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Bones of Contention

The living archive of Vasil Levski and the making of Bulgaria's national hero

by: Maria N. Todorova
published by: Central European University Press
pp: 622
ISBN: 978-963-9776-24-1
price: € 44.95

Book's frontpage

This book is about documenting and analyzing the living archive around the figure of Vasil Levski (1837–1873), arguably the major and only uncontested hero of the Bulgarian national pantheon. The processes described, although with a chronological depth of almost two centuries, are still very much in the making, and the living archive expands not only in size but constantly adding surprising new forms.
The monograph is a historical study, taking as its narrative focus the life, death and posthumous fate of Levski. By exploring the vicissitudes of his heroicization, glorification, appropriations, reinterpretation, commemoration and, finally, canonization, it seeks to engage in several broad theoretical debates, and provide the basis for subsequent regional comparative research.
The analysis of Levski's consecutive and simultaneous appropriations by different social platforms, political parties, secular and religious institutions, ideologies, professional groups, and individuals, demonstrates how boundaries within the framework of the nation are negotiated around accepted national symbols.


Table of contents


Part I. Bones of Contention or Professionals, Dilettantes, and Who Owns History
A “social drama” at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
From breach to crisis
No redress, or where are Levski’s bones?
A socialist public sphere?
“Professionals” and “dilettantes”
Recognizing the schism or what is worse: bad professionals or good nationalists?

Part II. The Apostle of Freedom or What Makes a Hero?
What is a hero and are heroes born?
The “making” of Vasil Levski
A banner for all causes: appropriating the hero
Contesting the hero
The literary and visual hypostases of the hero
From hero for all to dissident and back

Part III. The National Hero as Secular Saint: The Canonization of Levski
The split or how a bicephalous organism functions
The canonization and its implications
Levski and the Bulgarian church: memory and narration
The orchestration of a grass-roots cultus
Commemoration, ritual and the sacred
Heroes and saints: the dialectics of reincarnation


Appendix I. The scholarly consensus on the 1956 excavations until the 1980s in the writings of Stamen Mikhailov. A critical analysis;
Appendix II. The discussion at the Academy of Sciences : 10, 12 and 27 February 1986;
Appendix III. Letter of 20 Bulgarian historians to Todor Zhivkov, 4 May 1987;
Appendix IV. Poems written by citizens on the topic of Levski’s grave;
Appendix V. Letter of Radka Poptomova, April 1987 ;
Appendix VI. Letter of medieval section at AI, June 2001 ;
Appendix VII. The double-headed hierarchy of the Bulgarian Orthodox church (1996-2004); Appendix VIII. School questionnaires on Levski




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