Students celebrate Bulgarian culture

Published: Tuesday, January 22, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 21, 2008 at 11:33 p.m.

Bulgarian flags of red, white and green and European Union flags - blue with yellow stars - were hanging all around the Reitz Union's Arredondo Room.

There was a martenizi, a kukeri and a survachka - all important traditions of Bulgarian culture.

And even the Bulgarian ambassador to the United States, Elena Borislavova Poptodorova, was there.

It was all was part of a Bulgarian Culture Celebration - the first big event that the University of Florida's Bulgarian Club has staged since the club was officially established in spring 2007.

Paoulina Bourova, president and founder of UF's Bulgarian Club, said the event was all about celebrating the identity and language of Bulgaria, which is celebrating its one-year anniversary of entering the European Union. The country also will be celebrating 100 years of independence in September.

There was much to be gleaned from Friday night's celebration for somone wanting to know more about Bulgaria.

Peter Tunkins, secretary of the Bulgarian Club, presented a history of Bulgaria and the process of its entry into the European Union.

Dennis Jett, dean of the UF International Center and former United States ambassador to Mozambique and Peru, introduced Ambassador Poptodorova, who Jett said spoke French, Russian, Italian, Bulgarian and English.

Poptodorova, who describes herself as somewhat media-obsessed, spoke of the future of Bulgaria as a full member of the European Union. She spoke of the benefits of entering into the EU, past occurrences and what she believes the future holds.

"Bulgarian girls and boys, be proud," said Poptodorova, who has been Bulgarian ambassador since 2002. "Bulgaria is now part of the decision-making process, and we now have equal footing with the other countries."

"Bulgaria feels it is where it should have been decades ago," Poptodorova said. "The European Union is the best tool invented, and we have lots of appreciation for being part of it."

Also part of the celebration was a presentation involving three of Bulgaria's precious cultural traditions, the martenizi, kukeri and survachka.

The martenizi, which means "little March," is a tradition related to the coming of spring that calls for Bulgarians to exchange red and white tassels or small dolls, called Pizho and Penda - both symbols of health and strength.

A second icon, the kukeri, ensures the arrival of spring - a ritual intended to scare way evil spirits. It is performed only by males, who dance and sing in costume wearing a mask resembling a real or fictitious beast.

A third cultural relic, the survachka, is a stick that children use to tap people on the back on Jan. 1 - a time that children receive presents for the New Year. The tradition is said to bring a blessing to the household for a fruitful year ahead. The stick is made from the cornel tree branch and is adorned with dried fruit for fertility, strings of beans and maize grains, circular buns, a blue bead and hot peppers.

Divik Schueller, an industrial engineering and political science major, said he came to the celebration to hear the ambassador speak and also because he thought it would be a great place to network.

An exhibit in the Arredondo Room included a collection of items from Bulgaria, including clothing, currency, brochures, martenizi and examples of traditional pottery design and architecture.

"It gave a holistic perspective of the artifacts found in Bulgaria," Schueller said.

Bourova said she hopes the celebration will encourage more people to join the club. The club's next meeting is Feb. 4 at 6:15 p.m.

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