Historian examines the Bulgaria Fair Experience
Posted: February 3, 2009
Neuburger will examine how the fair experience illuminates the role of consumption in how Bulgarian communist power was formulated, displayed and reconstituted in the post-Stalinist years. She will also explore how the provision of consumer goods and the active consumption of the population were critical to building socialism.
For two weeks out of every year 100,000's of people descended on Bulgaria's second largest city as spectator and consumers. The fair offered an array of images and goods – messages of power and plenty from a variety of states, most notably, the Soviet Union, the United States, and Bulgaria itself.
The fair grounds became the hole through which the Iron Curtain is permeated and interaction and exchange are able to take place in spite of limits on Bulgarian travel and access to Western media. Much remains to be known about how visitors to the fair read these various encounters and messages and what the long term impacts might have been.
Nevertheless, official sources at least offer a window into what their intentions and capabilities (and also pitfalls) were in terms of provisioning their guests and displaying an image of real – if exaggerated -- abundance. Perhaps most importantly, the fair experience illuminates the role of consumption in how Bulgarian Communist Power was formulated, displayed and reconstituted in the post-Stalinist years. It helps clarify how the provision of consumer goods and the active consumption of the population –- within proscribed parameters –- were critical to building socialism.
Finally, and most critically, it seems that Bulgarian state efforts to "buy" power at the fair and beyond were ultimately foiled by their creation of a population with "buying power" and expectations of its own. The Communist state itself, with its incessant promises of abundance and progress, ultimately created these consumer expectations, but failed in fulfilling them, outside, that is, those two weeks every September in Plovdiv.
Outreach Coordinator, CREEES