Bulgarians and Greeks: Elements of Their Mutual Optics in the 20th C

Bulgarians and Greeks: Elements of Their Mutual Optics in the 20th C

Sanya Velkova

The study of the image of the neighbour on the Balkans is a temptation and object of work for many humanitarian scholars. To claim exhaustiveness, however, would be outdone, despite the persistence of some specialists. That is why, and also in order to avoid the delusive impression of "roundedness" of the subject, I present my observations on the Bulgarians' and Greeks' ideas of each other over a comparatively long period of time, deliberately preserving the formal fragmentariness of the expose.

I have tried to set forth my conclusions from the analysis of Bulgarian and Greek sources similar or identical in form, to delineate the common and distinctive points in the set of ideas that constitute the image of the Greek and the Bulgarian, respectively. Ultimately, we may conclude that these images were built up, reproduced and established nearly always on the basis of the existing and past contradictions and conflicts, and are very rarely the result of rationalization of the "closeness" of the two peoples. Even when the positive attitudes and the understanding of the need for "cleaning out" the negative stereotypes prevail, the shadow of the past is invariably there, tingeing the good intentions in a way that at best turns the extreme negative assessments neutral.

The article juxtaposes the characteristics of the Bulgarians in Greek sources from the early and the late twentieth century. Elements of this national image are compared with the analogous image of Greeks in Bulgarian literature.

This comparison in chronological and geographical terms brings out two interesting trends: attitudes and stands from 70-100 years ago, related to the strong tension among the Balkan countries around the period of the wars (1912-1922), appear in scientific (popular science) publications of 1999-2000 addressed to a relatively broad reading public. It is also interesting that in the last 5-6 years in Bulgaria and Greece efforts are made (successful at that) to "clean" the school literature from any negative references to the neighbour and in this way overcome the negative stereotypes in the collective consciousness placing "the neighbour" in the field of "the enemy".

The article has two accents, placed on the analysis of diverse sources from the early 20th C, and on newly published articles in the Bulgarian and Greek periodicals (2000). The latter are of interest because they elucidate, from the viewpoint of the present day and in its development, the issue of the relative invariability of the features of the "Balkan neighbour", inspecting this image from a comparatively great chronological distance.

Use was made of conclusions in studies of the image of "the other" ("the neighbour") in Bulgaria and Greece based on various sources: scientific, scientific-propaganda and epistolary literature, travel notes, fiction, as well as history textbooks for 5th-8th grade in the two countries.