During last decades Bulgaria has been witnessing a real upsurge in the revitalization of rural carnival and masking traditions. Known as “kukeri” or “survakari”, many groups of masked people perform annually in numerous villages and small towns all over the country. The rite is extremely prestigious for the national imagery and one of its regional versions has been nominated by the Bulgarian state and consequently inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List. Alongside with local customs, in several towns municipal authorities organize major festival parades with thousands of participants where groups from different places gather to perform their respective traditions and compete. In this context, the lecture will examine two different cases which question the normative canon of the masquerade, by transforming some of its elements into sign-vehicles of ethnic or gender self-representation. The first example traces the consolidation of a whole Romani mummer group, while the other highlights the strategic redefinition of the tradition in queer terms by LGBTI activism. It will be argued that they both criticize, on a performative level, the exclusive concept of the nation and its supposedly homogeneous culture. In the light of Critical Heritage Studies, the presentation will discuss arising contestations of masquerade, seen as a continuous process where multiple social and political tensions arise.
Ivo Strahilov (PhD) is a Research Fellow in the Department of Cultural Studies at Sofia University St Kliment Ohridski. His doctoral dissertation (Sofia University, 2019) scrutinizes the social construction of the ancient Thracian heritage and its appropriations in modern Bulgaria, while also exploring various cultural and political entanglements between Western and Eastern Europe. Strahilov’s scholarly interests include contemporary uses of heritage, minorities’ heritages, performativity, representation, identity politics, and Balkan–European interactions