GLAVLIT and its role in Bulgarian cinema

GLAVLIT and its role in Bulgarian cinema

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Scientific research on the history of the Main Directorate for Literature and Publishing (Glavlit) and its role on the processes in our cultural life is too limited. Probably one of the main reasons for this is the relatively recent decision to disclose and freely access the archives of Glavlit, as part of the confidential department of the Central State Archives (CSA).
Until now, there is only one comprehensive study of the history of Glavlit by Vesela Chichovska entitled “GLAVLIT (1952-1956) Construction of a unified censorship system in Bulgaria”, published in the magazine “Historical Review” in 1991. In it, the author examines and examines the institution of censorship in a historical context, not dwelling in detail on individual local topics, such as Glavlit’s influence on cinema, for example.
Glavlit creatures for nearly four years (from the end of 1952 to the summer of 1956), but for its short history “the principles and control mechanisms it created” (1) formed a unified censorship system that “retained its effect until the end of the 1980s ” (2) of the last century, i.e. more than three decades after the dissolution of the institution.

The beginning was made with a secret decree of the Council of Ministers of December 20, 1952 (3). Two months before that, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the BKP assigned Encho Staykov, Ruben Levi (Avramov), Carlo Lukanov, Georgi Mihailov and Georgi Kumbeliev to develop a project for “establishing a centralized censorship institution similar to Glavlit in the Soviet Union” (4). By this time, Soviet Glavlit has a 30-year history behind it. Established on June 6, 1922, its main task is to protect the political, ideological, military-economic and cultural interests of the Soviet countries, by exercising preliminary and subsequent control over the publishing activity in the country. (5) In the reasons for the creation of the Bulgarian Glavlit, the following is written: “(…) 4. As the rich experience of the Soviet Union shows, SUCH A SPECIAL AUTHORITY of the state of the proletarian dictatorship /and therefore also of the state of the people’s democracy/ is and must be GLAVLITA – the Main Directorate for Literature and Publishing. (6)
The final version of the Decree on the creation of Glavlit was prepared by the Minister of Internal Affairs Georgi Tsankov, the Minister of Finance Kiril Lazarov and Elena Gavrilova, former Secretary General of the Committee for Science, Art and Culture (KNIK), right hand of Valko Chervenkov, who logically – later became the head of the censorship institution. I think it is important to emphasize that Glavlit is given the rank of a ministry, and its head attends the meetings of the Council of Ministers, which makes it clear at what hierarchical height the institution is placed from the very beginning. From the correspondence I have come across, from the research of other authors, as well as from the functions and tasks listed in the Decree on the creation of Glavlit, it is clear and categorical who personally takes direct control, and to whom the accountability is personally held – the Chairman of the Ministerial Council and General Secretary of the Central Committee of the BKP Valko Chervenkov. Following the example, or more precisely, a copy of the Soviet one, Glavlit was assigned the following main tasks: “The Main Directorate for Literature and Publishing has the task of:

1. To exercise all kinds of political-ideological, military and economic control over the press and printed works, cinema, radio broadcasting, theaters, circuses, libraries, museums and all cultural-propaganda means and institutes;
2. To thwart the disclosure of state secrets through the press and other publications and information.” (7)

Immediately after the adoption of the Decree of the Bulgarian Glavlit, the deputy head of the Glavlit in the USSR Viktor Katishev arrived in our country. With his help, the structure of the censorship institution, the stages of the activity, as well as a list of issues that are a state secret were formed. As Vesela Chichovska notes in her research: “With this name (of Katishev, note mine) our history will connect the introduction in Bulgaria of the most effective forms of Stalinist moral terror over intellectual labor, the organized pogroms over the foci of our national wealth (from the People’s Library to the Village Community Centers) and the abrupt interruption of cultural exchange and information from countries outside the Soviet bloc” (8)

It is noteworthy that already in the project, the cinema appears as an object of censorial surveillance: “The central management of GLAVLITA should have the FOLLOWING DEPARTMENTS:

a) Department “Social and Political Literature”;
b) Department “Natural science, exact sciences and technology”
b) “Fiction”
d) “Children’s literature and textbooks”;
e) Works of art”, including works of applied arts;
f) Periodicals / newspapers, magazines, newsletters;
g) Radio and cinematography;
h) Imported literature and periodicals;
f) Export of domestic printed, artistic, graphic and other works, historical, museum, historical-archival and other similar values;
k) Department of “libraries and museums and book and archive funds at other cultural and educational establishments, institutes, organizations and societies;
l) Department “reference library and reference archive (with public and confidential subsections).” (9)
In the staff project-allocation of Glavlit employees, it is clearly stated that a polyeditor is also appointed, whose portfolio is cinematography. After the Regulations for the activities of Glavlit were adopted on January 17, 1953, Elena Gavrilova sent a letter to the secretariat of the Central Committee of the BKP (11), in which she asked for the state and budget of the department entrusted to her to be approved, according to the adopted Resolution of the Council of Ministers. The document lists all the positions and departments of the editors. Cinematography, theaters and circuses are not among the objects of surveillance and sanctions.
In the archives, I found a document without date, addressee and author. It contains over 50 questions and answers arranged by topic. From the nature of the questions asked, I can judge that this is a questionnaire sent to the management of Glavlit, because most of them are within his competence. The answers were most likely written personally or at least under the supervision of the head of Glavlit, Elena Gavrilova, because her style is evident, already familiar to me from the dozens of documents and correspondence I came across in the course of my work.
In the section “others” under numbering 29, 30 and 31, the following questions are asked: ” 29. When does “Glavlit” review the films and from what point of view does it make its remarks there, if they are not artistically sound?
30. Is the script subject to confirmation?
31. Where do the polyeditors for the films work – / are they permanent collaborators or are they determined among the currently free collaborators?” (10) Questions related to Glavlit’s supervision of the Bulgarian theater follow, e.g. – who monitors the repertoire plan, are the performances observed in the province, etc. The document continues with selected answers to the questions asked. Again, in the “miscellaneous” section, in the same numbering, the answers concerning Bulgarian cinematography are also published:

” 29. As a rule, Glavlit does not control the cinema in our country. From the point of view of protection of state secrets, it is important to control, but this can also be done by the Cinematography Committee itself.
30 /No answer/
31. /There is no answer/” (11)

It can be seen from the archive of Glavlit, despite the provisions laid down in the Decree and the subsequently adopted Regulations for the work of the institution, cinematography does not fall under the purview of the censorship body. This does not go unnoticed. After almost a year of work since its creation, the gap is being corrected, with the initiative coming personally from the head of Glavlit. In a letter dated October 20, 1953, to Valko Chervenkov, Elena Gavrilova wrote: “(…) In addition, Comrade Chervenkov, in the decree of the Council of Ministers establishing Glavlit, it is written that it has the task “to exercise all types of political-ideological, military and economic control over the press and printed works, cinema, radio broadcasting, theaters, circuses, fine arts, libraries.”
In the practice of the Soviet Glavlit until that moment there was no established control over artistic film production, over theaters, circuses and fine arts, and the Soviet comrade (Viktor Vladimirovich Katishev – deputy director of the Soviet Glavlit, note mine) is of the same opinion in our country in these areas, Glavlit should not interfere with its control, since its main task is control over printed works. In the Soviet Union, only the Ministry of Culture monitored and was responsible for these branches of art.” (12)
A document dated November 5, 1953, leads to the conclusion that there was probably a written or oral response/order (for which no evidentiary material is available), as it contains a proposal to amend the Decree establishing Glavlit. It sets out its functions, aims and objectives, as well as specific areas of supervision. It is again personally addressed to Valko Chervenkov. In her reasons, Elena Gavrilova points out that “from the previous experience in the work of Glavlit and especially, after the study of the experience of the Soviet Glavlit, it appears that it is necessary to make certain changes and clarifications in the tasks, the content of the work and the structure of Glavlit, which are defined in the Decree of the Council of Ministers cited above and in the Regulations of Glavlit, also approved by the Council of Ministers by order 55 of January 17, 1953. The most important passage that interests the purposes of the study is the part in which they change areas of supervision by Glavlit: “Item 1 of Resolution P-984 of 20.12 is amended. 1952 in connection with the establishment of GLAVLIT under the Council of Ministers, as follows: The Main Department of Literature and Publishing Affairs – Glavlit – is established under the Council of Ministers, with its own bodies in the province and proxies at the publishing houses, the editorial offices of daily newspapers and periodicals, the radio and other cultural and propaganda institutes;
Point 2, letter a) of the same Resolution is amended as follows:
A) to exercise political-ideological, military and economic control over the press and printed works, radio broadcasting, libraries, museums, exhibitions, photo information and newsreels;” (13)

In the text, proposals for amending the Regulations, as well as the staffing list and the structure of Glavlit, follow. The objectives of the amendment of the Decree are to exclude cinematography, theater and circuses from the scope of supervision. There is only one addition, and that is that the newsreel, as part of the propaganda apparatus of the People’s Power, comes into Glavlit’s field of view. The proposed amendments were adopted on November 21 by a secret Decree of the Council of Ministers and formed as “Amendments and additions to the tasks, content and work and structure of Glavlit” (14)

So far, in the research I have done on the GLAVLIT fund, there are no actually existing documents to prove any censorship control over the production and distribution of films. From the facts presented in this way, I come to the conclusion that this task was not inherent to Glavlit and, as the archives show, control remained entirely with the “Agitation and Propaganda” department, and later the “Art and Culture” department of the Central Committee of the BKP, as and the Cinematography Committee.

*Paper presented at the “Eighth Art Literary Readings” conference, May 18-21, 2010, Institute for the Study of Arts (IIZ), BAS

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