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Modern Greece, reasonably or not, claims to be the successor to the Byzantine Empire

18 December 2013 / 18:12:43  GRReporter
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Polina Spartyanova
Associate Professor Dr. Todor Popnedelev is Deputy Dean of the Faculty of History at Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski". He specialised in Balkan history and for many years, he has been dealing with Bulgarian historiography. We talked with him about the upcoming anniversary of the death of Tsar Samuel, which will be marked next year in Bulgaria with the support of the Greek Ministry of Culture. 6 October 2014 will mark 1000 years since the death of Tsar Samuel who died from a heart attack at the sight of the Bulgarian soldiers blinded after the battle against the Byzantine emperor Basil II near the village of Klyuch.
Who was Tsar Samuel? What is his significance for the Bulgarian historical heritage?
Tsar Samuel was a very strong personality and he takes a very important place in our history for several reasons. He was a ruler who was able to preserve the Bulgarian state despite the strong pressure exerted by the Byzantine Empire and in the aftermath of a crisis in the Bulgarian state, when the aristocracy manifested its personal ambitions, without being concerned about the unity of Bulgaria. Tsar Samuel remains in the minds of Bulgarians as someone who supported the Bulgarian nation regardless of the developments around it.
What do you think are the most unpopular facts about Tsar Samuel’s life?
Probably his emotions are most unpopular, as they were not described by the medieval chroniclers. I do not know how popular is the fact that he was the ruler who succeeded in retaining his loyalty to the Krum dynasty when he could be declared a Bulgarian tsar. Tsar Samuel showed tolerance for the dynasty without usurping the crown that would enable him to withstand the pressure by the Byzantine Empire and to ensure the internal stability of the Bulgarian state. He demonstrated great strength of character by refusing to be taken as a leader as well as statesmanship sense through which he was able to preserve Bulgaria.
When did the Bulgarian- Byzantine feud between Basil II and Tsar Samuel start and what was its base?
This conflict dates back to the time when the Bulgarian state was created. Lands were seized from the Eastern Roman Empire then and Byzantium had been trying for centuries to regain its former territories. Byzantium flourished when Basil II came to power and, thanks to his far-sighted policies, a lot of changes were made that stabilized the empire. So, he gradually began to attempt to restore the power of Byzantium in a number of lost territories and was able to cope with the constant irritant of the empire, the Arabs. It is significant for us, as Bulgarians, that despite this mighty ruler, we were able to preserve our independence for a very long time.
How did the Bulgarian-Byzantine relations change after the death of Tsar Samuel and during the Byzantine rule?
After the death of Tsar Samuel Byzantium was able to capture a significant portion of the Bulgarian lands and it was just a matter of time as to how long the individual mayors would be able to withstand the pressure of the empire. Basil II, from the viewpoint of Byzantines, was a wise statesman. He offered to the Bulgarian aristocracy for them to retain their posts and positions if they placed themselves at his service. This policy affected the Bulgarian statehood and weakened it. Some sources say that this clever statesman married the daughters of Bulgarian families to the sons of Byzantine families and vice versa, thus aiming to incorporate Bulgarian society into the system of the empire, without turmoil and upheavals. However, the most prominent changes during the Byzantine rule affected the Church - the Bulgarian Patriarchate was liquidated and Ohrid episcopate, which was under the personal supervision of the Emperor, took, to a large extent, spiritual care of the Bulgarians.
Why do you think there are still hundreds of streets in Greece named "Basil the Bulgar-slayer" instead of "Basil II"?
Modern Greece, reasonably or not, claims to be the main successor to the Byzantine Empire. Undoubtedly, when you feel that you are the heir of someone, you respect his historical past. If Basil was not such an evil example for us, Bulgarians, we would properly appreciate him as a very wise statesman. The nickname "the Bulgar-slayer" originated after the battle of Belasitza, not only due to the cruel act of putting out the eyes of the Bulgarian soldiers involved in the battle, but also because of the fact that one foe of the empire, with which it had been unable to cope for centuries, was eliminated. The nickname "the Bulgar-slayer" is unpleasant for us, as Bulgarians, but the Greeks would have probably felt the same way if we had named out streets "Krum the Fearsome" instead of "Khan Krum", because he was fearsome to the Byzantines.
Late last year, former Minister of Culture Vezhdi Rashidov and Greece’s Deputy Minister of Culture Kostas Dzavaras agreed to jointly draw up a programme to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the death of Tsar Samuel in 2014. Will this be a commemoration of the Bulgarian ruler or a cultural campaign against the Republic of Macedonia in your opinion?
In my opinion, everyone is free to feel what he or she wants to be - Macedonian, Chinese, Bulgarian, but I would not allow the historical past to be replaced. Stealing history usually occurs when you lack roots or need self-recognition but you are unable to gain them on the basis of truth.

Tags: Tsar SamuelByzantine EmpireBasil the Bulgar-slayerOhridMacedoniaTodor Popnedelev
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