Europe map labeled: Bulgaria’s denial of its Ottoman past and Turkish identity

At present, when Bulgarian schoolchildren start learning about history in the fifth grade, they are handed their first school atlas of history, such as Atlas za 5 klas: Istoria ( Fifth Grade Atlas: History , Sofia: Kartografiia EOOD, 1995). The atlas’s first map depicts the “Ottoman Turks’ Conquest of Bulgaria”. Maps 2, 3 and 4 portray seemingly incessant anti-Ottoman uprisings of the “Bulgarian liberation movement” between the 15th to 17th centuries. Maps 7, 12, 13, 14 and 15 show Russians and Romanians helping or inspiring Bulgarians in their struggle for independence. The Greeks do not make to the foreground of any map, because the influence of Greek language and culture in what became Bulgaria was retroactively assessed as “anti-Bulgarian”. It is now consigned to oblivion, though through the interwar period the Greeks were presented as a more dangerous enemy of the Bulgarian nation than the Turks. Finally, Maps 16 and 17 narrate the “Bulgarian War of Liberation”, otherwise known as the Russo-Ottoman War of 1877-78. Then Modern Bulgaria was founded. The other maps (apart from those depicting the political situation in Europe, namely maps 6, 11a and 16) give a simplistic glimpse of economic and cultural life in the “Bulgarian lands” (maps 8, 9, 10 and 11b) but with a clear focus on the “revival” (or “reawakening”) of the Bulgarian nation, as achieved through education and book publishing. The concept of “Bulgarian lands” tacitly puts the Bulgarians at loggerheads with the Macedonians and Greeks because it encompasses all of present-day North Macedonia, alongside northeastern Greece. Maps of “Greater Bulgaria” are a ubiquitous political-cum-cartographic genre in its own right in contemporary Bulgaria. They feature prominently in the display windows of bookshops and press kiosks. When in mid-January 2019 I was leaving a metro station in Sofia I saw a patriot distributing free maps of Greater Bulgaria to passers-by on the 141st anniversary of the “Russian liberation of Bulgaria”. In order to prevent such explicit nationalism and the more general tacit intolerance embedded in Bulgarian society, and to then foster genuine reconciliation, school curricula need to change. The Ottoman past must be covered in depth and dispassionately, while the story of Bulgaria’s Turks, Roma and Muslims ought to be incorporated into the mainstream of Bulgarian history as imparted through the educational system.

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