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Biliarsky (2014 Congress)

Ivan Biliarsky
(Institute of History, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences)
“The Second Bulgarian Empire:
Identity, Typology, Continuity, and Discontinuity”

Abstract of Paper Intended for the 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Kalamazoo, May 2014)

First of two Sessions on “A Neglected Empire:  Bulgaria between the Late Twelfth and Late Fourteenth Centuries”
Part I:  “Shaping, Defining, and Reshaping an Empire”

Co-sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence and the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Florida
Organized by Florin Curta (University of Florida) and Mildred Budny (Research Group on Manuscript Evidence)
2014 Congress Accomplished

[Published on our first website on 20 March 2014, with updates]

[Please note:  Prof. Biliarsky was unable to travel to the Congress to present his paper.  We post his Abstract as a description of the subject and scope of his contribution to the discourse in our two sessions (Parts I and II) on this theme.]

In this contribution, I shall try to trace some ideological aspects – both medieval and contemporary – concerning the Second Bulgarian Empire.

A state or political entity in general always has its own identity and core values.  They might be recognized not only in its structure and in its acts, but also in its ideology and in its doctrinal pretensions or claims.  Sometimes identity markers stand in contradiction, and my intention is to study precisely that duality in the case of the Second Bulgarian Empire — a name, and a concept, which did not exist in the Middle Ages, but were created in the twentieth century.  The central reference point is, of course, the First Bulgarian Empire and the question at stake is the continuity (or lack thereof) of institutions, power, structures, ideology, and policies.  In other words, was Second the heir of the First Bulgarian Kingdom in its structure (social and institutional) and in its culture, or was this continuity only apparent, reflecting, as it were, only an ideological claim of the rulers, eager to justify their power and their separatism?  Any attempt to answer this question will have to consider the name, the language, the institutions, and the mechanisms of the state, as well as the Church.

Moreover, the idea of continuity between the First and the Second Bulgarian Empires was used and misused, for nationalist reasons, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  My goal is to highlight this particular aspect of the question with reference to Bulgarian historiography, as it is important to disentangle this issue from that of the politically constructed continuity of the Middle Ages.  By drawing that essential distinction, I hope to reveal some of the complexity of this set of issues and to warn historians about possible ideological traps, some of medieval, others of a rather more modern date of manufacture, which lie in wait for observers and students of the period.

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