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A Concise History of Bulgaria.

by R. J. Crampton. New York, Cambridge University Press, 1997. xviii, 259 pp. S49.95 U.S. (cloth), $15.95 U.S. (paper).

The volume under review is the most recent addition to the Cambridge Concise Histories series. The author of the study, R.J. Crampton, is Professor of East European History at the University of Oxford and one of the western world's experts on the history of Bulgaria. In A Concise History of Bulgaria, he has produced a valuable introduction to the history of the Bulgarian people and their state.

In treating the history of Eastern Europe, it is necessary to distinguish between nation and state. All the peoples of Eastern Europe have known lengthy periods of foreign imperial rule, during which they could not have their own state; nevertheless, the various peoples each maintained a modicum of self-awareness, some degree of familiarity with and longing for earlier halcyon periods, and some consciousness of their distinctness from their rulers. Thus, they all existed as nations, even when they could not have their own states. Consequently, a responsible treatment of the history of any people of Eastern Europe needs to deal with both nation and state. A Concise History of Bulgaria lives up to this historiographical requirement.

Crampton's volume focuses on modem history, but he offers a creditable presentation of the preceding history of Bulgaria, as well. He devotes 46 out of 241 pages of text -- thus, almost 20 per cent of the volume -- to Bulgarian history prior to the national revival of the nineteenth century which led to the establishment of the modem Bulgarian state. In that earlier period, Bulgaria distinguished itself in a variety of ways: it was the first state established in Eastern Europe, it developed a significant empire that rivalled and endangered its Byzantine counterpart and frustrated some of the territorial designs of the Carolingian one, and -- having embraced the Christian faith in its Eastern Christian manifestation -- it developed a flourishing literature and culture. Crampton's volume surveys these accomplishments capably. His treatment of the Ottoman period is somewhat more summary, reflecting the relative paucity of information available about the territory and people of the former Bulgarian state; even so, Crampton presents that information well.

The author's treatment of modem Bulgarian history, from the national revival to the present, is a sterling condensation and interpretation of the data. He moves carefully through the various attempts to achieve some form of liberation from Ottoman rule, the frustrated hopes raised by the treaty of San Stefano, and the vexing question of territorial integrity -- the last focusing especially on the Macedonian question. He considers the roles played by Bulgaria's subranie (parliament) and the various heads of state, the involvement of Bulgaria in the two Balkan wars and the two world wars, the subservience Bulgaria faithfully manifested toward Soviet leadership until the advent of Gorbachev, and the significant struggles of the post- 1989 period as Bulgaria has sought to find her way in the contemporary community of nations. Crampton covers all this material with a deft touch and a sure hand, never allowing the considerable detail otherwise at his command to overwhelm the clarity of his presentation. Altogether, this is a most helpful overview of modem Bulgarian history.

Given the excellence of the rest of the presentation, it is surprising that The treatment of Bulgaria's conversion to Christianity and of Christianity's influence is so flawed. In the discussion of Khan Boris's reasons for turning from paganism to Christianity (pp. 12-15), Crampton's analysis includes various concerns of state and political calculation -- matters which unquestionably played a significant role. However, the author leaves no room for the possibility that Boris may also have had some religious intent with this conversion, both for himself and for his people. Since Boris subsequently retired from leadership of the state to spend the last years of his life in a monastery, it seems plausible that religious considerations played some role for him, beyond whatever political and state benefits he could manage by his adoption of Christianity.

Beyond that, Crampton's discussion of Christianity in Bulgaria is skewed. It is strange that, having begun to discuss the development of heresy in Bulgaria (p. 19), Crampton speaks about "hermitism": aside from the fact that there is no such word (the correct designation being "eremitism"), living as a hermit has never been condemned as a heresy, whether in western or in eastern Christianity. Further, the author shows a surprising lack of familiarity with the status and role of a significant strain of Orthodox piety: beyond the embarrassing misspelling of "hesychasm" (p. 27), he misidentifies it as a heresy. For eastern Orthodoxy, the situation is exactly the opposite: three significant fourteenth-century synods defended hesychasm as faithful Christian practice. In addition, the claim that hesychasm spurned concern for social and political experience and, thus, contributed to Bulgaria's later being overrun by invaders without significant opposition (pp. 27-28) requires something more than mere assertion. Among the Byzantine hesychasts. Gregory Palamas, the chief spokesman for the hesychast cause during the fourteenth-century controversy. served as archbishop of Thessaloniki (at the time, the most significant city of the Byzantine empire after the capital itself) and played an, important role in the Cantacuzene civil war; further, Nicholas Cabasilas served as a member of the Byzantine imperial court, and he not only practised hesychast disciplines himself but also wrote works showing other laypeople how to incorporate hesychasm with the rest of the demands of their lives. Hesychasm. found a congenial home, as well, in contemporary Serbia, without in the least fostering such a lack of concern as Crampton alleges it produced in Bulgaria. It would be surprising, indeed, if hesychasm itself led to such a startlingly different stance among the Bulgarians; more promising as an explanation for the indifference to the affairs of the present world is the bogomil connection, to which Crampton also refers, given the radical dualism inherent in that movement and its continuing legacy in Bulgarian attitudes. As a final criticism in this vein, while Crampton notes that it was especially the Bulgarian Orthodox church that passed on a modicum of Bulgarian self awareness in the long centuries of Ottoman occupation (p. 39), he offers no comment on the shape that awareness took, whether for the Bulgarians themselves or for their understanding of Christianity.

Beyond these defects in the presentation, the volume is marred by some misspellings, occasional problems with subject-verb agreement, and a recurring syntactical faux pas ("to try and [rather than to]" do something). In addition, the first map is on p. xviii, not p. xvi (as given in the list of maps, p. xi). Finally, unexplained abbreviations cause some confusion for the readers: "PR" (p. 160) can be deciphered from the context to mean "proportional representation," but unless one already knows that "CSCE" (p. 215) is the acronym for "Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe," that abbreviation will remain a mystery. However, these are mere annoyances in an otherwise well-produced and carefully written volume.

While Crampton's presentation of the role and impact of Christianity upon And within Bulgaria is considerably flawed, the remainder of his treatment shows mastery of the data and a judicious understanding of what has shaped the Bulgarians as a nation and a state. Crampton's volume covers the collapse of Communism admirably and discusses the subsequent history for another five years, offering insights into what has been taking place in that turbulent period. The concluding chapter of the volume offers judicious reflections on how the history of Bulgaria has shaped and will likely continue to shape the nation and the state.

Simply put, R.J. Crampton's A Concise History of Bulgaria is the best short treatment of the history of Bulgaria currently available. Scholars in Eastern European history will want to purchase this volume, and university libraries should add it to their collection.
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Author:Payton, James R., Jr.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1997
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