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Minarets after Marx. Islam, Communist Nostalgia, and the Common Good in Postsocialist Bulgaria

Written by  Kristen Ghodsee, this article appeared on the fourth issue of Vol. 24 of the journal East European Politics and Society in November 2010.
 
The article examines the interplay between communist nostalgia and new forms of universalist Islam among Slavic Muslims (Pomaks) in Bulgaria. Many Bulgarians are looking back to the totalitarian era with increasing fondness given the ubiquitous crime and corruption that has characterized the postsocialist era. This nostalgia also informs the changing nature of Islam in Bulgaria after 1989 and the unique ways that Bulgarians understand religious identity in relation to ethnic affiliation.
 
The author argues that the appeal of “orthodox” Islam in this postsocialist context is at least partially rooted in its discursive emphasis on social justice and the promotion of the common good. This discourse is particularly appealing to the Pomaks in the author’s field site because of their unique experiences of both communism and capitalism. Before 1989, they saw a dramatic rise in their living standards, but this was coupled with severe religious oppression. After 1989, they gained unbridled religious freedoms but saw their communities economically devastated by the corrupt privatization and bankruptcy of the lead-zinc mining enterprise that was the core of their livelihood. To these Pomaks, “orthodox” Islam promises to be an ideological third way, combining the benefits of
both systems: spiritual freedom and honest economic prosperity.

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