Literary Club in the Diaspora | “Frontera”: From La Raya de Oriente

Frontera, by Kapka Kassabova

For years I have had the feeling that travel literature is a genre that the Spanish public considers less: low media relevance, few authors translated and I imagine that few sales. It is a mistake, but there everyone. In this world “so modern and so fucked up”As our classics sang, we think that by taking a low-cost ticket and spending four days in a country we already know it, when in reality we go further with a good book from our living room. That is why for me the Bulgarian writer, -residing in Scotland for many years-, Kapka Kassabova and her proposal of a trip to what, from our lands, is the other end of Europe has been a discovery. That world in which the borders of Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey converge (the European Turkey we could say) and which was once the mythical land of the Thracians, one of the most fascinating peoples in European history, perhaps the only one that has never he had expansionist ambitions. In short, it is a distant world geographically, but closer culturally than it seems. Not only because the magic of oak forests is the same everywhere, or that energy that some places give off, such as some Thracian sanctuaries that the author runs through, is also found in ours. Alcubilla, but because that world was populated with thousands of Jews expelled from the territories of the Catholic kings in 1492. Not in vain, my teacher Lauru Anta always remembers that the Sanabresa version of “The Lover and Death” only has reasonable similarities with the versions collected in cities in that area, such as Izmir or Thessaloniki …

Kapka’s cap


The book is a leisurely reflection on the border, on the type of cultures and people that these environments generate, as well as the ways of life that they bring. Here in Zamora we have the oldest stable border in Europe and we have already lost the memory of the danger that living in La Raya has had, century after century. And there are other borders, such as the Balkan ones, that have not stopped changing until three days ago in historical terms: thousands of people were expelled from their homes during the 20th century, first with the consolidation of the borders between modern Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria, and then when Bulgarians of Turkish identity were expelled from their country while the communist dictatorship gave its last death throes.

The book is also, to a certain extent, a reckoning with the horror of that dictatorship, a state as poor as it is totalitarian that completely destroyed a society that, thirty years after the end of the dictatorship, has not been able to still fully recover. Interwar Bulgaria was a normal state, typical of its time, with prosperous industries, such as tobacco or roses, for example. A state that modernized until the war first and communism later fell like a stone on Bulgarian society. And that one reads the Wikipedia entry for the communist Republic and it seems that they are talking about a normal state. An example of the author: the sinister Stasi, the German political police, rewarded with hardware the Bulgarian guards who hunted down Germans who wanted to flee across the Bulgarian border towards Greece or Turkey, two NATO countries. More than 415 “disappeared” during the term of the regime, while those killed at the border were returned to Berlin as victims of accidents. Those who did not die were tortured and returned to their country of origin where, if they survived the interrogations, they would spend several years in jail. And that is why on the way the memory of the horror of the dictatorship is intermingled with the landscape: many of the forests that the author walks through are full of mass graves to which many of those who protested in the 1940s against the Mandatory nationalization of the two most profitable agricultural industries in the country: tobacco and roses. In these forests the author also finds the remains of the Goryani (literally, “the men of the forest), some maquis who -these did- fought for decades for democracy and freedom in their country.

Frontera, by Kapka Kassabova


The author links these stories from the past to the present of the area, crowded with Syrian and Kurdish refugees struggling to cross the border, but now in the opposite direction, once Bulgaria is a Member State of the Union. The universal history of emigration that the author proposes to us, horrors and misfortunes, but also fortune and overcoming, reminds us that it is always minorities who lose out in all conflicts: Christians in Turkey, Muslims in Bulgaria, Syrians now, Kurds at any time. But it also shows us a fresco of stories that have the border as their background, a place “that none of us can escape”, As Kassabova points out. To us, rayanos, they are going to tell us …

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