Milena Benovska-Sabkova (New Bulgarian University/ University of Blagoevgrad “Neofit Rilski”, Sofia) delivered a lecture at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences on May 21, 2015 at 11.00.
Urban Culture, Religious Conversion, and Crossing Ethnic Fluidity among the Bulgarian Muslims (“Pomaks“)
Almost till the end of the 19th century, the cities in the Balkans were small, and the population of the Peninsula was primarily rural (Kenny, Kertzer 1983; Hartmuth 2006). During the 20th century most Balkan towns remained small. Only the capital cities increased their population and after the middle of the 20th century, experienced violent growth attracting huge inflows of people; the rural regions suffered depopulation and the capital cities proved overcrowded (Kenny, Kertzer 1983). These processes eached their extreme proportions at the start of the new millennium. How are the small towns developing? How their study could enrich urban anthropology? This work is an attempt to outline one of the possible scenarios of a contemporary transformation of the small Balkan city, where there is the coexistence of Christians and Muslims, inherited from history, on the one hand, while on the other, the cultural heritage is used to promote tourism. The main thesis of the presentation is that the specific culture of the small Bulgarian town of Zlatograd has been contributing to the concensual building up of relations of the groups of population with different religious backgrounds (Christian and Muslim).
In supporting this stand I shall first consider the specific identity of the Bulgarian Muslims and its modern transformations; second, I shall study the institutions of urban culture in the historical context of Zlatograd and their significance for making the two religious communities in the town draw closer; third, I shall present the projects for the successful transformations of the local cultural heritage into a resource of development of the tourist industry; finally, I shall show how these apparently independent spheres of social life mutually interact to entail “rewriting anew” the symbolic geography of Zlatograd.