Personal memory gives a meaning to one’s life and makes it longer by the acquired experience of the individual while the people’s collective memory connects numerous generations along the steps of History going up and down but always ahead to the future. History is the recorded or at least the memorized past and depending on the richness of sources it presents a bigger or a smaller part of it. When data are missing it’s just as if it has never happened. So, the memory of the past is the condition sine qua non without which there will be no History of towns and villages and states, of peoples and of mankind. Short memory is a prerequisite for counterfeiting or fictionalizing History which is contraindicative for the historical science.
History is the peoples’ DNA and makes them different. The past is inherited by each link in the generational chain. Each nation should bear something unique to differ from the others. This is its national identity, the strongest proof that mankind has many motherlands. The European Union’s motto “Unity in Diversity” expresses the will to preserve national identity in the many-faced “European family” because nations in Europe have century old history and before being Europeans they have been Bulgarians, Greeks, Germans, French, etc.
The web portal here presented to the attention of the studious users should contribute for a wider understanding of how important the memory of the Bulgarians’ history is for the shaping of their national identity. Visiting places of historical memory which makes us feel more Bulgarians has both informative and educational value. The archaeological monuments bring us among the mysteries of prehistoric times, Antiquity and Middle Ages, which are so impressive as if the stone is speaking. Olden legends become alive in scenes of old-time customs, significant feasts and original dances of the people’s genius which cannot be seen anywhere else.
The Bulgarian National Revival that took place despite the foreign domination is full of such brilliant examples of thirst for education, liberty and church independence which a few nations have the chance to be proud of. The re-established Bulgarian state in 1878 took care of keeping the cultural and historical heritage as a basis for development directed to the future. In the course of time the totalitarian regime gradually became aware of the fact that the class and party approach was not sufficient to open the floodgates of national energy through a more open-minded interpretation of History. The contemporary transition to democracy creates conditions for re-thinking History but coincides with the all- embracing globalization when the unstable nations are in danger to lose their historical memory and thus enter the list of “the disappeared” although not without a trace. The aim of our project is to prevent this from happening with us, the Bulgarians, because we have inherited too long history to afford short memory.
In the Bulgarian lands there are places where once setting foot we always come back because exactly there we “hear” the voices of our predecessors. Have a look at the frescoes of the Kazănlak Tomb and the Boyana Church, walk along the fortress walls of Pliska, Veliki Preslav or Veliko Tărnovo, look at the Madara Horseman and visit the Rila Monastery and you will probably be seized with self respect and gratitude. Lay a flower on of Vasil Levski’s place of death, climb the memorable mounts of Sveti Nikola and Okolchitsa, light a candle on the New Cemetery of Slivnitsa and the War Cemetery at Tutrakan in order to understand that you are not by accident “here and now” on this stormy geopolitical crossroad.
There are events in Bulgarian history whose echo from the centuries does not leave indifferent any Bulgarian in present days. We listen to the legends about Orpheus, we roam in the footsteps of Asparuch who established one more Bulgarian state, the longest existing one and stand in admiration before the Golden Age of Simeon the Great. When enemy forces come into view we use to sing heroic songs about Tsar Ivan Shishman and Krali Marko, we tell stories about the unseen feats of people’s defenders and “seek for the spirit” of Stefan Karadja. In order to honor all known or unknown heroes a Day has been chosen to commemorate those who had fallen victims to the freedom of Bulgaria the development of which has been abundantly blood-soaked. On anniversaries of historical events we pay tribute to the deeds of our ancestors trying to be their worthy successors.
There are seemingly insignificant things that distinguish us as Bulgarians: when we decorate ourselves with “martenitsa” for the first day of spring or swing on St. George’s Day. Sometimes we confusingly nod our heads for “no” and shake them for “yes” opposite to the others. How many are the peoples who “reverse the national flag at war” and march along the sea shore singing the song of “High Blue Mountains”? There are some who would like to wipe out these national peculiarities but this will make the European culture poorer because the individuals and the peoples should differ from one another. For whom is the Cyrillic alphabet a hindrance in the Information Era? Not for the universal computers, in any case, but for the “universal men” who define themselves as “citizens of the world” and do not want to be themselves.
It is not the fading but the selectivity of recollections that is more dangerous for the memory. The history of every nation has its peaks and its falls the latter also called “dark ages”. We, Bulgarians, forget neither the blinded soldiers of Tsar Samuil nor the “three chains of slaves” and the ash-heaps of the uprisings and wars. The recommendation to tear out the “bad pages” of History just returns us to the once well-known thesis of the “convenient” and “inconvenient” truth. Everyday life cannot replace the events, it can only add to them.
Oblivion is the rust of History. The experience of generations on end is an inseparable part of the national identity and it is neither possible nor reasonable to stick to the healthy common sense rule “Let us remember only the good”. History is what has happened and not what it would be expedient to write about. Each of us is more or less burdened with past, so are the peoples. Someone might feel better if part of historical memory is intentionally wiped out but this will not change History “post factum”. Unfortunately, Europe is covered with both wheat fields and battle-fields and here are the biggest war cemeteries in world history.
Every person as well as every nation should preserve their identity. The history of the European Union can not “make a clean break” because it is a compound of many preceding histories without which it can not go on. The equalization of the quality of life by improving and standardizing living conditions does not level the cultural heritage or smooth out the peculiarities in the historical development of the European peoples. National historiographies as well as nations themselves have different perceptions of the European history. It is not only a matter of ethnology, folklore or cuisine but of self-positioning in the world history. Sometimes the interpretations of one and the same event differ so much that one wonders whether the events are at least two.
The Bulgarian lands hide in their bowels the numerous treasures of seven civilizations many of which are discovered and exposed in museums. Folklore costumes shine with all the colors of nature while the fire dancing – the so-called “walking on coals with bare feet “ (nestinarstvo) - is recognized by UNESCO as an ancient Bulgarian ritual included in the World Heritage List. Mummer processions chase the evil spirits from houses and yards in expectation of the “White Swallow” symbolizing salvation. Monasteries keep manuscripts and old printed books in which the marginal notes usually start with “We wrote for the people to know and remember the Bulgarian…”. The appeal of the National Revival schools “Help me to uplift you” and the mass celebrations of the Thessaloniki Brothers – equal to the Apostles Sts Cyril and Methodius declared co-patrons of Europe express the never-ending thirst for knowledge and spiritual enlightenment. From the tasty yogurt to the freely flowing song “Izlel e Delio haidutin” which resounds in the outer space, the name of Bulgaria is a sacred “trade mark”.
The introductory question – “Tell me what your past is to tell you what you are” – refers also to every nation with significant history. Peoples whose fate is full of tragic misadventures behave differently in comparison to those whose fate was luckier. The cultural and historical heritage of the Bulgarians outlines them brightly enough to let them cry out before the civilized world: “Here we are and accept us the way we are!” History makes the Bulgarians discernable because it has remembered them so that no one else can resemble them.
This web portal comes in time and is quite necessary now when national, European and cultural identity are among the most often discussed topics of the day. History could help us to have our own Bulgarian dream: “To live like Europeans in Bulgaria and to be Bulgarians in Europe!” “The Teacher of life” gives us the key to this life-saving combination with which the deep roots of the century old past do not hamper the wings to spread for a flight to the European future.
Have a nice trip!
Academician Georgi Markov,