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    Why we embellish our history

    Ivaylo Ditchev


    Bulgarians are awfully quick to take offense, said Ivaylo Ditchev. The nation had a communal hissy fit recently after Russian President Vladimir Putin, seeking to butter up the visiting Macedonian president, referred to the Cyrillic alphabet as having been created “on Macedonian soil.” Outraged nationalists took to the internet to decry this misreading of history, insisting that Saints Cyril and Methodius, the 9th-century brothers who created the script, were Bulgarians and that Macedonia was at the time part of Bulgaria. Isn’t the truth enough for us? “Every schoolchild knows” that the kingdom of Bulgaria was the first country to admit the saints’ disciples and translate Christian works into a Slavic language, paving the way for the Christianization of the Slavic world. But nationalists aren’t content with that: They want the holy brothers to be ethnic Bulgarians, so they insist, on no evidence, that their mother must have been one. As for their claim that the Macedonians are really Bulgarians anyway, well, the people in the area during those times were in fact an ethnic mishmash. So please, “let’s not return to the idiotic revisionism of Communist-era history books” and “build our national identity on fables.” Bulgaria deserves better.

    Original in Bulgarian language essay herehttp://www.dnevnik.bg/analizi/2017/05/25/2977247_i_nii_sme_dali/

    About Ivaylo Ditchev:

    Ivaylo Ditchev (Bulgarian: Ивайло Дичев) is professor of cultural anthropology at Sofia University, Bulgaria. He has been teaching abroad, mainly in France and the USA.

    He has a PhD from Sofia and Paris-7 universities, began as assistant in aesthetics, then after 1989 became interested in social science focusing on political culture, urban anthropology, and Balkan identity. His latest research interests are citizenship, migration, and the anthropology of space.

    Ivaylo Ditchev is also an active columnist in Bulgaria and Germany, author of books of essays and fiction. He was awarded the Essay prizes: « Panitza » 1999; « Chernorizetz Hrabar » 2002, “Dimitar Peshev” – 2005. .



    Well, those who insist that the Solun brothers are half-Bulgarian on their mother’s side don’t really do it based on no evidence at all – the Short Life of St. Cyril claims their mother Maria was a Bulgarian Slav, while the Life of Methodius claims the two brothers were Bulgarian by kin and by birth. It’s another question that these lives (vitae in Latin) were written during the 12th-13th century, i.e. they’re from a later time when the cult of the Sv. Sedmochislenitsi (Cyril and Methodius and their main five disciples) had already established them firmly as Bulgarian saints. The early lives of the saints don’t speak at all about their ethnic origins, only that they’re from Thessaloniki and their father was the droungarios Leo.

    Another argument that some people use is a fragment from one speech of St. Cyril during his mission to the Khazars, where he mentions that he had a grandfather (or ancestor) who stood close to the tsar/emperor, but was exiled to a foreign land where he was impoverished and gave birth to him. The interpretation (mostly coming from Bozhidar Dimitrov, whose level of historical argumentation is on the same level as that of his Macedonist opponents, i.e. it’s highly “patriotic” and totally absurd) is that Cyril and Methodius’ grandfather was a member of the Bulgarian court (since the only two empires here in those times were Byzantium and Bulgaria, and it can’t be Byzantium because that would be the “foreign land” where he was exiled), who fled to Byzantium, like many other known cases of previous Bulgarian rulers and nobles (especially if they converted to Christianity). Of course, that’s a very weak argument, which has been rejected by the serious historians here long, long ago, namely because of the context of St. Cyril’s speech, where it becomes pretty clear the ancestor he’s speaking of is Adam and the whole exile story is a metaphor for the Fall of mankind. This is pretty obvious to anyone familiar with the Biblical context, the religious spirit of the age and particularly of St. Cyril and his mission (to convert the Khazars to Christianity, while arguing with the Jewish scholars and the Saracens) and the quote itself:
    “I had a grandfather, very great and rich, who stood close to the emperor. But when he, by his own will, rejected the great honour that was given to him, he was banished and went to a foreign land, he became impoverished and gave birth to me there. I sought [to reclaim] my ancestor’s former honour, but I couldn’t achieve it, as I’m Adam’s grandson.”

    Of course, that whole Bulgarian reaction to Putin’s remark was very silly and clearly exaggerated, since Putin spoke about “the Slavic writing/alphabet”, which came from “Macedonian soil”, with both claims being very carefully chosen and essentially correct. Now, if he had said “the Cyrillic script” instead of “Slavic writing”, he would have been wrong, since the Cyrillic alphabet was created in the Pliska-Preslav literary school in Eastern Bulgaria (and it reached Kievan Rus’ exactly from the same Eastern Bulgarian lands, when they had already been conquered by the Byzantines, with Basil II sending a mission headed by the metropolitan bishop Mihail and many other clergymen from Preslav). But while the Cyrillic alphabet is the only one in that tradition that is currently being used (including in Russia), the breakthrough itself, the very creation (and more importantly – consecration) of a Slavic script was done by Sts. Cyril and Methodius, which is why they’re venerated by nearly all Slavic nations today (and were made co-patrons of Europe by Pope John Paul II).
    As for their ethnic origins – they might have been half-Slavic and half-Greek or they might have been fully Greek or even something else. That’s clearly irrelevant though, since they were clearly first and foremost Christians in identity and after that they were Byzantines/Romans (which is not an ethnic term, btw).

    P.S. There isn’t a single nation which doesn’t embellish its history. Especially here on the Balkans…

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