When I decided to run as a Member of the European Parliament, many of my friends asked me how they could help me. I rejected all proposals because I did not at all want to be a hostage of different interests. I was psychologically prepared that this period of my life would be devoted to the Bulgarian culture and my home town Plovdiv and did not want any arrangements to stand on my way.
I could not, however, give a negative answer to three persons who wanted to write something in this blog. I would like to draw their special attention and to express my gratitude about the written lines.
It is well-known that the founded by me some 17-18 years ago Pygmalion Publishers and later Pygmalion Foundation work consistently to build the European image of Plovdiv and Bulgaria in the German-speaking countries.
I personally consider myself German trained and almost already after the fall of communism I started to implement German-Bulgarian projects. It corresponded to my professional preparation as well as to my beliefs that we, the Bulgarian democratic intelligence, must quickly integrate Bulgaria to the Western European cultural and political life. It was absolutely clear that if it did not happen we will stay for a long time in the swamp of the post-Soviet space. Today this problem can be seen very clearly but then it was not quite like that.
As a result of my work on these projects dozens of German authors’ books about Bulgaria were born. Dozens of German, Austrian and Swiss writers and intellectuals visited Bulgaria and Plovdiv and many of them became our sincere friends. Dozens of articles devoted to Bulgaria were published by these people in the European newspapers and one can say with a clear conscience that the bigger part of them were well-intentioned. Certainly, dozens of German authors’ books were published in Bulgarian.
Three of my partners from Austria and Germany stay in the basis of these projects. These are Lojze Wieser, Ulrich Janetzki and Ingo Wilhelm who represent three very important cultural institutions. These people do not know each other. All three of them are prominent intellectuals and managers of cultural projects. As the years passed by, besides colleagues, they became my best friends. That is why I will allow myself to tell you in short about each one of them.
My first travelling to the West took place in March 1991. It was to Vienna. I was 32 years old. Because of the younger Bulgarians I have to mention that till the fall of communism in 1989 we, the democratically-minded people, were not allowed to travel to the West. Then Vienna captured me forever. I was overwhelmed by the beautiful buildings, democratic spirit of the debates, and concentration of intellectual energy. As a matter of fact, the cause was the conference of publishers from Central and Eastern Europe, which was organized by Lojze Wieser and his publishing house Wieser. After that conference we became close friends.
In the autumn of the same year he invited me to visit his publishing house in Klagenfurt. There for the first time I saw and re-examined the work model as well as the problems of an average Western European publishing house.
Exactly Wieser Publishing House is a prototype of Pygmalion. During the years, together with Lojze Wieser, we published more than ten Austrian authors in Bulgaria, among which is the wonderful essay book of Karl-Markus Gauss “The Annihilation of Central Europe”. At the moment I and Wieser work on the publishing of a Bulgarian sequence of books in Austria. The sequence’s name is Bulgarian Library and includes a dozen of contemporary Bulgarian writers. It will be a unique large-scale presentation of the Bulgarian literature outside the country.
About year and a half later, in 1993, I was invited to the famous Literary Colloquium in Berlin. It is one of the most influential literary institutions in Germany. It was established right after the World War II and is situated in a lovely villa on the Wannsee, on the opposite side of the house where the famous Wannsee conference was held. The Literary Colloquium became a centre for the meetings of the writers’ “group 47”, in which almost all brightest postwar names are presented, including several Nobel Prize winners. There I was acquainted to the Nobel Prize winner Guenter Grass as well as to the future Nobel Prize winner Herta Mueller.
In the last 20 years chairman of the institution has been Dr. Ulrich Janetzki. In 1996, together with him, we prepared the publication in Bulgarian of a Berlin anthology – “The Dreams of the Wall”, which included the names of Guenter Grass, Alfred Doeblin, Volker Braun, Durs Gruenbein, Hans Joachim Schaedlich and others.
Four years later we prepared and published a second Berlin anthology – “The City after the Wall”, with the youngest Berlin writers. This anthology was presented at the meeting Berlin-Plovdiv, organized by Pygmalion Publishers, which took place on 25-27 May 2000 in Plovdiv and was under Ritha Suessmuth’s patronage who was a chairwoman of the German Parliament at that time. It was a large-scale political and cultural event, but it was not completely effective, because as if the Plovdiv political, economic and cultural elite were not prepared enough for it.
In 2006 the Literary Colloquium in Berlin and Pygmalion Foundation, together with other cultural institutions, initiated the large-scale European project Halma. It was started under the aegis of Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Minister of Foreign Affair of Germany at that time. The task of the project, which continues till present time, is an exchange of writers and intellectuals with the aim to better integrate the different European countries. Ulrich Janetzki is the master mind behind all these things. And when you call him on the phone it is quite normal to find him in China or Argentina, where he does something else. The third person, whom I would to tell you about, is Ingo Wilhelm.
Ingo manages the cultural foundation Edenkoben, which is among the most important cultural centres in South-western Germany. He visited Plovdiv for the first time in 1995 and was fascinated from the Ancient Town and the people here. Then, together with him, we decided to start a project through which every autumn a German writer would come to Plovdiv for six weeks. During that time he prepares a manuscript for a book, which is published in the following autumn as a book in Bulgarian by Pygmalion Publishers and in German by the Heidelberg Publishing House Wunderhorn. This project lasted more than 10 years.