The photo exhibition "Bessarabia - a fountain of beauty and youth" was opened on October 23, with which photographer Asen Velikov showed that a whole century of history can be captured with a lens. Representatives of the embassies of Moldova, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, Deputy Ministers of Culture, Regional Development and Ecology, representatives of the Bulgarian Presidency, and others were present.

The event takes place thanks to the Rodolyubets Association of Bessarabian and Tavrian Bulgarians and is sponsored by the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad. For the past 28 years, the Rodolyubets team has been working hard to keep the Bulgarian spirit in these distant lands and help unite the Bulgarian descendants. And this exhibition, featuring 30 photographs of Bessarabian Bulgarians, is proof that Bulgaria continues to live in the souls of people, even those who "remember" it only in the stories of their ancestors.

The first thing that draws my eyes to the pictures is the colors. The captured Bessarabian Bulgarians are dressed in traditional Bulgarian costumes, saturated with a variety of bright colors that enhance the sense of vibrancy of the faces. But what remains and is sealed long in the mind are the eyes. These are eyes full of life, eyes that tell, eyes filled with different emotions - joy, grace, curiosity, challenge, pride.

And all this comes from the feeling that they are Bulgarians, even far from their ancestral homeland. The feeling that one experiences when confronted with these photographs is extremely strong. At the same time, you experience sadness and joy, admiring their enormous patriotism, sometimes more than our own. It is as if we who were born and raised in Bulgaria carry it less in our hearts. When you are away, you love more!

And then you notice that each photograph is accompanied by a poem by Bessarabian poets written in Bulgarian, which further delights you. Each verse complements the photo and combines the expressive means of speech and photography that tell a story together. And anyone who has the senses to "read" will understand.

It is interesting to know that this year marks the 180 years of the Cathedral of the Holy Transfiguration of Belgrade and the 160 years of the Georgi Rakovski High School. And what happened a few centuries ago in our country, the church and the school are the two centers that kept the Bulgarian spirit alive and united and strengthened the Bessarabian Bulgarians. There - in the Bolgrad High School, where Al. Malinov, Al. Teodorov-Balan, Natalia Petrova, a member of the board of directors of the Rodolyubets Association, also studied. At the opening of the exhibition she shared her great joy that she herself could contribute to the preservation of the Bulgarian and show the Bulgarians here that with faith and patriotism much is achieved. Which, of course, is not easy at all.

Photographer Asen Velikov tells:

A year and a half ago, a group of Bessarabic students visited the Schumnitz camp in the Borovets area, which we managed with the Bashchino Ochishte Traveling Chitalishte, and then the idea arose to shoot those Bulgarians for whom Bulgaria was homeland without being born here. Unfortunately, the MES terminated our management contract and condemned this camp of destruction, like everyone else. But the idea remained.

About the past journey…

In May 2018, I visited the city of Bolgrad in Ukraine, which is a kind of capital of the Bessarabian Bulgarians. I also visited the villages of Kalchevo, where Natalia Petrova's family donated their preserved old-style house for a museum of Bulgarians in Bessarabia. I also attended a Bulgarian fair in Taraclia, Moldova, at the invitation of the Bulgarian Spirit organization with the assistance of Natalia Petrova and personally at the invitation of Oleg Kosich. There were also the first pictures for the planned exhibition. The welcome was warm and the experience was like being in our countryside. Old Bulgarian was spoken there. It was unique!

A festival in Balchik followed, with groups from Bessarabia and Gagauzia coming. And the last stop for the photo walk was in Ukraine, in Belgorod, at the VIII All-Ukrainian Council of Bulgarians, at the invitation of the Association of Bulgarians in Ukraine. A shared participation in my exhibition of Bulgarians in authentic costumes and folk singer Valya Balkanska, accompanied by bagpiper Peter Yanev and a bagpipe band and mumps from Pernik. Singer Desi Dobreva also took part. It was amazing to be among those Bulgarians who love and love Bulgaria, about which they have only heard from their grandparents and stories in their homes.

For people in front of the lens…

I shoot mostly people who don't expect to be photographed. The so-called "street photography". I try not to stumble upon the "object" in order to shoot it in its natural state. To catch the emotion, the mood, the state of mind. The ones I had to shoot, which were Bessarabian Bulgarians known in Bessarabia and Bulgaria, responded without thinking, and received good portraits in a pleasant environment.

For the support…

I received support from the Bessarabian communities in order to be able to attend and film the festivals in Moldova and Ukraine, and with us the assistance was provided by the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, represented by Mr. Haralampiev and the Rodolyubets Society.

About the stimulus and motivation…

My personal motivation stems first from the fact that it gives me pleasure to photograph folklore events and portraits of Bulgarians in folk costume. Another motivation stems from the contact with these Bulgarians, as I said at the beginning, for whom Bulgaria is a homeland without being born in Bulgaria. The feeling is special - of the words, of the expressions, of the feelings that they put into our conversations…

About the impressions on the first trip to Bolgrad, Ukraine…

What does the word homeland mean? We know from children that this is the land we were born on, where is our Rod, our Parents, our Relatives... By the time I met some Bessarabian Bulgarians who were not born on our land. Neither their Parents nor their Relatives. Just great-great-grandparentsthese and great-grandmothers escaped the Turkish and Bashibo-massacre massacres and the violent riots of 17 - 18 century.

These Bulgarians from Bessarabia, Banat, Crimea and to this day dream and long to return to their homeland. Strange as it may sound, we are learning history, geography, past, present, but you have to meet and talk to these Bulgarians to feel how dreamy and how embarrassed they are in saying "back here", "in the Motherland", , we saw Shipka "," we saw Batak. I was trembling every time I heard them! I get scared every time I think of it! I'm scared now as I write! For them, Bulgaria is a Holy Place!

The exhibition can be viewed at the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research with the Museum of Ethnography - BAS on Moskovskaya Street 6A until 6 November.

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