BORDER TERRITORIES, BORDER PEOPLE: THE BULGARIAN TOWN OF ZLATOGRAD AS A BORDER AND A BRIDGE – Milena Benovska-Sabkova, Iliya Nedin


Author: Milena Benovska-Sabkova and Iliya Nedin

Abstract

Highly disputed, the Bulgarian-Greek border near Bulgarian town of Zlatograd divided the region of Rhodope Mountain for almost eight decades in the twentieth century. Vigilantly guarded under socialism, the border was an effective means for maintaining state sovereignty. Inhabiting areas near the historically contested border, the Bulgarian Muslims in Bulgaria and the Pomaks in Greece were perceived as a threat to the national security of both countries. Boundary position, also symbolically, is the main characteristics of the Bulgarian Muslims. The cultural and linguistic community on both sides of the border was also split. Еstablishing state borderline after the World War I destroyed the pastoral economy of the Bulgarian Muslims in Bulgaria by “cutting” their access to winter pastures near the Aegean Sea. The isolation of the Muslim population in the frontier Greek villages led to the formation of two different identities among the heirs of the former total Muslim community. Under socialism, the border location of Zlatograd brought economic advantages for the local community. While most Bulgarian Muslims in Zlatograd declare at present Bulgarian identity, the isolation and the Greek assimilation policies have influenced the formation of other, different strategies among their neighbours south of the border fence. Working together in the socialist enterprises, the specific culture of the small Balkan town, raising the level of education among Bulgarian Muslims, the imposition of secular values: all that led to the convergence between the Christian and Muslim population of Zlatograd during socialism and postsocialism. By skillfully managing the cultural heritage of the region after 2001 and developing of cultural tourism, Zlatograd community has partly offset the postsocialist economic difficulties. The border location of the town again became an economic stimulus at the end of the 1990s through the funds of the European Union. Borders transform themselves into bridges near Zlatograd after opening the border checkpoint in 2010, by reviving trade, tourism, cross-border cooperation and through the resumption of everyday communication between people on both sides of the border fence. Destroyed in the past, this local community in the southeastern periphery of Europe has been reborn for contacts and new cooperation.

Key words: borders, Bulgarian Muslims, identity, urban culture, cultural heritage

About Milena Benovska-Sabkova

Professor of Ethnology. New Bulgarian University/ South-West University of Blagoevgrad. email: mbenovska@nbu.bg