Page 170 - MIGRATION

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MIGRATION, MEMORY, HERITAGE: SOCIO-CULTURAL
APPROACHES TO THE BULGARIAN-TURKISH BORDER
1.
That which we find in publications, travelogues, as well as blogs on the internet, or
in letters written by participants in those trips and published the
Thrace
newspaper highlights
certain aspects which, according to their authors, merit sharing. These are fact-based and at the
same time emotional and value-oriented.
2.
The documenting of the oral stories of participants in those trips during the free
interviews conducted in the field gives us the opportunity to gain much more detailed fact-
based knowledge, and at the same time also provides us with the opportunity to experience the
emotional dispositions and shared perceptions beyond the written word, photographs and films.
3.
Participant observations (whereby I took part in two trips of the group I observed,
conducted under the significant heading “Re-tracing the steps of our ancestors” in 2010 and
2011) proved to be most valuable because of the granted opportunity to become part of that
community, to experience everything together with the people involved and at the same time
observe them from a distance, trying to reflect on the events as they unfolded in the process.
Returning by “Re-tracing the steps of our ancestors” – behavioral dispositions
When summarizing the accumulated information, one can delineate a type of behavior on behalf
of participants which can be defined as ritualized. Ceremonial activities are part and parcel of
marking any occasion, anniversary and official event organized by the Thracian societies in
Bulgaria. Aspects of ritualization are evident in the thus created traditions for commemorating
those included in the rolls of honour, the functionaries in the movement for Thracian liberation,
the refugees, who acquire heroic features for their endurance during the traumatic events they
experienced. A national Thracian calendar approved by the Union of Thracian Societies in Bulgaria
is followed, which includes cyclic visits to places of memory, holidays, fests and gatherings,
and other activities fostering communal memory. The rituals create social connections and a
sustainable sense of group identity. I mention all these so as to outline the context with its already
established ways in which the “Thracian cause” and the declared belonging to the community of
Thracians is perceived and manifested. This context also came clearly across in my interview with
S. Y., former mayor and president of the Thracian organization in the village of Yasna polyana, in
the region of Bugras, after the folk fair on the historical site of Petrova Niva in 2009: “This is exactly
what we do now, the Thracian societies and mostly their leadership. So that all those scattered
across Bulgaria who possess the same spirit, the same memories, or kindred souls can gather
again and be together”.
When traveling across the border to villages in Eastern Thrace, the gathering “together”
is not only for people with a common place of origin, but also a getting together with parents
and ancestors, deceased now, who never managed to return. The predominant attitude is that of
paying one’s respects, of conducting a pilgrimage, of tracing back the steps of the refugees and
of an
in memoriam
realization of their dream to see their birthplaces. The descendants are in the
role of doubles to their ancestors and parents, symbolically returning in their stead. This is seen
in terms of following a familial legacy, a duty, not just taking part in a tourist trip: “This is why I
am so happy now, because I am fulfilling their dream. My first and second cousins and me, we