Balkan Smoke: Tobacco and the Making of Modern Bulgaria
By Mary C. Neuburger
Cornell University Press, 2012, 320 pp.
Smoking may seem a curious route into Bulgarian history, but given the centrality of tobacco to the country’s commerce, examining it allows Neuburger to add depth to many facets of Bulgarian social and political life as the country moved from the tutelage of the Ottoman Empire to autonomy after 1877, through the crosscurrents of World War I and its revolutionary aftermath, and to the genocide of World War II and then the confused heavy hand of communist overlordship. Neuburger wisely does not pretend that the subject provides anything other than an oblique perspective from which to view the shifting mores of Bulgarian society. But she notes that in nearly every historical period, there has been a desultory tension between abstinence campaigns and the irresistible role of tobacco in leisure and consumption. And throughout, tobacco remained conspicuously important to the Bulgarian economy, especially during the communist era: from 1966 until 1988, Bulgaria was usually the world’s biggest exporter of cigarettes. NEUberger concludes by reflecting on Bulgarians’ ongoing devotion to cigarettes amid the postsocialist collapse of the industry.