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Albena Bakratcheva


Liberal education is a term, having both the advantage and the disadvantage of being interpretable. This is more of an advantage, of course, even if only because thus it immediately appears as the absolute contrast to totalitarian education - which was everything but interpretable. Totalitarian education was above all a means for unification, i.e. a means for suppressing the individuality of the students. Such was the aim of the so called socialist state, preferring to consider its people herds without personal will, not to speak of personal opinions: no wonder the label "people's masses" was a beloved one at the time.

It was against the humiliating unification that the processes of conscious discontent against the totalitarian regime started in the form of Civil Disobedience in the late 80-es . Henry David Thoreau's famous formula acquired new significance then, becoming the slogan of all the 'velvet revolutions' in the communist bloc and thus initiating what was later to become Civil Society. No wonder that the first acts of civil disobedience were always led by intellectuals; no wonder that the decisive change of 1997 was brought to our country mainly by the university students. No wonder once again that the communists, well trained in their unification cliches of thinking, understood nothing of the students' behavior of January '97 and so labeled their civil disobedience "hooliganism"1.

Civil Disobedience did actually provide the victory of the Individual, conscious of both his individual and his social rights. Thus it was through civil disobedience that civil society was given birth to in opposition to totalitarianism.

I will state here that in the East-European democratization process, including Bulgaria, Civil Disobedience and Civil Society can be seen as the beginning and the final aim, where in-between Liberal Education is assuming an unique creative function. To put it in Thoreau's words from his well-known essay "Civil Disobedience": if "the process to a democracy is a progress toward a true respect for the individual", then liberal education should be focused at in its creative power to "build men first and subjects afterward". The university students in Bulgaria proved by acts of civil disobedience their personal will, their conscious individualism. Now it is left to liberal education, especially in the humanities, to ripen it.

Thus I think, the notion of liberal education still exists in our ex-communist countries mainly in contrastive terms to what used to be under totalitarianism. Therefrom comes the equation of liberal education to simply freedom in education. This is inevitably the first step towards the true understanding of the term. The second step will be for liberal education to be understood for itself, i.e. as "an education based primarily on the liberal arts and intended to provide maximum opportunities for self-expression or self-fulfillment"2. Once this happens, liberal education will prove itself a crucial means towards the eradication of the label "post-totalitarian" and the establishment of civil society in our countries. So I will argue that the way From Civil Disobedience to Civil Society is also the way of Liberal Education.




1. Jean Videnov, "Shorthand record of the secret meeting of the communist government of January 11, 1997", - In: Demokratsia, January 12, 1998. [back]

2. Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary, 1989. [back]



© Albena Bakratcheva, 1998
© Publisher LiterNet, 15. 07. 2000
First, edition, electronic.

Third Fulbright Conference: "Education and Civil Society in the Post-totalitarian World", Bulgarian-American Commission for Educational Exchange, Sofia, May 14-17, 1998.