5 December, 2023
Professor Svetla Koleva talks with Professor Petar-Emil Mitev about the cooperation between Bulgarian and Romanian sociologists before and after 1989 and about the development of the sociology of the youth
The cover of issue 46/2020 of the Romanian journal “Social Psychology” (source: Social Psychology)

Prof. Svetla Koleva

This article was published in the Romanian journal Psihologia Socială (1) in French in the issue no. 46 (II) of 2020, pp. 11–18.

Professor Petar-Emil Mitev was born on 21 April 1936 in Sofia. He graduated in philosophy at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski ”(1958). He defended his doctoral dissertation (Ph.D., 1972), became an associate professor (1975), doctor of philosophical sciences (1983) and professor (1985).

He teaches at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski (1960–2011), where he headed the Center for the Study of Ideologies at the Faculty of Philosophy (1988–1993, 1996–2001). In the period 1972–1988 he was the director of the Research Institute for Youth at the Central Committee of Communist Youth Organisation(2).

He was the president of Research Committee 34 “Sociology of Youth” of the International Sociological Association / ISA (1982-1986), Member of the Research Coordinating Committee of ISA (1986-1990), Member of the Advisory Board of IC 34 “Sociology of Youth” of ISA ( 1998–2002).

Chairman of the Bulgarian Association of Sociology (1991-1995 and 1997-1999), Chairman of the Specialized Scientific Council for Political Science (2004-2010). Since 2002 he has been managing the Ivan Hadjiiski Institute for Social Values ​​and Structures.

He has led over thirty national and international research projects. He works on issues of youth, contemporary political processes and social transformations, the history of philosophical, sociological and political ideas. His publications have been published in Bulgarian, English, German, Russian and Serbian. He is the compiler and co-author of collective publications dedicated to the Bulgarian and European youth, the Bulgarian transition, the Bessarabian Bulgarians. Among his most significant publications are: Social Progress and Youth (1969), Sociology Facing the Problems of Youth (1982) (3), From a Social Problem to Worldview Discoveries (1984), Youth and Social Change (1988), Popular attitudes towards Politics 1998), Von der Nachbarschaft zur Mitburgerschaft: die Bulgaren und die turkische Minderheit (2000), Ivan Hadjiiski read today (2007), Macedonia at the Crossroads (2008, co-author), The Young People in European Bulgaria. Sociological Portrait 2014 (2014, co-author), Bulgarians: Sociological Views (2016), The Transition. Political Science Perspectives (2017), Bulgarian Youth 2018/2019 (2019, co-author).

Svetla Koleva: The Romanian magazine PSIHOLOGIA SOCIALĂ dedicates its latest issue for 2020 to the development of the social sciences and humanities in Bulgaria after 1989. However, as we know, the present is prepared by the past and prepares the future. For more than six decades you have been tirelessly contributing to the development of sociology in Bulgaria and its establishment on the international stage through iconic publications, lecture courses, marked generations of students of philosophy, sociology, political science, significant national and international studies. What do you think is the most distinctive thing about Bulgarian sociology before and after 1989?

Petar-Emil Mitev: The first period is the rediscovery and establishment of sociology as a science of society as a whole, different from historical materialism. It is a period of institutional formation, when the first large-scale national studies and the establishment of international relations too place. Also the integration into the International Sociological Association took place at that moment.

It is distinctive that the founders, the “fathers” of Bulgarian sociology, were graduates of the Faculty of Philosophy, specialists in philosophy. The deficit of empirical competence was covered by close links with the most qualified statisticians. The broad outlook that philosophy provides has been combined with a pronounced methodological precision provided by statistics.

A second distinguishing feature is the desire to quickly keep pace with world sociology, to go beyond local limitations. Judge that period by the facts: The Institute of Sociology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences was established in 1968. Only two years later, in 1970, Bulgaria hosted the Seventh World Congress of Sociology. This means that the preparation for the establishment of the institute and its first steps coincide with an exceptional international activity. In 1970, world-famous scientists such as Talcott Parsons, Robert Merton, Ossip Flechtheim came to Varna. Another paradoxical example: in the autumn of 1968 the establishment of the Center for Sociological Research of Youth at the communist youth organization was officially announced. But before that, in the spring of the same year, the founders of the Center held the first international event. The sequel was logical: from the beginning of the 1970s, international symposiums of researchers on youth issues began to be held in the socialist countries, in the 1980s – already within research committee 34 at the ISA with the participation of colleagues from Western countries and the Third world. International activity outpaced institutional development and “pulled” it forward.

After 1989, sociological expansion became a primary feature of development. I had the opportunity to defend this point of view. The theoretical and methodological basis of the research has sharply expanded. New thematic centers have appeared – in accordance with new functions: electoral and marketing sociology. The institutional design has changed with a kind of de-ethicization of the sociological field and the emergence of many sociological companies that take over the activities of academic institutions. The Institute of Sociology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences ceased to be an independent unit, and the Institute of Youth was closed altogether. If the main defect of research before 1989 was their socialist apologetics, after 1989 anti-socialist nihilism flourished. New problems arose. Intensive electoral research has created the impression, even the belief, that sociology is a conjunctural knowledge, not a study of deep processes.

As the director of National Institute for the Study of the Youth in the period 1972-1988, you established contacts with sociologists-researchers of the problems of youth from all former socialist countries. Which Romanian sociologists did you work with during this period?

The closest collegial and friendly relations connect me with the founder of the Romanian Centrul de cercetări pentru problemele tineretului (Center for Youth Problems’ Studies), and later of the Research Committee 34 “Sociology of Youth” at ISA Prof. Ovidiu Badina, as well as with the Deputy Director Prof. Fred Mahler. It is not enough to say that Badina and Mahler were European scientists, they were world-class researchers. I met with the entire staff of the Center for Youth Problems’ Studies during my visits to Bucharest. Many Romanian colleagues came to Bulgaria. I will mention Petre Datculescu, Cătălin Mamali (psychologist by profession), Doina Buruiana, Constantin Schifirneț, Alexandru Bejan, Dumitru Bazac, Gheorghe Basiliade, Marin Manolescu, Vladimir Marin, Eugen Mândru, Ion Sasu (politician, şeful Centrului pentru o perioadă), Augustin Cernea, Dumitru Borţun, Aurel Draguţ. This list doesn’t include the participants in the bilateral events.

Have you had joint research projects and publications?

After I became director of the Center for the Study of the Youth, the first country I visited was Romania. It was not because of geographical proximity. My predecessor Mincho Semov, a notable scientist and organizer, later founder of the Bulgarian political science, had already established contacts with colleagues in Bucharest. He knew and highly valued Ovidiu Badina. We quickly established mutual understanding, which grew into a personal friendship. We agreed to hold joint seminars with an exchanged household.

The first seminar took place on 31 October – 1 November 1974 in Ruse and Giurgiu. There was no specific topic. It was an acquaintance meeting. The Romanian delegation, which included Elvira Cinka, Cătălin Mamali, Doina Buruiana, Eugen Mândru, Dumitru Bazac and Dorina Tocaci, was led by Fred Mahler. I led the Bulgarian one (Goran Goranov, Hristo Dalkalachev, Angel Kutev, Liliana Deyanova). On the second day we crossed the “Bridge of Friendship” to Giurgiu and there our Romanian colleagues gave us a great surprise: they had rented a Danube ship and the whole second day of discussions took place there. It ended with a festive dinner. 

A meeting followed in Vidin and Calafat in May 1977. It was thematically focused: “The Scientific and Technical Revolution and the Youth.” The Romanian delegation was again led by Fred Mahler, and Goran Goranov led the Bulgarian attendees. By agreement, the next seminars were divided – the third was only in Bulgaria, the fourth – only in Romania. In Varna, May 1979, the topic was “The Moral Education of Youth.” The Romanian delegation was led by Constantin Skifirneţ. I led the Bulgarian one. After the Romanian hosting – in Sinaia! – we returned to the Danube again. The next seminar in Silistra and Calarasi was co-hosted by the Bulgarian and the Romanian side.

The mutual interest was maintained by the contents of the scientific dialogue. We, the Bulgarian researchers, maintained good cooperation with all Eastern European colleagues, especially with the largest institute – in the GDR. But in no case has our dialogue with others been so fruitful as it was with the Romanian colleagues. This was due to common scientific approaches, to close understandings. I will mention a key detail. In only two countries the concept of “juventology” was developed (meaning the building of a more general scientific discipline than the sociology of youth, which is based on the sociobiological nature of the youth group itself). These were Romania and Bulgaria. The leading researchers in this field were Fred Mahler and Konstantin Gospodinov. The thesis on the relationship “socialization-juventization” was developed in Bulgaria. It sparked interest among colleagues from other countries in Eastern Europe, as well as internationally at the ISA Congress in Uppsala, 1978. But only in Romania did they translate and publish the work.(4)

Fred Mahler was able to publish the results of his remarkable research on juventology and a great deal of work on “Youth in Space and Time.” The entire monograph was translated into Bulgarian for internal use by the staff of the institute. After the untimely death of the eminent scientist, we organized – in the autumn of 1989, an international symposium dedicated to Fred Mahler. Romanian colleagues announced at the last minute that they would not come. It was understandable. Ceausescu’s regime was collapsing. Reports were presented by Konstantin Gospodinov, Ola Stafseng from Norway (later president of IC 34 “Sociology of Youth” of MSA) and myself. Dr. Lina Boyadzhieva, head of the branch of the institute in Plovdiv, also took part.

Romanian colleagues worked in more difficult social conditions than Bulgarian sociologists. Suffice it to say that with the assistance of the state in Bulgaria was organized the World Congress of Sociology of ISA, and in the 80’s in Romania literally banned sociologists from participating in the activities of ISA. Ovidiu Badina was forced to leave the research center he had set up. At a symposium in Primorsko he brought a manuscript of his great work “Youth in the Modern World”. Due to lack of conditions in Romania, it was submitted for publication in Bulgaria. The book was translated at our institute and published by ed. People’s Youth.(5) As far as I know, this is still the only edition. He can only regret it.

Our cooperation in the International Sociological Association was also very important. At the initiative of Ovidiu Badina at the Eighth World Congress in Toronto in 1974 there were two units: one on youth issues and the other on youth research issues. They had success and Ovidiu Badina took the initiative to set up a research committee on youth issues. Of course, I supported it, I signed the document. The committee was established and in 1978 the founding meeting took place at the Ninth World Congress in Uppsala. Badina was unanimously elected president. He would have certainly been re-elected, but in the meantime restrictions were imposed on Romanian sociologists and no exceptions were allowed. At the next Tenth World Congress of Sociology in Mexico in 1982, I was elected president with the support of my Western European colleagues and became Badina’s successor. At my initiative, the former president received the status of a board member.

This created a difficult situation to predict: the foundations for co-operation in the field of world sociology of youth were laid in two neighboring Balkan countries.

Did this cooperation continue after 1989?

Yes, in new conditions, with new opportunities and new difficulties.

After the changes, Ovidiu Badina developed his powerful organizational potential and established the Institute of Sociology in Chisinau at the Moldovan Academy of Sciences. He organized an international conference. Of course, I received an invitation and went to Chişinău. So, it can be said that even the state borders of cooperation have expanded. (Later in the 1990s, I organized a scientific study of Bessarabian Bulgarians in Moldova and Ukraine.)

Institutional boundaries have also expanded. I was invited to the congress of the Romanian Sociological Association. I met Prof. Cătălin Zamfir, who headed it. The following year I met him in Blagoevgrad at a conference of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. There, together with Prof. Vesna Pesic, then President of the Yugoslav Sociological Association, we discussed the prospects of Balkan cooperation and in particular the possibility of publishing in English a general journal with the draft title “Balkan Sociological Review”. The break-up and war in Yugoslavia radically changed the situation.

In March 1992, the next – and last, Bulgarian-Romanian symposium on the sociology of youth took place. Its topic was: “Sociology in the transition to democracy.” It was held in the resort of Albena, Dobrich district. The Romanian group was led by Michaela Minulescu, a psychologist by profession, who meanwhile took over the management of the Center in Bucharest. Anca Tomescu, Viorica Tigel and Victor Macri took part.

Transition and European integration have created new thematic centers of co-operation. The ethnic wars in the former Yugoslavia have drawn attention to the perception of the Other, the consciousness of peace. A series of conferences in Sofia were attended by Romanian sociologists, primarily from the Center for Youth Studies – Octav Marcovici, Ana-Maria Dalu, Viorica Tigel, Ancuţa Pleşu, Anca Tomescu, Adriana Popescu.(6)

In 2014 and 2018/19, Bulgaria and Romania were among the countries participating in large representative surveys, funded and organized by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation – Germany, on youth issues in Southeast Europe. Monographs were published.

If we take into account the period as a whole, it can be said that the cooperation after 1989 has been decreasing in intensity. This is due not so much to the change of the system as to the change of generations of researchers. Those factors that brought sociologists from Sofia and Bucharest so close are now dissolving into the pan-European environment and losing their validity for the new generation of researchers. And the very sociology of youth is competed against and displaced by other thematic sociological areas.

In the 1980s, in the context of the Cold War-divided world of Western and Eastern blocs, you were elected President of ICA Sociology of Youth IC (1982-1986) and a member of the Research Coordinating Committee of the ISA. ISA (1986–1990). Returning retrospectively to this experience, on what principles were the relations between the sociologists of the “two worlds” built? What was the contribution of the sociologists from the then socialist countries to the understanding of the problems of the youth and to the development of the sociological researches of the youth?

The principle was collegiality. The great difference between Stalinism and the post-Stalinist period in the development of the Eastern Bloc was expressed in the acceptance and observance of this principle. The “salt” in the principled “instructions” given by A.A. Zhdanov during the philosophical discussion in 1947 is in condemnation of the view that the Western philosopher is above all a colleague(7). In Stalinist times he was seen as an ideological enemy. Such a position, of course, not only excludes cooperation, it makes international contacts suspicious, incl. in the police sense. The policy of “peaceful coexistence” has created the preconditions for radical change.

The West encouraged the development of sociology in the East. In the main body of the ISA – the Executive Committee, a place was reserved for the participation of sociologists from the Eastern Bloc. Exactly which countries will be employed – this was decided at meetings during the congress. I attended one of them. Let me add that ideas about the convergence of the two systems, albeit in different versions, were shared by scholars from both the West and the East.

As challenging as it may sound, the sociology of youth in Eastern Europe had certain advantages. The main thing: the process of forming the youth as a relatively independent social group was more advanced. Generational differences stood out against the classless background. A mass youth organization had a recognized role in public life. It was the new generations who were relied on to break the stagnation and bring about change. In short: we could observe the process of formation of a social group specific to modern society, in a phase – at the whim of history – higher in a number of respects. This gave impetus to innovative ideas such as juventology and juventization. 

In the West, the systemic foundations of the general theory of socialization, which played a major methodological role, were developed in detail. But in Eastern Europe, there has been an understanding of personal self-realization as the most important youth problem. This is what leads to a new methodological emphasis – individualization, but it could only be done in the West.

The problem of the global role, not just the global situation of youth, inspired Ovidiu Badina’s outstanding study.(8)

What changes have taken place in international cooperation in the field of sociology in general and of sociology of youth in particular since 1989? Have international youth surveys been conducted? Do you have any impressions about the way of integration of Bulgarian and Romanian sociologists in the European Research Area after the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU in 2007?

The approaches in sociological research were de-ideologized. Barriers to international projects have been removed. The cooperation itself has become more open, more competitive. Less dependent on the state, but also in the sense of less or no support at all. The quota allocated to Eastern Europe by the ISA Executive Committee has expired. Participation in MSA congresses, especially those held in places far from Europe – Canada, South Africa, Australia, has become a happy exception.

The new geopolitical significance of Southeast Europe motivates the leading EU country, Germany, to make serious investments in research on Balkan youth. The two cited studies provided a good basis for further work in just five years.

IC 34 “Sociology of Youth” has expanded its scope. Researchers from China have begun to play an important role. There was a telling detail at the congress in Durban: the position of vice president for the Australia-Oceania region caused organizational disagreements. There were two applicants, both with youth research in Fiji …

I do not have enough impressions of the way of integration of Bulgarian and Romanian sociologists in the European Research Area after the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU in 2007 to be able to make summaries.

And one last question. In the modern conditions of strong domestic and international competition, with the academic growth of scientists, publications in English-language journals with an impact factor similar to the exact and natural sciences are prioritized. In your opinion, what should be the scientific policy for the development of social sciences and humanities in countries such as Bulgaria and Romania with national languages ​​with limited international weight, if their representatives have not given up the mission to contribute to the self-knowledge of their own societies?

There are fundamental imbalances in the development of modern science. The first is between the different levels of development achieved by the natural sciences compared to the social sciences. The various investments also contribute to this. The results are evident in the varying degrees of mastery of natural objects and processes, on the one hand, and of society itself, on the other.

Within the social sciences, and in particular sociology, there is a gap between the mountains of accumulated empirical data and the modesty of theoretical generalizations.

Unfortunately, the formal and bureaucratic approach, manifested through the requirements described by you, becomes an obstacle for the development of social science. Social science must return to itself, to its specific features, in order to contribute to the progress of society through its self-knowledge. The social sciences cannot create an atomic bomb. But their contribution is important so that it is not used.

Global society cannot follow the traditional historical path of trial and error. The scale of the activity and the complexity of public relations require a new quality and a new role of the public – necessarily the sociological reason.

December 9, 2020


1 A leading Romanian sociology journal

2 Established as the Center for Sociological Research on Youth, transformed into the Center for Youth Research in 1974, the Youth Research Institute has been bearing this name since 1979.

3 This book is presented by Constantin Schifirneţ: Petar-Emil Mitev, Sociology Facing the Problems of Youth, Sofia, 1982, Viitorul Social, nr. 2, 1983, pp. 178–179 (note by P. S.).

4 P.-E. Mitev. Socialize and invent. 1977. In: Tineret cercetare actiune. Bucharest: Center for young people.

5 Badina, Ovidiu. 1985. Youth in the modern world. Sofia: Narodna Mladezh, 400 p.

6 The participation of Romanian sociologists is reflected in the publications: Mitev, P.-E. and J. Riordan (eds). 2004. Towards Non-violence & Dialog Culture in South East Europe. Sofia: East-West; Mitev, P.-E. and J. Riordan (eds). 2002. Culture of Peace and the Balkan Youth. Sofia: IMIR; Mitev, P.-E. (ed). 2000. Balkan Youth and Perception of the Other. Sofia: LIK; Mitev, P.-E. (ed). 1999. Bulgarian Youth Facing Europe. Sofia: IMIR; Mitev, P.-E. and J. Riordan (eds). 1996. Europe. The Young. The Balkans. Sofia: IMIR.

7 This is a discussion organized by the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) under the leadership of Andrei A. Zhdanov on the collective work History of Western European Philosophy (1946), which received a high award and was recommended by the USSR Ministry of Higher Education for study. in the history of philosophy in higher education. During the discussion Zhdanov delivered a speech on the topic “The situation and tasks of the philosophical front” (note SK).

8 Here are the sub-themes in Ovidiu Badina’s book: What is youth; Youth and its participation in the development of social and social reconstruction; Youth – an active participant in creating a climate for international understanding and cooperation; The scientific research of the youth – a basic tool for the knowledge of the public activity.

Photo: Petar-Emil Mitev (source: YouTube)

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