Author: Petar Petrov

Abstract: After heavy rains and rapid snowmelt in February 2012, the dam of an artificial lake collapsed and the water flooded the village Biser. It took the lives of six people, destroyed 56 houses and damaged many others. What does this flood tell us about society is the general question that the present paper is addressing. Empirically, it is based on ethnographic fieldwork in Biser and in other Bulgarian villages and small towns that have been flooded over the past ten years as well as on the analysis of publications in the media. The first section uses as a starting point the conceptual definition of natural disasters as phenomena that occur at the intersection of nature and society. It shows how political, economic and social practices have a share in the causation of floods. Mismanagement and neglect of infrastructure belong to the “potentially destructive agents” that accumulate problems, create unsafe conditions and generate “natural” disasters. From another theoretical point of view, disasters are conceptualized as “empirical windows upon the inner working of society” that give us insights into values, attitudes, practices, and processes that are dominant in a particular society. In the Bulgarian case, these include indifference and even irresponsibility of politicians, experts and “common” people towards public sphere (outdoor space, infrastructure, regulations, laws, common interests, welfare), lack of long-term planning, and focus on short-term profits that is characterized by both disrespect of legal norms and disregard of safety rules and measures. The second section deals with the political use of rescue operations, social assistance, and reconstruction in Biser. The disaster management was simultaneously carried out as a political image-management and the reconstruction became an arena for political activism. The government pushed itself into the spotlight in the role of local crisis manager. Using the media, the politicians focused the public attention on the visibility of their assisting and rebuilding projects (material and financial aid, compensation, reconstruction of damaged houses, construction of new houses). The last section shows how aid and reconstruction caused a new disaster, a social one. The recovering projects and the resource allocation turned into “destructive agents” that triggered social conflicts. The initially single group of flood-affected people was disintegrated into several groups that were defined by the type and the amount of material and financial aid they received. Envy, mutual distrust, competition and even hostility broke out. Since the reconstruction followed a top-down approach and was guided by political decisions, it largely neglected local social reality. It did not return the village back to normal, as the government wanted, but rather it reshaped and restructured the village both physically and socially. In the analysis, G. Foster’s theory of the image of limited good and E. Banfield’s concept of amoral familism are referred to.

 Keywords: anthropology of disasters, post-disaster conflicts, recovery aid, reconstruction, limited good, morality

About Ana Luleva

Институт за етнология и фолклористика с Етнографски музей, БАН София 1000 Ул. „Московска“ 6А