ANGEL WAGENSTEIN
ART IS A WEAPON

5,000 - 10,000 BCE342 BCE852 - 889Ca. 13481492
Boris I creates a Bulgarian National Identity



Baptism of Tsar Boris I, 864 (from THE ILLUSTRATED CHRONICLES OF IOANNES SKYITZES, ca. 1150)


Beheading scene from BORIS (1985)
Angel Wagenstein’s script for BORIS I: CHRONICLES OF THE DEEP PEACE  (1985) is at first glance the official version of Bulgaria’s national origin myth: a commission from the Communist Party’s Ministry of Culture, to celebrate 1100 years of Bulgarian statehood. Khan Boris is a historical figure: the eldest son of a powerful tribal chieftain and head of a deeply fragmented coalition. Desperate to unify the South Slavs and Bulgars so they could resist absorption into the powerful Byzantine Empire, he converted to Christianity, and forced his mostly pagan allies to convert as well. Those chieftains who refused to abandon the old gods Boris beheaded … together with their wives, children, and horses. The state seized their lands and their slaves.   

Why did the Communists continue to promote Boris as the nation’s symbolic founding father? Isn’t Marxist ideology fiercely opposed to the hierarchical society of the Medieval era, to its economic inequality and its emphasis on religion…?   

Is Wagenstein’s script arguing that the brutality of the post-war Communist seizure of power was justified, that the birth of this nation only happened because a powerful leader did not hesitate to destroy his rivals?   That’s one interpretation. But as many observers have noted:  “Anyone watching that film in Bulgaria or in the Soviet Union would know that it’s a full frontal critique of the bureaucracy and rigidity of the Soviet system.” (Kristen Ghodsee) 



 
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