Accepted Paper:

Environmentalism, Modernity and Nationalism in Postsocialist Bulgaria  


Nikolay Mintchev (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

Cultural ideas of the environment in postsocialist Bulgaria intersect with nationalism in conflicting ways. While images of nature as the beauty of the nation are invoked against modernizing projects, the anxiety that Bulgaria is not sufficiently modern haunt people's national consciousness. The contradiction animates subject's relation to sustainability.

Paper long abstract:

This paper is about the multiple conflicting attitudes towards nature and environmentalism in Bulgaria since the collapse of socialism. It argues that practices of sustainability are structured by the ways people experience nature, and that this experience cannot be understood independently from historical-cultural identity categories such as ethnicity, gender, class and so on. In Bulgaria, notions of nature and the environment are caught up in an economy of nationalist representations. On the one hand, Bulgaria's natural landscape has been idealized as the heart of the nation's beauty and purity since at least the 19th century. This is evidenced by examples from folklore, literature, tourism advertising, and environmental movements (especially campaigns against socialism's abuses of resources), all of which play a heavy role in modern nationalism. On the other hand, the country's troubled location between east and west (in terms of geography, history, culture, economic development, etc.) sustains a strong anxiety about its inability to reach the socio-economic status of west-European countries. This fuels a desire for modernization that would not only establish Bulgaria as a rightful European nation, but would also distance it from the Ottoman past that continuously haunts its identity as a modern state. If environmentalist movements and plans for alternative subsistence practices are to gain popular support, they will inevitably have to negotiate their image in relation to these two conflicting discourses on the nation state.

Panel BH04
Indigenous knowledge and sustainable development (IUAES Commission on Indigenous Knowledge and Sustainable Development)