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The Self-Image and the Potrayal of Bulgaria's Neighbouring Countries
in Bulgarian National History School Textbooks

The political instability which currently threatens the Balkan states confers a crucial importance to the problem of otherness. In this context, an analysis of former schoolbooks can by a starting point for identifying the roots and even pave the way for overcoming a number of ethnical and religious prejudices as well as negative stereotypes which still pervade the Bulgarian society.

Our research starts with the presumption that the depiction of the neighbour as "the other" is an integral part of the process of the national self-definition of the Bulgarian people. The neighbour becomes different to the Bulgarian in the context of the construction of the Bulgarian national identity. Since the process of self-definition can only be achieved through comparison and confrontation, it is indispensable to make up an "other" to model oneself. For the Bulgarians, the role of this "other" is played by the neighbouring countries.

In the field of representations, this finds expression in the fact that the self-image of a people cannot be separated from the image of "the other". In this context, the general aim of our research is to examine the dynamic interaction between the self-image and the image of "the other". We can in this respect formulate the following hypothesis: the nature of the image the Bulgarian people attributes to its neighbours depends on its self-image. In other words, the images of "the other" is subject to the requirements of the self-image and has to complete the self-image. To be able to understand the image of the "other", it is necessary to seize how the self-image is constructed.

Our main sources are the Bulgarian national history school textbooks published und used for primary education between 1878 (liberation of the Bulgarian people from the Ottoman rule) and 1944 (establishment of the Communist rule).

We have only examined school textbooks used in primary schools, because the values they propagate are presented in a much more explicit manner, in a way which is more conducive to the achievement of our aims, that is to identify the image of the Bulgarian and that of "the other".

Our analysis will focus on the main historic figures depicted in schoolbooks and stress their relationships. Bulgaria appears in the books like a stage where different heroes come on or go off, sealing Bulgaria's fate through their acts. Our aim is to establish, amongst the numerous characters and multitude of relationships, the standard type of characters and relationships between them. We hope by this approach to succeed in enlightening the rigid structure of the relationships between "us" and "the other", between the Bulgarian people and their neighbours, hidden behind numerous, changing events.

In order to avoid any misunderstanding, it should be said that the meaning of the word "hero" includes "all the great players of the national history who, through their actions, [...] were presented as positive or negative models to young people" . Our goal is to set up a typology of heroes, which will comprise a table showing the social functions fulfilled by heroes and a presentation of the acts justifying their presence in school textbooks as well as their ethical and psychological characteristics.

The desired result is to expose the Bulgarian ideal, that is the Bulgarian self-image and the qualities and virtues the Bulgarian people admire. In this way, one half of the aim of our research will be achieved. The image of "the other" and its relationship with the self-image remain to be clarified.

At the beginning, we shall use the model already presented in order to stress certain remarkable features of the image of neighbours. However, the information gathered with this method will not suffice to reconstitute the image of "the other" in an adequate manner, because the neighbours are always presented in school textbooks through their actions, through their contact with "us". We shall pay particular attention to the relations between the Bulgarians and their neighbouring countries. We shall firstly set up a typology of the heroes, then the relations between the Bulgarians and their neighbours by using semiotical narration, and more particularly its stream identified by Algirdas Julien Greimas.

As Paul Ricoeur writes, the aim of Greimas is "to elaborate a syntax of mutual relations between typical roles as defined on the level of deep structures, and to establish [...] the rules of transformation of those fundamental relations" . Greimas' "actantial" model is to be understood as the answer to this problem. We consider that, through this model, we shall be able to set up a typology of relationships. For doing this, we must establish the actantial configurations into which the types of heroes are integrated, as well as the different roles they assume. On this basis, we hope to be able to draw up the main lines of relations between Bulgaria and its neighbours.

(1)Christian Amalvi, Les héros de l'histoire de France. Recherche iconographique sur le panthéon scolaire de la Troisième République, Paris: Ed. Phot'oeil, 1979, p. 23.
(2)Paul Ricoeur, Le récit de fiction, in: Dorian Tiffeneau (dir.), La narrativité, Paris: CNRS, 1980, p. 33.

Boriana Panayotova
CÉLAT - Pavillon DeKoninck
Université Laval, Québec /Canada G1K 7P4
Phone: +1 (418) 656-2131-5510
Fax: +1 (418) 656-5727