The Bulgarian Studies Association awarded its 2018 John D. Bell Memorial Book Prize to
Anna Mirkova’s book:
Muslim land, Christian labor : Transforming Ottoman imperial Subjects Into Bulgarian National Citizens, 1878-1939. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2017.
In argument of their decision, the Book Prize committee states:
What makes this book important is its conceptual approach to look at Bulgaria and in particular at Eastern Rumelia as an area of nation building. Mirkova does this by providing a combined analysis of Ottoman-Muslim structures, war caused migration, land ownership and economic modernization policies. What adds to this approach is the fact that she puts her story into a broader Balkan respectively Ottoman imperial context.
Using this concept, Mirkova offers a fresh look at the fluid and negotiable character of national identities in post-Ottoman Bulgaria up until World War II. She shows the high degree to which „Bulgarianness“, i.e. the common contemporary understanding of what Bulgaria and being Bulgarian means, is the result of – in historical terms – recent policy making based on ethnocentric as well as territory-bound concepts of nationhood. Mirkova pays special attention to the „creation“ of national minorities as another result of these developments. She emphasizes, how these minority groups were forced to redefine their position and identity within the context of Bulgarian nation building in the direct neighborhood of the emerging Turkish nation state.
The value of this book lies in the fact that it raises questions that reach far beyond its scope. Such questions could address issues within the context of the „constructedness“ of Bulgarian/Balkan national identities, the degree to which these identities were still fluid and moldable when the communist regime took power, the constructed character of „traditions“ (folklore, cuisine etc.) in this context and, therefore, the communist contribution to nation and identity building.