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«February 2020»

Fellow Seminar

05 July 2018

Dr. Theodora Dragostinova will present her research proposal on the topic: "The Cold War from the Margins: Bulgarian Culture and the Global 1970" on 5 July 2018 (Thursday) at 16:30h.


In the 1970s, officials and intellectuals in communist Bulgaria launched an ambitious program of international cultural outreach. Paris, Vienna, London, Munich, New York City, and Tokyo all hosted, in the words of The Guardian, "glistering exhibitions" of ancient treasures and medieval icons that placed "the obscure Balkan country on the western world's cultural map." Bulgarian cultural ambassadors also reached out to regional centers and rural areas in Mexico, India, and Africa. In India alone, in 1980 there were 82 Bulgarian-Indian Friendship Societies with over 150,000 due-paying members. All in all, in 1977-1981 tiny Bulgaria staged over 38,000 international cultural events. This dynamic process of global cultural expansion did not remain unnoticed; the British, for example, nervously watched Bulgaria's "jungle offensive" in Nigeria, which included the building of the National Theater in Lagos in 1976. As western diplomats saw it, Bulgaria had the reputation of the "Soviet flag bearer," but "sometimes the Bulgarians surprised" the world. How that happened and what it meant is the subject of my book.

The Cold War from the Margins engages the cold war order of the 1970s through the experiences of a small state on the global cultural scene. Using cultural exchange as a lens, I detail Bulgarian policies at home and abroad to explore the importance of cultural diplomacy during a period of profound worldwide reorganization. By studying the unlikely encounters that emerged through culture, I show that the complex transformation of the cold war order in the 1970s was not only the result of superpower dynamics. As contacts between East and West increased and the developing countries gained prominence, new opportunities arose for small states to interact globally and influence world affairs in unexpected but productive ways. Culture provided one successful strategy for shaping the global order through active engagement with a range of actors in the First, Second, and Third Worlds. The far-reaching and extravagant state investment in international cultural outreach highlights Bulgaria's unique cold war trajectory. These cold war endeavors still resonate in the post-socialist world, reappearing with a new intensity in the contentious memory wars about the legacies of communism in Europe and beyond.

The Cold War from the Margins contributes to the literature on many levels. First, I am a part of a new generation of scholars who insist that small states matter through their participation in a complex system of international alliances and global connections. Second, I join researchers who interpret the cold war as a global, multipolar confrontation and analyze the Second World as an important stakeholder in the Third World and the West. Third, I combine historical and anthropological methods to examine the past through its relevance today and interrogate current debates from a historical viewpoint. Finally, I integrate the insights of diplomatic and cultural history in a holistic, interdisciplinary interpretation of the global cold war order from the margins. I adopt the "pericentric" perspective of international history to emphasize the role of the global periphery in world affairs. Yet, as a cultural historian, I place discursive interpretations of power dynamics and cultural representations at the center of my analysis.


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