Prof. Otto Kronsteiner, who was one of the most influential researchers of Cyrillic and the Old Bulgarian language, as well as one of Bulgaria’s greatest friends in Western Europe, died last week. Through Prof. Kronsteiner’s department at the University of Salzburg, dozens of Bulgarian and foreign researchers of the Old Bulgarian language have studied and obtained doctorates.
More than 20 years ago, Prof. Kronsteiner was involved by homegrown politicians in an extremely ugly political scandal and was accused of wanting to replace the Cyrillic alphabet with the Latin alphabet together with the then president Petar Stoyanov. This fictional scandal was produced during the presidential campaign in 2001, when the elections were between Petar Stoyanov and Georgi Parvanov. Of course, then and now, no one seriously thought that the Cyrillic alphabet could be replaced by the Latin alphabet in our country. The purpose of the scandal was to slander the candidacy of Petar Stoyanov, who at that time presented the “Stara Planina” order to Prof. Otto Kronsteiner.
The scandal played a political role at the time, but even more shameful was the participation of Bulgarian scientists in it, who then also loudly denounced the professor as a traitor to the Bulgarian alphabet, for which he had worked throughout his scientific life, and in fact forced him and took it away from him the title “Doctor honoris causa” of the University of Veliko Tarnovo.
In short, this is the sad and shameful story that shows how a great and sincere friend of Bulgaria was destroyed because of short-term political interests.
We also publish Petar Stoyanov’s memories of those days.
About the patriots of the Comintern and the lie about the introduction of the Latin alphabet in Bulgaria
The approach of May 24 and the Macedonian language debate of the last weeks reminded me of some forgotten things.
Such as the fact that the communist government, with active actions and humiliating passivity, “helped” a lot in the creation and entanglement of the so-called a Macedonian question, the solution of which is becoming a problem for today’s politicians.
When I say active actions, I mean the brutal violence after September 9, 1944, exercised by the “people’s militia” against the Bulgarians living in Pirin Macedonia, in order to forcefully rename them “Macedonians”, which is pure national treason. As well as the slavish passivity regarding the creation before our eyes of a new Macedonian nation, a new Macedonian history and a new Macedonian language. And all this – in order to continue the anti-Bulgarian policy of the Comintern (whose head at the time was the Bulgarian Georgi Dimitrov) and to fulfill Stalin’s instructions on the so-called “a national question”. Thus, Dimitar Talev was sent to the “Kutsian” camp, because he claims to be Bulgarian (and spoils the concept of “Macedonian nation”), and in the survey card, in the column of foreign languages, he is forced to write “Macedonian language”.
Paradoxically, the Bulgarian national cause during the communist regime found its protection abroad.
“The entire history of the Macedonian Bulgarians clearly shows that they all speak the same language until the year and month of the creation of the new “language”.
“In communist countries, the strategy of creating such separate or new languages is guided by the same principles. […] All this corresponds quite precisely to the Macedonian literary language:
Time of creation: 1944
Place of creation: SR Macedonia (to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), in the Prokhor Pczynski Monastery
Estimated users: about 1 million Bulgarians (in Macedonia)
Oldest linguistic monument: newspaper “Nova Macedonia”(?)”
These are the words of Austrian professor Otto Kronsteiner, head of the Department of Bulgarian Studies at the University of Salzburg.
In fact, he says what the Bulgarian scientists after September 9, 1944 could not say out loud. Nor could they say that the Christianization of Russia was carried out through books written not in Church Slavonic, but in Old Bulgarian. Prof. Kronsteiner does not spare this truth either:
“Other Slavs, such as Russians and Serbs, call this language Old Church Slavonic or Old Slavonic only to avoid contact with Bulgarian history. I am perhaps the only foreign Slavist who uses the term Old Bulgarian language. My students too, and that’s a small success…”
(Interview with Prof. Otto Kronsteiner, published
in “Literary Forum”, 26.10.1999)
Precisely for his activity in defense of Bulgarian national interests as President, I presented him with the “Stara Planina” Order, 1st degree.
Today, unfortunately, in a historical-linguistic dispute, Prof. Kronsteiner’s theses cannot be used, because he is officially denounced as an enemy of Bulgaria and Bulgarian national interests. He wanted to replace the Bulgarian alphabet with the Latin alphabet!? The professor tried to explain the absurdity of this statement – he himself is a Bulgarian, earns his living with the Cyrillic alphabet – this is what makes him unique in the Western scientific community and he must be really crazy to demand its cancellation. The thesis that the professor launched was about “parallel Latin spelling”. He repeated that the question was not “Cyrillic or Latin”, but “both Cyrillic and Latin”, and the use of Latin on a purely practical level, (which with or without Kronsteiner is already happening in our lives). He says it quite clearly:
“I’m not talking about abandoning the Cyrillic alphabet. I’m not saying that starting tomorrow or any other day, you should also switch to the Latin alphabet. However, the realities of the modern world are such that if there are no inscriptions in the Latin alphabet, your goods will not be competitive in Europe. If Bulgarian companies want to sell their wine, the labels must be in Latin letters. Not to mention the Internet, emails, the new reality where everything is in Latin.”
(Interview given in 2000)
I admit that even in this form, Prof. Kronsteiner’s thesis is not indisputable, but it was intended only to open a discussion in Bulgarian scientific circles. In any case, he stated that this is ultimately our Bulgarian business – I had two meetings with him and he never tried to impose his thesis on me, much less ask me to commit to it.
Therefore, like a bolt from the blue, during the presidential campaign in 2001 came the statement that Petar Stoyanov… wanted to introduce the Latin alphabet. At first I didn’t pay attention – it was too absurd. But the lie slowly began to make its way. The implication was: Kronsteiner wanted to introduce the Latin alphabet instead of the Cyrillic alphabet. Petar Stoyanov awarded Kronsteiner with an order – therefore he also wants this. Shall we allow our Bulgarian brothers to take away our alphabet!
It was such a base insinuation that even today I feel disgusted. No one bothered to ask publicly: what power does an Austrian professor have to take away the Cyrillic alphabet from us, even though he never wanted it, and how a president in a democratic country can replace the Cyrillic alphabet with the Latin alphabet (by decree, with referendum?) despite the fact that I have never and nowhere spoken on this topic.
It was an absolute lie used against me in the 2001 presidential campaign.
I would not return to this case if it were not for its bitter consequences for Bulgaria.
Kronsteiner was probably very bitter – after all his life he had pleaded that “Old Bulgarian was the cultural language of all Orthodox Slavs” and that “Old Bulgarian was the first state language of a small multinational country of medieval Europe, long before the emergence of literary languages such as German, French, Italian or Russian…”
(part of his academic speech at Veliko Tarnovo University in 1990)
He was insulted, he was stripped of the title of honorary doctor of the University of Veliko Tarnovo, fell ill and then retired. His students did not want to continue his work – who wants to work for a nation of ungrateful people – and the department of Bulgarian studies in Salzburg no longer exists.
The balance sheet: Georgi Parvanov added probably 1% to his election result, his clever PR advisor Algaffari received his well-deserved fee, I lost the presidential election (at least because of this, of course) and to this day left-wing intellectuals recall the unworthy lie “there was a president, who wanted to introduce the Latin alphabet, but we did not allow him because we are patriots”.
As a result: Bulgaria lost a faithful friend who protected us in difficult times; the most important center of Bulgarian studies in the world was closed; we have also lost the confidence of our few friends abroad that we are a people and a country whose causes are worth defending.