and historiography at the Department of History, Southwestern University of Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. His PhD dissertation dealt with the Russophile and Russophobe ideologies in late nineteenth century Bulgaria. His research interests and publications are in the field of modern and contemporary Bulgarian history with an emphasis on political ideologies and the public sphere, Bulgarian nationalism, historiography, racial thought, history of masculinity and sexuality.

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