Freedom means responsibility

Снимка: Йоанна Иванова

Dimitar Dragnev
Photo: Ioana Ivanova


Dimitar Dragnev is an alumnus of the National classical lyceum (NGDEK) with a B.A. degree in Classics from Sofia University. While continuing his studies in Germany, he works in the field of his B.A. – teaching Latin and Greek, translating and writing in both these languages and working on developing classical education in Bulgaria. One of his last initiatives was the  Summer school of Classics in Bulgaria. His free time is occupied by reading and music – he sings in the Chamber vocal formation Elitsi from its founding five years ago.



Freedom means responsibility


Liberty means responsibility. That is why most of men dread it.

George Bernard Shaw

I was born in 1992, that means three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and  the end of the communist regime in Bulgaria in 1989. However, these events were a significant part of my childhood. I remember very well how when I was a small child I looked through the magazines with pictures of these events; how on the 9th November 1999 I watched the 10th birthday celebrations for those born on this date on German TV, how in 2009 we organized an exhibition in our high school in order to commemorate the 20th anniversary of these events. The feeling that 1989 was part of my own, personal story I owe to my parents and grandparents. They told me about these years and about the years before. Of course, these accounts were not history lectures, inappropriate for the mentality of a child (I do not possess a clear memory of them), but they were sufficient enough so that in my consciousness that time (before 1989) is not something foreign, something incomprehensible. Because in Greek ἱστορία (historia) means first of all “account”.

After a while, when I became student in the Classical Lyceum, already with, so to say, mind of a pupil I wanted to learn more about the period 1944-1989. Then (2005) I was surprised how little scholarly literature about this period is published in Bulgaria (the valuable books of researchers like Martin Ivanov, Daniel Vachkov, Hristo Hristov and Ivan Elenkov had just began to appear), I wanted also to see more pictures, audio and video recordings from that time, from which almost nothing was accessible (Youtube had just made is first steps). Led by this desire (along with the basis from the accounts of my family) gradually I managed to build my own opinion about the period, that, so it seems to me, is not coloured with emotion, but is rather precise and factual.

Let us return to the accounts. History, as the first historians Herodotus and Thucydides told us, above all things consists of accounts. The work of Herodotus is actually mainly a compilation of accounts of different people, which he collected through his long journey through the world. Thucydides, who is said to be the first real historian, who began a critical examination of  past events, also composes his “History of the Peloponnesian war” mainly from the memories of events, which he personally had been part of, but also from accounts of the participants in military actions, whom he invited to the place of his exile.

It is  good then, that due to the present anniversary we speak again about the place, which the history of 1944-1989 should have in school curricula, because nowadays it is almost completely absent. As a person, who from time to time has to teach children, I totally support discussion about this  period in  schools, and not only in history lessons, but also I am also deeply convinced that this discussion should be preceded by family ones (in my opinion this should be done with all parts of the curriculum). It is very important that the facts of this period should be well-known, but is more important for this period to be a part of the personal and the family history of every young person in Bulgaria. The sense of an inferiority complex is past and today the young Bulgarians possess equal possibilities and have no cultural differences from youth in the other European countries. The living accounts about the communist regime can enrich the Bulgarians and to give them a certain priority over the others – the greater historical experience.

To support my thesis with facts: on September 9th (the day the communists seized  power in 1944) last year a friend of mine of the same age from the Netherlands, whom I had invited to teach Bulgarian pupils, wanted to visit the Soviet army monument in Sofia, because he is very interested in the present and past events in Eastern Europe. He speaks nine languages fluently and is one of the best informed people  I know. We attended the event there and I translated the speeches which commemorated those people falled by the atrocities of the regime and he also personally got to know some of the people who came to the event. Despite his lively interest and his sensible and unembarrassed way of thinking it was hard for him to understand the definite position of the speakers and the clear theses of my friends against the communism and the communist regime, not because he mistook a Lada for a Trabant, but due to the fact that he does not have a live account of the époque, which he cannot get in the Netherlands.

Certainly the Netherlands is one of the most developed countries in Europe without this narrative, but the tension of values “before” and “after” 1989 in Bulgaria is a kind of wealth, an another point of view, an experience which the people in Western Europe do not have. Because this first-hand narrative imposes the question about  freedom as a value and this question is very important in our free Europe nowadays, where all people are thinking about  freedom as something natural.

Recently because of the anniversary there was a discussion about the contrast between freedom and security and about which of these things was present “before” and which is present “now”. Let me answer this question: apart from the particular situations, when we think only about values in contrast, for me the answer is clear: first of all is freedom. From all thinkers throughout the centuries, who come to mind right now, I cannot remember anyone who wrote and paid great  attention to  security as a value. On the contrary, almost all have thought about how we can get freedom. Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, Kant and many others left us their thoughts about this question and we should establish a dialogue with them.

The “Oration on the dignity of man” (written in 1485 and which I like to refer to)  by the Italian philosoph Giovanni Pico della Mirandola is one of the fundamental texts which formed the value system of our present world. In this text Pico metaphorically recreates the dialogue between God and man, in which God says: “We have given you, O Adam, no visage proper to yourself, nor endowment properly your own, in order that whatever place, whatever form, whatever gifts you may, with premeditation, select, these same you may have and possess through your own judgement and decision.” (“Oration on the dignity of man”, 18.) – the foremost dignity of man is his freedom to locate himself in the world. That is why  freedom is not merely a passive state, which we had to go through, but a combination of actions, through which we declare that we are free persons. It is a good which we must make use of over and over again in order not to be deprived of it. Freedom is the possibility to be creative; the root of the creative work, as Berdyaev says, lies in the freedom – this also puts Bulgaria in a more advantageous position over Western countries – in Bulgaria after 1989 one has to be creative, to establish things that were nonexistent before and in this creating we could draw a lesson from the success and the mistakes of  others, but also be constructive on our own.

Exactly in this way the Germans, realizing entirely all that happened during  World War II and motivated by it to create something new and precious, transformed their country into the most developing (we could say – in all means) European country. Germany, which in 1945 was half-destroyed and deprived of faith in the moral pillars of the society, 25 years after the war, in 1970 was the basis not only of the economy of Europe, but also of science and culture. Where are we, 25 years after 1989?

Freedom means responsibility. Here for me comes the main difference between our time and the time of the regime – the lack of clear responsibility at that time for all things happening. The time of the communist regime is a time of the vague, collective responsibility in which everyone could cover himself under the abstract institution like the “Party”, like the “State’s council” as a “collective head of state” and in which are, of course, underlying the profoundly wrong Marxist principles about  being which determines  consciousness, which drive the people to liberate themselves from the burden of this being, as if they do not have an influence over it (here we could recall the words of Kundera, who tells about the danger of the unbearable lightness of being) – generally this ideology which denies the the centuries old condition; that the every human is faber suae fortunae (“the artisan of his own fortune”).

I am persuaded that most of people, who feel deep nostalgia for the time before (except for these directly engaged in the functioning of the regime) are persons who are not keen on bearing a responsibility, on doing something “beyond the plan”, which can also endanger their position, and therefore are continuously trying to impose on the society that the “security” which existed before is something of uttermost importance. Let us take an another example from  Antiquity – really, the founders of democracy in Ancient Athens provided a unruffled calm for these which were only voting for/against the decisions in the public assembly, but on the other side – an eventual death penalty for those who made proposals for changes in the laws or for taking important decisions if these proposals turned out unsuccessful. Ultimately only the names of these people, who risked everything for the sake of values like freedom – like Socrates and Demosthenes –, are retained in the history.

At this moment when I am considering this text, I am on the train from Munich to Rome, where together with representatives from all over the world I will participate in the founding of a new international association for supporting the humanities and for supporting all that which makes the human a real human. The association will be called Humanitas renascens. 25 years ago  I might not have been able to do that or at least my journey would not have depended only on myself, but also on clerks and “people in charge”. Of course I as well as thousands of young Bulgarians prefer this freedom. When we do not like something , we simply change it.