who-owns-the-past-120x180In Who Owns the Past? : The Politics of Time in a ‘Model’ Bulgaria Village, Deema Kaneff produces a useful study of politics and community life in rural Bulgaria. Based on more than 10 years of research, Kaneff makes the most of her insider status to observe and interact with different behaviours and attitudes in her family’s home town. The result is a unique window into the political use of the past in socialist Bulgaria for legitimising state power, shaping local community relationships, and influencing interactions between the local community and the central state.

Kaneff identifies three different ways of taking about the past, which she labels history, tradition and folklore, and uses them as the central organising principle of her work. Each category represents a particular use of the past. History is reserved for that which is real in the realms of politics and economics. Tradition is culturally orientated, especially regarding religion and religious practices. Folklore is an idealised past as story to promote the communist state agenda.

The core of the work revolves around the “model” village competition and how participation in the programme impacts life in Talpa, where the author lives during her research. Using this point in time allows her to place the reader in the life of the village, creating an interesting interplay between scholarship and personal memoir. I think this humanises the study and gets one thinking more about real impact in the lives of people than might otherwise be possible.

Kaneff changes names to prevent any inadvertent social damage to characters in the study, but it doesn’t detract from the usefulness of the work. This book demonstrates that, despite tremendous external upheaval, the internal workings of the past are still very much with us, wielding deeply rooted power to influence present, and future, events.

Several pages of photographs illuminate the atmosphere of the typical Bulgarian village. The bibliography is extensive, and the subject improves accessibility for the casual researcher.

Who Owns the Past? : The Politics of Time in a ‘Model’ Bulgaria Village
By Deema Kaneff

Berghahn Books, 2004
ISBN-10 1571815341, ISBN-13 9781571815347 (hardback)
ISBN-10 1845452984, ISBN-13 9781845452988 (paperback)


1. Introduction: Politics and the Past
2. A ‘Model Village’

History: A Brief Introduction to Chapters 3 and 4
3. Socialist History, Politics and Morality
4. Contesting History

Tradition: A Brief Introduction to Chapters 5 and 6
5. The Character of Traditions
6. Tradition and History: Contrasting Constructions of the Past

Folklore: A Brief Introduction to Chapters 7 and 8
7. Defining Folklore
8. Folklore in a New Bulgarian Village
9. Conclusion: A New Model for the Village


Kaneff, Deema. Who Owns the Past? : The Politics of Time in a ‘Model’ Bulgarian Village. New York: Berghahn Books, 2004.