Interview with Dimiter Kenarov, freelance journalist, poet and translator from Bulgaria. The interview was conducted in Istanbul, Turkey in two parts on December 29 and 30, 2014. To access an mp3 of the complete interview, click here.
Kenarov has written on a variety of issues of relevance to contemporary Eastern Europeans, among them a fascinating profile of Georgi Markov, the Cold War dissident from Bulgaria who was famously assassinated in 1978; a piece on Poland since the shale gas bubble, on snowboarders in Sarajevo, as well a number of recent articles on Ukraine and Crimea relating to politics and the environment, and many many other topics. He has written for venues like The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, The Nation, Esquire and Outside. He is also a photographer, poet, and translator of poetry.
Part I: Dec. 29, 2014
1:15 Kenarov’s background and how he came to write on Eastern Europe
6:15 On the American high school in Bulgaria Kenarov attended during the 1990s
10:40 Memories of 1989 in Bulgaria
13:45 On the blowing up of the Georgi Dimitrov mausoleum
19:45 Is a heightened sense of the surreal in politics and everyday life a useful or a demobilizing sensibility?
24:00 The case of the Serbs and self-irony
28:30 On the legacy of communism in Bulgaria
35:05 How the generation that grew up after communism relates to its legacy
36:15 Kenarov’s own family’s experience of communism
40:55 On his parents’ approach to politics after 1989
45:25 How Kenarov imagines his audience within and beyond the region; pieces written in English vs. Bulgarian, translated, etc.
50:40 Using the word “totalitarian”
54:25 Bulgaria as a unique vs. representative case
1:02:05 To what extent is there a cautionary tale for the West in East European dissident literature?
1:09:15 Who is critiquing the West in Eastern Europe/Bulgaria now; nostalgia for communism
Part II: Dec. 30, 2014
0:00 On women’s experience of communism from Kenarov’s family history
7:05 Kenarov’s mother’s study of cybernetics and his grandmother’s tenure as a mayor
10:50 Controversy, conflict and danger in reporting on the region (Crimea, Belarus, etc.)
14:15 Kenarov’s favorite story and how it came into being (via the KGB and prison)
22:05 On whether or not there is such a thing as “Eastern Europe”
24:25 How defining was the experience of “transition” for Kenarov’s generation?
27:15 On the post-communist period as an acceleration of time
30:40 Confronting the narrative of Eastern Europe as an absence of something/lacking something and what ideas resonated with people in the 1990s
35:05 What Bulgarians see when they look to Turkey
41:25 Kenarov’s Gagauz and Romanian-speaking extended family members
45:00 The recent events in Ukraine
47:45 Kenarov’s study of Russian literature
55:45 Contemporary Bulgarian writers doing interesting work
1:01:20 How Kenarov sees his own work in relation to that of academics who work on the region
Best of Kenarov
The Virginia Quarterly Review (Spring 2009)
The Nation (May 18, 2009)
The Virginia Quarterly Review (Fall 2011)
Outside (Jan. 2012)
The Nation (April 7, 2014)
Ron Suny has written and edited several books on Russian, Soviet, Armenian and Georgian history, including Armenia in the Twentieth Century (1983), The Making of the Georgian Nation (1988); The Revenge of the Past: Nationalism, Revolution, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union (1993); Looking Toward Ararat: The Armenians in Modern History (1993); The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States (1998) and edited volumes on nationalism, the Caucuses, the Russian Revolution, and the Armenian genocide. He was the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (the former AAASS, now the ASEEES), and now has books on the Armenian genocide, Stalin, and the historiography of the Soviet Union and Russia’s Empires in the publication queue.
Interview Themes01:25 How Suny came to Soviet history
02:15 Suny's Armenian roots in Turkey and Russia
03:40 On how Suny's father encouraged him to think differently about the Russian Revolution
06:05 The difficulty of working out where the Russian Revolution went wrong
08:20 Russia and the Soviet Union -- a disambiguation?
10:50 Suny's first visit to the USSR in 1964
13:00 Family trip to Armenia in 1964
14:50 On seeing the Soviet experience from a non-Russian perspective
17:25 How knowing a great deal about Soviet history influenced Suny's understanding of leftism and ideology more generally
20:10 Skepticism vis-a-vis the institutionalization of leftism
21:15 Overlap between Western leftism and early dissidents
23:45 On the relationship between violence and the construction of an alternative to market capitalism
31:10 Gorbachev and the unravelling of the USSR
33:20 Soviet Union's lessons for "empires" about how to/not to collapse
35:25 Was the Armenian genocide the end or the beginning of a polity?
37:20 Nationalism and ideology as preoccupations of Soviet vs. East European historians
42:10 The impact of the war in Yugoslavia on the Soviet field
47:50 Class vs. nationalism as "imagined communities"
51:30 Suny's characterization of his own generation of scholars
55:55 Historical divisions (or not) and factions in the Soviet field - emergence of Kritika
58:15 How did the atmosphere change in the Soviet field?
59:05 What a Soviet scholar could tell a scholar of the Middle East today
1:01:55 Impact of the dissolution of the USSR on the Soviet field
1:05:25 Things to be optimistic about in our time
1:06:40 The challenge of turning "nuance" into politics
1:08:30 History vs. political science (from the perspective of someone who does both)
1:09:50 On being a leftist who studies the Soviet Union
1:10:40 Suny's views on area studies and its usefulness in our time
1:11:55 Suny's views on Turkey as a scholar of the USSR/Russia
1:14:10 What is the "European way"?
1:15:45 Will the European Union have staying power?
1:16:25 Most interesting aspects of the various fields Suny works in
1:17:50 Suny's all-time favorite books
1:19:35 How we should be training the next generation of scholars