Response to comment on the post “Cite-seeing in Edirne”

This is my response to gunes’ comment on the post “Cite-seeing in Edirne” – I’m publishing it as a separate post in the hope that it will provoke further discussion. It’s an important topic.

Hi gunes,

Thank you for reading. I’m grateful for your comment because it voices important problems, not just with the essay, but with the effects of history education on Bulgarian national identity. I was very uncomfortable writing and posting it, that’s why it waited in my folders for a whole year. It is very uncomfortable to admit that you were raised and educated so very “blind”, racist, intolerant and irrational – but unfortunately this is exactly how it is and I’m trying to come to terms with it. To answer your questions:
-yes, I, and many people I know, hold a general fear against one particular foreign and muslim country, i.e. Turkey. By extension, other muslim countries as well. I’m really not making this up, and I’m really not proud of it, either.
-the “people are nice” phrase was deliberately simple and sarcastic, it was actually a quote from what someone from my family said during that trip. Listen to the unsaid stuff in that sentence: yes, it’s hard to believe people in country X are just like you, if you’ve rarely had any contact with them, if you’ve spent (like my parents) all your life being immersed in tacit or open anti-X sentiments, everywhere you go, everything you read, anyone you speak to.

When I went to school, in the 1980s and 1990s, we were taught about the “500 years of Turkish Yoke”. My head is filled with dates, events, and names belonging to a national liberation narrative. It was terribly, terribly biased. At some point the textbooks were rewritten to say “Ottoman presence” and then “Ottoman Rule” which is a more balanced term. The thing is, it’s not even just the fault of history classes: the whole national culture is built around the notion that the Liberation (1879) was the just culmination of a 5-century-long black and white struggle between an oppressed Bulgarian “people” and a horrible empire. (do you sense the bitter irony in what i’m saying?)
The main dichotomy which is so present it’s invisible is “us” versus “them”: the nice and oppressed “us” are Bulgarian, Christian and the scary “they” are Turkish, Muslim.

I don’t know what nationality you are – but you clearly aren’t Bulgarian. You saw and voiced tacit problems, taken for granted and very difficult to even see by me or other Bulgarians. You said “administered in the same country” – this is a good way of putting it – but you’d get into a row with many otherwise smart and/or educated people, in many places in my country, if you said this aloud in a conversation. This brief note (I hesitate to call it an essay) is a very tentative attempt to at least notice and admit these things, to myself. As a sociologist who does not directly deal with issues of “race”, ethnicity and nationalism, I know too little about these topics both theoretically, and in my own life. I decided to post this unedited in the end, hoping to get some reactions, because I had written it honestly – even though I do agree that it is very unsociological. If anything, it is autoethnographic. It is far more toned down than the stuff I’ve heard in interviews and the stuff I hear every day when I talk to friends and relatives “back home” in Bulgaria. This is how we are – most of us, in general. The reason why nationalism and neonazism are taking root in Eastern Europe, and in Bulgaria in particular, is that sentiments like the ones I wrote in the essay lay unreflected.

Categories: Rethinking The World, The Idle Ethnographer

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