Bones of Contention

The living archive of Vasil Levski and the making of Bulgaria's national hero
$121.00 / €111.00 / £95.00
978-615-5053-09-2 ( 374 pages abbridged version)
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622 pages + 16 with color photos

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.


Part I.  Bones of Contention or Professionals, Dilettantes, and Who Owns History

1.    A “social drama” at the BulgarianAcademy of Sciences

2.    From breach to crisis

3.    No redress, or where are Levski’s bones?

4.   “Professionals” and “dilettantes”

5.   Recognizing the schism or what is worse: bad professionals or good nationalists?

Part II.  The Apostle of Freedom or What Makes a Hero?

1.  What is a hero and are heroes born?

2.  The “making” of Vasil Levski

3.  A banner for all causes: appropriating the hero

4.  Contesting the hero

5.  The literary and visual hypostases of the hero

6.  From hero for all to dissident and back

Part III.  The National Hero as Secular Saint: The Canonization of Levski

1.  The split or how a bicephalous organism functions

2.  The canonization and its implications

3.  Levski and the Bulgarian church: memory and narration

4.  The orchestration of a grass-roots cultus

5.  Commemoration, ritual and the sacred

6.  Heroes and saints: the dialectics of reincarnation

Conclusion: Weak nationalism and its heroes


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

Appendix IX.  Samples of student papers on Levski

Appendix X.   Facsimile of report by Chervenkov and Pavlov to Todor Zhivkov, 1956. (Grobît na Vasil Levski, 2002, 150-151, 155). + mention in Part I, n. 165

"An enjoyable but daunting volume; Maria Todorova entertains with straightforward prose while she tackles a subject that is in its breadth and depth unusually complex. Todorova's book arrives at a promising moment in the evolution of nationalism studies. The author engages several theoretical debates, and in doing so revives the quest for impartiality in academic research."
"A complex, clever, and compelling book. It is an excellent guide to a major nineteenth-century revolutionary figure, and it provides a fascinating study in the political exploitation and manipulation of legend and myth."
"This book is many things, but foremost it is a detailed analysis of the social and political processes that crafted a nineteenth-century Bulgarian revolutionary, Vasil Levski, into the most admired and revered hero in Bulgaria. Although the current representation of his revolutionary actions would suggest that this was inevitable, Maria Todorova shows that this was not necessarily the case. His ascendancy to the pinnacle of Bulgaria’s heroic pantheon was a result of continual contestation and debate from his death in 1873 through the 1920s. As his preeminence was consolidated, different groups with opposing political philosophies all tapped into his celebrity to advance their platforms, further enhancing his aura and elevating him toward saintly status. This is an impressive piece of scholarship demonstrating meticulous historical research with both primary and secondary sources combined with engaging personal expositions based on the author’s close connection to some of the... more