Roden Glas [Native Voice] magazine has been published in Czechia without interruption for half a century. Even in Bulgaria, there are not many publications with such a long history. How do you manage to keep going?
The truth is that the story of our media has not run at all smoothly. Created with great enthusiasm by our compatriots in Bratislava in order to keep the connection between our compatriots living in a foreign land and Bulgaria, it initially existed as a broadsheet newspaper and was published entirely with the free input of the editorial team and collaborators from different cities in Czechoslovakia where Bulgarian cultural and educational clubs had been set up. The editor-in-chief had to travel a great distance to the town of Prešov, Slovakia, where the only printer that had the Bulgarian alphabet was to be found.
In those days, it was the Slavic Committee in Bulgaria that contributed financially towards the payment for the newspaper’s printing. Most of the material was provided by it: reports of larger enterprises and construction sites in the country, or about different Bulgarian towns, with an emphasis on their development and betterment. Articles noting important historical events and anniversaries were interesting. Specials on various Party events, particularly the congresses of the Bulgarian Communist Party, were mandatory for publication.
In 1984, Roden Glas’ publication moved to Prague. Our media became a magazine and was initially published under the direction of professional editors-in-chief officially sent from Bulgaria. In the 1990s, an extremely difficult period for the magazine’s existence began—a period of indifference and a lack of money.
Then, a worthy Bulgarian, Mr Yordan Balurov, took it upon himself to publish Roden Glas entirely at his own expense. True, the publication was cyclostyled, simply stapled together, and having no graphic merit, but its moral value was huge, because it saved the magazine and simultaneously provided us with most interesting information on many developments and events that took place in those years in our own organisation. At that time, it was known as the Bulgarian Cultural and Educational Organisation, while in 2016, it changed its name to the Association of Bulgarian Societies in the Czech Republic, and published Roden Glas.
A turning point in the publication of our media was the official recognition of the Bulgarian minority by the Czech state in 2001 and the opportunity to apply and receive grants-in-aid for various projects. Thanks to these grants, Roden Glas managed to develop and still exists today, although covering the mandatory 30% of the project is not that easy. Some of the magazine contributors work completely gratuitously ‘for the benefit of the people’, others for a token fee; so, even now, much of what is created in and for our media is driven by Revivalist enthusiasm and the desire to preserve our national identity through the written native word.
How did the idea for the contest ‘My Native Voice Is…’ come about?
The idea came from Milena Tileva, chairperson of the Patriotism Society in the town of Hořovice, member of the Association of Bulgarian Societies in the Czech Republic, director of the Rodna Rech Sunday School, and a member of the editorial staff. I liked the proposal, deliberated on it, and expanded it by looking into how similar competitions were run in Bulgaria, what the regulations were; and, at the end of 2020, we officially announced it in the pages of our magazine. Since Czechia was under severe quarantine from October 2020 to May 2021, we were not sure if we would be able to organise a proper celebration at all, so an online competition seemed to us a good idea and, most importantly, something realistic to implement.
How did you manage to promote the contest among Bulgarian communities abroad?
Its promotion, as well as the entire organisation, was very difficult: I spent days writing emails to Bulgarian Sunday schools and societies; I also used personal acquaintances. I think that the assistance provided by the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, publishing the announcement of the competition on its official website, was of fundamental importance.
The moment when works applying to compete began raining down on us, I relied solely on my family’s help to arrange and classify them. Both my family and I worked completely free of charge during weekends to prepare everything up to standard and contribute to the proper evaluation of the participants. It also took a long time to write the thank-you letters, diplomas and certificates. Each child received a certificate of participation and jubilee souvenirs; the winners were awarded diplomas, souvenirs and books introducing the sights of Prague.
I am especially grateful to the jury, which included two university professors who are translators and specialists in Bulgarian literature, and two artists. For a token payment, but with much responsibility and enthusiasm, they did a huge amount of work on the fair assessment of the works.
Who were the most active? How many participants were there? Some of the most attractive works?
The most active were the Bulgarian schools: the Dr Petar Beron Bulgarian State School in Prague; the Ivan Vazov Bulgarian School, Paris, France; the Paisius of Hilendar Bulgarian Cultural and Educational School, Pamplona, Spain; Peyo Yavorov Bulgarian School, Milan, Italy; Hristo Botev Bulgarian School, Alzira, Spain; the Peyo K. Yavorov–1920 Community Centre in Sofia also took part; as well as students from Varna and Burgas. For the most active participation and the greatest variety of works, it was Peyo Yavorov Bulgarian School, Milan, Italy, that was awarded the Roden Glas Special Prize.
There were 159 contenders in three age groups—children, youths, and adults—who took part in three sections: ‘Fine Arts’, ‘Literature’, and ‘Photos and Videos’. The drawings of the children from the Dr Petar Beron Bulgarian State School in Prague were exceptionally impressive; the documentary, ‘Discover Bulgaria’, by the Bulgarians in Argentina Citizens’ Association, Buenos Aires, Argentina; the essays: ‘My Native Voice Is…’, by Estel Veselinova, Dr Petar Beron Secondary School, Prague, Czechia; ‘On Provadia and Love (Memories of an Already Grown-up Kid)’, by Aneta Ducheva Fermann, Munich, Germany; and ‘Hidden in a Valley, the Bulgarian Word Lives’, by Raditsa Bozhilova from Bosilegrad, Serbia.
There were also interesting videos, which we have posted on the Roden Glas Facebook page, and the other award-winning works are still being published in the magazine.
Do you envisage a second edition of the competition?
We have not yet thought about it; as I have already mentioned, the competition was started in connection with that significant jubilee, but—one never knows—there may be another significant reason for inspiration.
How do you choose the topics for the magazine?
As with any other media, the goal of Roden Glas is to provide information—first and foremost to our compatriots living in the Czech state; the ABS consists of 10 regional societies located throughout the country. Each one is legally independent and implements its own projects. Through the magazine, our compatriots quickly and easily learn what the others have organised, who attended, what they are planning, etc. Naturally, Roden Glas is also wide open to Bulgarian societies that are not members of the ABS, when, of course, their initiatives correspond to the concept of the magazine.
Last, but not least, in the pages of the media, you will find announcements of current events in Bulgaria that relate to the life of our diaspora—all this written in standard quality Bulgarian language and presented through an attractive graphic design. As you may have noticed, the magazine has regular columns, some of which are covering what has happened in our community in the past two months and, in this case, topics ‘come naturally’, depending on events. These are the ‘Centres of Bulgarianness’, ‘Pupils’ Kaleidoscope’, ‘Talent and Creativity’. Others, such as ‘Pride and Memory’, ‘Library’, and ‘Topical’, are less dependent on current events.
In any case, the topics are always subordinated to the main goal of our media: to keep up the connection between our compatriots, to remind them of Bulgarian traditions and feasts, to preserve the beauty of the native word—in short, to preserve our national identity. This is why, for years, we have been publishing an Orthodox calendar, illustrated with photographs of icons from beautiful Bulgarian churches; we have also published two Bulgarian-Czech cookbooks, where we introduce our Czech friends to our traditional holidays and Bulgaria’s national cuisine.
How do you keep in touch with your readers?
We receive feedback through the contemporary means of communication: by phone, with emails; we learn the most from comments on our Facebook page, where, using every opportunity and, of course, when there is some interesting news, we upload information, photos, announcements of articles that have already been published in the magazine or that are about to be published.
I personally prefer the direct contact with our readers when I attend various cultural events in Prague and other Czech towns. Unfortunately, for the second year now, these meetings have been severely restricted for obvious reasons. It is quite difficult to work with the chairpersons of our regional societies, from whom we expect up-to-date information about what is happening in their towns. I have succeeded in persuading them to send me short news items when there are any, but it is not easy for them—many of them are elderly people, they do not have email, do not work on computers; some were born here, others have lived in Czechia for so long that they find it difficult to write in Bulgarian.
Sometimes I joke, albeit with a slight taste of bitterness, that I have learned a strange new language that probably only I understand. However, I suppose the situation is similar in our other communities around the world.
Probably, young Bulgarians born in Czechia do not speak their native language and prefer to read articles in Czech. Has anyone ever wanted to learn Bulgarian in order to become one of your readers?
Most of the young Bulgarians born in Czechia speak Bulgarian, especially when their parents have the will and make efforts for them to learn it. The situation with writing is more difficult, but opportunities exist: in Prague, there is a Bulgarian state school, which has been functioning for over 70 years, and a Sunday school, too. There are also Sunday schools in the towns of Brno and Hořovice. It has never happened to me, or at least I do not recall a case of someone wanting to learn Bulgarian to understand everything written in our magazine, but what we do is exactly the opposite: we attract Czech friends with our special column Dotkněte se Bulharska! (‘Touch Bulgaria!’), where we introduce them to the country’s natural landmarks, to its unique architectural heritage; we offer them authentic recipes from different regions, and the feedback is that they are successful.
In this way, we not only maintain the traditional Czech-Bulgarian reciprocity, but also show that Bulgaria is not solely our Black Sea coast. This year, in addition to our traditional supplements to the magazine, we also published the literary feuilleton, ‘Bulgarian literature through the eyes of Czech translators’. It included the fairy tale, ‘Kushkundalevo’, by Nikolay Raynov and three stories by Angel Karaliychev, translated by Dr Marcel Černý. In Czechia, there are young and extremely talented translators, Bulgarianists, and it is a real pleasure for me to work with them.
You received the Award of the ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ National Endowment Fund for Contribution to the Dissemination of Bulgarian Culture by Bulgarian-language Media Abroad. How do you intend to uphold and build on this recognition?
We are deeply grateful to NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ for the prestigious prize. We are convinced that every Bulgarian media outside the country working for the esteem of our native culture and its dissemination abroad deserves this award.
I was extremely excited and surprised at that moment of being awarded, and perhaps failed to come up with the most correct words and thank everyone who has worked and is working, very often gratuitously, for Roden Glas to overcome so many trials over the years, but nevertheless to survive and measure up with the best. The only way to maintain public recognition is… by working, with the same keenness and responsibility to our readers. During the award ceremony, as well as the diploma, Ms Slava Ivanova presented me with a book dedicated to the Fund’s 40th jubilee, wishing us to seek further inspiration and dedicate a section of our magazine to the rich collections of NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’.
At the same time, for reasons that I do not want to comment on in this interview, we shall welcome the coming 2022 with great concern for the future, not only of our media, but also of our larger society.