“Cultures of Defeat”: Reflections on the Adoption of German Racial Anthropology and Racial Hygiene in Bulgaria (1878–1941)

Christian Promitzer

Abstract


Both (racial) physical anthropology and eugenics form different branches of bio-politics which concentrates upon the biological foundation of a nation. From the late 19th century up to the Second World War one can observe a close relationship between German and Bulgarian science. Therefore, it makes sense to examine this relationship with respect to the development of racial hygiene and eugenics in Bulgaria. At the turn of the 20th century, among the national variants of racial anthropology, the Bulgarian one was among the most advanced on the Balkan Peninsula. Its representatives, Ivan Basanovich, Stefan Vatev, and Krum Dronchilov were indeed largely influenced by Austrian and German anthropology (Rudolf Virchow, Johannes Ranke, Felix von Luschan). The German blueprint was also important for the further development of its Bulgarian offshoot from the late 1920s to the early 1940s – in particular with respect to serological mass examinations and anthropometric investigations. These took place under the guidance of the biologist Metodi Popov and were also published in Germany. But while science in Germany was soon brought into ideological line after 1933 by the Nazi regime, the political framework in Bulgaria still allowed for some elbowroom, so that up to the late 1930s debates with respect to the national “usefulness” of “racial science” were still possible in this country. The most docile Bulgarian adepts of a bio-political understanding of racial theory, in turn, gathered around the national branch of “racial hygiene” (rasova higiena). It is amazing, however, that in spite of their literal copying of German Rassenhygiene they hardly had any direct contact with German representatives of this approach, so that this movement – different from the example of Bulgarian racial anthropology – remained isolated and virtually unknown in Germany. The working hypothesis of the paper proceeds from the initial supposition that after the First World War, both the German and Bulgarian societies developed certain features of a “culture of defeat” (Wolfgang Schivelbusch), which in turn promoted the respective credit of racial anthropology, racial theories, and racial hygiene. It was mainly the different role of fascism in these two countries, however, which was responsible for the fact that German and Bulgarian anthropology and racial hygiene subsequently took different pathways.

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