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Ivan Valev on art, culture, and the period of transition in small countries (translated)

Published 24th May 2010 - 2 comments - 10355 views -

Today is May 24, the day of Bulgarian education and culture, and slavonic literature. We celebrate it as the day of St. Cyril and Methodius who created our cyrillics alphabet.


Ivan Vylev

Ivan Valev is a Bulgarian poet and translator of polish poetry and fiction.

He was born in 1942 in the village of Streltsi, near Plovdiv. He lives in Plovdiv. He studied Polish language and literature in Sofia University. His first translations are featured in the anthology "Contemporary polish poets" (1967); the same year comes out his first book of poetry "Скорост." He has worked as an editor in the state publishing house "Hristo G. Danov," as a university lecturer in Polish language and literature, as well as in theory and practice of translation, and has also served as a director of the Bulgarian cultural and information center - Warsaw, as well as a bookseller at a street stand.

Ivan Valev is an author of 8 books of poetry, and one novel ("Скритата градина”). His poems are translated in anthologies and publications abroad. Some of his poems are turned into songs by Grisha Trifonov ("Лятото") and Stefan Diomov ("Нито ден е, нито вечер”, "Обещания” и др.).

Ivan Valev has translated 11 books of renowned polish writers such as Jan Kochanowski, Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, Sławomir Mrożek, Станислав Дигат, Tadeusz Nowak и др. His last translated book is "Ангел прелетя” – lyrical poetry of Adam Mickevič. Most of the texts are translated into Bulgarian for the first time.

Some of the more important awards Ivan Valev has been conferred are: "Plovdiv" for poetry; "Honoured, for contribution to polish culture" (by the state of Poland); awards for translating the poetry of Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz and for translating the works of the Renaissance poet Jan Kochanowski.

Available online translated in English is his poem "White Crow."


Is there a cultural crisis in Bulgaria? Is there a way out of the status quo?

I cannot deny that there is a cultural crisis in Bulgaria. This crisis mirrors the overall crisis in our society in the past 20 - 30 years. Because the poverty in our daily life and also the excessive consumerism impact adversely the intellectual and spiritual life.

When the country is small, a market economy cannot function within the realm of culture. The end product of art, when it is true art, cannot be sold in large quantities and does not yield adequate returns. Pseudo-art shoots up. Only primitive scenes and spectacles are capable to attract wider audiences and big money. And on top of that, the people who truly value true art are becoming poorer and poorer materially and cannot afford books, tickets, etc. With a monthly pension of 100 EUR, how can one spare 5-10 EUR for theatre and concerts? Collective art is the first to go down, since it is expensive. Only individual artists survive still, as they do not need expensive material such as equipment. But they are also burned because often they are not given the royalties they have earned. Songs are performed, translations and poems are printed, without compensation for the authors. Authors' copyrights are not well-guarded by the state. However, taxes are collected, at least lately, dilligently.

Still, despite the overall crisis, some enterpreneurs manage to successfully work within the sphere of art and culture. For example, the publishers from Plovdiv Nadya Furnadzhieva, Bozhana Apostolova and Stoyo Vartolomeev built their own publishing and printing houses, as well as networks for circulation and they have success in marketing Bulgarian authors as well. Perhaps there are others, but I list only those I know. Is there a way out? Perhaps there is, and not only one. But the most important is - our country should get richer, so that it can allocate a bigger percent of its budget for culture. Until then, everybody's on their own - to survive. Or to sink.

Is the country a mother or a mother-in-law to the Bulgarian culture?

The country as represented by all governments throughout the transition period has been not only a mother-in-law to Bulgarian culture, but also to education, science, healthcare... "There is no money, go and work!" - this sergeant's phrase is in the roots of our state's cultural policy. Today Bulgarian culture is not unlike the streets and roads - scattered with potholes. But while the potholes can be filled  quickly once there is money, the pits in culture will be wide open for years to come. Because the artist of any form of art becomes an artist slowly, with difficulty, and continuously. Swifftly-made are only the stars of pop-folk. They want to level to pop-folk our poetry, theatre, symphonic music - everything in accord with the market mechanism... Well, in this case, let them entertain themselves with this chalga*, it is successful. And everything else, which in essence is chalga.

The state is a mother-in-law to every individual, too. Not only to the man or woman of art. For the state it is best not to have individuals, but mass, electorate. And spirituality characterizes the individual. How easy it is to manipulate, for example, some ethnic neighborhoods before elections! It appears this is the way it is because every government sees ahead only of its mandate duration of 4 years. And then - whatever. We lack continuity, or succession...

But we, Bulgarians, had a Renaissance once. And are yet to have another one.


* (blogger's note) Chalga as defined by Urban Dictionary - smile

PS. I looked through the categories of the blog posts, what does it tell us that a "culture" category does not exist?

PSS. The original interview in Bulgarian is found online at the website whose reporter conducted the interview

Category: Crisis | Tags: art, culture, poetry, bulgarian chalga,


  • Ivaylo Vasilev on 25th May 2010:

    I think a key point that can be drawn as a lesson for developing countries is that culture and art require a special consideration and specific development planning, if we want to preserve and further any of the two.

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