Bulgarian Gambits

blog_gambitBy Beau Samples

OXFORD, OH – Yana Hashamova, the Director of Slavic Studies at The Ohio State University, spoke on “Looking for the Great Balkan (Br)other” on April 21. She focused her lecture on the recent Russian blockbuster movie The Turkish Gambit and the way it captured Bulgarians. Bulgarians, she states, occupy a particular place in Russian imagination. Bulgaria is a popular resort spot because of its Black Sea coast. Over 110,000 properties were bought on the coast after the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1877 Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria gained -independence after the Russian victory after the second phase of the war unfolded in Bulgarian territories in 1878. Hashamova gave an overview of popular themes in prints, as well as the narratives that graphics produce. Her final argument was that Bulgarians were misrepresented in the Turkish Gambit and that they were no longer viewed as “brother Slavs”, but rather “others.” The movie reshaped and rebranded the Soviet experience and recaptured the past, depicting the Soviet Union to be understood as an empire.

Bulgaria, after achieving its absolute independence following the collapse of the Soviet system, is now a member of the European Union. The heritage of Bulgarians, like Ukrainians, Belarussians and Russians, is considered Slavic. However, at least on the evidence of the movie, as Yashamova argued, Russians do not view Bulgarians as brother Slavs. They are depicted as hairy and barbaric in movies, even though they share a common religion, Orthodoxy. Bulgaria became independent of the Ottoman Empire in 1908, and following WWII was in the Soviet sphere of influence. Russians looked and gazed at Bulgaria throughout time as viewing them with pity that had fallen under rule by the savage Muslim Turks. Bruce Grant stated that Bulgaria had received the “gift of empire” when they came under Soviet influence, but in reality Russia had conducted “internal colonization” of its own peoples because Bulgarians were southern Slavs.

Modern Russian popular imagination of Bulgarians, Hashamova noted, hides ambivalent imperial and post-Communist sentiments. The Turkish Gambit marries past stories of Bulgaria with action movies and science fiction. “Romanians, Bulgarians, and Ukrainians were perceived as part of the Soviet empire, but these parts were lost after the collapse of Soviet communism” (Hashamova 2007, p. 52). Bulgarians are not viewed as brother Slavs, but rather in the movie are depicted as sweaty, hairy, drunken men who throw cats. “Now the unconscious wish to restore these lost appendages of the imagined empire constructs them as enemies and generates aggression against them” (Hashamova 2007, p. 52). Russians have experienced a national identity crisis and are insecure about their own identity, so the need to create and protect clear boundaries is accentuated in this movie as well as others such as Brother. In her book Pride & Panic she terms Russians’ struggle with “threatening” minorities as “national paranoia” (Hashamova 2007, p. 59).

The cinema of the Putin years brought about Russian movies that have earned money at the box office, unlike movies of the 1990s. The Turkish Gambit represented a trend in Russian film during the first set of Putin years. The revival of the film industry is proof that a new language of patriotism has occurred in Russia. This patriotism has come as a result of insecurity with Russia’s own national identity. Yana Hashamova’s talk portrayed the Soviet Union as an empire and reshaped and rebranded the Soviet past as seen by Russians. Russians view Bulgarians as others, not brothers because they are not in the Kremlin’s sphere of influence any longer.

Beau Samples is a junior at Miami.


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