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Ivo Strahilov

Bulgaria

Ivo Strahilov is an assistant professor at the Department of History and Theory of Culture at Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski. He holds a PhD in Cultural Studies (2019) and specializes in the field of Critical Heritage Studies. His dissertation explores contemporary political, economic, academic and popular uses of ancient archaeological heritage in Bulgaria and France. His scholarly interests include also modern uses of heritage, minorities’ heritages (especially Ottoman and Romani), heritages of the Balkans, environmental heritage and mobilisations, and intangible heritage with an emphasis on masquerades and carnivals. He is currently in charge of a research project that investigates the historical, social and cultural meanings of the Ottoman public baths and water heritage.

Heritage reconstructions and reenactments: EU Funds, Tourism and Neoliberal Governmentality of Archaeological Sites

The accession of Bulgaria to the European Union in 2007 has triggered the allocation of significant financial investments in the tourism sector, which were supposed to enhance local and regional development in the country. After the transition to a market economy, adaptation to the European single market and a series of economic and financial crises, public funds for archaeological sites attracted the interest of many private companies. The touristic appropriation of heritage established not only its marketization but also silenced its social and cultural values. Furthermore, in the field of intangible heritage these developments affected numerous traditional practices and the communities that safeguards them. Thus, the mainstreaming of such neoliberal governmentality reconfigured the whole understanding of cultural heritage and its appropriate meanings and uses. An important detail in this direction would be the appearance of many reenacting groups that revive and reinvent various historical periods, but also interact with heritage sites and professionals.

The application of this rationality in Bulgaria requires further attention since it reveals broader issues, such as the intersection of preservationist and technocratic discourses of cultural properties, long-lasting nationalist discourses, growing contemporary ethnonationalist and related entrepreneurial discourses, new economic discourses on heritage management, and EU regional and cohesion policies. Drawing upon examples of EU funded and other local initiatives, this paper aims to problematize the instrumentalization of archaeological sites as a symbolic and economic resource for the sake of public project applications and private economic activities. I will argue that while such approaches legitimize various interventions, they fail to engage local communities, but contribute to the deeper exoticization of heritage and the erosion of vernacular heritages.