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Archives State Agency presents 47 digital exhibitions

Assoc. Prof. Mihail Gruev: Archives are not a place politicians tend to go to

Photos: @BulgarianArchives

The Archives State Agency will not be opening its exhibition hall this year to mark International Archives Day with some kind of documentary event from the history of Bulgaria. Still, the emergency situation over the coronavirus epidemic affords the public an opportunity to take a virtual journey back in time. The documentary evidence preserved brings into focus extraordinary people and landmark events from the history of the country.

47 digital exhibitions, created between 2007 and 2020, are now available on the agency’s website. They present major historical events and individuals, as well as anniversaries of the establishment of diplomatic relations with other countries. 

The exhibitions tell the story of the most successful mayor of Sofia ever – Ivan Ivanov, of how the Turnovo constitution was adopted, and how the new capital of Bulgaria – Sofia – was built, of how civil society was created in the country and of the protests against the gassing of the town of Russe on the Danube, of the fate of the Bulgarian Jews, of Prince Alexander of Battenberg, of renowned space scientist Viden Tabakov, of writer Yordan Yovkov, of traveler Lyuba Kutincheva and many others.

Tracing the country’s history on the basis of documents was a process that began after Bulgaria’s liberation from Ottoman domination, but individual documents take us back much further – for example the oldest chronicle from the 14th century. The archives have preserved evidence of many epidemics which have cost the lives of a great many people in Bulgaria.

“If we take a look at the documents we shall see that there is nothing new under the sun,” says the Agency’s President Assoc. Prof. Mihail Gruev. “Diseases, major epidemic waves and the suffering they cause have been part of the lives of our ancestors for thousands of years. We have evidence, going back 150 years, of quarantine being used routinely as a way to cope with them. During the Middle Ages the plague was the biggest scourge and we know a lot about it because it has become an enduring part of literature, an artistic archetype. In modern times there is evidence of how cholera struck down tens of thousands of people, especially in the period of the wars, of typhus, malaria and the Spanish flu – all of them resulting in loss of life comparable to the lives lost on the fronts of World War I.”

The Agency is continually adding to its archives thanks to relatives who have decided to share photographs and documents they have inherited. The most interesting recent additions are connected with the leading figure of the agrarian union G. M. Dimitrov, with the literary figures Evgenia Mars, Valeri Petrov, Leda Mileva.

“We received the first manuscript of what is perhaps Leda Mileva’s most famous poem for children – Little snow-white bunny”, her correspondence with other writers, translations she had done in her school years at the American college. The Valeri Petrov fund, though not big, is extremely valuable, and presents his laboratory. It shows how the poet worked from the time he was still at school, how he edited his texts, binding, stitching them together – old techniques which the computer has made obsolete.”

Readers are interested most of all in the websites dedicated to the wars, and most of all World War I because of the full list of almost 100,000 names of the victims. The other most read set of documents is connected with the so-called People’s Court. The agency has already digitized 10 of the 13 central divisions of the repressive tool of the communist state with all trials it conducted, the remaining 3 will be uploaded by the end of next year. According to Assoc. Prof. Mihail Gruev almost 5,000 researchers have been to the archive in the past year.

“Archives are not a place politicians tend to go to,” he says by way of explaining why not a single politician has come to the archives. But where would Bulgaria be today if the political class was to learn from the past?

“History teaches us that man learns nothing from history. Of course it is possible to avoid many mistakes, or we can look and see how our ancestors reacted to similar challenges in the past. But, as they say – we have plenty of time ahead of us.”

Diana Tsankova

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