Iskra Baeva was born in Sofia in 1951. From 1982 she is a senior assistant at the Faculty of History at Sofia University "Kliment Ohridski", from 1995 - an associate professor, and from 2011 - a professor. Her narrow scientific specialization is in the field of contemporary Eastern European history, in particular the history of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary since the end of World War II. There are hundreds of scholarly publications in renowned academic publications. He is a regular contributor to the periodical (Trud daily, New Time magazine, Monday magazine). He is a member of the Bulgarian Historical Society, the Bulgarian-American Scientific Association (BASA), the Thracian Scientific Institute and others. He is a frequent guest on television programs focusing on the problems of Bulgaria, Europe and the world after the end of World War II.
Professor Baeva, my honors! You have done a lot of interviews, you have a series of television appearances, you regularly publish your articles in periodicals. You are always demonstrating an active citizenship and are sufficiently aware of what is happening around the world and in our country. In Bulgarka magazine, however, we want to direct the conversation to the work you do as a professor and researcher at Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski ". What is it about teaching students knowledge?
In fact, teaching became my vocation largely by accident. When I was young, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do in my life. Because I was very shy and closed, my teaching profession seemed too inappropriate. But after graduating from history at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski "as the champion of the course, I was offered to continue as a graduate student (now a PhD student) and I agreed because getting to know the past has always attracted me. But not in itself, but in terms of being able to explain the problems of the society in which we live. This, in my view, is the true function of history, defined by the ancients as the task of being a "magister vitae" ("teacher of life"). But for that, the past must be told and passed on to others, as Tacitus says - "sine ira et studio" ("without anger and bias"). And this, in turn, is the task of the teacher, wherever he / she performs it - at school, at the university or in front of the citizens of the state. So, by accident, I started teaching seminars, and gradually teaching became enthralling and became my vocation.
But for a historian to come to a true understanding of the meaning of teaching, it is necessary to gain experience. To overcome his natural desire to emphasize himself. To show how much he knows in order to be able to focus on the other party in the teacher-student relationship. Namely: What did the student understand? How has it helped him expand his horizons? Not only to learn the facts, but also to understand the logic of the historical process. That, in my view, is the point of teaching history. It is a two-way process, the success of which depends on both parties, even though the teacher is the lead. It is important not only who and how leads to knowledge, but also who and how it follows.
ЗI got to know you in absentia, sending you an email asking me to help me with my scientific publication. I did not have high hopes, as I knew you enjoyed great public prestige, you are a busy person and you are hardly there for me. However, you responded very quickly. It is not a common practice for a big name professor, a TV personality like you to pay attention to some "mortal" student. I make the comment from the point of view of a person who has encountered a professor's arrogance ... But you did not show one. On the contrary, you are very earthy and pleasant. Do you think that science people have a duty to society and what is it like?
Thanks for the assessment, but I have to admit I was surprised by your surprise. Is it not the job of a person of science, especially if he is also teaching, to help his younger colleagues? I cannot even understand how a teacher who feels his work not as an obligation and a source of livelihood but as a recognition may not respond to a young man's desire to realize himself! Because each of us is transient, and if he does not leave behind him the people who have learned something and who he has helped, his work may be forgotten, that he may not find followers.
With regard to the public debt of scientists and of people who appear in the public at large, I must say that this problem is eternal and difficult to formulate. It is very easy to say that it is the public duty of scholars to make discoveries in their field of activity, to share them with the public, and to try to find their practical application. This is the most general definition of the social function of scientists. But in practical implementation, things don't look that simple. Because one is the public duty of the scholars of the natural sciences, and quite different is that of the humanities and the social sciences. I think that the social function of the social sciences is more important as they not only have to share their knowledge but also warn of the dangers that the sciences achieve. We live in an age where we see not only progress in science, but also the damage that some scientific advances cause to humans, to society and to nature.
To this difficult function must be added the specific tasks of historians. And they are to reveal to the public the forgotten pages of the past. But not just for the sake of broader knowledge, but also to show the role of one person or the other, at one or the other event for the present, what dangers lie behind some achievements and what lessons can be drawn from certain failures. One of the public functions of historians is to warn of the passing of estimates of certain events that may change dramatically in the next era. In fact, this is a warning not to make hasty political evaluations and to remind politicians that they should not be embarrassed by the function of historical judges.
But there is another social function that I would not consider as the debt of the people of science, but as the duty of the intellectual - it is the protection of morality in society. Intellectuals, such as very few scientists and creators, are people who are not afraid to criticize their society when moral principles are violated. Often, they not only point out the disabilities, but also try to outline the path to a fairer and better future. Not to be outspoken, I will give examples - this is our contemporary Noam Chomsky, and in the past Jan Huss, Martin Luther, Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein or Karl Marx.
When it comes to Bulgarian society and its processes, we cannot bypass them just as we are fortunate to comment with a specialist like you. However, here I will afford a slight provocation towards you. In the twenties of my life, my favorite novel was Jean-Paul Sartre's The Disgusting. How will you comment on today's situation in Bulgaria, which seems worthy to be compared with the descriptions in this book? What do you think is alienation between people today? What are the ways to overcome it?
I agree with your comparison with the book by Jean-Paul Sartre, but when I look at the current situation in Bulgaria, another image immediately emerges in my mind, the fruit of the talent of our compatriot - Bai Gagno. I was so quickly brought back to this image by the so-called. Sudzhuk Gate. Not because of the unfortunate MP, who by chance was immediately recalled and hidden from the public (not to blur the image of the ruling party). And because of my deep conviction that, unfortunately, this is the actual model of Bulgarian politics. But after the unforgettable Aleko Konstantinov describes such a model, we have to think! What is common between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 21st century? Why are the political models repeated? One answer might be: Because we are the "celebs" who perceive politics as a source of benefits that take advantage of every opportunity for enrichment. However, he does not seem convincing enough to me. Because Bulgarians are like other European peoples - among them there are rude materialists, pursuers of material goods, but also idealists, willing to sacrifice in the name of the common good, to risk their lives for the better future of others.
That is why I think that our present-day "Bayaganism" is due not to our "Balkan" mentality, but to something else - the recurring social phase. Just as in the beginning of the modern Bulgarian state, today we are in the phase of the initial accumulation of capital, which has been described in history as accompanied by crime, lawlessness and unrestricted exploitation. In such an environment, when "man to man is a wolf" (by Titus Mackie Plautus), there is no way for people not to be angry, alienated or desperate. This is a natural consequence of capitalism, to which we returned after half a century in another world. And the worst part is that our new capitalism is not the ennobled one that our compatriots see in Western Europe when they go to work there, but rough and primal, as if we were back in the nineteenth century regardless of the technologies of the 21st century.
How can we cope with the alienation and the feeling that we live in a deeply unjust society? Only by fighting alone, there will be no talk. But if we recall the path of Western Europe, we will see that the struggle of the oppressed goes in parallel with the efforts of the intelligent people to formulate the problem and to indicate the ways to solve it. So the combination of the two, the direction given by thinkers and the real fight against injustice, results in a social state created after the Second World War. And so far, both of us are in the bud, as far as there are any. Neither is the active exploitation of the exploited - they are only activated when things have come to the bone and do it individually, not massively and organizedly, nor are there thinkers trying to chart the path to a fairer society. My conclusion is that new capitalism has overtaken us without a sense of solidarity. Everyone looks at themselves without realizing that the path to a better personal life goes through a common struggle for all. Whether it is the result of the collapse of socialism or the domination of the vanquished individualism, it is difficult for me to judge, but probably both. But sooner or later, we need to understand the need for solidarity if we are to not only overcome alienation but preserve our country.
Very often the term "transition" is used in the media for the time we live. But the word seems to be empty of content for most people. With Eugene Kalinova you have a common work for the Bulgarian transitions. How will you comment? Has this notorious "transition" now ended, or even at the beginning of the 90s? Is there any hope for us, the Bulgarians, after the end of the "transition"?
Indeed, the word "transition" is living its own life, and people have already filled it with all sorts of content. This is where the confusion and the debate over whether the "transition" has ended or is still ongoing. So I'll start with the concept. "Transition" generally means a transition from one state to another. In our case, it was the transition from socialism to capitalism. But because in the era of socialism the word capitalism was negative, no one wanted to say at the beginning of the transition that the goal was to move to capitalism - this is what Dr. Zhelyu Zhelev said at a meeting we organized at the university in 2009. for 20's 1989 anniversary
Therefore, in the beginning it was only about promoting democracy and a market economy, which sounded like a bright future. A society in which everyone's word will matter and an economy in which there will be plenty of goods for everyone. Thus, the conviction was born that at the end of the transition we would all live in a free and rich society. But the more we went through the changes, the more the beautiful image moved away to become a mirage. And it can't be wrong! Because the goal of transition was actually capitalism. And it does not provide prosperity for all (communism promises something like this in theory), but wealth for some and poverty for others, social stratification and unemployment, contradictions between labor and capital, difficulties in accessing social goods for those who do not have enough money.
And when I say this, I mean not only the conditions in Bulgaria, but the whole world. Isn't there millions of poor people in the US? Are there no generations of unemployed and desperate people in Western Europe? Capitalism is based on competition and individualism. The success of one means the failure of the other. The market economy is making some profits and others are facing bankruptcy. Bulgarian society, emerging from socialism, was not ready for this essence of capitalism. Therefore, people cannot accept that the transition is over. They say to themselves: How so? Having come out of the limits of socialism, should we live with the freedoms and abundance of the West? If we don't live like that, then the transition is not over!
But if we systematically approach the transition that its purpose was to get out of socialism and enter capitalism, have we not already done so? Don't we live in capitalism, even from above! So the dispute about the end of the transition is the fruit of the false hopes from the beginning of the transition.
We must not forget the others - those who have benefited from the changes, who are happy with the transition. We see them and hear them often on the media. Their reproaches are usually addressed to workers and their attempts to defend their rights. According to them, the disabilities of the transition are due to the laziness, the low qualification, the unions, which force the workers to fight for better working conditions and higher wages. The arrogant positions of the so-called employers, most of whom are actually oligarchs who have misappropriated public wealth, would not be heard as often if there was solidarity and awareness of the public interest in Bulgarian society. Instead, we have the dominance of pro-capitalist propaganda, which suggests to us that capitalists are most valuable to society, and that their employed workers should be content and work as hard as they can.
The transition is over! We are in a capitalism we don't like! But if we are to overcome it and build a fairer society, we must fight for a new transition - to get out of capitalism and create a fairer society. In order not to sound ridiculous and inadequate to the new realities, I would like to remind you that one of the candidates for the Democratic Party's election in last year's election was Bernie Sanders. And she called herself an independent socialist. That is, there is nothing shameful about wanting a fairer future.
You are genetically related to the arts. Your father was the director of Bulgarian National Television. You are tempted by literature yourself. Share a little more with our readers about your relationship with the arts, your experiences in this field!
I feel genetically related more to science than to art. My father is from the family of Prof. Assen Zlatarov, who is one of the good examples of how science can be successfully combined with public vocation. So I was brought up in the traditions of civic engagement with science. Achievements only make sense if they are shared with the public, if they become public, and find followers.
As far as art is concerned, without being genetically related, I am heavily influenced by literature. I am of the generation that read in my childhood and adolescence. This was a time when the book was on a pedestal and there was even something called "simple theft" (a favorite book). In order not to think that we justified the theft of books from bookstores, I will state that these are books that we constantly exchanged with each other, read, and then discussed for a long time and widely. Interesting literature was published in small print, difficult to find, and because we were brought up in a spirit of solidarity, we gladly shared our books with our friends and classmates. Some liked it so much that they "forgot" to return it to us - we called it "simple theft." Because a good book can be read many times and each time it leads us to different thoughts, to show us undetected sides, to generate different feelings. This is the great advantage of written speech over the finished image - the book awakens our imagination and our thinking. I am afraid that I cannot say the same about our flooded information today. It is neither knowledge nor knowledge, because in order to become such, I must be sifted, rethought, rethought, separated from propaganda and placed in the right context. Things that today's people don't like to do because they take longer, and they also require a lot more experience and knowledge.
I am also tempted to translate fiction and other literature, mostly from Russian and Polish. This is the way to express my admiration for literature, as well as my belief that literature has no boundaries because it belongs to all of humanity.
I also see a direct connection between art and science, because their purpose is the same - to know the nature of man and society and to try to influence it in the name of good.
I have always viewed with deep respect the people of science who stand by their principles, despite the attacks. I am aware that for a long time you have been trying to impose the correct term on the time you teach at the university and what your main research interests are. The correct expression when referring to the period from the end of World War II to 1989 in Bulgaria is "Soviet-type state socialism". It is wrong in scientific terms to say that there was communism in Bulgaria. Why? Could you explain in more detail!
I'll start with one clarification! I teach contemporary world history, not Bulgarian. But it is true that I have many publications dedicated to Bulgaria, simply because I am first and foremost a Bulgarian historian.
Yes! I am among the many European and Bulgarian historians who prefer to call "Soviet-type state socialism" a system that was established in Russia after the Second Russian Revolution of 1917 and carried over as a result of the Soviet Union's victory in World War II. Eastern European countries. As we find ourselves in the field of science, where always these, hypotheses, disputes and differing opinions, I will protect myself from the claim that this name expresses the only scientific truth. But I am convinced that the practice in Bulgaria of the post-war period to be called "communism" is scientifically misunderstood. That is why it is completely explicable from the political one - it is a clear manifestation of the political imperative that any honest scholar should reject.
Why? Because the term "communism" has a clear content formulated by Marxism, namely: This is the last stage of social development in which there will be no classes and social differences, the ownership of the means of production will be public (ie all people), the state it will be dead, wage labor and exploitation - abolished, every person will labor voluntarily and with joy for the public good and will have free access to all the goods they need. In a word - utopia for ideal people!
Well, then - let's compare the theory of communism with the practice in the Soviet Union, Bulgaria and other socialist countries of Eastern Europe! What does the comparison show? That nothing like this, even close to this picture, is anywhere, neither in these countries, nor in the world. Why, then, do they continue to call the system, which calls itself "socialist," the term "communism"? The answer can be found in the Cold War confrontation. Then, in the United States, the "image of the enemy", the Soviet Union, emerges from propaganda as "communism," opposing the foundations of American society - individualism, profit, enterprise. This entirely negative image was created in the first post-war period. That is why George Kennan's doctrine is called "restraint of communism", and "McCarthyism" is embodied by the "hunt for communists" first in the State Department and then in all American society. In US politics, the big adversary is "communism" - personified by the USSR, and American propaganda is doing its best to spread this vision of "communism" around the world.
But in Europe, where Marxism was born, people have another view of communism. I would remind that communist parties in countries such as France and Italy after the war win elections and enter governments. Once removed from government, as one of the conditions for granting US aid under the Marshall Plan, they continue to be heavily represented in parliaments. For Western Europe, communism is a legitimate product of Marxism. That is why in Western Europe, until the end of the Cold War, Eastern European countries were called "socialist" or "people with democracy" countries.
Things have changed since the US victory in the Cold War, and their role in the world, often referred to as "Pax Americana", is growing accordingly. And then American ideologues and political advisers conveyed their notion of "communism" in Europe. Like everything coming from the new Big Brother across the ocean, it was welcomed by the new elites in the former socialist countries. It was very convenient politically because it became the flag of anti-communism and made it possible to delegitimize the main political adversary - the former ruling Communist parties who resisted the political turmoil. It is true that all of them (except the Czech and Moravian Communist Parties) renamed themselves, abandoned communism, but it was very convenient to continue to be attacked as "former communist," a concept that began to be modeled on the American model. connects everything bad. This is the explanation for the inadequacy of the use of the term "communism".
As for defining the post-war era in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe as "Soviet-type state socialism," my arguments are as follows. First, it is socialism, since the distribution of goods is turned to society. Economy, and especially social policy, is also subordinated to this task. Therefore, the main funds go to free education, health care, and in the redistribution of budgetary resources, social programs, the so-called. public funds. Second, it is socialism, but not as described by Marx, because it is realized not through the self-organization of society, but through a state that is controlled and controlled by the monopoly power of the Communist Party. Third, it is of the "Soviet type" because it follows the system established in the Soviet Union during the time of Joseph Stalin after 1929. For this reason it could also be called the "Stalin type". In other words, it is an "administrative-bureaucratic socialism", without rights and freedoms for the citizens, and the care for society is carried out "paternalistically", above, only with the formal participation of society. As you can see, neither we nor the other supporters of this definition are apologists for that socialism. We just want clarity in terminology that is consistent with historical realities, not the political imperative of the moment.
What do you think about the political misuse of history? A scientist, especially when he is an honest man and views his work conscientiously, should not afford such a thing. Is it just a moral problem to misuse history?
This is a painful question for any conscientious historian. You are not such a historian, and I am thinking of misusing your knowledge. The problem of misuse of history is, above all, politics. Politicians have always used history to justify their own. There is rarely a political party without a past, and when they have predecessors, they always seek to exaggerate their importance and their positive role. Sometimes politicians use history in good faith, getting acquainted with historians' research, but more often simply misusing it. The way they do this is by selecting the facts according to their needs, exaggerating the importance of some, omitting others, falsifying others, etc. At worst, they just invent events in defense of their theses and attacks on their opponents' pasts. The misuse of history by professional historians is unacceptable. But it happens. I can explain it in two ways. The first is when emotional attachment to a problem or a political cause causes them to compromise with their conscience. The second is more unpleasant but common: when historians voluntarily falsify their historical knowledge in the interests of their political or other ends.
The problem of misuse of history cannot be avoided because historical knowledge is inextricably linked to politics and the desire to make history subordinate to politics will always exist. The question is whether historians have the moral power to resist material and political temptations.