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Accepted Paper:

Occult communism: Lyudmila Zhivkova's alternative religiosity as state policy  
Veneta Ivanova (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Paper short abstract:

This paper reveals how in the 1970s Minister of Culture Lyudmila Zhivkova injected the "occult" into Bulgarian cultural policy, science, education, and even political philosophy. It demonstrates that alternative religiosities not only survived, but actually flourished in the late socialist period.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores the unlikely infusion of state-sponsored religiosity into the materialist ideology of Bulgarian late communism. In the 1970s and 1980s, Minister of Culture and daughter of party leader Lyudmila Zhivkova initiated grandiose state programs to inject the "occult" into Bulgaria's national culture, art, science, education and even political philosophy. Inspired by her Eastern religious beliefs, she sought to 'breed' a nation of "all-round and harmoniously developed individuals," devoted to spiritual self-perfection, who would ultimately "work, live and create according to the laws of beauty." Spirituality (dukhovnost), which she conceived as the "spiritual development of the individual" and the "renewal of the spiritual powers of the nation," was the cornerstone of her vigorous domestic and international cultural politics. This article traces the occult-mystical influences on Zhivkova's ideas and policies, arguing that her Weltanschauung was translated into a large-scale religio-aesthetic utopia, which posited art, culture, spirituality and aesthetics not only as a core state priority in Bulgarian politics, but also as a way to revamp the entire communist project. I contend that as quixotic as Zhivkova's vision was, her policies contributed to the liberalization of art and culture in a period that has long been associated exclusively with stagnation and decay. Ultimately, this paper illustrates that religiosity and spirituality not only survived, but actually flourished in the late socialist period.

Panel P128
Alternative religiosities in the communist East-Central Europe and Russia: formations, resistances and manifestations
  Session 1