In September 1944 Bulgaria was occupied by the Soviet army, and subsequently a Communist dictatorship was established in the country. During the following decades several hundred thousand Bulgarians who were considered enemies of the Communist regime were expelled from their homes and resettled across the country, or sent to labor camps and prisons, and many of them died or were killed. The Communist ideology and total party control ruled not only the everyday life of the Bulgarian people, but also the science and humanities. Many outstanding achievements in Bulgarian archaeology before World War II were neglected and even forbidden because of the Communist ideological control and censorship and the Soviet domination. The contacts with Western scholars and institutions were restricted and often forbidden, and only a few Bulgarian archaeologists who were close to the Communist Party were allowed to maintain international academic relations in the West.
At the same time, a lot of new building works and construction of roads and other infrastructure were the reason for a number of rescue archaeological excavations carried out across Bulgaria. The centralized financial system and the state budget entirely supported all the excavations and numerous archaeological sites were explored and a significant number of archaeological finds were collected and studied. And although significant mistakes were made very often, due to the adoption of concepts of Soviet science, many Bulgarian archaeologists still managed to maintain good, professional work, following the traditions of Bulgarian archaeology before World War II.
From the 1950s onward, regional museums of history were founded in all the main Bulgarian towns, and many museums were founded in smaller towns as well, thus further expanding the good museum network that existed in Bulgaria during the first half of the twentieth century. These regional museums of history usually had departments of archaeology, and their staff was in charge of the regional archaeological explorations and studies, while the Archaeological Institute with Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences remained the leading research institution. In addition, most of the regional museums across Bulgaria maintained good archaeological exhibitions that attracted the local public and contributed to education. In 1973 the National Museum of History located in Sofia was founded and subsequently, it became another important institution.
From the 1960s onward, the archaeological excavations and studies in Bulgaria intensified, while during the 1970s the scientific contacts with academic and research institutions in the West became possible for more Bulgarian scholars, although these relations were strictly controlled by the Communist party and its apparatus. As a result, several important international field projects for studying prehistoric and ancient archaeological sites in Bulgaria were launched during the 1970s and the 1980s with scholars from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Japan, and various international congresses and conferences were held both in Bulgaria and in Western countries beyond the Iron Curtain that divided Europe during the Cold War. From the 1970s onward, international exhibitions were organized in some of the world famous museums in Western Europe and the United States, displaying the impressive collections of Thracian treasures discovered in Bulgaria. This initiative publicized on a global scale Thracian studies and heritage and helped to gradually overcome the international isolation of Bulgarian scholars. In that time, many Bulgarian archaeologists acquired better knowledge of the achievements of their Western colleagues, adopted modern interdisciplinary methodology of field excavations and theoretical study and examined diverse research topics, although Marxism still remained the mandatory theoretical framework for any academic research carried out in Bulgaria.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s an official initiative was launched to develop and institutionalize Thracian studies as an attempt to have a more objective understanding of the complex historical past of Bulgaria. The process was supported by certain figures from top circles of the Communist party, and thus, in 1972 the Institute of Thracology was founded in Sofia. The main contribution of Thracology was the application of an interdisciplinary methodology, combining history, archaeology, Classical philology, epigraphy, and linguistics. In addition, international congresses of Thracology were regularly organized from 1972 onward, which further fostered the international cooperation between Bulgarian and Western scholars.
The main weak points of Bulgarian archaeology in the 1970s and the 1980s were certain chauvinistic trends in the interpretation of the historical past, which were typical of the archaeological studies in the other Balkan countries as well, and wrong research conclusions due to the application of Communist ideological methodology. Another weak point in that time was the lack of adequate publications of the great number of archaeological finds and sites that were discovered throughout Bulgaria. Unfortunately, the results and the finds from these intensive archaeological field works, supported by the central state budget, usually remained unpublished or only partially published, while the archaeological data were often interpreted rather than clearly represented and objectively studied, and the number of the final complete scholarly publications remained insufficient.
In 1989 the communist regimes in Bulgaria and all across Eastern Europe collapsed and Bulgarian society began its difficult transition towards democracy which impacted archaeological research as well, creating new, unknown challenges but also providing new opportunities for Bulgarian archaeologists.
By Nikola Theodossiev, Sofia University