Bulgaria Celebrates Day of National Awakeners

Bulgaria Celebrates Day of National Awakeners

A collage showing an array of some of the most important Bulgarian national awakeners. Above, left to right: the medieval hermit, St. Ivan Rilski; Bulgaria’s greatest freedom-fighter Vasil Levski’; freedom-fighter, writer and journalist Lyuben Karavelov; the author of Bulgaria’s first Modern-Era ABC alphabet book Dr. Petar Beron; freedom fighter Georgi Rakovski; below, left to right: Bulgaria’s greatest writer Ivan Vazov; revolutionary and genius poet and journalist Hristo Botev; Father Paisiy Hilendarski, the author of the Istoriya Slavyanobolgarskaya history book; the founder of the first Bulgarian Modern-Era high school Vasil Aprilov. Photos: Wikipedia

Bulgaria marks on November 1, 2020, its Day of National Awakeners, a holiday designed to honor the people who brought about the “awakening" or revival of the Bulgarian nation in the 18th, 19th and early 20th century.

The people recognized and honored as “national awakeners" or “people’s awakeners" include freedom-fighters and revolutionaries, clergymen and priests, enlighteners, scholars, writers, teachers, and artists

In other words, that is pretty much every single significant historical figure from Bulgaria’s three main historical and geographic regions of Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia – plus a countless number of lesser known or local freedom fighters and/or enlighteners – who literally awoke the Bulgarian nation for its self-recognition and self-determination after it had been oppressed for centuries in the Ottoman Empire.

Located on lands with a rich heritage from Europe’s first prehistoric civilization (often dubbed “Old Europe"), from Ancient Thrace and partly from Ancient Greece as well as from the imperial period of Ancient Rome, the Roman Empire, led by the Ancient Bulgars, Bulgaria rose to prominence all throughout the Middle Ages.

The First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) and the Second Bulgarian Empire (1186 – 1396/1422), at times grew to become large and powerful states, in constant wars with the Eastern Roman Empire, i.e. Byzantium.

The medieval Bulgarian Empire, however, is far more notable for developing its own cultural and literary tradition of the Old Bulgarian language and culture based on Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the Bulgaric (Cyrillic) alphabet (invented after the original Glagolithic alphabet of St. Cyril and St. Methodius), and the tradition of early medieval Byznatium.

Today questionably dubbed “Church Slavonic" by other Eastern European nations who have been using it historically but would prefer to mask its identity, Old Bulgarian boasts a rich literary tradition of its own. It saw its peaks in the medieval Bulgarian Empire during the (First) Golden Age in the late 9th and early 10th century AD, and then during the Second Golden Age in the 14th century.

Towards the end of the 14th century, the rump states and remnants of the Second Bulgarian Empire were conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks, together with the rest of Southeast Europe up to Vienna.

The ensuing period of some five centuries (for some Bulgarian-populated territories ending with the partial national liberation in 1878 and the independence declaration of 1908; and for others with the eruption of the (First) Balkan War of 1912) is known in Bulgarian history as the “Ottoman Yoke".

The term “slavery" is also used to describe this period instead of “yoke" – in the sense of an antonym to “freedom", and with the meaning of “national slavery" or the statues of an enslaved, i.e. oppressed nation.

In addition to having no rights worthy of the name in the capacity as Ottoman subjects, in the Ottoman Empire the Bulgarians were also subjected to heavy pressure and influence by the Greek population, based on the preservation of the religious structures of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople (Istanbul), which was recognized by the Ottoman authorities as the representative of Orthodox Christians, the prestige of the Greek language, and, later, partly on the earlier liberation of modern-day Greece from the Ottoman Empire (already in 1821).

So much so that by the 1700s, under Ottoman domination, or yoke, the ethnic Bulgarian populace inhabiting its three main traditional historical and geographic regions – Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia – had barely any surviving memory of the long-lost glory of medieval Bulgaria. It was at that point that some Bulgarians even started to assume Greek identity.

Enter the Bulgarian National Revival – the period which began roughly in the second half of the 18th century, culminated in the third quarter of the 19th century, but for many parts of the historical Bulgarian-populated territories continued into the first half of the 20th century.

It was this period of national awakening – and de facto nation-building – of the Modern-Era Bulgarian nation based on the heritage of medieval Bulgaria and the Bulgarian ethnicity – that is known today as the Bulgarian National Revival, and countless of famous historical figures and lesser-known or unknown local figures as “awakeners" – for awakening the Bulgarians from their “sleep" “under the yoke".

The category of the Bulgarian awakeners is so wide as to include everybody who contributed to that process – from educators to freedom-fighters.

The conditional date for the start of the Bulgarian National Revival is 1762, the year when a Bulgarian monk, Paisiy Hilendarski (Paisius of Hilendar) (1722 – 1773), also known as “Father Paisiy", wrote a history of Bulgaria, and managed to travel around much of the Bulgarian-populated territories, and promote it among the Bulgarians.

In the absence of printing, Paisiy’s history book, Istoriya Slavyanobolgarskaya (“Slavic-Bulgarian History") was copied dozens of times by hand and distributed and promoted among the Bulgarian populace by his followers, the most famous being Bishop Sofroniy Vrachanski (Sophronius of Vratsa) (1739 – 1813). Sofroniy Vrachanski made the first manual copy of the history book in 1765.

While it was full of inaccuracies, Father Paisiy’s book is best known for its moral message, and it achieved an unbelievable impact for its time and the conditions in which it was created and promoted, thus setting off the rebirth of the Bulgarian nation. Unlike it, earlier and more accurate attempts to write a history of Bulgaria by other monks already in the 1600s had no impact whatsoever as they remained confined to monastery libraries.

The most famous paragraph from Father Paisiy’s book (“father" referring more to his importance for the Bulgarian nation, than his status as a monk) is the following in which he decries both the Ottoman domination over the Bulgarians and the Greek religious domination through the Ecumenical Patriarchate:

“Oh, you unwise moron! Why are you ashamed to call yourself a Bulgarian and why don’t you read and speak in your native language? Weren’t Bulgarians powerful and glorious once? Didn’t they take taxes many times from strong Romans and wise Greeks? Out of all the Slavic nations they were the bravest one. Our rulers were the first ones to call themselves tsars, the first ones to have patriarchs, the first ones to baptize their people.(…) Why are you ashamed of your great history and your great language and why do you leave it to turn yourselves into Greeks? Why do you think they are any better than you? Well, here you’re right because did you see a Greek leave his country and ancestry like you do?”

The holiday of November 1, the Day of the National Awakeners, is oftentimes incorrectly translated into English as the Day of Enlighteners or “leaders of the National Revival."

While it is not a very frequently used word in English, “awakeners" is the most accurate translation, since the Bulgarian equivalent, “будители“, has exactly the same meaning and connotation, and is also rarely used in the contemporary Bulgarian language other than to denote the national holiday in question, the Day of the National Awakeners.

The date for the Day of the National Awakeners was chosen to coincides with the official religious holiday for the Day of St. Ivan Rilski (St. Ivan of Rila) (876 – 946 AD), the most famous and cherished of all of Bulgaria’s native Christian saints, a hermit from the time of the height of the First Bulgarian Empire, deemed today a spiritual patron of the Bulgarian Nation.

The Day of the National Awakeners was proposed in 1922, and officially introduced in 1923, back then under the reign of Tsar Boris III (r. 1918 – 1943), monarch of the Tsardom of Bulgaria (1878/1908 – 1944/1946).

The Day of the National Awakeners was banned in 1945 by the communist regime (1945/1948 – 1989) established as a puppet state of the Soviet Union after Bulgaria was occupied by the Red Army in 1944 during World War II.

Despite its systematic ban by the communist regime, during its entire span, the Day of National Awakeners was only celebrated unofficially by local communities at some spots around Bulgaria.

The Day of National Awakeners was restored as a holiday after the end of the communist regime, in 1992. While it is not a nation-wide non-working day, it is formally celebrated by the state institutions of the Republic of Bulgaria as well as all of Bulgaria’s educational institutions.

The Day of National Awakeners has also been proclaimed as the official day of Bulgarian scientists and Bulgarian journalism.

In its spiritual power and message, the Day of National Awakeners is similar to the Day of Bulgarian Language and Culture, and the Bulgaric (Cyrillic) Alphabet celebrated as an official public holiday on May 24.

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