A Biography with a Commentary
This text is written mainly on the basis of an interview with prof. Tapkova-Zaimova, conducted by Zoia Hristova-Dimitrova in December 2007. The interview is published in Bulgarian on the websites of the Association for the Development of the University Classical Education http://aduce.org/new_page_25.htm and the Department of Classics, http://kkf.proclassics.org/history02.php University in Sofia. The quotations in the main text, given in italics, are from the interview. Also, the biographical notes, published in the volumes, dedicated to her 60-th, 70th, and 80th anniversary, have been considered. Some corrections and additions have been made by prof. Tapkova-Zaimova herself during our meetings in the end of October 2010.
The commentaries with smaller letters are providing the necessary explanations in respect of the mentioned events, and also references to some important publications.
I. Origin and family
Vasilka Tapkova was born on the 7th of August 1924 in Sofia, in teachers’ family.
The ancestors of her father had lived in Thessaloniki. Her grandfather Dimitar Tapkov had founded in 1874 the Bulgarian school in Lerin (today Florina, Greece) and had taught there. Since 1882 he had been a teacher in Prilep, and later moved to Thessaloniki, where lived with his family till the end of his life.
The family of his parents had been Catholic (uniatic) and he himself had demanded to be buried in the Catholic cemetery of Thessaloniki. His second wife Vasilka Mircheva, from Prilep (the grand-mother of Prof. Tapkova) had been Orthodox. Five children had been born in this marriage – three boys (one of them had been Cyril, the father of Prof. Tapkova) and two girls.
The establishment and the functioning of the school in Lerin was similar to the ones of other Bulgarian schools in this region, which then was beyond the boundaries of the state. All of them were launched, supported and supervised by the Bulgarian Exarcheia (established in 1870). The situation of the Bulgarians in Macedonia in the last years before the Liberation was connected directly with the activity of the Exarcheia.
The literature, devoted to the Bulgarian-Greek Church conflict and the separation of the Bulgarian Church from the Patriarchy in Constantinople is enormous. See mostly Бурмов, Т. Българо-гръцката църковна разпря/Burmov, T. The Bulgarian-Greek Church Quarrel; Снегаров, История на съвременните православни църкви/Snegarov, History of the Contemporary Orthodox Churches. On the activity of the Exarcheia before the Liberation see Маркова, Българската екзархия 1870-1879/Markova, The Bulgarian Exarcheia; История на България, БАН, т. 6/History of Bulgaria, publ. by BAS (the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences), vol. VI.
There are 20 letters by Dimitar Tapkov, written in the period 1874-1876, published by prof. Tapkova herself and her daughter Raya Zaimova under the title За един български учител в Лерин през 70- те години на миналия век/In respect of a Bulgarian Teacher in Lerin in the 70-ies of the past century. See also the memoires of Kuzman Shapkarev, who had taught in Macedonia in this period. Материали за историята на възражданието българщината в Македония от 1854 до 1884 год./Materials for the History of the Bulgarian Revival in Macedonia from 1854 till 1884.
Cyril Dimitriev Tapkov (1885-1941) had studied classical philology in the University La Sapienza in Rome. After his graduation he had taught Latin and French in the Bulgarian school in Syar (nowadays Serres, Greece) and in Bitola till 1913. After the occupation of Thessaloniki during the Second Balkan War (called also the Inter-allies War), he had been forced to escape with his brother in Italy and after that they moved to Sofia.
In Sofia he had taught Latin in the state First Male and First Maiden’s gymnasia, and later in the private French college. Till 1935 he had worked as a translator and secretary in the commission for the reparations (paid by Bulgaria to the winners of the First World War).
Her mother Donka Boshnakova (1893-1983) had lived since childhood in Sofia and the families of her parents are from Stara Zagora and Gorna Oryahovitsa. She had received her university degree in political sciences in Brussels. In Bulgaria she had taught mathematics in the Second Maiden gymnasium and in the French language schools.
Her brother Dimitar Tapkov, born in 1929, is a composer, and professor for decades in the Musical Academy in Sofia. He had been a director of the Opera in Sofia.
In respect of the situation of the Bulgarians in Macedonia after the Liberation and the activity of the Exarcheia, which competed the activities of Serbia, Greece, Constantinople and the uniatic mission till 1913 see Георгиев, Трифонов. История на българите в документи, т. ІІ/Georgiev, Trifonov. History of the Bulgarians in Documents, vol. II.История на България, БАН, т. 7/History of Bulgaria, BAS, vol. VII ; Св. Елдъров. Католиците в България 1878-1989/ Sv. Eldurov, The Catholics in Bulgaria 1878-1898. On the Macedonian question and the developments till the end of the Inter-allies war see П. Милюков (1859-1943). Живата истина/P. Milyukov, The Vivid Truth; Уил Мънро. България и нейните хора/Will Munro, Bulgaria and its People; Данев, Стоян (1858-1949). Мемоари/Danev, Stoyan. Memoires.
On the organization of the pre-gymnasium and gymnasium education in Bulgaria immediately after the Liberation see mostly Дринов, Марин (1838-1906). Съчинения, т. ІІІ/Drinov, Marin, Writings, vol. III.
Almost all the teachers in the classical languages in the gymnasia before 1925, when the first classical philologists have graduated from the Sofia University, had received their education, similarly to Cyril Dimitriev Tapkov, in foreign universities. Famous among them are Ivan Brožka (1853-1927; he is the author of the first Latin-Bulgarian dictionary, with co-author Delidelvov); Perikli Chilev (1864-1925, who late becomes teacher of the king Boris III and prince Cyril), D. Delidelvov (teacher of Al. Balabanov in First male gymnasium.)
For them and the teaching manuals, used then see Геров, Б. Из историята на класическото образование в България от Освобождението до днес/Gerov, B. From the history of the Classical Education in Bulgaria from the Liberation till the present day. Бешевлиев, В. (1900-1992) Погледъ върху историята на класическите студии в нашите земи./Beshevliev, V. A Glance on the History of the classical studies in our lands.
The education in the first classical gymnasium in Sofia (1894-1899) is described in the memories of Ал. Балабанов. И аз на тоя свят/Alexander Balabanov. Me also on this world .
Very detailed information about the family of Prof. Tapkova’s father is given in the still unpublished manuscript, prepared by her and her daughter: Тапкова-Заимова, Василка и Заимова, Рая. Историята на една учителска фамилия в Македония / Tapkova-Zaimova, Vasilka and Zaimova, Raya. The History of a Teacher’s Family in Macedonia.
II. Secondary education
According to Vasilka Tapkova one part of the Bulgarian intelligentsia in Thessaloniki had preferred to send abroad their children to study in Italian higher education institutions. It should be added, that the majority of them have used as a major foreign language French. Her father had been a teacher in French, and for her, for her daughter and for her grandchildren the French language has always been the second language after the Bulgarian.
The beginning of her gymnasium education coincides with the reform, undertaken in 1937, when the middle variant of semi-classical secondary studies had been left behind, and the only the forms of “classical” and/or “real” classes had remained. She has been enrolled in the classical department of the French college, where both of the two old languages had been studied profoundly.
- By this time, she says, the classical gymnasia were established everywhere. The instruction in the college has been lead in French, and the classical and modern languages, including Russian, were studied with the usages of French textbooks/manuals. The matriculation exams (called “matura”) have been two – in French and Bulgarian. Vasilka Tapkova has finished the French catholic college in 1943 and has become a student in Sofia University, in specialty classical philology.
General information about the secondary (pro-gymnasium and gymnasium) education in Bulgaria till 1944 is given in Попов, Пиронкова. Образователната система в България/Popov, Pironkova. The educational system in Bulgaria. See also Колев, В. и др. Летопис на просветното министерство 1879-1995/Chronicle of the educational ministry 1879-1995 .The situation in Sofia is depicted by Минко Гечев in Образованието в София (1878-1944)/Minko Gechev. The education in Sofia (1878-1944). See also the general considerations on the gymnasium education by Ivan Georgov (1862-1935) in his writing On the reform in our gymnasia/Ив. Георгов. За реформата на нашите гимназии. The instruction in French in Bulgaria even before the liberation is discussed in История на България, БАН, т .6/History of Bulgaria, BAS, v. 6. Boris Gerov has written about the teaching of Latin and more exactly about the teaching aid-materials in his Из историята на класическото образование в България от Освобождението до днес/From the history of the Classical Education in Bulgaria from the Liberation till the present day. In his book Познайте ги по делата им/ You will know them by their deeds, Ivan Venedikov (1916-1997) tells about the instruction in the classical class of the First male gymnasium, where he has been enrolled in 1929.
Among the teachers in the inter-wars period very popular are the names of Christo Kodov (1901-1982), Iordan Bratkov (1901-1986), Mladen Tonev (1902-1940), Georgi Batakliev (1910-1994), Alexander Milev (1904-1980), Russka Gandeva (1911-2001), Makaryi Portalski (1915-1979), Mihail Voynov (1905 - 1985).
III. Higher education
1. Professors and colleagues
At the time, when Vasilka Tapkova becomes a student, there are four habilitated professors in the specialty (Alexander Balabanov, D. Dechev, V. Beshevliev and Vladimir Georgiev) and two assistant-professors (B. Gerov, G. Mihailov). She mentions several colleague-students: Todor Sarafov, who later becomes associate professor in Latin in the department; Konstantin Kostakev, who later works as a teacher in a gymnasium; Magdalina Stancheva, who later becomes an archaeologist and specialist in the ancient history of Sofia; and Slavka Slavova - a future actress. Two years before the beginning of her studies, Al. Nichev had been enrolled as a student.
Many times in her interview she stresses on the high quality of the teaching in the department classical philology. However, the professors have differed in respect of character and style of instruction. What she is telling is confirmed by numerous other evidences.
Alexander Balabanov who had been lecturing in Greek literature, had never literary read his lectures and he had been very fond of provoking disputations with the students. Frequently he had invited them to walks and restaurant-dinners, by which the conversations had been even more relaxed. Sometimes, at these gatherings extra the auditoria, the students could meet scholars, writers and intellectuals, with whom Balabanov had been at friendly terms. In her interview Vasilka Tapkova mentions the art-theoretician Protich, and the archaeologists Venedikov and Dzhambov, who later becomes director of the Archaeological Museum in Plovdiv.
The rest of the professors had preferred to communicate with the students only in the auditorium. Dimitar Dechev and Vladimir Gueorgiev had taught respectively Latin literature and historical grammar of the Latin language. Their courses had been ordered and systematic. Beshevliev, who then had had a course in Alexandrian poetry, had been especially demanding from the more negligent students.
Boris Gerov had lead seminars, on which Latin authors, especially Horace was read and the text and the verses had been analyzed in detail. Georgi Mihailov had been a very inspiring lecturer. Speaking about him she says, that he has been more connected with the French school, whereas the other majority of the professors had been relying on the German researches.
- Otherwise all of them, she adds, knew French, German and English, I mean only their inclinations.
The specialty classical philology, divided into departments in Greek and Latin philology is created with a decision of the Academic council in the beginning of the year 1921/1922. First regular professors are Alexander Balabanov and Dimitar Dechev (1877-1958). But in fact, since the establishment of the University in 1888, there were number of courses in the classical languages, literature and history, delivered in the Historic-philological Faculty. The professors were: Nikola Mihailovski (1818-1892) in Greek language for the first three semesters and after him, till 1898 – Marko Balabanov (1837-1921). Gavril Katsarov (1874-1958) has been associate professor in ancient history since 1900. Bogdan Filov (1883-1945) becomes associate professor in archeology in 1911. Balabanov himself is habilitated as early as 1909, and in 1914 is published the volume with his lectures, entitled Класическа литература/The Classical Literature.
The best sources for the biographies of the first professors in the classical antiquities are: Алманах на Софийския Университет до 1928, съставен от Ив. Георгов, Алманах на Софийския Университет "Св. Климент Охридски" 1888-1939, А-Я и Алманах на Софийския Университет "Св. Климент Охридски" 1939-1988/The Almanac of Sofia University, edited by Ivan Georgov; Almanac of Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridsky” 1888-1939, A-Z, and Almanac of Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridsky” 1939-1988.
Detailed information about the foundation of the specialty, the activity of the scholars, working on antiquity and the University in general is to be found in Арнаудов, М. (1878-1978), История на Софийския Университет „Св. Климент Охридски” през първото му полустолетие 1888-1939 /M. Arnaudov. History of SU “St. Kliment Ohridsky” in its first half of a century 1888-1939.
Memoirs about the specialty and its professors are published: by Ivan Venedikov in Познайте ги по делата им/ You will know them by their deeds;Boris Gerov has published memories about Dimiter Dechev in Спомени за Софийския университет/ Memories about SU; in the same book Velizar Velkov writes about the specialty in general; also Emil Georgiev, although he had studied in another department; Dimitar Angelov (1917-1996), who had studied classical philology as a minor specialty, also writes about the professors in Спомени..
In the introduction of the autobiographical book by Alexander Balabanov И аз на тоя свят/Me also on this world, T. Borov (1901-1992) has written: “Balabanov was one of the most popular persons all over Bulgaria and the most famous professor in the University». Indeed, the memories, the references and the texts on him in general are probably more, than on all the other scholars of the antiquities in Bulgaria, taken together. Balabanov had never interfered in politics, but had been very active in the literary and cultural life.
There is the monography “Alexander Balabanov” by Anastasiya Purvanova (published by the Macedonian cultural institute in 1994); several special essays by Todor Borov, the largest of which (45 pages) is published in Живот с книги/Life with Books; the collection Александър Балабанов и Симеон Радев в спомените на съвременниците си/ Alexander Balabanov and Simeon Radev in the Memoirs of their Contemporaries, where several authors have written on him: Elin Pelin (1877-1949), Simeon Radev (1879-1967), Alexander Bozhinov (1878-1968), Dimitar Mihalchev (1880-1967), Konstantin Gulubov (1892-1980), Georgi Mihailov (1916-1991), Ivan Bogdanov (1910-1992), Boris Delchev (1910-1987), Christo Radevski (1903-1996), Velizar Velkov (1928-1993), and others. He is also depicted by Georgi Markov in “Memories on Sofia University”. It is worth taking into consideration the impressions of Cyril Christov (1875-1944) in Време и съвременници/Time and Contemporaries, not forgetting however, that Cyril Christov is extremely reluctant to praise anyone at all.
2. During the War
The regular academic process in Sofia had been possible in Sofia till the end of 1943. The first bombing of the English-American aviation over the city occurred on the 15th of November. Even more destructive had been the attacks in 1944, especially on the 10th of January, the 29th and the 30th of March.
Vasilka Tapkova had been evacuated with her mother, her brother (five years younger than her), the one of the grand-mothers and the family of her uncle in Dragoman, where they have remained till October. However, she had taken with her the Greek dictionary and the anthology “Alexandrian poetry ”, compiled by Beshevliev, saying about it:
- I have eaten it up with the hard-cover.
In Dragoman she had had enough free time and then she had improved her knowledge of Russian and German (by reading books, to which she had had access) and even she had had the chance to pass the regular (“lecturer’s”) exam in German, with Zhana Nikolova-Galabova as an examiner, who also had been evacuated in Dragoman. Initially she had intended to take the exam in French, but in order to pass it she had to travel to Sliven and her mother had advised her not to do it.
- How is that? You are going to travel from Dragoman through all these roads, under the bombs, heading to Sliven? There is no way!
When they had returned to Sofia, they found their house on “Tsar Assen” str. destroyed, and the neighboring house, which had belonged to their grandmother, only with punctured roof. But the furniture and the piano had survived (65 years later, during the interview, she has shown the interviewer Zoia the same chairs, that had been preserved despite the bombing).
While the reconstruction of the house was going on, they had been sheltered in the house of the other grandmother, on “Gurgulyat” str. There, of course, they had not been accommodated quite comfortable.
- All of us had slept on one sofa – my mother, me and my brother.
The greatest inconveniences in the every day life were connected with the destroyed houses.
- Literally we have remained in the street.
Food had been distributed on coupons as late as 1950. On this occasion she speaks of the friendly relations in the specialty.
- The father of Rayna Kabaivanska (the famous Bulgarian opera diva) was head of the commission for the nutrition of the population. Balabanov was familiar with him and went to him to beg for some additional coupon, and so, that’s how we were feasting, in the seminar room upstairs (on the last floor of the building – note of the transl.) with some sausages and bread.
I would add, that the tradition of these collegiate parties in the auditoria-offices of the specialty, in the attic of the building, which had began in these years (the central building had been consecrated in 1934, but some specialties have used it earlier), turned out to be very vivid. During the 80-es and the 90-es the soul of the company of this parallel academic life was Krassimir Banev (1940-1995), who was aware that it is his duty to keep alive the Balabanov’s spirit in the specialty. So, in the beginning of the 90-ies I was present to a party in the so-called Columbarium – the last floor of the Rectorate building, on which the offices of the classicists are situated, where Vasilka Tapkova had studied. At this party in the early 90-ies Venedikov himself was present – the author of the memories about the classical education during the 30-ies. During Banev’s time the parties were held either in the Columbarium - the attic, or, in the opposite place, in “The Egg” – the university restaurant, which has no windows, because it is situated in the basement. The crises after 1989 have created living conditions, similar in a way to the ones after the war. After that the colleagues have gathered around Anna Nikolova, and after her retirement in 2004, they are initiated – even till the present day – by doctoral students and bachelors, but mainly by these, who have graduated the NGDEK – The National Gymnasium for Classical Languages and Cultures.
On the participation of Bulgaria in the war in 1943-1944 and especially on the situation in Sofia see: the documents, published in България – своенравният съюзник на Третия райх/ Bulgaria – the Recalcitrant Ally of the Third Reich. Detailed evidence for the effect of the bombings are to be found in the Diary of Bogdan Filov/ Богдан Филов. Дневник,. Personal impressions could be read in K. Katsarov - 60 години живяна история/60 years of History. The consequences of the bombings for the University are described in: През годините на военни изпитания/During the years of the military hardships, in History of Sofia University, published in 1988. In Спомени за Софийския университет/Memoires of Sofia University could be found impressions by the professors M. Genovski, T. Taschev, P. Slavov, Svet. Ivanchev, D. Karanov, V. Vulchanov, A. Bunkov.
3. Before the work in the BAS. De-fascisation and reform in the education. The situation in the University and the specialty
Vasilka Tapkova many times stresses the collegiate atmosphere and the tolerance among the classical philologists. During the “purge” one professor in the department had been fired – V. Beshevliev. She mentions also the expel of the historian Ivan Duichev, with whom they later have worked together in BAS and of the geographer Dimitar Yaranov, with whom they have been neighbors for a while in “Gurgulyat” str. Beshevliev and Duichev, and Yaranov as well, have been accused in chauvinism and declared pro-fascist views.
- … because he (Beshevliev) and Duichev have done research in Macedonia, but they have been sent there, to study the Bulgarian antiquities there. And according to the accusation their writings have turned out to be “ pro-fascist”! Nothing!
From the students in the specialty one has been expelled – the one was Slavka Slavova, because of the phrase:
- I have been a member of the Brannik-organization and I am proud of that.
(Brannik was a youth organization, created with a special legislative act in 1940. After 1944 it has been forbidden and condemned as the Bulgarian counterpart of Hitleruegend - note of the transl.)
When the interviewer Zoia Hristova-Dimitrova remarks that this seems to her quite a negligible “sin” she replies:
- Ah, for that reason… there were much more insignificant reasons for expulsion.
However, all these are tiny and miniscule, compared with the events in the Faculty of History and many other places.
- The people who were (in the Department of Classics) belonged to a generation with good upbringing. They couldn’t change themselves, as had happened in the Faculty of history. There was a real horror!
The movement for the de-fascisation and the removal of the enemies among the professors and the students came mostly from the students’ circles. In the specialties, including Classical philology there were groups of activists, mainly members and sympathizers of the communist party and the People’s Front. Vasilka Tapkova mentions Al. Nichev.
- He was an utmost communist, he was studying two years in advance of me. He was already finishing his university studies, but he was commanding the parade. However, as a person he was a good man.
Her tone in general in the reference for him is benevolent.
When she had been a student in the third year of her study (in the academic 1945-1946) the news was spread that the classical languages will be removed from the secondary education. She had joined a students’ initiative – petition against this reform. She mentions that in the department of French philology the colleagues had not supported it eagerly, but the Director of the Alliance Française – George Hateau, who had lectured in the university as well, had signed it.
During her study, the ideological disciplines still have not been introduced as obligatory (History of the BCP etc.). However, later, she had been obliged to pass exams in these disciplines, when she already had the position of a researcher in the BAS.
- When I was a student, for example, still the study of Marxism and Leninism was not obligatory. Still, the study of the History of the Bulgarian Communist Party was not obligatory. All these, imposed later, were not studied by me, when I was a student. We were suppressed to death later, when I was already in the Institute. Then we were forced to pass exams in Marxism and Leninism, then we were forced to attend courses in the History of the BCP”.
The educational reform in the period 1944-1949 and the repressions against the university teaching faculty are described in the detailed research, published by Vessela Chichovska The Politics against the Educational Tradition/Весела Чичовска, Политиката срещу просветната традиция. Numerous valuable documents are published again by her and Vera Mutaphchieva in Съдът срещу историците/ The Court against the Historians. On these topics see also Национализираният университет/The nationalized university by R. Donkov/Р. Донков in the volume Университетът, and the relevant chapter in Sofia University. The first 120 years. The point of view of the ruling party in this period is exposed in История на Софийския Университет от 1988/History of Sofia University, 1988.
Some of the texts, written by V. Beshevliev and Ivan Duichev, that might have served as a pretext for their dismissal, are published in the journal “Prometheus” between 1941 and 1943.
Alexander Nichev really had published texts, in which the historical materialism evidently is taken as the philosophical basis of the historic and literary research. See his article Методологически въпроси в областта на античната литература. Methodological questions in the field of ancient literature в сп. “Септември”, 1950/ in the journal “September”, 1950, and the reaction to it by Balabanov, described by Ivan Bogdanov in Александър Балабанов и Симеон Радев в спомените на съвременниците/Alexander Balabanov and Simeon Radev in the Memories of their Contemporaries. Also История на класическата литература, History of the Classical Literature, 1949, written by Nichev and B. Gerov. Nichev is also the author of the relevant part, dedicated to the antiquity, in the handbook in literature for the secondary schools, which had been reprinted many times during the 60-ies and the 70-ies. There are all the necessary references to Marx and Engels, and some of the most significant Marxist-Leninist phraseology-staff.
Studies, which bear signs of the compromise with the power, had been published by other professors in the specialty as well. G. Mihailov is author of the Класовата борба на остров Лесбос VІІ-VІ в./Class struggle on the island Lesbos VII-VI c.,1950, and later Rousska Gandeva publishes За прогресивната идейност в Еврипидовата “Медея”, 1959/On the Progressive Ideas in the Euripide’s “Medea”.
III. Professional development till 1989. Family.
1. In the Institute for Bulgarian history
Soon after the graduation from the university Vasilka Tapkova begins to work as an assistant-researcher in the BAS – in the Institute for Bulgarian history. She says, by this time this has been the Commission for the publication of sources. But she hadn’t intended to work precisely in this area, because the structure of the BAS with its numerous institutions has been something new. The classical philologist, who had graduated from the university before the reform in 1947, could hope to be employed as a teacher in the classical languages in a gymnasium, or as a teacher in a modern language, especially if (s)he had obtained as a “minor” study second specialty in some western or Russian philology. In order to be allowed to teach, and this obligation has been kept later as well, one had had to pass through training practice in some gymnasium. When Vasilka Tapkova had went to the Third Male gymnasium (on “Pirotska’’ str.), where she had been assigned to practice, it had turned out, that her tutor would be a person, personally involved in the dismissal of her father from work in the beginning of the 40-ies.
- All of a sudden it turns out, that I receive as a patron somebody, who once upon a time had been a communist, but after that had flattered Filov and had become a protégé of Filov …So, I went to the Third Male gymnasium and I see: the person, who had sent the message to my father, now is supposed to become a tutor of mine!... So, I don’t know whether that person recognized me or not, but when we, the applicants for the pedagogical practice went there, we were told by him: ‘’Today we are not going to work together and tomorrow we are not going to work together, because we, the fighters against fascism, have an important meeting!’’
That’s why she had given up the pedagogical practice and after hearing that there is a competitive exam for an assistant in the Institute for Bulgarian history, she applied for the position and had the best result among 22 other applicants.
- See what comes sometimes out of despair!’’
The examining committee had been presided by Ivan Snegarov, and also the archeologist D. Dimitrov had taken part. The applicants had to translate a text by St. Basil the Great.
- It was funny, because my name is Vasilka and we had to translate St. Vassiliy/Basil the Great. That’s why I was lucky!
After the competition she had met the future archeologist Maria Chichikova, who had informed her about the very positive reference for her exam-results from Dimitar Dimitrov.
So, she had received the order for the appointment in the BAS, but almost immediately she had received the message that as a beneficiary of state stipend she is obliged to work on a ‘’destination’’. Despite of the lack of pedagogical practice, she has been assigned to work as a teacher in Bossilegrad.
- And do you know what was still there? Real horror. They were still fighting there. I was to be cast there.
In the Institute their duties were to translate and comment Greek sources for the Bulgarian history. In their group the classical philologists Genoveva Tsankova and Strashimir Lishev had been included, as well, and the person in charge had been Mihail Voynov.
- It was a very meticulous work.
Firstly, they had typed the Greek texts in columns, after that they had cut them with scissors and besides they pasted the columns with the Bulgarian translation. Beneath the commentary had been added. After that Boyan Mirchev was employed as a typist.
- He was from the family of the famous Mirchevs, the scholars in the Slavonic studies. Because he had worked as a journalist in ‘’Zora’’, and consequently – persecuted for that, he was not allowed to have any other work, except the one of a typist. He was intelligent person, and although he didn’t know Greek, he was typing punctually in Bulgarian. Without mistakes.
In the commission, which had supervised their work, Beshevliev and Gerov had been included, and the Bulgarian text had been corrected by Stoyan Romanski.
In the period till 1963 Vasilka Tapkova-Zaimova has attended conferences, scholarly meetings and working visits in Krakow (1959), in Dubrovnik for research on sources (1963) and Leningrad (1963). She has been a secretary of the Organization Committee of the VIth Conference of the Organization for the study of the classical antiquity “Eirene” (held in Plovdiv, in 1962). In 1963 she has specialized for three months in the Moscow Institute for history.
In 1950 Vasilka Tapkova marries the linguist (specialist in Bulgarian language) Yordan Zaimov (1921-1987). They have two children: Velislav Zaimov, born in 1951, who is a composer and professor in the Musical Academy; and Raya Zaimova, born in 1957, senior associate researcher (equal to a professor) in the Institute for Balkan studies, a specialist in the French-Ottoman cultural relations.
For the structure of the BAS and the inner composition of the separate institutes, including the Institute for history, see Ралева, О., Пейчева, Р. БАН след 9.IX.1944 /BAS after the 9. IX 1944. For the events after 1944, the restructuring and the enlargement of the Academy see История на БАН 1869-1969/History of BAS 1869-1969. The new structure is enacted by the special Act for the BAS from 1947. After the arrest of Bogdan Filov in April 1945 for a president of the Academy has been elected Dimitar Mihalchev. In January the same year for a regular member has been elected Todor Pavlov – he is the first Marxist-member of the presidium of BAS.
He becomes president in 1947 and is re-elected by the General assembly in 1948 and 1956, remaining a president till 1962.
In the beginning of 1958 the BAS has 8 Sections, 4 of which are humanitarian and they comprise the separate institutes. The Institute for Bulgarian history is included in the subsection History and Pedagogy. By this time there are 88 academicians and member-correspondents and 372 scientific or scholarly researchers. Among the academicians are Sp. Kazandzhiev, D. Mihalchev, G. Katzarov, A. Protich, Ivan Snegarov. V. Beshevliev and D. Dimitrov are member-correspondents.
By that time director of the Institute for Bulgarian history is Dimitar Kossev. There are 5 Commissions for the publication of sources in the section of archeography and bibliography of Bulgarian history: for the publication of Greek, Latin, Slavonic, Turkish and Hebrew sources. Vasilka Tapkova works in the Commission for the publication of the Greek and Latin sources. In the volume БАН след 9. ІХ. 1944/ BAS after 9. IX. 1944 among the senior researchers are mentioned D. Angelov and Ivan Duichev, whereas M. Voynov with the other publishers of sources, is included among the junior researchers.
The first 6 volumes Гръцките извори за българската история/The Greek sources for the Bulgarian history, are published between 1954-1965. Among the translators are mentioned also Dimitar Dechev, Velizar Velkov, Lyubomir Yonchev, Petar Tivchev. The publishing of the Greek and the Latin sources continues later, and the last – for the time being – 32th volume. Some of them can be seen on the web: http://www.kroraina.com/N1/. Prof. Tapkova-Zaimova has taken part in the preparation of 11 of the Greek and 2 of the Latin volumes.
Many details about her researches till 1963 are given in the book: Василка Тъпкова-Заимова. Биобиблиография. Велико Търново, 1985.
2. Members of the BCP and non-members in the BAS. The ideologization. The dossier files of Vasilka Tapkova-Zaimova and Yordan Zaimov
Vasilka Tapkova has worked in the Institute for Bulgarian history till 1963.
- There was the opinion: “ They are not going to be allowed to become senior researchers”, because the editing and the publishing of sources was not reckoned (by them) to be a proper scholarly work.
Mihail Voynov is mentioned several times in the interview with explicit respect and cordiality.
- If somebody is to be pointed at as my teacher – this is Voynov.
He had advised her and the other younger colleagues to concentrate their work only on the sources, in order not to be forced to publish ideological texts. Many years after that Prof. Georgi Bakalov has told her: “Only in your writings there are no such passages”.
However, by doing this, they have sentenced themselves to a lack of publications. A book or article in history without the Marxist and the Leninist phraseology could hardly appear in the 50-ies and the early 60-ies. That’s why she had accepted the invitation of Nikolai Todorov and Vladimir Georgiev to move to the brand new Institute for Balkan studies, in the section for the history of Byzantium and the Balkan people.
- I gave this name to it.
However, they couldn’t appoint her as a scientific secretary, which would be equal to a deputy director, because such a position could be obtained only by a member of the Party. Her husband Yordan Zaimov had also abstained from becoming a member of the Party.
- So, also, one day Nikolai (Todorov) came and told me: ‘’Well, we don’t have a deputy director, and the scholarly secretary has to be a Party-member, as well”. So, Vladimir Georgiev told me: ‘’Let’s accept you and your husband as Party-members’’. So, we were both proposed, but we rejected. I have already told you, that Nikolai (Todorov) was a good man, he was a Party-member, doing the necessary party-deeds, but he didn’t torture the people. He never raised the topic again.
To the question of Zoia whether the Party-secretaries in the organizations had been external people, Vasilka Tapkova replies that they have been researchers and scholars like all the rest. As her story confirms, it depended on the person to accept or to reject the proposal to become a member, and nevertheless in the latter case to remain on the same working position. But to occupy a leading prestigious position without being a Party member, for a very long time had not been possible. However, Yordan Zaimov had become a deputy director of the Unified Center in Linguistics in 1986 – one year before his death.
The relations between the Party-members and the non-members on the working place could be very stressful. The Party-members could have easy access to the leading persons in charge in the BAS and this had created options for intrigues and pressure. Thus, Mihail Voynov had been dismissed and for a certain period had to earn his living as a carpenter.
- A carpenter! Well, although fired from the institute, didn’t he have allowance for some other job?
- No, no, he didn’t. So, he made the shelter for the hens of a neighbour.
Obviously everyone, who had not become a Party-member could be pressed, especially if one had made the impression of an uncompromising person.
- And we heard what slanders were made against us; they went to the Head-department of the academy in order to report that we are unfit for this job, that we should be expelled, we should be fired, and so.
Still, the non-members could rely on the support of some high-ranked colleagues-Party-members, who had respected them for their professionalism or simply had tried to act according to justice. Vasilka Tapkova says good words for Todor Pavlov, who had restored Mihail Voynov to his earlier appointment. Also she mentions quite positively Nikolai Todorov, who had never demanded any demonstrative ideology in the publications. There are no generalities in the interview about the Party and the ideology, nor the advantages and the shortcomings of the regime are discussed.
Vasilka Tapkova and Yordan Zaimov had had prolific files.
- The dossier file of my husband consisted of 145 pages.
She had read them and even had taken copies of some pages, which later had sent to their authors. Some of them had not been “slanders” from special informers, but mere so-called characteristics (something as a regular reference), written by Party-secretary, intended for administrative and Party usage, but probably they had been used by the State Security, as well. They had been written regularly.
- So, was there a report every year?
Vasilka Tapkova distinguishes an “early” and “late” part in her dossier-file. In the early part there had been reports about her meetings with French citizens in the Embassy of France, especially with the director of the French college in Plovdiv – Father Oson – who had been held under the suspicion that he is an agent of a foreign service. However, later it had become clear that she is visiting the Embassy, because she gave lessons in Latin to the daughter of the ambassador. However, this contact of her had not been quite safe.
- If I’ve been ‘’included’’ in the Catholics’ case, I was endangered to be sent to a camp. So, you know, in 1952 several Catholics were shot. And because of the fact that I have graduated from the French college, they write in my file that in the Embassy I am regularly meeting the Director of the French college in Plovdiv: “she met with him today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow”…
Her husband, likewise her father before 1944, has been followed by the secret services in connection with his beliefs mainly on the Macedonian question.
In respect of the pressure, exercised by the Party on the historians, working in the field of the study of antiquity and the middle ages see again, Съдът срещу историците/ The Court against the Historians op. cit., and also the autobiography of Georgi Bakalov in the volume, dedicated to his 60-th anniversary. On the other point of view see the memoires of D. Angelov.
3. Other appointments and teaching till 1989
In the Institute for Balkan studies it has been much easier for her. The section History of Byzantium and the Balkan people had been initially directed by Beshevliev and after his retirement – by Vasilka Tapkova.
- Then they didn’t demand from us to write accordingly to Marxism, because Nikolai Todorov was an extremely intelligent man.
So, she was given then the opportunity not only to publish sources and to translate, but also to write texts of her own. She has remained in the Institute till 1989, when she has retired. She has began to teach in 70-ies (1970-ies) in the Academy for the Arts.
- I was teaching medieval history, but in the Department of Theory of Arts. This was a position, previously held by (Alexander) Fol, who has left it, because then began his career (literary: they have begun to pull him higher). So after him, the position was proposed to me.
She becomes professor in 1973 (as part-time appointment) and keeps lecturing in the Academy till 1993.
In the period 1964-1973 she attends conferences, scholarly meetings and working visits in Athens, Berlin, Bucharest, Brno, Venice, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Moscow, Paris, Strassburg, Hamburg, Schwerin, and many Bulgarian towns. She delivers lectures in Bucurrest (1966) and Paris (1972). She and her husband receive the state honour “Cyril and Methodius” for the book Битолски надпис на Иван Владислав /The Bitola inscription of Ivan Vladislav. In 1973 she becomes senior associate researcher of first degree in BAS, which corresponds to the rank of university professor.
Since 1975 she is a part-time lecturer in the University of Veliko Turnovo. Between 1974 and 1984 she participates in conferences and scholarly meetings in Ankara, Athens, Belgrade, Berlin, Birmingham, Budapest, Bucharest, Brno, Vienna, Greifswald, Dumbarton Oaks, Kiev, Krajova, London, Moscow, Muehlhausen, Paris, Prague, Rome, Thessaloniki, Strasbourg, and many places in Bulgaria. She has delivered lectures in the University of Cologne (1984). She has been since 1979 a vice president of Association Internationale des Etudes du Sud-Est Europeen – AIESEE.
On the activity of Nikolai Todorov see his Дневник/Diary. On the scholarly and public activity see the volume, collecting his articles ant interviews Самотният пешеходец/The Lonely Pedestrian. About him and the circle of intellectuals, close to the BCP and Lyudmila Zhivkova see Н. Неделчев. Тоталитарни идеологии в историята/N. Nedelchev, Totalitarian Ideologies in History; Ив. Еленков. Културният фронт/Ivan Elenkov, The Cultural Front; Хр. Христов. Тодор Живков. Биография/Hristo Hristov. Todor Zhivkov. Biography.
For her scholarly work till 1984 see again Василка Тъпкова-Заимова. Биобиблиография. Велико Търново, 1985.
IV. After the retirement
In 1993 she receives proposal to resume work, but this time in the Section of history in the Institute for Cyril-and-Methodius studies in the BAS and works there till 2003. But also she has been lecturing in several universities: in Sofia and in Plovdiv (2000-2002), Blagoevgrad South-West University (1992-1996), and mostly in the University in Veliko Turnovo (from the end of the 70-ies). Till 2001 she has been a member of the Leading committee of the Union of the scientists in Bulgaria. She has lectured also in this period in Athens, Munich, Thessaloniki, Yoannina.
In 2003 she becomes doctor honoris causa of the university in Bucharest, and in 2004 she eceives the same honour from the University in VelikoTurnovo.
I am personally acquainted with Prof. Tapkova-Zaimova from the autumn of 1993, when for a very short time I was an assistant of her in the course Byzantine literature and culture in the specialty Modern Greek philology in University of Sofia. Since then we have had three longer conversations on her biography: in July 2001 on a cocktail reception in the Embassy of France; in July 2007 in a cafe after the promotion of the dissertation of Yanko Dimitrov, whose work was reviewed by her and me (later Yanko became husband of the interviewer Zoia Hristova); and finally, in the last week of October, 2010 at her home on “Praga blvd” in Sofia, when we discussed this biographical paper.
Translation from Bulgarian - Dimka Guicheva-Gocheva