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Blagovest Zlatanov

web | Култура и критика. Ч. IV

In this paper I will try to outline the tensions between different aspects of patriarchal culture and communism both from a typological perspective and in the context of the historical establishment of the communist regime in Bulgaria in the first two decades after 1944.

I would like to discuss this attitude of Communism towards patriarchal culture through the prism of authority.

Although influenced by processes of modernization, Bulgarian patriarchal culture was still dominated by forms of pre-modern authority in the mid-40s. Amongst the typically pre-modern institutions of authority, religion played a leading role. Since the population of Bulgaria was then comparatively small, there were only two religions, also reflecting the ethnic structure of society. These were Eastern Orthodoxy, practiced by 85% of the population; and Islam, the officially recognized religion of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria amounting to 13%.

The second source of pre-modern authority was the small local communities inhabited predominantly by the peasantry. Before World War II, over 80% of the Bulgarian population used to live in small village communities scattered with varying degrees of density throughout the territory of the country.

The third form of authority in Bulgarian patriarchal culture was the kinship system, which observed rules of formation, function and hierarchy, typical of other pre-modern cultures as well.

Religion, the local community and the kinship system possessed common typological characteristics, which were valid for the Bulgarian situation of the 40s.

First, they were traditional forms of authority whose origin and foundations were situated in the past. Searching for ways to account for its existence, the Bulgarian peasantry preferred strictly conservative forms of knowledge and behaviour.

Second, the three types of authority were also forms of control and supervision which the patriarchal culture exercised upon itself and each of its members. They enabled self-reflection and self-correction.

Third, they were mostly connected with the daily life, maintaining its ability to repeat and sustain its basic aspects.

Forth, through the practice of religion, relationships of trust were sustained in the local community and the kinship system. They were the chief forms of socialization, through which individuals established their connections with the other members of their immediate and distant neighborhood.

And last but not least, the above-mentioned forms of authority exercised normative and binding power, which again highlights both their own significance and that of their characteristics.

It was exactly because of their characteristics that these forms of authority proved to be the greatest problem for the revolutionary impulses of Communist power-impulses which can also be regarded as forms of modernization.

Following the coup d’etat of September 1944, the party-state engaged in a massive attack on the forms of pre-modern authority, which actually was an attack on the very foundations of the patriarchal culture. The main institutions and mechanisms involved in this attack were:

  1. The totalitarian system of rule and control, of social services and supervision, which entailed the permanent encroachment of the state or party bureaucracy upon the lives of the people.
  2. The budget deficit, which resulted from blatant malfunctioning of the economic system and ideologically, motivated policies such as collectivization of agriculture, the liquidation of private property and forced industrialization.
  3. The socialist variety of the process of modernization, which at that time reached the agrarian countries in Eastern and Southeastern Europe.

In the following pages, I shall take a brief look at the destruction of the three already-mentioned forms of pre-modern patriarchal authority on the part of the Communist state. The patriarchal person, living in a pre-modern world, had God and the laws of religion as the ultimate explanation of his/her existence. The peasant needed these institutions to give meaning to a life in real space and time. At the same time, God and religion represented the guiding source of authority embodied in the Church. The power of this pre-modern form of transcendental authority can be best interpreted as an answer to the various influences in daily life, which were beyond human control. The authority of religion often cultivated the belief that individuals are encircled by dangers and threats, which can be mastered and controlled only by it. Thus, it became a centre around which the patriarchal person structured relationships of trust and protection. These relationships influenced not only the way people related to each other, but also the way they related themselves to nature.

The patriarchal culture, being a predominantly religious culture, and Communism, searching its origins in the transcendental logic of history, clashed in two major aspects.

First, in its heart, religion is based on the ideal notions of people, which can have both spiritual and practical consequences for them. On the other hand, historical Marxism, being Communism’s ideology, is interested exclusively in the material principles of human existence, which determines both its ideal and pragmatic motivation. In this respect, patriarchal culture is the mirror image of Communism.

Second, within the frame of patriarchal culture, the way a human being relates to God’s transcendental existence has both its communal as well as strictly individual dimensions. Through religion and the institution of the church, individuals participate in a community, but also preserve their unique and separate identities. It has to be highlighted here that in patriarchal culture religion is open to comparatively isolated or closed local communities. However, it is also open to the individual to whom it addresses its spiritual and existential requirements.

Communism, on the contrary, assumes the masses to be the sole subject of history, discarding the significance of the individual. The historical process is controlled by the relationships of production in which people engage while organizing their own lives. In this case, the emphasis is on the interrelations among people, rather than on their individual or collective idiosyncrasies.

These contradictions between the peculiarities of patriarchal culture and the features of Communism rendered them incompatible during the period of Communist rule in Bulgaria after 1944. The Communist power aimed its main blow towards the Bulgarian Orthodox Church as the chief religious and spiritual institution of the patriarchal culture.

According to a 1934 census, 84.5% of the Bulgarian population was Eastern Orthodox. After 1944, following the pattern set by Moscow, the Eastern Orthodox religion in Bulgaria was preserved as the most widely spread, but by means of terror and political control it was turned into a submissive tool in the hands of the party-state. The first post-war government, working in a coalition with its Communist partners, undertook the renovation and re-organisation of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. On 21 January 1945, Sofia’s metropolitan Stefan (1878-1957) was elected Bulgarian Exarch. The Communists’ requirements were clearly formulated by the party leader Georgi Dimitrov in May 1946. All “traitors, renegades and crooks” in the Bulgarian Church had to be eliminated. Some members of the Synod who were “hard-liners with extreme right-wing views” had to learn how to read the message of the times. That was the only way that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church could become the “real republican and progressive church of the people”.

The highly educated Exarch Stefan, who had graduated from Kiev and Frieburg, was determined to defend the rights of his institution. His publications openly criticised the Communist ideology, and he issued an injunction forbidding the priests to become members of political parties. Thus, the Church and the state slowly moved to a clash.

In the end of 1947, when the Communists finally brought their plans for absolute power to fruition, the first thing they did was to quell all of the attempts of the Church for independence. Its property was confiscated, religious schools were closed, and from then on priests were to be educated only at the Seminary in the town of Plovdiv. The correspondence, the sermons and the publications of the Church were to be approved by a special censorship committee appointed by the state. Eventually, the new constitution of 4 December 1948 abolished religious instruction in primary and secondary schools and completely separated the Church from the state.

On 6 September 1948, following heated controversies; Exarch Stefan was forced to resign and was kept under arrest in the Bachkovo Monastery. On the orders of the government, he was replaced with the amenable and submissive metropolitan Mikhail. The Synod hastened to assure the Communists of its absolute loyalty. At the same time, a Union of Bulgarian Priests was founded which, true to the regime, publicly declared its devotion to the party-state. The Church allowed its priest to become active members of all Communist organisations and promised to discontinue its “religious propaganda amongst the young people”. On 1 March 1949, the National Assembly passed the so-called Bill for the Freedom of Worship, which prohibited the clergy from establishing any foreign contacts and imposed severe penalties on even the most harmless attempt to criticise the government or the Communist party. Being in a grave financial crisis, following the confiscation of its lands and the devaluation of its funds due to inflation and the monetary reform, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church found it impossible to resist the Communist regime. Later on the government renewed its limited funding, but as soon as 1950, under Prime Minister Vulko Chervenkov, those subsidies were again discontinued. The Church had to rely on the income of selling candles, which bearing in mind the hostile environment was not profitable at all.

It was as late as 1953, when Moscow announced its New Course that the condition of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church relatively improved. In May 1953, at National Council of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Sofia’s metropolitan Kiril was pronounced the first Bulgarian Patriarch since the 18th century. Kiril turned out to be a shrewd and insightful leader, but he too easily accepted the role of a government ally. The Church was spared as long as it observed the lines set by the Communist party. Church going was not officially forbidden, but it was considerably limited by threats of persecution and violence. As church marriage and Baptism were no longer judicially binding, they were gradually abandoned and declared illegal. The number of priests, 3000 in 1940, was reduced to half that number during the following three decades. In the late 60s, Bulgaria was left with only 200 monks. The numerous churches stood empty, and the monasteries were all run down with a few exceptions that were important tourist sites.

Thus, within a relatively brief period, the transcendental foundations of the Bulgarian patriarchal culture were destroyed. A large number of the population experienced a spiritual crisis. The main objective of the party-state in this operation was to turn the Bulgarian people into subservient material for the realisation of the Communist project.

The next source of authority-the local community-was the basic structural unit of the Bulgarian patriarchal culture in the mid-1940s. It was predominantly an agrarian community whose patterns of cultural regulation exhibited a high degree of structural persistence. The foundations of these patterns, as I already mentioned, were situated in the tradition of the past.

The most distinctive features of the local community were the dominating relationships of ownership. The immediate producer could access landownership either through the kinship system (the family), or through the community’s current principles of hierarchisation. Within the community itself, there existed a relatively simple and lasting division of labor. It was again structured according to established cultural patterns, customs, labor habits, behavioral stereotypes, etc.

There were three types of local communities in Bulgarian patriarchal culture. The first type referred to relationships of neighborhood. Such ties revealed the neighbors’ positive mutual experiences, which attached themselves to enduring habits and attitudes. The local community was not so much a physical space; it was more of a human space, a space of existence. The relationships of neighborhood were most typical of the Bulgarian village where people communicated directly everyday, helped each other, and shared the joys and sorrows of their lives. The status of the individual was of a paramount importance in such cases and was acknowledged by all members of the neighborhood.

The next kinds of connections that functioned in the local communities were those of fellowship. What I have in mind are the similar values, ideals, and spiritual pursuits, which people shared, and through which they felt mutual affection and solidarity.

The last type of relations was represented by the kinship system, which I prefer to discuss on its own as the third source of authority within the Bulgarian patriarchal culture.

It was typical of Bulgarian patriarchal culture in the mid-1940s, that the social order of pre-modern village life was determined by family farming. Family life and farm labor were inextricably linked. All family members were under the owner’s authority. According to this patriarchal system, not only the management of the farm, but also the distribution of roles within the family, the raising of children, and the requirements of marriage, all of these, depended on a hierarchy of age. However, the most important thing on the family farm was that members of the family fulfill their tasks. Thus, their lives, and even those of the children, were orientated mostly towards the needs of the farm.

Another important aspect of the kinship system concerned the fact that people lived on their own farm produce and on the income it brought them when sold. Therefore, the acquisition of more land was of great significance, not only to the economical expansion of the farm, but also with respect to the welfare of the forthcoming generations. Thus, a hierarchy of land ownership formed within the family, which to a large extent regulated the other aspects of its life.

The local community and the kinship system put obstacles in the way of the Communist project because of two basic reasons. First, if religion created the transcendental horizon of the patriarchal people, the local community and the kinship system laid the immediate daily foundation of their existence. It is exactly in this aspect that they checked the attempts of the Communist state to create a pseudo - utopical horizon of human existence in which the ultimate source of authority would be the ideology and the quickly expanding bureaucracy.

Second, the local community and the kinship system of the Bulgarian patriarchal culture possess their own peculiar economic structure, which, as I mentioned, was found upon the inextricable link between the people and the land they owned. This traditional economic structure created self-sufficient communities and individuals that could resist the control of the Communist state and thus put obstacles in the way of the totalitarian society of the masses. Therefore, the Communists abolished the social and economic structure of the local community and the kinship system employing two main mechanisms-the agrarian reform and the collectivization.

As early as 12 September 1946, the 26th National Assembly enacted a Bill for Farmland Ownership, which limited the farmland owned by a single family to 50 acres, and in the region of Dobrudja to 75 acres. The remainder was nationalized and was given (according to official information) to 128 000 farm workers who owned little or no farmland at all. The objective of this agrarian reform was not to solve the problem of farmland shortage, but to plot the way for the imminent collectivisation. Again, this was a double-edged process.

On the one hand, the functioning of the large farms was severely disrupted through the confiscation of vast areas of farmland, thus reducing their owners’ capacity for purely economical resistance. The ostensible purpose was to eliminate large landowners economically.

On the other hand, the landless peasants were now given land only to lose it again in the imminent process of collectivisation.

Article 11 of the new constitution, adopted on 4 December 1947, read: “The land belongs to those who cultivate it. The collective farms are encouraged and aided by the state and are under the state’s protection.” This article ensured the gradual transition from individual and collective to state ownership of land.

This process, aimed at the destruction of the economic structure of the village, had another aspect. Each peasant and farm were required to submit to the state voluntarily a considerable amount of their produce, while in the same time they could not have the remainder completely to themselves. In the following years, after submitting the required amount, families were left with nothing to eat. Paradoxically, they even had to buy additional produce in order to fulfill the state’s requirements. To spare themselves from such exploitation, some small landowners felt compelled to surrender their lands to the collective farms. Meanwhile, large landowners were overtly terrorised and coerced into joining the collectives. All these atrocities were couched in the jargon of modernisation: establishment of large cooperative farming, introduction of high-tech methods of farming, a boost to gross production, rationalization of labour organisation, liquidation of backward farming, liquidation of rural poverty, etc.

However, this was also the period of most fierce resistance to the coercive collectivisation. Protests varied from civil disobedience to armed conflicts with the regime. As a result of the resistance, by the end of 1947, only 4% of farmland were collectivised and large landowners (the so-called kulaks) preserved their major share in the farming produce.

Compelled to take reality into account, the Communist wing of the Bulgarian Worker’s Party announced at its 16th Plenum of July 1948 that the founding of collective farms would be absolutely voluntary. The same was postulated in the Charter of the Collective Farms, adopted at its Second National Conference in April 1950. Yet, it was exactly in 1949 and 1950, that these principles were severely violated in numerous cases. All this was the result of party directives. In one such directive, the then Prime Minister Vulko Chervenkov, argued that the collective farms were established upon two contradictory foundations, “upon socialism which is expanding, and upon the right of private property, which is decreasing in order to disappear altogether”. The task of all Communist leaders of those times was the complete nationalisation of land. Therefore, it was not accidental that after this massive campaign of the regime in 1952, the collectives owned more than 60% of the farmland. Actually, this was the crucial moment when the Communist government managed to cope with the peasants’ resistance. From then on each attempt to protest was silenced. In 1958 the Communist regime eventually triumphed. More than 90% of the farming lands were in the hands of the collectives. Thus, Bulgaria was the first Communist state after the Soviet Union to have its whole agriculture collectivised.

Instead of tackling the tasks of modernisation that the Communist government had undertaken, the collectivisation and the system of obligatory produce submission had the opposite effect. There was constant shortage of the bare necessities of life such as food. During the whole of the first decade after 1944, Bulgaria had to rely on the Soviet Union for free aid. The party reports for the first two five-year plans showed that the required amounts of farm produce were not achieved. Thus, for less than a decade, due to the agrarian reform and collectivisation, the traditional Bulgarian farming system was devastated. From an agrarian country, which exported farm produce before World War II, Bulgaria was turned into an industrial country with a constant shortage of food.

All this proved that the real objective of the agrarian reform and the collectivisation was not the modernisation of the farming system. Their real objective, following the Soviet pattern, was the destruction of the social and economic structure of the patriarchal culture and the attack on two of the forms of authority forming its foundations-the local community and the kinship system. This was achieved through annihilation of the traditional relations of ownership and labour, characteristic of these two types of authority.

Except for the exigences of “modernisation”, the destruction of religion, the local community and the kinship system took place due to yet another crucial reason. The Communist power was initially unable to “inscribe” the rural culture in one of the two historical and ideological perspectives that were at its disposal. These were the popular-democratic tendencies of the Bulgarian past, which from the point of view of Communism had to be remembered and enforced, and the “reactionary and bourgeois” tendencies, which had to be obliterated and forgotten. It was only later, when the rural and patriarchal world in its most traditional forms was practically destroyed through violence and terror, that the Communist party could declare its compensatory “incorporation” into the popular tendencies.



© Благовест Златанов
© Електронно издателство LiterNet, 20.09.2004
Култура и критика. Ч. IV: Идеологията: начин на употреба. Съст. Албена Вачева, Йордан Ефтимов, Георги Чобанов. Варна: LiterNet, 2004-2006.