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Zamfirovo: Rural livelihoods in the mid-1990s

Mountains near Milanovo - Copyright © by Alan Grant
Mountains near Milanovo

The Anthropologist Gerald W. Creed spent one and a half years from 1987 to 1988 in Zamfirovo, a village of some 700 households in North-Western Bulgaria. He returned numerous times until 1997. The resulting book is a detailed and lively study of the social and economic changes in Bulgarian village live under socialism and the transition-phase that followed.

Creed shows how villagers "went from resisting collectivization in the 1950s to defending their co-operative farm in the 1990s". He describes how the inhabitants of Zamfirovo learned to cope with the communist system and to "domesticate socialism". After 1990 disastrous agricultural and land restitution policies of the first post-communist regimes led to a sharp decline in agricultural output. Together with the collapse of socialist industries where many villagers had found work this triggered a dramatic decline in living standards in the countryside:

Many of the non-agricultural enterprises in villages and neighbouring towns were closing or slowing down, making the transition from worker to peasant seem all the more inevitable… Villagers were losing their non-agricultural occupations and having to do more subsistence farming, both for themselves and for their unemployed urban relatives. Given that the additional work tended to be small-scale and manual, the transition seemed to be returning the entire village (maybe all of rural Bulgaria) to a premodern condition. This was most evident in the increased number of villagers plowing with a donkey in the spring of 1997 – a procedure considered comically primitive back in 1987. So while the occupational bases of non-agricultural identities disintegrated, the cultural value of their identity as villagers was also threatened. Hence, the combination of economic trends, their social consequences, and the cultural interpretation of both not only fuelled rural antagonism toward the urban framers of decollectivization but also prompted resistance to transition in general, increasing support for the Socialist Party. Ironically, this increased favour put the Socialist Party in the position of directing the transition after the 1994 elections, a job that eroded the very basis of their support.

The situation in the countryside would only begin to improve as a result of Bulgaria’s EU accession process after 1997 and in the context of EU pre-accession assistance (SAPARD programme). This, however, is a story for another book.

Domesticating Revolution. From Socialist Reform to Ambivalent Transition in a Bulgarian Village. Gerald W. Creed. 1998.
[p. 275 / Pennsylvania State University Press]

September 2007
Kristof Bender

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