Self-Colonization of
Central and Eastern
Alexander Kiossev,
University of Sofia
Part 1 The Post-Colonial
Introduction into the mess of
“…Colonialism is the establishment and maintenance, for an extended time, of
rule over an alien people that is separate from and subordinate to the ruling
power. It is no longer closely associated with the term ›colonization‹, which
involves the settlement abroad of people from a mother country as in the case
of the ancient Greek colonies or the Americas. Colonialism has now come to be
identified with rule over peoples of different race inhabiting lands separated by
salt water from the imperial center; [...] Some further features of the ›colonial
situation‹ are: domination of an alien minority, asserting racial and cultural
superiority over a materially inferior native majority; contact between a
machine-oriented civilization with Christian origins, a powerful economy, and a
rapid rhythm of life and a non-Christian civilization that lacks machines and is
marked by a backward economy and a slow rhythm of life; and the imposition
of the first civilization upon the second…”
Emerson, Rupert: Colonialism. In: Sills, David L. (Hg.): International
Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Bd. 3. New York, London:
Macmillan 1968, pp. 1-5
Analysis of the definition
Rule/domination over alien people
Settlers (not necessarily)
Distance (salt water)
Alien-ness as “different race” (race distance)
Alien-ness as cultural difference (cultural distance)
Alien-ness as religious difference (religious distance)
Technological difference (technological distance)
Economic differences (economic distance)
Different rhythms of life (anthropological distance)
Imperial centre
What is the reason for connecting the “rule” with the “imposition of the
first civilization upon the second”? Colonization is more than “rule” it
requires imposition of superior civilization by a distant Empire.
Why are differences presented as distance and distance – as
superiority legitimizing the rule/imposition?
The concept of superiority is split: religious (Christian) superiority vs.
ethnic/racial superiority: reducible vs. irreducible (“natural”)
What is the role of the “salt water”? It implies new type of sea
transportation, a whole new manly world of sailors after 1492, risky
voyages into the dangerous “open sea”, sea monsters, pirates,
savages, adventures, exotic islands, “earthly paradises”… It implies
What does “imposition of civilization”
Import of institutions
Power/knowledge: import of cognitive categories supporting the rule
Import of practical know how
Import of legal frame
Control and sanctions, menagerial skills: GOVERNMENTALITY
import of religion and ideology: the Grand Narrative of progress,
modernization and “the burden of the white man”
Import of educational models
Giving birth to new goals, dreams and longings: import of
What is “social imagination”?
“Social imagination” usually implies a background intuitive knowledge, a body of
stereotypes shared by a community: for Charles Taylor it is a widely shared pretheoretical reservoir of shared perceptions, both descriptive and prescriptive.
Here we assume that usually this reservoir is structured as a historical narrative, which
rules the dreams, longings and phantasma shared by the members of certain social
Next assumption: Colonialism is not only rule over distant territories and alien
populations: it is rule over the collective imaginations, over the reservoir of dreams,
longings and phantasma both of the imperial and the colonized populations. It is
imposition of a Grand Eurocentric Narrative.
I.e. colonization is not only domination, it is hegemony: internalization of the hegemonic
cultural values, narratives, images - self- stigmatizion and traumatic subjectivization. It is
a longing for Ëurope, ”The West”, the “civilized World”.
Modern colonization is marked by two dominant mirror longings – “the innocent Earthly
Paradise” vs, “The Civilized World of Christianity, Progress, Enlightenment and
Civilization” Between them are distance and “the salt water”.
The postcolonial condition
The process of decolonization after the WW II in Asia, (the Arab world, IndoChina, Indonesia) and Africa 1949 – 1965. The model cases – Indian
independence 1947; the Suez Crisis 1956. The spread of the decolonization
process all around the world, disintegration of all colonial Empires.
Local Asian and African nationalisms, democracies and authoritarian regimes,
political chaos, ethnic cleansing; success stories and unsuccessful states.
The problem of the “colonial legacy” and “the Empire writes back”. The
“europeanizined” local elites and their values.
The anti-colonial intellectual resistance: Frantz Fanon and the program for
“vomiting” of the European cultural values. Are alternative culture, alternative
language (cultural codes) and alternative, non-European imagination possible?
New national and pan-African literatures
Cultural wars and the revision of the Eurocentric cultural canons – 1982
Postcolonial studies
Inside the American and west-European university – academic critique
and deconstruction of Eurocentrism
Edward Said and “Orientalism” as critique of the Eurocentric
power/knowledge about the East
Homi Bhabha and the critique of hegemonic narratives. The split,
hybrid and fragmented, “impossible” narratives of the colonized
Gayatry Spivak and “The Subaltern cannot speak”
The general problem – lack of authentic symbolic resource of the
colonized: knowledge, narratives, language… imagination. Symbolic
The Metaphor “Self-Colonization”
This metaphor can be used for cultures having succumbed to the cultural
power of Europe and the West without having practically been invaded and
turned into colonies. Historical circumstances transformed them into an extracolonial “periphery”, lateral viewers who have not been directly affected either
by important colonial conflicts or by the techniques of colonial rule.
Yet, they are in a situation where they had to recognize self-evidently the
foreign cultural dominance and voluntarily absorb the basic values and
categories of colonial Europe. The result might be named “hegemony without
The reason – the rule over imaginations trespasses the borders of the actual
territorial colonial rule: In the world of late XIX centuries the colonial
imagination started functioning as “Universal” (in fact, Eurocentric) Symbolic
Order, valid everywhere - even in the few non-colonized corners of the.
Short labels for this process of global conquering the various local
imaginations: civilization process, progress, Modernity, westernization,
Self-colonization, imagination and
public discourse
Important difference between factual colonial conquer and the conquer
of desires, longings and hopes. The conquer of the imagination of the
repressed (the dream about the West, Europeanization)– the ultimate
form of Power.
The maps of the real Empires and the Empires of the imaginations do
not coincide; the ideal West is bigger than the real West.
This form of Power – the conquer of imagination – could be called selfcolonization. The joke and the “Californication”.
Self-colonizing imagination is not a psychological phenomenon: it is the
inner structure of cultural production and the paradigm of the public
discourse of the peripheral countries: it has public validity.
Example 1: the first Bulgarian journal – the
obsessive imagining of absence
In 1842 Konstantin Fotinov (1790 - 1858), the creator of the first Bulgarian
magazine Lyuboslovie (Philology), published a remarkable appeal which treats
ardently and with pain all that lack of civilisation in the Bulgarians:
"Where are their daily newspapers and magazines, or the weekly and monthly
ones? Where are their artistic magazines, their rhetoric, mathematics, logic,
physics, philosophy, etc., etc., which man needs more than bread? Where is
their history, written in detail and widely spread among people, such as the
other nations have and which would help us to stand side by side with the
others and make the others aware of the fact that we are as verbal as the rest
of God's creatures?"
The Bulgarian press during the National Revival abounded in similar appeals
dealing with the lack of civilisation. They all represent patriotic complaints
about various shortages – about the lack of cultural institutions, literary or
scientific achievements, good manners or great Bulgarian poets. Yet, in spite
of their variety and heterogeneity one can see that all these complaints
expressed much more a morbid awareness of the absence of a whole
civilisational model rather than of some concrete civilisational achievement.
Part II
Modernization, Civilization,
Europeanization – or SelfColonization?
Imagination and practice
During the XIXth century this “imagination of absence” (variants: of barbarity,
orientalism, backwardness etc.) has been transformed into practical
modernization programs. Important! –social imagination is not only
imagination, it has real practical consequences.
The sociological mechanism of this process: the local elites were educated in
cross-border universities; back home, they took up roles as educators,
revolutionaries, writers, journalists, tutors and started disseminating the
Europe-centered colonial conceptual repertoire.
They did it without violence or colonial “governmentality” but through the
softer channels that had the leverage for captivating the imagination – stories,
books, school classes and textbooks, popular literature, political propaganda
and journalism.
These early patriots without nations, self-styled national utopians and
visionaries, introduced the notion of the „sovereign nation” and invented, by
dint of studied models, local „historical traditions”.
The dark side of the universal Eurocentric
imaginary – the internalization of asymmetries
and hierarchies
Traditionally named “Europeanization” and „Modernization”, this process had –
along with its indisputably positive effects – its dark side as well.
Along with the values of Christianity, civilization, the Enlightenment, along with
the placards of progress, liberty and revolution, the Europe-centered colonial
were irreversibly cemented into the collective imagination of such groups. The
trauma of being peripheral is internalized and transformed into a key element
of the national identity building process.
The notions of a European center and peripheries, of “masters” and „natural
subjects”, “enlightened” and “non-enlightened” of a civilization source and its
passive recipients, are taken to be natural, eternal and self-apparent; they
became part of the „common cultural currency” and the public discourse of the
new nations.
the traumatic identity building
The new “imagined communities” (i.e. the modern nations) emerge
in a power field : in an asymmetrical global imagined geography,
which is strongly hierarchical and hegemonic: - they immerge in an
Eurocentric World.
Their collective identities are from the very beginning fatefully
marked by their specific imaginary lоcation in this asymmetrical
colonial Eurocentric world – they are either in the Centre (the focus
of Civilization, Modernity and Progress) or in one or another of the
variously stigmatized peripheries (backward, barbaric, exotic or
Accordingly, the peripheral nations internalize their birth-stigma and
perceive themselves trough it – a process of traumatic collective
identity-building, painful and sometimes shameful collective
subjectivation and sense of belonging. They perceive themselves as
“cultures of absences and backwardness”.
There is dialectical duality of shame and pride in the self-perception
of such peripheral nations,: in their public sphere emerge two group
of ideologists: apologists of “better westernizations” and
“catching up with West ” – and the opposite trend, pride
nationalists, “nativists” (zapadniki I povhveniki)
Consequences – the imported, imitative and
hybrid high cultures
The artists and thinkers in such cultures are living with the
sense of periphery and provincialism, they follow fashions,
rarely – create fashions, ideas, paradigms.
They struggle for recognition by foreign audiences and
experts: the local (peripheral) recognition is not enough.
Translation and translatability are crucial issue.
Any attempt of “self-centering” in such cultures looks
suspicious: it borders with nationalism, autochthonic
ideologies, archaic nativism and xenophobia.
Example 2: the longing for Bulgarian
1870 – 1890: The Sense of Absence of the Novel. Translation, “Bulgarizations”.
genre Imitations: import of models.
The First Bulgarian Novel (1989 Ivan Vazov) and the negative reaction of the
newly born Bulgarian literary criticism: two accusations – 1. it is imitation 2. it
is not a real novel.
1890ies. The rival literary context – the competing “non-Novels” – memoirs,
autobiographies, short stories, journalistic documentary, vs. epic poems, lyric
prose, lyrics.
1890 – 1914 Generational Quarrels, Non-recognition of previous novels,
contested tradition, difficult canon building
The need for recognition by foreign authorities
Problems of translatability/non-translatability. 2012-2013 The case Gospodinov
– Ruskov.
The imported modern public institutions and
their social status
Similar to the situation in the real colonies, the institutions in the selfcolonizing cultures were not created in a process of incremental maturing
and adaptation turning them into unquestionable and long-lasting, habitual
They were imported as prestigious European models and imposed by
sweeping modernizing gestures of the elites who scraped them together
and legitimized them in a broadly westernizing – and very often eclectic and
inherently controversial – manner.
In this process there always remained a whole lot of things impossible to
import – the practical know how, the habits and routines, the well
established ethos, the roles and rules in an everyday performance of an
As a result, the institutions were too often accommodated, used in
unexpected ways to unforeseen ends, in line with bricolage patterns, i.e.
they are hybridized.
► This in turn provided a special role to the public sphere: it had to live up to
certain standards amidst public outcry, vitriolic criticisms and blazing
philippics. Public institutions often found themselves under so much and so
blatant pressure as to push them to the brink of loosing their credibility
Example 3: modernization and “deOrientalization” of Sofia – the
longing for “European” capital.
1880 – 1930 The modernizing struggle of the municipality.
De-Orientalization of Sofia on symbolic and infrastructural
level. Streets, public parks, pavement, street lamps,
electricity, trams.
Destruction or self-destruction of the old
“turkish”marketplace, of the numerous mosques.
Building of prestigious public buildings in European style” –
national parliament, national theatre, university, banks,
galeries, schools etc.
Sofia 1879
The De-Orientalization process
The De-Orientalization process 2
Sofia-Centre – 1900
Sofia-Centre – The National Theatre
Sofia-Centre – the University 1930
Example 4: building and usages of Sofia’s first
modern waterworks network
By the time of the National Liberation (1878) Sofia populations (11
000) uses water from only 54 public fountains; there are just 3
Ottoman "experts” to take care for them.
The first waterworks project was designed by the engineers Belov and
Kubassov. 1884 - difficult financing, yet the municipality demonstrates
“will for modernization” combined with a chaotic tactics of
“economizing” and improvised adjusting off the technical realization of
the project. The hybrid nature of the technological result.
Tensions between political authorities and technical experts, corrupted
“governmentality”, private interests shadowing the public interest and
the technological standards.
The real waterworks – cultural
practices and usages
Resistance by the peasant population surrounding Sofia:
The unexpected difficulties in maintenance of the
waterworks network. Lack of educated technical personnel.
The strange “water habits” of the Sofioters ( 1900 –
population of 70 000) and the economic collapse of the
modernizing project - the population, used to pre-modern
attitude to water, doesn’t regard water as commodity,
refuses to pay for it, it steals water with illegal pipes etc.
The imagined ideological waterworks
Municipality pride of the “technical miracle”
► Journalistic
► General
enthusiasm about the symbol of
approval and pride of the public
The first phase 1884 -1900
The first phase 1884 -1900 – the
Apostles of Progress
The “Consumers” of Progress
Consequences on the anthropological level – the
status of norms and practices in everyday life
► Lack
of factual colonial governmentality – bad
management, imperfect rules of the game, local
interests, weak control of results and misusages
► The
imported norms (ideals, models, rules) remain
non-imbedded in the everyday practices – they are
too distant, too alien, too non-habitual.
The habitual everyday practices are wild,
resistant, ‘non-obedient’ – they tactically use the
norms for their own purposes
Example: the German Menscheschlange and
English queue vs. the Bulgarian “опашка”
The Queue – simple model of social institution: habitual formal rules,
ruling roles, behaviors and mutual expectations
Visibility of norms, usages and mis-usages
Visualisation of order, disorder (chaos or transgression?) and sanctions
Menschenschlange (arbeitslose
Informatiker in Zürich)
English queue
English queue
Bulgarian “опашка” (literal meaning
Queue in front of Sofia’s bank
Ukrainian case
The western message of the queue image - the
reproduced social order
Опашка as the eastern image of
poaching tactics
Poaching tactics is conscious about
the norm
Interactions and tensions between
high and popular culture
It could be summarized as a stream of indignant criticisms alleging
shortage of civilization from the top and torrent of irony, adaptations,
adjustments, travesties, special uses, substitutions and hybrids from
the bottom designed to evade or undermine the top.
The masses, engrossed in their traditional way of living (with its own
channels, agents and pace of modernizing and Europeanizing), never
went the whole way in recognizing their Europeid elites with their
modernizing projects and civilizing claims.
The elites suffered the paradox of an inherent illegitimacy as being
locally born, not „truly European”; on their part, they decried the
„inferior human material” of the masses
Discussion about the situation in
Eastern Europe before 1989
► Was
the membership in the Eastern bloc
under the leadership of the Soviet Union
and during the Cold War a “colonial rule”?
Or maybe not?
Discussion about the recent situation
in Eastern Europe
How should we interpret the enlargement of EU:
None of this terms is adequate, we have to look for a different label
What are the reactions of the different sociological strata
of the population in your country toward the accession,
what are the tactical East European uses and misuses of
EU And “Europe”?

Self-Colonization of Central and Eastern Europe