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Old 09-03-2008, 07:01 PM   #1
Petros Houhoulis
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Default NATIONALISM AND THE MIDDLE AGES: The Myth of Creation of Slavic-Bulgarian Nation...

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by Stojko Stojkov, MA

NATIONALISM AND THE MIDDLE AGES: The Myth of Creation of Slavic-Bulgarian Nation in 9th-10th Century

The theme of this article is part of the broader issue about the influence of the modern time in the interpretation of the past. The nationalistic ideology[1] was dominant for a long time, and even today it has strong positions in the Balkan historiography. The misuse of history has been a key element in the creation of national myths, and through them in the modeling of the national consciousness. Developing in the national states, the historiography often was made to be a maid of the national doctrine. The consequences are huge in all areas of the historiography, but are especially hard in the research of those historical periods, in which there was no nationalism. We would not be wrong if we say that big part of the disputed and unsolved questions in the Balkan historiography are such, due to the insisting to “lay down” the history in appropriate Procrustean national bed at any cost.

All those who have studied the medieval Balkan history know how difficult it is to divide the history into Macedonian, Bulgarian, Serbian etc. It is due not only to the mixing of the traditions and influences. The Balkan historiography in a great part, are established as histories of nations[2], which fight “for freedom and national state”[3], and the medieval states on the Balkan are treated as ethnic. Nothing would have been wrong if the states on the Balkan in the Middle Ages were ethnic states and if the contemporary nations existed as nations at that time. That is the problem.

The specific object for observation in this short article is only one of the many national myths. It has been selected because of the current preoccupation of the author, as well as because of its “scientific”, namely that is a myth, which at the moment continues to dominate in the science.

The theory on creation of the Slavic-Bulgarian ethnos in the early Middle Ages was developed during the 19th century as a result of the confrontation between the pan-Slavic interpretation of the history (and of the ambitions on the new young Bulgarian nation and ideology) - with the scientific findings that the creator of the Bulgarian medieval state is one Turkish nation. The formula for overcoming of the apparent contradiction between the Turkish belonging of the Bulgarian ethnos versus the Slavic character of it was presented for the first time by Shavric, based on the analogy for the fate of the Russians - Varyagi: the proto-Bulgarians were a minority and almost melted in the Slavic mass, giving them their name. That solution was acceptable for all sides involved. Further, the key role was played by the Bulgarian scholars, who developed in detail and found arguments for the theory[4].

From the very beginning, the problem has not been scientifically presented and analyzed. Instead of researches of the fate of the Turkish Bulgarians and of their possible successors, the researches attempted to answer the question “how the Turkish-Bulgarian ethnos turned into the Slavic-Bulgarian ethnos”, and without proving the connection between them, it has been accepted as a fact and as axiom basis for future researches.

The reasons to check the thesis for the connection between them were more than justified, because except for the name and the wish the young nation did not have anything behind. Even the territory does not match. The Bulgarians settled in Dobrudza and in the part of Misia, where at the beginning of the 19th century there was no Slavic population, but Turkish Islamic and Turkish Christian population[5].

From the notion that the Bulgarian nation is a successor to the medieval Bulgarian state and ethnic entity, logically the other segments of the theory are derived. The Bulgarians should have melted in the Slavs and became the Slavic-Bulgarian ethnos. For that to have happened, the Bulgarians should have been in a small number, and to have settled mixing with the Slavs, so that there had been a physical possibility for mixed marriages. Furthermore, the question as to when and how that happened, arises. To support the Bulgarian nation in owning that period from the history of the Bulgarian Khan, for which it could not be confirmed whether there was a Slavic-Bulgarian nation, exist many, persistently defended, but otherwise absurd, thesis, about the Slavic-Bulgarian character of the state from the moment of its establishment[6]. Several other explanations needed to justify the Bulgarian national propaganda in the 19th-20th century have been scientifically investigated, such as the explanation of the Bulgarian Khan-protector of the Slavic independence on the Balkan, the assertion of the Bulgarian Khans to “unite” the Slavs from the “Bulgarian group”[7] and of the respective Slavs to unite with Bulgaria “their natural and ethnic center”[8].

None of the abovementioned claims is based on direct original data; on the contrary, they contradict very much with the sources and the spirit of the time. The number of the Bulgarians was not small, as it is seen from the big raid organized and led by the Byzantine Emperor against them. The occupation of the Slavs, undoubtedly speaks that the Bulgarians were more numerous [9]. The state from 681 until 972 has been exclusively called Bulgaria, and its rulers Bulgarians. There is no example of neither a Slav as a Bulgarian appointee, nor of a Slav as a candidate for the throne.

What is of key importance in this case is that there is no confirmation for the sources for none of the key moments of the theory. There is no original fact about the melting of the Bulgarians with the Slavs, about the appearance of a new Slavic-Bulgarian ethnos. It is improbable that such process would have stayed completely aside from the attention of the medieval authors, especially when in parallel with Danube Bulgaria there was Turkish Bulgaria on Volga - the difference between the two should have caught someone’s attention. But in the Byzantine, Latin, Arabic, and Jewish sources from the 10th century, the Danube Bulgarians are correctly marked as Turkish ethnos, which lived in Dobrudza, and had its own (non-Slavic) language and clothing[10].

There are no examples of the Slavic-Bulgarian ethnic self-conciseness in the sources[11]. The sources clearly refer to the parallel existence of the Slavic and Bulgarian self-consciousness in Bulgaria in the 10th century[12]. The Slavs called themselves Slavs, their language was called Slavic and they considered themselves as part of the united Slavic nation. In parallel with that, in the small number of preserved Bulgarian texts, the Bulgarian ethnic self-consciousness is being expressed clear enough[13]. It is symptomatic that in the only Slavic text which talks about the relation Slavs - Bulgarians, the latest are called “tyrans of the Slavs”, and in the unique Bulgarian text in which Slavs are mentioned, they are included among the Bulgarian enemies[14].

The Bulgarians in the Northeast Bulgaria have not disappeared despite of the attacks from their relatives Turkish nations (Pechenegs, Uzes, Kumans). In any case, in the short Biography of the Cyril, and the lost Biography of Methodius (13th century), the Bulgarians and Slavs are clearly separated, and in the Biography of Isaya (12th century) the Turkish origin of the Bulgarian people is clearly emphasized[15]. At the beginning of the 19th century Northeast Bulgaria and Dobrudza were populated with Turkish Muslim and Turkish Christian population[16], large part of which is with a Bulgarian ethnic self-consciousness. The Slavic population settled in this region during the 19th-20th century. There is not a more serious way to explain the origin of that population except to see in them the ancestors of the Asparuch Bulgarians, for which there are numerous proofs[17].

The Inscription of Jovan Vladislav[18] from 1015 is unjustifiably taken as an argument for the existence of the Slavic-Bulgarian ethnic self-consciousness at the beginning of the 11th century. The title “self-holder Bulgarian” and the referring to the citizens as “Bulgarians” expresses the very well known fact [19] of taking over of the Bulgarian state tradition by the Komitopouli, and not of the ethnic self-consciousness of the ruler, or the population. The phrase “Bulgarian by birth” which is taken as a main argument, do not have the substance given to them. The word “by birth” in the Slavic languages shows the origin (geographical, ethnic, confessional, religious[20]), whose character depends on the accompanying noun. The term “Bulgarian” also has more then one meaning: state and ethnic. The possibility that in some cases it denotes the state is quite acceptable[21]. But even when it is accepted that the content is ethnic it can not be concluded that it is Slavic-Bulgarian, and not the original Bulgarian people. As for the origin of the Komitopouli, it is known that they are partly from Armenian origin[22] (which is in line with the explanation of the words in a sense of state residence), and the high position Komes, held by Nikola the founder of the kin, at the time of the Tzar Petar could be a result of his (Turkish) Bulgarian origin[23].

The thinking that the Slav-Bulgarian nation was created in the 10th century is supported by the argument and by using the term Bulgarians in the following centuries in the Byzantine and Western sources for the population of the former Bulgarian territories, including the Slavs. However, this finding is wrong. In the Byzantine and Western sources from the 11th-12th century, the term “Bulgarians” is not used neither for the territories in Thrace and Misia, nor for the north of Danube; where Bulgarian is called the population on the theme Bulgaria, or wider of the Ohrid Archbishopric, called in the sources as Bulgarian[24],

In fact, the Slavic sources from 9th-10th century demonstrate strong and clear Slavic ethnic self-consciousness, while the consciousness about the existence of several Slavic nations could not be noticed - “Slavic Ethnic entity is the only one”[25]. As a result we could not speak about the existence of Slavic-Bulgarian ethnic entity in that period, but neither in general about separate Slavic ethnic entities. The breakup of the Slavic ethnic entity is a long lasting process, while the contemporary South Slav nations are differentiated on a political and religious basis, and not on an ethnic basis[26].

The theory about the creation of the Slavic-Bulgarian ethnic entity in the 9th-10th century is a classic national myth, circulus vitiosus[27] launched in the scientific form. Unfortunately, if one strives for objectivity, one has to conclude that the ethnic problems on the Balkan, are poorly investigated. The ethno-genetic processes are studied from national(istic) and not from scientific position. Their scientific investigation is probably left for the future.



[1] About the influence of the nationalistic ideology see: E. Hobsbaum, Nations and Nationalism, Skopje 1992: B. Anderson, Imagined Communities, Skopje, 1998: E. Gelner, Nations and Nationalism, Skopje, 2001.

[2] Here, under the term “ethnic entity” we understand bigger community with self-consciousness for its existence as a separate nation, with a different from the rest of the nations, origin of blood, language, culture and name.

[3] We are referring to the title of the Anthology: Documents on the Fight of the Macedonian People for Freedom and National State, Skopje 1985, which includes documents from 6th to 20th century.

[4] V. Zlatarski, The History of the Bulgarian State in the Middle Ages, 1994, book 1 1,2; D. Angelov, Creation of the Bulgarian Nationality, Sofia, 1971. This problem has been reviewed mainly by the Bulgarian historians whose national temptation in this concrete example is understandably especially strong. The small number of non-Bulgarian historians, who dealt with some of the aspects of that question, are mainly of Slavic origin (mainly Russians) and as such they are subject to the influence of the pan-Slavism. There is no any Western European, or other non-Slavic historian who has dealt specifically with the Bulgarian ethno-genesis in the Middle Ages. The majority of the historians, who in some way have reviewed in their works parts of the Bulgarian history, have done that indirectly, in addition to their main issue and normally they have accepted the dominant attitudes in the specific area. But, there is surprisingly small number of works which review the whole Bulgarian ethno-genesis. Despite of the situation, there are significant number of scholars who did not accepted the theory, among them especially important are: K. Shkorpil: (Materials for analyzing the fate of the Proto-Bulgarians and Severs and for analysis of the “The Origin of the Contemporary Bulgarians”, BS, book 5, Prague, 1933-1934; S. Dimitrov ("Establishment of the Medieval Bulgarian Nation in the Light of Some Apocrypha of Ours", Historical Review, L-LI, book 5, 1994-1995) and two narrow specialists on this question, and D. Tashkovski, (op.cit.).

[5] S. Dimitrov, History of Dobrudza, book III, Sofia, 1988, BAN, p.1-6.

[6] V. Zlatarski, History..., p 143-145; P.Mutafciev, History of the Bulgarian People, BAN, Sofia, 1992, p.84-86. The establishment of the state is treated as a voluntary alliance of the victors and the conquered within a marriage of interest but not of love. The nationalistic classics is the claim that during the establishment of the state, the Bulgarians and Slavs “met each other as old friends” (Mutafciev, op.cit. p.84, 85).

[7] The term refers to the Slavs in Misia, Thrace, Macedonia, Albania and bigger part of the modern Serbia. It is noticeable that the apparent claim of the Bulgarian Khans of the same territories adopted by the Bulgarian nationalism!

[8] D. Angelov, Byzantium, Sofia, 1992, s. 122.

[9] Nikephori Arhiepiscopi Constantinopolitani,, ed. Carolus de Boor, Lipisiae, 1880, 35; Theophanes, Chronographia, ed. Carolus de Boor, vol. I, Lipsiae, 1883, p. 359,12-15; Anastasii Bibliotecari, Chronographia tripertita, ed. de Carolus Boor, vol. II, Lipsiae, 1885, 227, 15-16.

[10] In the middle and the second half of the 10th century for the Turkish origin of the Bulgarians write: Iosephi Genesii, Regum quatuor, Berolini, 1977, p. 61, 92-94; Deacon Leon (Greek Sources of the Bulgarian History (hereafter GSBH), V, Sofia, 1964, p. 252), Chronicle of Monemvasia (GSBH VI, p. 66), at Al Masudi (Rayna Zaimova, Arabic Sources about Bulgarians, Sofia, 2000, p.35-37, 49) in the letter of the Hazar Khagan to the Rabbi Hasaday in the medieval Jewish Encyclopedia Sepher Josephon (V. Gjuzelev, Medieval Bulgaria in the Light of the New Sources, Sofia, 1981, p.123, 126). The existing separate Bulgarian (Non-Slavic) language and clothing is noticed from several sources: The Miracle of St. Georgi (GSBH V, p.35), Theophane Continuator (GSBH V, p.135), Suidas (GSBH V, p. 310, 311), Nicephori, p. 34, Biography of Evarest (GSBH IV, p.316), Ibn Haukal (R. Zaimova, op.cit. 75, 76). Luitprand in the sixties of the X century found out that the Bulgarians and Hungarians have same hair cut (Latin Sources for the Bulgarian History, Sofia, 1960, book II, p. 326).

[11] The Biography of St. Clement written by Theophilact of Ohrid, there is confusion of the ethnonyms Bulgarians and Slavs. It presents the Byzantine ethnic terminology in the second half of the 11th century, different from the Slavic from the 10th century, which is easily noticed when the Slavic and Byzantine sources from 10th-11th century are compared.

[12] The Slavic self-consciousness is expressed in all important Slavic texts from this period, such as the Praise for St. Cyril the Philosopher (Clement of Ohrid, Anthology of Texts, I, Sofia, 1977. p. 426-439) and the general Praise for Cyril and Methodius (ibid. 468), the Comprehensive biographies of Cyril and Methodius (Clement of Ohrid..., III, p. 104-108, 188-192); Proclamation to the Gospel from Constantin Prezviter (J. Ivanov, Bulgarian Antiques in Macedonia, Sofia, 1972, p. 339-341); For the letters from Crnorizec Hrabar (Ibidem, p. 442-446), The Old Biography of St. Naum (ibid. p. 307) etc.

[13] The most important is the text The Miracle of St. Georgi, the Bulgarian, in which the main hero, resident of the Northeast Bulgaria, (i.e.on the Bulgarian ethnic area), claims that he is a member of the “newly educated Bulgarian nation “ (D. Angelov, Education..., p. 295).

[14] History of Ancient Time , ANSSSR, Moscow - Leningrad, 1950, p.14, V. Beshevliev, Early Bulgarian Texts, Sofia, BAN, 1979, p. 201.

[15] J. Ivanov, Bogumil Books and Legends, Sofia, 1970, p. 281; same, Antiques..., p. 284-288.

[16] S. Dimitrov, History of Dobrudza, book III, p. 6.

[17] K. Shkorpil, op.cit 177, 178, they called themselves Bulgarians and were considered as ancestors of the Turkish Bulgarian from the Middle Ages, also recorded are their historical legends, such as the one for the existence of two Bulgarian capitals, something which the historical science at the and of the 19th century was not able to foresee.

[18] J. Zaimov, Bitola Inscription of Ivan Vladislav Bulgarian, S. 1971, p. 14.

[19] G. Ostrogorski, History of Byzantine Empire, Skopje, 1992, c. 361.

[20] Many parallel in that relation could be found in Byzantium, for Romei, Macedonians, Thracians etc. by birth (for example Skilica Kedrin, GSBH VI, 237, :Romeian by birth). Pagans by birth are mentioned in the Biography of St. Gabriel of Lesnovo (J. Ivanov, Antiques...399), and in the anthology, God Jesus Christ I Called (D. Angelov, Bulgarian Middle Ages - Ideology of Thought and Education, Sofia, 1982, p. 80). And today in the Macedonian, Bulgarian and Serbian language the term “by birth” is used with geographical destinations.

[21] Samuil state is a multiethnic kingdom and not an ethnic state.

[22] According to the Samuil inscription the name of the grandmother of Jovan Vladislav is Ripsime, characteristic Armenian name, and according to the Asohig, his father Aron is also Armenian (S. Pirivatric, Samuil State, Belgrade, 1997, p. 64-67).

[23] The high-ranking positions in the Bulgarian kingdom, as far as it is known, were held by the ethnic Bulgarians; but also it is possible that Nikola received his high position because of the queen Maria, Armenian, i.e. because of his Armenian origin. About the double meaning of the term “Bulgarian” speaks also the unusual emphasis of the word “by birth”, which logically means existence of Bulgarians which are not “by birth”, those through whom Jovan Vladislav is separated from the “Bulgarians” for which he builds the citadel.

[24] The list of the sources would have been very long. As major the following could be mentioned Skilica, Kekavmen, correspondence of Theophilact of Ohrid, Zonara, sources for the crossing of the Crusades through the Balkan etc.

[25] History of Ancient Times, ANSSSR, Moscow-Leningrad, 1950. p.23.

[26] If we could say so, in the Middle Ages the Serbs were called Mountain Croats, and the Croats were called Sea Serbs (according to the classification of the Priest Dukljanin), while in the 19th century the Croat nation was formed by the Serbs Catholics, and the Serb - Orthodox Croats. Those who were not neither Orthodox not catholic, in the 20th century separated into a separate Muslim (Bosnian) nation. The national division between the Serbs and Bulgarians was political. In the territories that were permanently given to the Serb state, there was no Bulgarian self-consciousness, as well as the territories which entered permanently in the borders of Bulgarian 1878 there is no Serb self-consciousness, no matter that the people from both sides of the Serb-Bulgarian border without any doubt belong to the same ethnic entity. Mixed self-consciousness exists only in the territories which until 1919 represent the Bulgarian territory and later entered within Serbia. In the same way the division between the Macedonian and the two neighboring Slavic nations was made on a political (decisive was the border from 1878 when Macedonia remained to be a part of the Ottoman Empire, and the role of the state factor was apparently played by the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization) and geographic basis.

[27] The assumption that today’s Bulgarians are successors of those from the Middle Ages is used as a main proof for the dissolution of the Bulgarians into the Slavs and the creation of the Bulgarian-Slav ethnic entity, which is again used as a proof that today’s’ Bulgarian nation is a successor to the Turkish Bulgarian ethnic entity.

© Hi-story magazine, issue 1, June 2003
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