Close-Up Love of Homeland with a Hinged Window – Visiting a book pavilion in Sofia

Ivan Vazov National Theatre
Ivan Vazov National Theatre | Pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons)

Bulgaria will take over the EU Council Presidency in 2018, yet in smaller and larger niches, patriotism is blossoming.

“There are newspapers and cards, but I don’t know exactly,” says an older man a bit impatiently. Other pedestrians also stroll heedlessly past the pavilion near Ivan Vasov National Theatre in the centre of the Bulgarian capital city of Sofia.
They must not have seen the green pavilion, which looks like an enlarged advertising pillar, when it was prominently positioned on the evening news Monday by the first public station BNT. Just in time for this year’s holiday for the “National Revival” of Bulgaria on 1 November, a miniature bookshop called “Love of Homeland” opened its hinged window. It sells books about Bulgarian folk songs, Bukvarino – a sort of memory game about the sixty most important figures of Bulgarian history – and a band that lists sixty reasons “why we can be proud to be Bulgarians.”
Most of all, though, it sells works by Vasil Levski (1837-1873), Ivan Vasov (1850 -1921) and Hristo Botev (1847- 1876). All three were activists who fought in the nineteenth century for Bulgaria’s emancipation from the Ottoman Empire, or, as they often say, for liberty from the “Turkish yoke.” This occurred in 1878.
The initiator of the book kiosk is the former journalist and active businessman Vasil Vasilev. He found the pavilion, which served as a shelter for traffic police in 1901 to keep Sofia’s first streetcars safe on the rails, on a rubbish dump and restored it. “My aim is to wake the people up so they know something about their history,” said the 68-year-old in an interview with BNT. That is the only way to recognise the future. A person who does not know their history, indeed scorns it, who does not know what this nation represents, cannot love it, Vasilev elaborated. After the democratic change in 1989, he earned some of his money by importing Western newspapers and magazines into Bulgaria.
For the Sofianite journalist Iva Rudnikova, the new bookshop is another attempt to conjure up Bulgaria’s “great” past. For her, it’s a kind of cheesy fake patriotism. This is, however, harmful when it further strengthens the voices in the choir of those who, for instance, are against tolerance, refugees or gay marriage. “I’d liken something like this bookshop more to a campaign by the nationalist TV channel SKAT,” Rudnikova says.
SKAT regularly slams the decadent and rotten European Union, which Bulgaria has been a member of for ten years. On 1 January 2018, Sofia will take up the EU Council Presidency for six months. That, too, must offer plenty of material for full-length programmes on SKAT.