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Irina Sedakova

Moscow Institute for Slavic Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia


What stands behind Bulgarian-Russian language relations and what determines the medias’s and people’s attitudes to any foreign language  in alien surroundings – these are the questions I will shed light on in my paper. The Bulgarian language shares with the Russian language its membership in the Slavic language genealogical family. For a period of around 45 years it has been part of the ideological linguistic union, where the Russian (Soviet) served as lingua franca. Bulgaria experienced enormous pressure at this time and appeared to be one of the most loyal countries, having accepted the very language (in its broad sense) of the  governing ideology. This influenced the attitudes to the Russian language in Bulgaria a lot, but the trends in the attitudes were really diverse – from very positive through neutral to very negative.

Bulgaria was one of the first to leave the “socialist” ideological language union and to change its language policy. During over 20 years passed the Russian language in Bulgaria has gone through a total negation of the Soviet lingua franca towards a more peaceful and positive apprehension. The Slavic commonness in the vocabulary makes Russian very ‘friendly’ for Bulgarians and helps a lot to interpret similarly many historical and innovational facts in contemporary situation (e.g. the evaluation of the Russian and Bulgarian holidays of the Day of Independence – Денят на независимост / День независмост) and feel ‘close’.

Meanwhile the Bulgarian language is also a member of the Balkan Sprachbund while the Russian language is not; furthermore Bulgaria has become a member of the European Union, while Russia is not, which has also been reflected in the Bulgarian-Russian linguistic developments.  Affiliation to different linguistic, ideological, regional, political and economic associations is one of the major factors for the Bulgarian society in shaping the system of values in which the Russian language is treated in terms of “my own / somebody else’s”, “useful/useless”, etc.

At the end of the 19th century Russian is perceived as the language of the people who liberated Bulgaria from the Ottoman yoke, the language of the great culture and great achievements. Meanwhile this is the language potentially dangerous which threatens the uniqueness of the authentic Bulgarian language and overdoing in  influencing the Bulgarian culture. Fifty-sixty years later the Soviet Russian as lingua franca language brings in another dimension to Bulgaria, the ideological one. Along with the technical progress it Soviet cultural and economic patterns.