Ivo Berov: Were you surprised in some way by the confessions of people in the book "History Populated by People"? Did you learn something from them? What was it?
Vera Mutafchieva: I was surprised and at the same time not quite. I belong to the generation that lived in the second half of the ХХ century and have a clear memory of life then. The surprise came from the possibility and willingness of an interviewee to participate candidly or with certain inhibitions. That is where the success or the hazy unpersuasiveness lay, the subterfuge in the texts. We did not try to question them or challenge them – the principle was to let each one say what they thought was clever and useful! Because truth, self-delusion, let alone deliberate distortion betray themselves quite clearly.
There were some interesting cases: interviewees who during the first, oral interview spoke spontaneously, from the heart. And then after a week or two they wanted back the transcribed text and in exchange submit something totally different. In the past we called that self-censure. It appeared again (luckily not very often) during our work on the second volume in the period after election political changes, i.e. at the time of the three party coalition government, who were you going to please first?
Although we felt regret that the first-born warm interviews were filtered, we did not object to the new versions. The reasons for that deed were understandable. Our consolation was the fact that more years are needed for Fear to vanish completely, pray to God!
Ivo Berov: All who retell their lives in the book state that they have achieved success and are proud of themselves. One cannot help but assume that we lived in a prosperous country with a successful regime. This regime, however, failed. How does this feeling of personal worthiness and general failure and humiliation come about?
Vera Mutafchieva: I don’t see a contradiction here. Isn’t it so that when a public reality "lets us down and humiliates" us, according to your definition, we are left with the compensation, that in spite of it, the individual can display and make use of his or her potential to feed one’s children or oneself even. I remember when I was young I did not believe that I could achieve that. How can I not feel successful when I managed to raise two children and take care of my mother with her pension of 31 leva? That is where the answer to your question lies: we had limited our expectations to the level of surviving. As it turned out, later on we made progress and hence the feeling of astonishment and pride.
The total failure of the system was engendered not by the social activities against it (however much dissidents would like it to be), it was rather brought about organically – fabricated constructs in history do not last.
Ivo Berov: If in a century’s time historians could ask you where to obtain the most reliable sources for our time what would you advise them?
Vera Mutafchieva: Lately, information does not flow, but pours, so our future colleagues’ job is an unenviable one – they will have a hard time selecting facts and documents, unveiling manipulations, falsifications and other motley, with which we are swamped now. As for me, I have to admit I have a simple method: I don’t believe! Every document is engineered by man, sometimes it is more illusory that fiction. As a rule documents lend themselves to easy manipulation, suppression or destruction, subordinate to someone’s interests. If you try to derive the common multiplier for a number of attestations, the task becomes entirely absurd because of their incredible volume. That is why I do not like the attempts to present shocking disclosures and the information that files and ‘secret’ correspondence hold. If they had lay unknown until last night, what prevents them from being manufactured yesterday?
Do you realize for how long in ancient, medieval annals, chronicles, correspondence among rulers, autobiographies and eulogies, and more so in modern times, scholars have been detecting falsifications. In any case their number far exceeds the so-called ‘truth’. Everyone who has delved into verifying the information has the power to pick the version that suits them. Each one of us makes their own choices - I have witnessed this innumerable times in dialogues with informed readers. But to argue with them is pointless. They believe they are right! – which is the final argument.
Ivo Berov: Why didn’t Bulgarians feel exhilarated and elated when we joined the EU?
Vera Mutafchieva: Probably because we were tired of expectations. And thank God!
I hope Bulgarian voters cease to rely on help from without – there is no such thing and never has been. We are faced with another transition yet again – from our childhood on we have weathered a multitude of transitions and changes. I wonder if we mature enough to accept that there is no free lunch, that it is all up to us, or whether we will once again cry against our own self-deception and drown in self-pity.
As a historian I hold the view that those European nations who are prosperous, are the ones with the most tumultuous and difficult history, including geography. Our natural placidity has not forced us to exert pressure on our way of life and our thinking. Even the Bulgarian version of socialism did not manage to tire us as it did in other societies. And because in Bulgaria we study mainly own history, accompanied with pity and many centuries of affliction, we genuinely believe that to other Europeans fate has been favorable, while disastrous for Bulgarians.
I have to admit that the opposite holds true: prosperity in Europe is the result of suffering, which we haven’t experienced. First because of the fortune of having good climate and soil, sparse population and hard to access mountain ranges.
I can go on with the list but I’ll stop here with the general conclusion: each has the life for which he has paid for in centuries past.
Ivo Berov: Bulgarians seem to fear they might lose their identity, characteristic features, and idiosyncrasy in the accession to Europe. Which do you think these idiosyncrasies are? Are they really under threat? Do we possess characteristics which are better lost?
Vera Mutafchieva: The idea that our national identity is threatened is ludicrous. How can it be threatened today if we do not consent? How can our children be forced to forget their native tongue, history, literature? If youngsters would desire that, then there is a real danger. But isn’t carelessness towards our national traditions a matter mainly for parents, teachers, the clergy, creative artists? And do we imagine that young people in Europe today greedily adhere to the values established through the centuries in other European Union nations? If the young generation loses one thing in order to gain another, do we have the right to stop it? Adults in Bulgaria should not embark on pessimistic forecasts regarding the future of their children. "You’re going to come to nothing!" – predicted my mother, witnessing my intellectual meandering and ups and downs in my career development. It seems I did come to something.
Ivo Berov: What do you think of the desire to single out the greatest Bulgarians of all times? Is there logic in that? Is there any credibility in putting people into lists according to their ‘greatness’? Is this a fallacy? Which Bulgarians in your opinion are undeservedly forgotten by our society?
Vera Mutafchieva: Please let us not tread in cheapness. What is wrong with the fact that a sociological survey was carried out, which outlined the values in our contemporary society? We compiled a real picture of it, is that not enough? It gives us a reference point how, why and who we live with. How would we know otherwise? Why should your or my opinion be more valid that that of other Bulgarians? That’s normal. Whatever you do, you won’t change that – not everything depends on the will of those who think they are right.
Ivo Berov: You have observed the behaviour and the characteristics of three generations. Can you single out their differences if any? How can you generalize their values and beliefs? According to you, what are the characteristics of the present generation?
Vera Mutafchieva: You are not quite right, now I have observations on a fifth generation – my granddaughter. My observations on the fifth generation confirm the theory of the Russian literary theorist, the ethnic Bulgarian Prof. Gachev in relation to our ‘late accelerated development’ from the 19th century onwards. It appears true but not comforting: the stability of uniform acceleration in history has another explanation. With us, however, after a period of long lagging behind, it suddenly dawns that there is something to make up for and we rush to search for it. Everyone can delineate the characteristics of the generations from the Revival until the present day, but this has already been done. I can add to that: not one generation continued what was achieved by the preceding generation. Which means that we had a huge energy potential, chaotic in its methods and results.
I would like to state with diffidence, because I’m afraid of forecasts, that I wholeheartedly like the present Bulgarian generation: it definitely shuns ideological and political passions. And not in the least, as some political scientists imply, because they are drawn to dark or foreign forces. It is not that pervious. On the contrary – today’s youths are deeply and consciously committed to their professional development, they look to realize their potential precisely where it depends on their personal qualities, strength and efforts. I know what their predecessors accuse them of, but how can they not notice that these feelings are a result of the sad, often tragic effects of our national past.
I cross my fingers for them and hope that they will be spared the fallacy of a belated society. ‘The weary have gone to sleep, those alive – let them watch over!’ It is their task – realistic and not just propaganda – to prove themselves to be our first European generation.