Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 January 2017
This paper offers an empirical description and analytical interpretation of the borsa—the largest black market for rock music in Bulgaria in the 1980s. The text illuminates the distinct characteristics of the urban locale that became the focal point of rock fans’ desires and ambitions, examines how the interactions between the entrepreneurs who supplied the music and their adoles-cent clients were embedded in enduring networks of trust, and explores the peculiarities of the borsa as a site where western works of art were mechanically reproduced. It also demonstrates that the place where admirers of rock music met was enlivened by political energies and deliberately demarcated as a space in which ideological differences could manifest themselves, thus contesting Alexei Yurchak's argument that in late socialism it was possible to be loyal to and love “both Lenin and Led Zeppelin.“
1. The source base which I use in this article consists of twenty-four interviews conducted in Sofia in 2008 and 2009. The method I used was snowball sampling (also known as chain referral sampling), which means that the study sample is formed through “referrals made among people who possess some characteristics that are of research interest.“ Patrick Biernacki and Dan Waldorf, “Snowball Sampling: Problems and Techniques of Chain Referral Sampling,” Sociological Methods and Research10, no. 2 (November 1981): 141. While this method is not designed to generate propositions generalizable across populations, it is of central importance for the study of groups engaged in illicit behavior, such as buying and selling in violation of legal restrictions. See Lindesmith, Alfred R., Addiction and Opiates(Chicago, 111., 1968)Google Scholar.
2. See Artemy, Troitsky, Back in the USSR: The True Story of Rock in Russia(London, 1987)Google Scholar; Ryback, Timothy W., Rock around the Bloc: A History of Rock Music in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union(Oxford, 1990)Google Scholar; Sabrina Petra, Ramet, ed., Rocking the State: Rock Music and Politics in Eastern Europe and Russia(Boulder, Colo., 1994)Google Scholar; Thomas, Cushman, Notes from the Underground: Rock Music and Counterculture in Russia(Albany, 1995)Google Scholar; Poiger, Uta G., Jazz, Rock, and Rebels: Cold War Politics and American Culture in a Divided Germany(Berkeley, 2000)Google Scholar; Szemere, Anna, Up from the Underground: The Culture of Rock Music in Postsocialist Hungary(University Park, 2001)Google Scholar; Alexei, Yurchak, Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation(Princeton, 2006)Google Scholar; Zhuk, Sergei, Rock and Roll in the Rocket City: The West, Identity, and Ideology in Soviet Dnepropetrovsk(Washington, D.C., 2010)Google Scholar; William, Risch, The Ukrainian West: Culture and the Fate of Empire in Soviet Lviv(Cambridge, Mass., 2011)Google Scholar; and Madigan, Fichter, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Nation: Counterculture and Dissent in Romania, 1965-1975,” Nationalities Papers 39, no. 4 (July 2011): 567-85Google Scholar. On Bulgaria in particular, see Ryback, , Rock around the Block, 193-98Google Scholar; Stephen, Ashley, “The Bulgarian Rock Scene under Communism, 1962-1990,”in Ramet, ed., Rocking the State, 141-65Google Scholar; and Karin, Taylor, Let's Twist Again: Youth and Leisure in Socialist Bulgaria(Vienna, 2006)Google Scholar. Taylor's research focuses mostly on the 1960s and 1970s, not the 1980s, which is probably why she does not mention the borsa.
3. While it is true that this site was in proximity to two urban landmarks, by all accounts they had virtually nothing to do with the borsa's attractiveness. One was the aforementioned Liudmila Zhivkova People's Palace of Culture, after which the trolleybus stop was named. (Liudmila Zhivkova was communist dictator Todor Zhivkov's daughter, whose meteoric political career ended when she died in 1981. See the most recent biography, by Krum, Blagov, Zagadkata Liudmila Zhivkova[Sofia, 2012].Google Scholar) Separated from the borsa by a large park and situated more than a kilometer away, the Palace was not connected to the black market in any meaningful way (see figure 1). Vitoshka Street was also nearby, but the kinds of things one could purchase in the shops that lined this commercial thoroughfare— household appliances, medicines, linen and other fabrics, furniture—could hardly spark adolescent imaginations. Thus, there is no evidence to suggest that the trolleybus stop on Patriarch Evtimii Boulevard was somehow intrinsically more special than any other nook in the chaotic conglomeration of urban sites (see figure 2).
4. No one has analyzed this social divide better than Ivan, Hadzhiiski, Bit i dushevnost na nashiia narod, 3vols. (Sofia, 1940-2002)Google Scholar. Subsequent analyses have added very little to Hadzhiiski's fundamental insights.
5. The following is a sample of typical statements from my interviews. Assen Djingov: “Tony was this guy from Pernik who was a true entrepreneur: he only had a mono cassette player at the beginning, and after two years became the biggest supplier of rock music in his city.” Khristo Namev: “Krassi was from Kiustendil; he knew a lot about Deep Purple.“ Miroliub Petrinski: “One of the greatest collections of records I've seen was owned by a borsa regular from Vladaia; this guy really understood rock music and knew more about it than I did at the time.” Pernik and Kiustendil are cities in southwestern Bulgaria; Vladaia is a village near Sofia.
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8. Djingov, Petrinski, and Sava Beninski, interviews.
9. Sabrina Petra Ramet, “Rock: The Music of Revolution (and of Political Conformity),“ in Ramet, ed., Rocking the State, 4.
10. By far the most popular black market was the bitak(flea market), where all kinds of commodities were bought and sold. If Sofians needed to “rent” a truck (in other words, to pay a bribe to a driver who would bring the state-owned vehicle out of the state-owned garage where it was supposed to be parked unless used for official business), they would go to Macedonia Square, where they could also buy cement and radiators; or, if they needed hard currency, they would go to the Magura Cafe, on Vitosha Boulevard, where jeans and Kent cigarettes were also available.
11. Aleksandar Ganchev, interview.
12. Petrinski, interview.
13. Georgi Pipkov, interview.
14. Drugs were culturally irrelevant in Bulgaria—it was alcohol that was used by those who wished to turn on, tune in, and drop out.
15. Troitsky, Back in the USSR, 14; Poiger, Jazz, Rock, and Rebels, 4. In contrast, women were embraced as members of the kompaniithat began to form during the thaw and energized the pursuit of alternative cultural and aesthetic values. See Ludmilla, Alexeyevaand Paul, Goldberg, The Thaw Generation: Coming of Age in the Post-Stalin Era(Pittsburgh, 1990).Google Scholar
16. Djingov, interview; Pipkov, interview; and Doichin Stanchev, interview, Koprivshtitsa, 19 luly 2009.
17. Antoaneta Dimitrova, Ralitsa Peeva, and Boriana Kiutchukova, interviews.
18. Emil Georgiev and Djingov, interviews.
19. Velizar Shirov, interview.
20. Beninski, interview.
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25. The average monthly salary at the time was 180-200 leva, so what the entrepreneurs asked for was affordable. Notably, during the same decade, the communist authorities increased the fixed prices of consumer good on several occasions, so that the price hike for recordings was actually lower than general inflation.
26. Three hypotheses regarding supply were discussed by my respondents: (1) Tony and Vesso relied on truck drivers traveling beyond the Iron Curtain; (2) the records reached Sofia through the port cities of Varna and Burgas; and (3) the records were purchased from the teenage sons of high-ranking officials and intelligence officers stationed abroad.
27. Petrinski, Djingov, Stanchev, Pipkov, and Marius Velichkov, interviews.
28. Pipkov, interview.
29. Namev, interview.
30. Boiko Batov, interview.
31. Djingov, interview.
32. Georgiev, interview.
33. Djingov, Petrinski, and Georgiev, interviews.
34. See Emile, Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society(New York, 1984), 154-65Google Scholar. It should be noted that according to Durkheim, “non-contractual relationships” are an recattribute of society. My argument is that they emerged in the borsa as an attribute of a discrete, anti-establishment subculture.
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37. “The [samizdat] book might just be a copy of some original, but it also had the aura of a unique existence with its own individual history.” Bolton, Worlds of Dissent, 105
38. Benjamin mainly discusses “picture magazines and newsreels” in the essay. Benjamin, “The Work of Art,” 223. He does not offer a systematic analysis of the cultural significance of the mechanical reproduction of music.
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48. Ashley, “The Bulgarian Rock Scene,” 141.
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51. Yurchak, Everything Was Forever, 15
52. Ibid., 219.
53. Yurchak describes an incident in which a group of rock-loving young activists ruthlessly purged from the communist youth organization a young Christian who refused to renounce his religion. Ibid., 112-13.
54. Vladimir Sorokin, “On Hearing ‘Whole Lotta Love’ for the First Time in Moscow,“ New York Times, 10 March 2010, atwww.nytimes.com/2010/03/ll/opinion/lliht-edsorokin .html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 (last accessed 10 April 2014).
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75. Why the police chose not to do so is a question that goes beyond the scope of this paper. However, my respondents mentioned two hypotheses: (1) some police officers received a cut of Tony's and Vesso's profits; and (2) many of the teenagers frequenting the borsa were in fact the sons of high-ranking officials, which motivated the police to exercise some restraint. I would add two additional hypotheses: (3) since the site was visible and activities predictable, officials preferred to monitor it rather than drive the entire black market for hard rock underground; and (4) throughout the 1980s the communists' repressive apparatuses had to deal with crises compared to which the borsa was a minor problem (e.g., carrying out the party's assimilationist policies vis-a-vis the Turkish minority and nipping rapidly emerging dissident movements in the bud).
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