Bulgaria’s Zionism, The Colonization of Palestine and The Question of Balkan Postcoloniality

Dušan I Bjelić. Interventions. Volume 19, Issue 2. 2017.

“There are four types of Jews; Orthodox, religious, secular, and Bulgarian.”— Nora Madjar, in Haskel 1994, 156

In response to the recent wave of Syrian refugees, Bulgarian and Hungarian officials, according to a headline in The Times of Israel, expressed ‘interest in modelling border fence on Jewish state’s, but are unlikely to receive EU approval.’ This news is both ironic and symptomatic. It is ironic because the Israeli wall attests to the colonization of Palestine in which almost all Bulgarian Jews after the Second World War took part. It is symptomatic of the Balkans’ shifting geopolitical paradigm from the ‘bridge’ between the West and the East, to the ‘wall’ against the East. This shift calls for reevaluating the prevalent canon among Balkan historians about the incommensurability between Balkanism and Orientalism. The Bulgarian historian Maria Todorova wrote this thesis in her groundbreaking book Imagining the |Balkans (2009), which opened the field of critical studies of Balkanism modelled on Edward W. Said’s Orientalism. She, however, insists on methodological and historical differences between these two discourses because they belong to two different historical ontologies, the Ottoman and the colonial. To challenge her claim I will focus on the little-known historical phenomenon of Bulgarian Zionists and their participation in the colonization of Palestine, and argue that Zionism as a case of Orientalism was an operational ideology of the Bulgarian settlers in Palestine. Furthermore, I claim that via this historic linkage between the Balkans and Palestine, one can argue the continuity of a single history over two geographies.

In the twentieth century, Bulgarian Zionism acted simultaneously as orientalist ideology of a Balkan ethnicity prior to the Second World War and during the war as the Orientalism of a Balkan ‘race’, but the Bulgarian Zionists also acted as victims of an internal colonization in Bulgaria and as colonizers in Palestine. They were not as numerous as the Russian Zionists, for instance, but no other European Jews were as united in their commitment to the ideology of Zionism, this tour de force of the colonization of Palestine, as were the Bulgarian Jews; while most European Jews migrated to the western hemisphere, all Bulgarian Jews, except for a small number of communist anti-Zionists who stayed in the country, migrated to and took part in the colonization of Palestine and the creation of the State of Israel. As Vicki Tamir characterized the orientalist passion of Bulgarian Zionists:

Nowhere in the world has another Jewish community so totally identified with the Zionist credo since the turn of the century. Nowhere else in the Diaspora have Jewish institutions been governed by a Zionist majority rather than by the religious establishment, as they were in Bulgaria from the early 1920s until the collapse of Jewish freedom in the 1940s. Unlike the Jews of Russia, who either hailed the October Revolution or acquiesced to its mandate, Bulgarian Jewry forcefully repudiated the anti-Zionism of Bulgarian communism, organized itself in Zionist parties, and, through shelichim clandestinely operating with Bulgaria, maintained the life-line with Palestine open. (Tamir 1979, viii)

Because of a complicated history of the Jewish relation to sovereign powers in Europe as well as in Palestine, Bulgarian Zionists disrupt on many levels the canonized distinctions between ethnicity and race, external and internal colonialism in the Balkans historiography and call for a theoretical overhaul of Balkan studies. If Bulgarian subjects participated in the colonization of Palestine, how could a Bulgarian historian justify the foreclosure of the colonial history of the Orient from Bulgarian and Balkan history? Didn’t Bulgarian Zionists in some painful yet significant measure contribute, along with many other European Zionists, to the creation of the Palestinian trauma, which Todorova registers in terms of Said’s ‘growing identity as a Palestinian intellectual, something that might explain the foregoing of theoretical rigor for a profound emotive effect’ (1994, 9), that in fact informed and motivated the writing of Orientalism? Is not Todorova’s subject position, her very insistence on the externality of Orientalism, in some way internal to Said’s subject position? Doesn’t this historic linkage cry out for the accounting for the shared ‘infinity of traces’ (Gramsci 1999, 324) within the shared territory of academic discourse between Todorova and Said?

Foreclosing the Balkans’ Postcoloniality

The foreclosure of the Balkans’ postcoloniality as a discourse on colonial and neocolonial presence is a fragment of much larger strategic manoeuvring inside a European historiography ruled by the national paradigm aimed at disowning colonial history. There is a creeping assumption that because the European Union is a new political entity without a previous history and which has formally denounced colonialism and anti-Semitism, it somehow deserves a clean slate and the right to shift the ownership of its colonial histories to former colonial subjects. The tacit separation of the European and the colonial has been evident for some time in the national histories of the former colonial empires. French historiography, for example, predicated on the organic unity of territory, population and state, considers French colonialism as an exception. ‘There is frequent tension,’ Gary Wilder observes, ‘between categories that historians use to analyse either the French nation-state or its overseas colonies and the empire-wide economic, social, administrative … circuits that delimit France as an imperial nation-state’ (2005, 3). Similar conceptual tensions rage in German historiography today between the historians who maintain German national exceptionalism, Die Sonderweg, with respect to the Holocaust, and to those informed by postcolonial and poststructural analysis advancing Arendt’s ‘continuity thesis’ between German colonialism and the Holocaust. In response to the ‘continuity thesis’, Birthe Kundrus blames postcolonial studies’ privileging of ‘a “textual colonization” or a “metaphoric constellation”’(2011, 39) over the real one. In defence of the national paradigm she provides an itinerary of challenging specifics to counter the continuity thesis, one of which is the shortlived and unsuccessful German colonialism (38). In a word, the Balkans subject is still European but an aberrant one.

Although Todorova debates the difference between Balkanism and Orientalism on the grounds of a methodological adequacy, she engages a second line of argument conforming to the trend of foreclosing the colonial from European history. Balkanism, she admits, dovetailed Said’s discourse on Orientalism only in name, not in substance. Orientalism deals primarily with the politics of representation and is ‘clad in such generalizing discourse’ (Todorova 2010, 177). Postcolonialism departs from the sociological and economic to literary and discursive analysis. Balkanism, she concludes, is a unique geopolitical paradox, ‘something exceptionally rare in the humanities’ (2009, 193), transient and marginal and yet different from Orientalism. Its history originated at the time of the Enlightenment in travelogues, diplomatic correspondences, western literature, films and journalism to represent the Balkans as a crossroads, a place of geopolitical ambiguity, a bridge to be crossed between the West and the Orient. While the Orient and the Balkans share fictive representations, they do so to a different degree, for different geopolitical purposes, and above all to a different degree and modality of fiction and reality. While the Orient as a stereotype, according to Said, is a fictive geography and has no history, the Balkans’ history and geography, Todorova insists, are real. The Oriental subject is to Europe a fictive Other, while the Balkans to Europe is incompletely European precisely because of its transitory character. ‘This in-betweenness of the Balkans, their transitionary character, could have made them simply an incomplete other; instead they are constructed not as other but as incomplete self’ (Todorova 2009, 18).

As a specific historic formation, the Balkans has its own ontology, which in part begins with the history of its name, with the arrival of the Ottomans in the fourteenth century. At first, it was just the name of a mountain; then it became the name of the entire region. ‘Balkan’ is also a negative metaphor of violent fragmentation of an organic whole, which corresponds to the period of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the formation of small ethnic states. It is at this point where negative stereotypes outside and inside the region emerged into public discourse. ‘Balkan’ is also a scholarly category of analysis about a ‘concrete geographic region’ (Todorova 2010, 177). And finally, the Balkans lives its ‘Ottoman legacy’, once as a historic continuum and once as a perception. While the first two aspects of the Balkans may overlap with Orientalism, the last two pertain to a concrete historic reality—Ottoman versus colonial—which sharply differentiate Balkanism from Orientalism.

In addition to these geopolitical differences between the two historical ontologies there is also the question of the adequacy of methodological cross-purposes. Because colonialism did not cause Balkanism, Todorova insists, postcolonial analysis inspired by Said’s Orientalism is inappropriate for Balkan studies. ‘Postcolonial studies,’ she contends, is ‘a critique of postcoloniality, the condition in areas of the world that were colonies.’ She then adds: ‘I do not believe the Ottoman Empire, whose legacy has defined the Balkans, can be treated as a late colonial empire’ (Todorova 2010, 195). Balkanism refers not only to a concealed yet concrete historic and geographic reality, but also, because of its different historic roots, refers to an empirical methodology of conceptual specificities and differentiations from Orientalism’s abstractions and fantasy based analysis. Yes, Europe has misrepresented the Balkans, but it did this differently than with its colonies; the Balkans’ history, both as a series of events and as a discipline, is part of Europe. ‘After all, the Balkans are in Europe; they are white; they are predominantly Christian, and therefore the externalization of frustration on them can circumvent the usual racial or religious bias allegations’ (188). The Balkans is in Europe and belongs to its political history. In this regard Balkanism and the Balkans as ‘Ottoman legacy’ are also transient and vanishing historical phenomena. ‘The countries defined as Balkans … have been steadily moving away from their Ottoman legacy, and with this also from their balkanness.’ This ‘may well be an advanced stage of the final Europeanization of the region, and the end of the historic Balkans’ (186). This perhaps explains the Bulgarian pursuit of the Wall.

Although critical of Western European misrepresentations of the Balkans, Todorova is nonetheless invested in revitalizing European geopolitical centrality in the world. In her register, united Europe ‘emerges as a complex palimpsest of differently shaped entities, not only exposing the porosity of integral frontiers, but also questioning the absolute stability of the external ones’ (202). In such a new constellation of forces established by the united Europe, Todorova’s Europe works on two levels at once, as a historico-geographic whole and as an object of her geopolitical defence from its postcolonial ‘provincialization’. Dipesh Chakrabarty uses this term to name the end of the so-called ‘European age’, not to refer to the continent, but to Europe as the imaginary centre of a ‘universal human history’ (2000, 3). The gap between this centre and the racist practices in the colonies brought to bear by postcolonial analysis waged on behalf of this centre had stripped Europe of its undeserved cosmopolitan status. While Todorova does not deny Europe’s colonial legacy, she is cautious about ‘ontological angst to “decentre Europe”’ (2009, 201) among East European and Balkan scholars. Instead, she calls for a ‘de-provincialization’ of Western Europe. If the Balkans and Eastern Europe succeed in ‘rescue[ing] the region from debilitating diachronic and spatial ghettoization, and insert it into multifarious cognitive frameworks over space and time, … we will actually succeed in “provincializing” Europe effectively for the rest of the world’ (202). By this she means broadening and including not only an abstract discourse on power but also the histories of actual ‘dependency, subordination, and messy struggles’ (202). Only at this juncture can postcolonial theory and anti-balkanism generate ‘fruitful confluence’ (202).

There is also a geopolitical dimension to Todorova’s critique of postcolonialism in Balkan studies. The Balkan intellectual diaspora mostly residing in Western European and American academia and their corresponding NGO networks back home are the agents of neocolonial encroachment onto the Balkans. ‘Critics of balkanism have been mostly located in western universities or in the NGO sector, and these positions are very reminiscent of the agents of and adversaries of postcolonialism’ (2010, 190). Todorova blames these academic, legal and political networks for bringing US neocolonialism into the Balkans; she quotes John Dunham Kelly: ‘postcoloniality and globalization can be seen as two sides of the same coin, the coin of American power’ (Todorova 2010, 191). Like Kelly, Todorova holds to the same vision: ‘postcoloniality could end only when American power is as thoroughly confronted as European power has been, and the limitations intrinsic to the formal symmetries of the political present are as fully overcome as have been the formal asymmetries of the colonial past’ (191). Lured by the postcolonial desire to ‘provincialize’ Europe, these intellectuals ignore the fact that Europe is ‘the natural and historic background against which developments in one of its sub-regions in particular time periods can be most adequately projected’ (191). Instead of ‘provincializing Europe’, East European and Balkans scholars should de-provincialize Europe by getting ‘a good grasp of the Western European fields, and the sanctioned ignorance of Western Europeanists about developments in the Eastern half of the continent’ (190). In this way, these scholars will remain discursively within the organic whole of the European continent and at the same time revitalize Europe not only for the Balkans but also for the rest of the world.

In this internal European transaction between its West and its East, whereby the West for its part had to incorporate the East’s marginal histories into its own historical legacy, should not then by extension the reverse be true? Shouldn’t the West’s history of colonialism be the historical legacy of Eastern Europe and the Balkans also? Or does it mean something altogether different: that the Balkans’ ‘lack of colonial predicament’ would define the EU’s historic legacy? Should we not theorize the former East European, Marxist and non-colonial states’ refusal to accept EU refugee quotas for non-white Muslims as racially motivated? Yet how can we speak of race and apartheid in relation to countries with no colonial and racial relations?

Although Todorova does not discuss race or state-racism per se, she privileges the race factor anyway for her further differentiation of the two legacies. She writes: ‘The lack of a colonial predicament for the Balkans also distinguishes the two, as do questions of race, colour, religion, language, and gender’ (2009, 194). The reason for such treatment is due to the relation to race and religion of the West. Todorova acknowledges the race factor in relation to the Balkans as ‘the lowermost case, as an incomplete self’ (2009, 18), but only as a misplaced racism, since the Balkans cannot be the object of racial discrimination because they are white and Christian. Todorova’s absence of ‘race’ from the ontology of the Balkans rests on two assumptions. First, the notion that there were no ‘coloured’ people living in the Balkans, hence no race and racism; and second, race and racism are a systemic component of colonialism’s ‘naked capitalism’. To support this claim, Todorova relies on Jean-Paul Sartre’s definition of colonialism as naked capitalism in his essay ‘Colonialism is a System’ (2006). Sartre, she elaborates, ‘worked from Marx’s premise that colonialism presented capitalism in naked form, and for a philosopher a surprisingly concrete and historicized definition’ (Todorova 2010, 179). By reducing ‘race’ to ‘colour’ and both to the system of ‘naked capitalism’, which were uncommon in the Balkans, Todrova forecloses ‘race’ from the history of the Balkans’ state-racism.

While it is common in the Marxist-Leninist tradition to read colonialism and imperialism as global systems based on economic exploitation, such materialism falls short of recognizing the role of culture and ideology in constructing ‘race’ and race relations, as it was the case with the French mission civilizatrice (Conklin 2000). Sartre’s definition also suffers from the same civilizing virus. In defining colonialism as ‘naked capitalism’ Sartre allots to Négritude, as an exploited yet a transitional category, a status of a ‘world proletariat’ because race, unlike universalistic ‘class’, is ‘concrete and particular’ and ‘the product of a psycho-biological syncretism’ which must negate itself (Sartre 1948, 59; in Fanon 2008, 112). Frantz Fanon criticizes Sartre for depriving the black experience of its voice and for reducing it to nature, which for Fanon only confirms Sartre’s Eurocentric ontology of race as inscribed biological essence. ‘When I read this page,’ Fanon wrote on Sartre’s words, ‘I felt they had robbed me of my last chance’ (2008, 112); ‘Without a black past, without a black future, it was impossible for me to live my blackness (117). Unlike Sartre, who denies voice to race, Fanon gives race power. Fanon echoes Emmanuel Mounier’s call to struggle: ‘The young Blacks wanted to keep their alterity—alterity of rupture of struggle and combat’ (197); hence race belongs to power of resistance and not only to economic exploitation.

Todorova forecloses race from the ontology of the Balkans on the grounds that ‘naked capitalism’ never existed in the Balkans during the Ottoman Empire or after. Todorova’s economistic claim to race and racism is argued by Eric Williams in his economic history of slavery. In Capitalism and Slavery (1994) he locates the emergence of slavery in the only solution to the Caribbean labour problem.

Negro slavery was the only solution, in certain historical circumstances, of the Caribbean labour problem. Sugar meant labour—at times that labour has been slave, at other times nominally free; at times black, at other times white or brown or yellow. Slavery in no way implied, in any scientific sense, the inferiority of the Negro. Without it the great development of the Caribbean sugar plantations, between 1650 and 1850, would have been impossible. (Williams 1994, 29)

Securing cheap labour and preventing its shortage necessitated the legal construction of chattel slavery as well as racial laws defining race as inferior ‘colour’. ‘Slavery was not born of racism: rather, racism was the consequence of slavery’ (7). In short, racism is an ideological rationalization of economic necessities. Certainly, such history never existed in the Balkans.

While not disputing the economic function of race, an economistic definition of race is nonetheless incomplete. The hyper-productivity of black labour which Williams credits for making the Caribbean plantation economy profitable is certainly important, but what is missing is the constitutive role of white terror in creating the system of ‘naked exploitation’. There would be no slavery if not for capturing, shackling, shipping, selling, forcing to work, raping, killing, etc.—without white terror. Terror is a political, not an economic, variable, and in the case of African slavery it is an extension of conquest and race wars, so well articulated by Theodore Roosevelt: ‘The most ultimate righteous of all wars is a war with savages, though it is apt to be also the most terrible and inhuman’ (in Olusoga and Erichsen, 2010, 107). The economic definition of slavery then can be represented in Fanon’s model as follows: The economic enslavement and class relations underpinning the system of ‘naked capitalism are, according to this formula, a derivative of ‘race wars’.

Foucault and Race as Vector of Power

Inserting Michel Foucault’s discourse on race at this juncture is relevant for two reasons. Foucault’s concept of ‘discourse’ is common ground for the critique of Orientalism and Balkanism, and Foucault’s discourse on ‘race’ undermines the incommensurability thesis. Historicizing ‘race’ in Fanon’s key as the function of war of conquest is precisely the starting point of Foucault’s discourse on biopower. He developed his discourse on race in his lecture series Society Must Be Defended (2003) and in The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978-1979 (2008). Foucault proposes a political meaning for race:

In other words, what we see as polarity, as a binary rift within society, is not a clash between two distinct races. It is the splitting of a single race into a super-race and a sub-race. To put it in a different way, it is the reappearance, within a single race, of the past of that race. In other words, the obverse and the underside of the race reappears within it. (Foucault 2003, 61)

From this claim, numerous original insights follow: first, race is not something that comes from outside but from within a single society; second, ‘race war’ is internal to a single society; third, the modern state (liberal, Nazi, socialist) creates a race from within its own society; fourth, civil peace is maintained by power which functions as an internal conquest of race; and fifth, the modern state wages internal war on race as a means of its legitimacy.

These modern political conditions of race-making, for Foucault, are based on the inversion of the medieval political history of race. Before the Enlightenment, the sovereign powers used race to legitimize their conquest, such as Normans over Saxons or Franks over Gauls, on the grounds that they were the superior race. With the growing tension between the nobility and absolute monarchy, the seventeenth-century discourse on ‘race wars’ radically changed its use. To challenge the legitimacy of the sovereign power of the king, the pro-nobility historiography recovered the histories of conquests in the discourse on ‘race wars’ in opposition to the Roman historiography’s legitimation of the historic continuity of the state. Remembering old ‘race wars’ now amounted to a ‘counterhistory’; that is, a discursive rupture of and resistance to the use of historiography for legitimizing the continuity of sovereign power; such a rupture had shifted the venue of ‘race wars’ from the battlefield to the discursive field inside a single society.

To repress the destabilizing force of the discourse on ‘race war’ the Third Estate erased the racial divide by declaring a nation as a single race united in a transcendental principle of statehood. The Republic decoupled race and war by placing them under its jurisdiction. Robbed of its subversive history, race became reduced to a passive body prone to degeneracy, corruption and other forms of aberration in a need to be regulated; the birth of asylums, camps and prisons attests to the state regulation and expertise of race, which became a constitutive field of biopolitics. This transformation of race verifies the birth of biopolitics and the modern state’s racism.

Foucault’s discourse now expands the state racism commonly associated with the Nazi government, not only to liberal democracies but also to Marxist revolutionary discourse on class conflicts and socialist states. The revolutionary discourse of race hinged on the so-called residue of race’s linkage to war and morphed into ‘class war’. In the political history of the Gulag, subjecting class enemies to state punishment proves the work of Stalinist state racism. In Stalinism, Foucault contends, race reemerges as ‘class enemies’. He could not be clearer on this point: ‘At the moment when the discourse of race struggle was being transformed into revolutionary discourse, racism was revolutionary thought … Racism is, quite literally, revolutionary discourse in an inverted form’ (Foucault 2003, 81). ‘Socialism was racist from the outset, even in the nineteenth century or the anarchists at the end of it, you will always find a racist component in socialism’ (261).

Foucault’s discourse on race exposes a gap in Todorova’s literature on race, which she hoped to patch with ubiquitous Balkan whiteness and the ‘European common space’ of history. So, for example, Todorova acknowledges ‘minority problems have plagued practically all Balkan nation-states’, which were mostly resolved either through emigration or assimilation—notwithstanding, of course, ‘several major “cleansing waves”,’ and concludes: ‘This would be a consensual point among historians from which dissent can hardly be expected’ (2005, 153). Race associated with the Second World War genocides in the Balkans committed by the Balkan states has no place in the ontology of the Balkans. In Todorova’s theoretical register race is outside the Balkans, while inside the Balkans societies supposedly consist only of single-race ethnicities. And yet the Bulgarian Zionists are living proof of the state’s creation of race out of an ethnic and religious minority.

Under Ottoman rule and in Bulgaria prior to the Second World War, Jews morphed from a religious and ethnic minority into a race from within. Biological racism undergirded the introduction of the anti-Jewish Law in Bulgaria, and elsewhere in Europe and the Balkans, on the grounds of defending the nation from within. As Falguni Sheth points out, it is the force of law and legal classification of racial distinctions which had imposed a perception of ‘race-belonging to nature’ as if it were something independent of the force of law (2009, 22). The truth about race is not in biology but in the power of the Law. Legally defining Jews as a foreign ‘race’ from within, something outside the nation, the Bulgarian state treated Jews as if they were something from outside that must be conquered from within. This piece of racial history illustrates the Foucauldian claim about the use of law as a tool for waging war on internal race, which he refers to as ‘the sort of boomerang effect of colonial practice’ (2003, 103). The internal splitting modelled according to the Nazi state, Mahmood Mamdani calls ‘internal colonization’. As he put it, ‘When Nazis set out to annihilate Jews, it is far more likely that they thought of themselves as natives, and Jews as settlers’ (Mamdani 2001, 13). The same underlying notion of the nation under siege by Jewish colonial occupation was evident in the very name of Bulgaria’s anti-Jewish legislation introduced in 1941, the ‘Law for the Defence of Nation’. The Bulgarian state began implementing restrictions on Jewish wealth by heavy taxation—depriving overnight Jews of their income and means of subsistence. Finance Minister Dobri Bozhilov estimated that Bulgaria’s state collected Jewish debt to the Bulgarian state in an amount ‘to more than sixty years of exploitation’ (Tamir 1979, 173). Such legislation for deportation, forced labour, property confiscation and extermination, which had inscribed colonialism into European and Bulgarian Jewish identity, only reinforced Bulgarian Zionists’ aspirations for the colonization of Palestine (Khalidi 1997, 95; Kimmerling 1983).

Bulgarian Stalinism eliminated racial laws after the war and replaced them with the laws of class conflict. As an alternative ideology, Zionists became internal ‘class enemies’ along with Turkish minorities. Credit is due to Bulgarian civil society and to the self-preserving activism of the Bulgarian Zionists that fifty thousand Jewish lives were spared during the pro-Nazi government. Mary Neuburger (2004) historicizes the way in which the Marxist state deployed a narrative of class struggle to blend ethnic minorities into a single class: Turkish and Pomak minorities who stood for the backward Orientals and in a need of modernization, she writes, ‘were ultimately conceived as class and blood-brothers, as victims of historic injustices’ (57). Here is where the race strategy of the Third Estate, as outlined by Foucault, seemed to be played out in Bulgaria. Like the unified nation under the Republic, the Bulgarian working class itself morphed into a single nation, narod. The class struggle ‘eventually was replaced by old concepts of sameness and difference based on blood and soil’, which meant ‘Bulgarianness in which Pomaks, and eventually Turks, were claimed as true Bulgarians’ (12). Neuburger explains:

In the Communist period the state targeted the same kinds of everyday markers of Turco-Ottoman occupation, but with new ideological and practical tools of implementation; the BCP had inherited from their Soviet patrons a system of police terror and surveillance, as well as the political gumption to mobilize against newly defined enemies at the altars of modernization and ‘national integration’. (Neuburger 2004, 57)

Although Neuburger does not focus on Bulgarian Jews per se, a similar dynamic of ethnic relations looked through the prism of class conflict applied to Bulgarian Jews. Even though Bulgarian Jews took part in the Bulgarian Communist Party’s partisan war against the Nazi government, the BCP was suspicious about Zionism. At first, the BCP blocked Jewish migration to Palestine; only later, under Stalin’s instructions, and as a Cold War gesture against Great Britain, were they let go. Once Bulgarian Jews decided to leave Bulgarian lands, thus rejecting the state-based kinship, and once Bulgarian Jews stopped regarding the Bulgarian communist state as a racial bond, the Jews ceased to be Bulgarians and became something external to Bulgaria that originated from inside. As Neuburger argues, the land binds people—like blood ties—into the same category of nation, in this case ‘Bulgarianness’. Stripping its Jewish population of Bulgarian citizenship and confiscating their property on their way to Palestine made them de facto stateless people.

Nazi and Stalinist policies of making Jews into internal enemies only strengthened Zionist resolve. At this point, making a race from within Foucault’s discourse on race intersects with Said’s Orientalism. Orientalism is based in part on the internal split of Semites. Said writes: ‘By a concatenation of events and circumstances the Semitic myth bifurcated in the Zionist movement; one Semite went the way of Orientalism, the other, the Arab, was forced to go the way of the Oriental’ (1994, 307). Considering Said’s point, not only were Bulgarian Jews made into a race from within by Bulgarian racial laws; subjected to such a technology of racialization they were also becoming ardent Zionists, while Semites were becoming splitters. In this regard we can speak about the Bulgarization of Bulgarian Zionism, as it was the ideological goal of the Marxist government vis-à-vis its ethnic minorities, in that Bulgarian nationalism, which is the indisputable property of the ontology of the Balkans, inscribed itself into the orientalistic desire for the colonization of Palestine and into the creation of an Arab race inside the Jewish state, which is the indisputable property of Orientalism.

The Short History of Bulgarian Zionism as an Ottoman and Nazi ‘Legacy’

The majority of Bulgarian Jews were Sephardim from Spain who were invited by the Sultan Bayazid II (1481-1512) after their expulsion in 1492 and 1497 from Spain and Portugal (Gabriel 1998). Already familiar with life in a multi-religious and multicultural mille, Sephardim Jews blended well with the Ottoman Balkans: the Ottoman millet system in contrast to Inquisitional Spain offered cultural autonomy and space for cultural expression and self-preservation. The Balkans’ Sephardim Jews preserved their Oriental character and spoke the Ladino language, which would come to haunt them with the fall of the Empire in the nineteenth century and the period of the Balkans’ deorientalization. Since the Ottoman Empire had brought Jews to the Balkans and integrated them for centuries into Balkan societies, Balkan Jews and their historic predicaments must also be regarded as a part of the ‘ontology of the Balkans’.

Political Zionism is an ideology, which appropriates Jewish religious traditions about Palestine as the ‘Promised Land’ in order to claim ‘divine right’ for the re-creation of Eretz Israel (biblical Israel), which had many points of origin not excluding the Balkans. Historians of Zionism credit for the creation of Israel the ‘Labour Zionist cultural and political elite’ (Laqueur 2003, xvi) from East and Central Europe inspired by the Soviet Revolution and European labour movements. Only a few historians consider the role of Sephardim Zionism in this regard (Deccarett 2005). The Zionist colonization of Ottoman Palestine, with the first and the second alyah (the wave of Jewish settlers’ emigration to Palestine across Europe), coincided with the creation of the Balkan nation-states on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire during the nineteenth century. Balkan national ideologies—Bulgarian, Serb and Greek—grew out of the national desire to regain lost empires and inspired Zionism in Bulgaria and beyond. Observing the Russo-Turkish War in 1878 from Paris, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the founder of the Modern Hebrew language, saw in Bulgaria’s nationalism the mirroring of proto-Zionist desire:

Thirstily I read about these events in the press without realizing at first the connection between them and myself … and suddenly, like lightning before my eyes, my thoughts flew across the Balkans … to Palestine, and I heard a … voice calling to me: the revival of Israel and its language in the land of its fathers! (Fellman 1973, 21)

That Bulgarian nationalism could—after centuries of oppression—create its nation-state out of its collective memory about its lost mid-level kingdom on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire was a powerful inspiration for Bulgaria’s Jews to desire the same, to recover from under the ‘Turkish yoke’ Palestine as the promised land. This very mirroring of the Zionist desire via Bulgarian nationalism initiated the first Bulgarian alyah as early as the 1880s (Bein 1952).

The Bulgarian method of militant uprising against the Ottomans in 1878 also inspired Bulgarian Zionism, which distinguished it from western and ‘Ottoman Zionism’. Unlike Bulgarian Zionism, ‘A defining feature of Ottoman Zionism was this insistence on the fluid merger and reconciliation, rather than the clash of inherent incompatibility, of the aims of Ottoman and Zionism’ (Campos 2005, 462). Unlike Theodor Herzl’s ‘shuttle diplomacy’ and reliance on Jewish money and on reconciliatory Ottoman Zionists, Bulgarian Zionist Joseph Baruch, ‘the initiator of organized political Zionism in the country’ (Daccarett 2005, 325), promoted Bulgaria’s type of Jewish armed uprising inside Ottoman Palestine. In 1893 Baruch had already ‘advocated a statecraft-driven realpolitik that included measures ranging from waging war to seeking international overseers as a means to secure territory in Palestine for Jewish settlement’ (316). He advocated for the Bulgarian and Ottoman Jews to jointly rise and replicate the Bulgarian national uprising in Palestine. But Baruch also, as a sign of his ambiguous location in-between Christian Europe and the Orient, called upon the Sultan to join forces with the Jews against Europe. Like Herzl, Baruch, hoping for the Sultan’s recognition that Jewish nationalism could only strengthen the Ottoman Empire vis-à-vis Christian Europe, maintained that Turkey ‘has a need for intelligent, laborious and fiscally solvent elements like us’ (the Jews) to improve its internal cohesion and stop the Empire’s further dissolution. ‘The more we will be liberated, the more precious our alliance [with the Turks] will be. It is not anymore about a kind of Levantine Austro-Hungary, but the bulk of the Jewish people emancipated by agricultural work in the ancient Judea can save the Ottoman Empire from its peril’ (325). On the other hand, Baruch fought in the Turkish-Greek War of 1897 on behalf of the Greeks. He waged war ‘to fight Russia, more so than Turkey and in favour of Liberty for the nations of the Orient more so than in favour of Hellenism.’ Daccarett concludes: ‘By extension, then, Baruch seemed to imply that the Jews’ fight for national restoration constituted a struggle for the honour of the Orient at large’ (325). In Bulgarian Zionism ‘Oriental’ signified ethical and critical distancing from Christian Europe and western Zionism. Baruch insisted on independence from the Jewish financial oligarchy and called for the establishment of the Jewish state on the principle of Jewish ethical recuperation through agricultural labour.

Although always present, Bulgarian anti-Semitism since the nation’s independence was mild in comparison to that of other Balkan nations. But this radically changed during the Second World War with the introduction of anti-Jewish laws and mass deportations. The Bulgarian government joined the Axis on 1 March 1941, and Bulgaria was allowed to occupy western Thrace, Macedonia and a part of eastern Serbia. In return, among other things, it had to introduce racial laws and deport Jews under its jurisdiction to the concentration camps in Germany. The ‘Law of the Protection of the Nation’, a law similar to an anti-Jewish law already introduced in Germany, took effect in January 1941; on 26 August 1942, the government issued a decree, which established a Commissariat for Jewish Affairs and placed Alexander Belev, a pro-Nazi lawyer, at its head with a direct line to Berlin. In this way all issues pertaining to the Jews were placed under direct control of the Ministry of the Interior, which ‘became the official channel of communications with central authorities in Berlin entrusted with the final solution of the Jewish problem’ (Oren 1969, 12). At first, the anti-Jewish law relied on religion to define who was a Jew, thus protecting many Jews baptized or married to Bulgarians from deportation, but a later decree replaced religion with ‘race’ and thus ‘changed the definition of “Jew” so that ancestry rather than religion became the most important criterion; reduced privileged categories; and in other ways laid the foundation for fitting the Bulgarian Jews into the framework of the Nazis’ plans for Europe’ (Chary 1972, 54).

In March 1943, between ten and twelve thousand Jews from Thrace, Macedonia and parts of Eastern Serbia were rounded up and sent to Treblinka, Poland (Matkovski 1982). In the meantime, the Bulgarian Jewish population learned about the secret plan. With the help of non-Jewish politicians, intellectuals and the Holy Synod, they put pressure on the government. Due to the changes on the Eastern Front favouring the victory of the Soviets and the death of King Boris, the deportation of Bulgarian Jews was postponed and the lives of fifty thousand Bulgarian Jews were spared (Hilberg 1967; Oren 1969; Chari 1972; Cohen and Assa 1977; Boyadjieff 1989; Bar-Zohar 1998; Todorov 1999).

In the autumn of 1944 the Soviets entered Bulgaria and a change of regime occurred. A Zionist conference was immediately held, and only a few months after the regime change, on 1 December 1944, David Ben Gurion arrived in Sofia to lobby the new communist government for a Jewish immigration to Palestine. The government’s cold reception of Ben Gurion stood in sharp contrast with the Bulgarian Zionists’, who were poised for the massive exodus. During Ben Gurion’s speech in Sofia, ‘the public interrupted several times with cries of “We want to emigrate. Emigration to Palestine!”’ (Boyadjieff 1989, 132). Right before and during the war, Bulgarian Zionists actively organized ‘illegal’ immigration to Palestine. The commitment to the emigration had been strongly confirmed at the first Zionist congress after the war in January 1945.

The initial hostility toward the emigration by the new communist government radically changed; ‘in 1947 relations between Soviet Russia and Great Britain became tense, the green light was given in Sofia to adopt a tolerant position’ (136). As soon as the USSR recognized the State of Israel in 1948, the emigration was strongly encouraged. ‘Some 7,000 Jews emigrated between 1944 and 1948, followed later on by a further 10,000. Out of nearly 53,000 Jews, 48,000 opted for Palestine. The Communist Government gave the remaining, most of them Communists, good jobs in the administration and even in the newly created dreaded Militia’ (136). Tolan describes the first wave of Jewish emigrants departing from Bulgaria after the war:

At long tables at the front of the lines sat uniformed Bulgarian immigration police. One by one 3,694 Jews prepared to show their papers and open their suitcases for inspection for hidden cash or gold. They were allowed to take nothing of value, but some travellers had sewn jewels inside their underwear, or strapped French gold coins, known as napoleons, to their bodies. They were not planning to return: When they reached the immigration tables, they would sign documents saying that from this day forward, they would no longer be citizens of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria. (Tolan 2006, 70-71)

Because of their commitment to the Zionist project, Bulgarian Zionism earned the status of exceptional among the Zionists. As the Bulgarian Zionist leader Benyamin Arditi put it in terms of Bulgarian Zionist exceptionalism, ‘sociologists and psychologists would have to explain to us why the youngest hero to fall in the battle for Jaffa was Sofia-born Loni Heinrich Bechar, why the youngest volunteer to die in the struggle for Jerusalem was Sofia-born Mosheh Pepo Meshulam, why the youngest victim at Yazur was sixteen-year-old Yambol-born Yitchhak Chayim Coprdova’ (in Tamir 1979, 230). In April 1948, hundreds of Bulgaria’s young Zionists from Poalei Tsion converged with other Zionists from around the world at ‘Grandes Arena—the former army barracks in the seedy outskirts of Marseilles’ (Tamir 1979, 229), where, by tacit approval from France, Haganah provided military training. ‘At that time,’ Tamir reports, ‘France was the center of Aliyah Dalet’ (229). Illan Pappe describes ‘the Bulgarian Brigades’ active in the operation of Plan Dalet:

Together with Brigade Etzioni, the Harel troops focused on the Greater Jerusalem area. Far away from there, in the northeastern valleys of the country, the soldiers of the ‘Bulgarian’ Brigade were so successful in their destruction mission that the High Command thought at the time that they could proceed immediately to occupy parts of the northern West Bank and sections of the upper Galilee. (Pappe 2008, 140).

The Zionist ‘solution’ to the ‘Jewish question’, according to Hannah Arendt, ‘merely produced a new category of refugee, the Arabs, thereby increasing the number of the stateless and rightless by another 700,000 to 800,000 people’ (1994, 290). Arendt’s claim rests on two related theses, the ‘continuity’ and the ‘transferability’ theses. The first thesis points to the continuity of the same problematic history, while the transferability thesis points to the transferring of the subject position from one stateless people to another. The life of the Balkan Sephardim Jews in Israel proves both Arendt’s theses; as they represented the Oriental ethnicity and race in the Balkans by Christian ethnic majorities they encountered the same marginalization in the racialization by the Ashkenazim. Arendt’s two theses presuppose the continuity and transfer of Foucault’s creation of race from within.

Just as internal race is invented by European nation-states to legitimize their sovereignty, the same invented race is deployed by the Zionists to legitimize the conquest of Palestine. Arthur Ruppin’s racial theory of pure Ashkenazim undergirded the settlement establishment. The establishment and expansion of Zionists’ settlements were based on the exclusion of Arab labour, which amounted to the internal splitting of the single Semites’ race by means of racialized labour (Shafir 1989). According to Morris-Reich, Ashkenazim Zionists deployed Ruppin’s racial theory as the organizing principle of the Israeli state, not only between Jews and Arabs but also between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, which bore signs of internal Balkanism. As he puts it, ‘This way Ruppin fixed the racial inferiority of the Sephardim and turned their discrimination into the cornerstone of the Zionist enterprise for generations’ (Morris-Reich 2006, 2). For the Sephardim ‘cultural massacre’ Ella Shohat blames Israeli state racism: ‘European Zionism has been an immense confidence trick played on Sephardim, a cultural massacre of immense proportions, an attempt, partially successful, to wipe out, in a generation or two, millennia of rooted Oriental civilization, unified even in diversity’ (1988, 32). And the third way that Zionists deployed race is in the Zionist negation of exile as authentic Jewish identity (Piterberg 2008, 110).

Bulgarian Sephardim Zionists are subject to double erasure from their exile in Palestine by the Bulgarian-Balkan historiography and by the Israelis’ erasure of their Balkan exile. Among the first and as the most committed settlers, Bulgarian Zionists participated in racialized labour relations, joined in military and terrorist operations in Palestine, and carried out along with other Jews the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Palestinians. Idith Zertal casts light on the Zionist ‘trick’:

In order to realize the ultimate, complete Zionist redemption—a Jewish state—out of ultimate catastrophe—the Holocaust—and in order to forge from the catastrophe of millions redemption and power for millions, in Ben-Gurion’s words, the Zionist collective had to sanctify the victims of the catastrophe and tarnish them at the same time, had to regard themselves as part of this collective on the collective’s own terms, had to want to be a part of it in any way possible. This was the unstated deal; this was the encounter offered to the victims. Thus, the Holocaust, its victims, and its survivors all played their crucial historical and political roles according to the Zionist scripts. (Zertal 1998, 274)

While race operates as a legitimizer of state sovereignty, the fact that Bulgarian ethnicity among the Bulgarian settlers remained points to a postcolonial continuity. On that point some regard former West Germany and today’s united Germany’s adulation for Israel, with its military and industrial support, a form of ‘proxy colonialism’ (Braach-Maksvytis, 2011, 307). Historians of German colonialism register Germany’s unconditional support for Israel as ‘redemption’ for the Holocaust that was committed in their name. Through this atonement, Germany can still, through Israel’s colonization of Palestine, indulge in their defeated colonialism. ‘Proxy colonialism’ furnishes, for German national politics, a cultural superiority of their modern mentality. It is a way of saying ‘Our colonialism was suppressed, but Israel is proving us retroactively with legitimation.’ The Jews colonized Palestine in a German manner, which was Herzl’s initial idea when he approached Kaiser Wilhelm II (Herzl 1989, 43). A foremost Zionist thinker, Ahad Ha’am, had characterized Herzl in this respect: ‘What Herzl understood is that only by leaving Germany and settling in the Jewish state could the Jew finally become a real German’ (307).

Despite the request for the above mentioned Wall, I am, of course, not suggesting a proxy colonialism between Bulgaria and Israel. Rather, I insist on the variety of the linkages and continuities between their ethnic, national, racial and colonial histories also on the level of subjectivity. Todorova herself claims a propos the incommensurability thesis, ‘Subjectivity matters after all. None of the contemporaries in the Balkans under Ottoman rule felt they were in colonial positionality’ (2010, 181). I don’t think Todorova equates ‘subjectivity’ with personal psychology but rather to an individuation of a historical context, a particular historical form, hence, ‘None of the contemporaries in the Balkans under Ottoman rule felt they were in colonial positionality’. ‘Positionality’ is the key here in mediating the processing of general structures into a personal experience, which must presuppose some form of ideology and power technologies of the self. As we know, diasporic subjectivity migrates cultures and ‘cultural patterns’ (Schuetz 1944) of daily life beyond national and regional borders and forges the linkage between different geographies and historical forms through displaced subjectivity. In 1948 there was no Israeli identity per se, only a conglomeration of variety of ethnic Jews—Ashkenazim, Sephardim, ‘Arab Jews’, ‘Russian’, ‘German’, ‘Greek’ (Fleming 2008) and others—all united in their ethnic differences by the power of the new state and inside the newly established hierarchies of power accorded to, as Shohat pointed out, their ethnic prefix. When Nora Majar identifies ‘Bulgarian Jews’ as a special kind of Jew she refers to two things at once specific to them: all Jews from Bulgaria are Zionists and all Zionists from Bulgaria in Israel are Bulgarians in Israel.

If Bulgarian Jews were on the receiving end of the Bulgarian state, they did not escape state racism by joining in the creation of Israel either as promoters or as victims. They participated in the transfer of their racialized subject position to the Palestinians. Foucault’s inversion of Clauzewitz’s aphorism ‘politics is the continuation of war by other means’ (2003, 48) is also evident in the state of Israel vis-à-vis ‘Oriental Jews’ and the Balkan Jews, by creating a ring of legal, economic and political exclusions around them, and even more by erecting a wall between the conquerors, the Jews, and the conquered race, the Palestinians. Created by the European nation-states as a ‘race’ and subjected to internal colonization and genocide, European and Bulgarian Zionism claimed on the basis of its own racial identity the legitimacy of the Palestinian occupation, the occupational laws, the confiscation of Palestinian lands and houses, and the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Palestinians. To this extent the creation of Israel belongs to the history of Foucault’s ‘war of races’, and to the extent that as soon as the state had been created, the internal politics of Israel became war waged by military and other means from many points of origin, one being Bulgaria and the Balkans. In this regard the criticisms of Balkanism and Orientalism are far from incommensurable. Rather, they relate as each other’s interiors (Bakić-Hyden 1995; Shohat 1988).