chapter 6



The Movement for the Establishment of Chitalishta in Bulgaria has a centuries-old history and arised before the Liberation. In Sofia, this process began in 1867 when the first community center was founded in the city under the name „Tsvyat“. Its activity, however, was hesitant and in 1875 ceased to exist.
After the rebuilding of the Bulgarian state, it proceeded to build cultural centers in the newly elected capital. Date 28 November 1878 (December 10, 1878 a new style) is considered the beginning of the establishment of the National Library. It is formed as a state institute with a multifunctional structure. Not ignoring this fact, many historians consider the „Slavyanska Beseda“ society founded on 11/23 May 1880 for the first open community center in Sofia after the Liberation.
For a long time, the National Library and the „Slavyanska Beseda“ meet the spiritual needs of the capital city. Until the Balkan War only three chitalishta were formed. These were „Ivan Denkoglu“ (October 1897), „Aleko Konstantinov“ (November 1897) and „Ivan Vazov“ (April 1912). Since then, the chitalishta have begun almost every year to be established in the rapidly expanding capital. A push for the development of the Chitalishte was given by the Law for the People’s Chitalishta adopted on 2 March 1927 by the 21st National Assembly. According to it, they were under the supreme oversight of the MPE. A Chitalishte Council was formed for their governance. The law defined the objectives and the directions of their development. It regulated the principles of their management and means of subsistence. The legislative act explicitly stated that each municipality was obliged to provide suitable places for the construction of comfortable chitalishte premises and to assist in their construction. The entire property of the Chitalishte was exempt from taxes, excise duties and taxes.
After the adoption of the law, there was a boom in the founding of people’s chitalishte. Until the end of 1927, their number reached 19, and in the late 1930s they were already 40. Among them was the „Petar Beron“ fchitalishte in „Batalova Vodenitsa“.
On September 11, 1927, under the initiative of a group of young people from the neighborhood, a general meeting was convened in the house of Yordan Eftimov, 26 „Saint Vrach“ Str. There were about 105 people. The main question that united them was the creation of a chitalishte. The collection was opened by Vasil Dimitrov, who briefly explained the need for a cultural center. Atanas Saev read the statute – a model of the community chitalishte, prepared by the MPE. There were heated debates about the name. It was accepted that the Chitalishte would be called „Dr. Petar Beron“ – „Batalova Vodenitsa“ district – Sofia. The same name had two more community centers in other areas of the capital, formed on 25 November 1925 and 28 November 1926 respectively. By secret vote, the Chitalishte Council should be composed of 12 people.
The Chitalishte was managed by General Meetings, Council and Control Commission. The general meetings of the members were regular and extraordinary. The first ones were called twice a year – in January and July, and the second – at any time when circumstances called for it. Various issues were included in their agenda, ranging from hearing the Council’s annual reports to the election of new governing bodies. The mandate of the general meetings lasted one year.
A special place in the statutes was assigned to the Council as a governing body. It had significant prerogatives. It was jointly responsible for the chitalishte properties and the good course of the activities. It controled compliance with the statutes and decisions of general meetings, audits and resolved the problems that arise. The Council met at least once a month and its decisions were binding on all. The positions of its members were honorary and unpaid.
The rights and obligations of the Chairman of the Council were mostly formal. He represented the Chitalishte before the authorities and the society. He headed the meetings of the General Assemblies and the Council. Kept a file with official offices and private individuals. He also monitored whether the Chitalishta Law was strictly implemented and supervised the spending of the Chitalishte’s finances. The Statutes described in detail the rights and duties of the other positions in the Board of Trustees: Vice-Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer, Control Committee.
The Chitalishte day was celebrated on 1 November (the Day of the People’s Buddhists). It was a member of the Sofia Chitalishte Union Union and of the Supreme Chitalishte Union of Bulgaria and had the respective duties to them. It might end its existence only if its actual members were less than 20 people.
Immediately after the adoption of the Statutes, the Chitalishte Council began. They were held in private homes. Membership was being subscribed. For this purpose, a standard application was printed and distributed. The first important problem related to the provision of space for the activity of the Chitalishte also emerged. It turned out to be difficult to solve. The premises offered were either inappropriate or required very high rent. However, at the end of 1927 the Chitalishte was accommodated in a house on 49 „Vladayska River“ Str. against the monthly sum of 300 leva. The Council contacted book publishers to provide free books, but the results of the efforts were insignificant. The management decided to organize a fundraising dinner, but the MPE did not issue a permit before the Chitalishte statute was approved at all instances. It was only after more than one year that the planned event was held in the hall of the „Hristo Botev“ community center, situated at 147 „Tsar Simeon“ Str. and was too distant from the „Batalova Vodenitsa“ neighborhood.
Since 1935 the Chitalishte entered a visible upsurge. The Council decided to set up a fund for „Building a Chitalishte“ with a starting capital of BGN 20 000. It was intended to import net earnings from dinners and all incomes except for membership fees. The Chitalishte day for commemoration was regularly celebrated in the hall of the neighborhood school with a colorful celebration, which was observed by hundreds of people. The Chitalishte management maintained close links with the Sofia Regional Chitalishte Union. It sent delegates to the annual conferences of the organization. The adoption of new members was strengthening. This was indicative of the growing interest among residents of the neighborhood to the local cultural institution. The Council was already operating more efficiently and its staff was reduced to 9, including the Chairperson. In 1935 Emil Stoyanov was elected, and in 1938 – Hristo Penchev. The management held meetings almost every week. The number of regular members increased, exceeding the figure of 100. The organization of celebrations and literary and musical enthusiasm increased in the school hall and in the adjoining chitalishte buildings. Three theatrical performances and 3 lectures on topics: „Science and Religion“, „Soberness and Culture“ and „Dimcho Debelyanov – Life and Creativity“. Three movies for children in the school hall „Vasil Drumev“ were screened. Regardless of the high rents, profits are always made from tickets sold, raffle play and buffet use. The one-off revenues amount to BGN 5000 to BGN 10 000, all of which entered the Chitalishte’s cash register.
In January 1936, a children’s community center was formed, which consisted of 100 children. It had the task to support the educattion of adolescents for their moral and physical strengthening. Already in the first months, the group members had 14 lectures and a great literary and musical entertainment that became a real event for the neighborhood. By this the children showed to the Sofia public that although they had been born and lived in a poor neighborhood, they could work with unprecedented enthusiasm and zeal for their moral rise. With the income from the fun, amounting to 3000 leva, was formed the „Children Fund“. The funds had to be spent on sending, if not of all, at least half of the children to a summer camp. But the sum was insufficient. This forced the Comission to send a letter to the mayor of Sofia Eng. Iv. Ivanov and specifically to the Department of Public Care at Sofia Municipality requesting material support to the children’s group. It stated that the money allocated would be used mainly to ensure the children’s holiday. There was no information as to whether the request had been satisfied. However, about 40 children were sent for 1 month to the children’s colony in the village. of Bunovo, Pirdop. 8 of them used free services. The next year the children’s group at the Chitalishte was growing up to 150 children.
The use of its own library was indicative of the life of a community center. In this respect the first place in Sofia took the „Aleko Konstantinov“ Chitalishte, which provided in 1927 some 6351 books to its members. After him stood „Gotse Delchev“, whose library, although containing 4587 volumes, handed out 5673 books. What was the situation in the Chitalishte of „Batalova Vodenitsa“? Getting books in the beginning was going too slow. It was only since the mid-1930s that this process had intensified. In 1935 the Chitalishte Library had 890 books, the following year – 1220. The increase was mainly from donors. 1304 books from 848 people were read.
The issue of building a Chitalishtewas again raised. In June 1937 the members of the Chitalishte participated in a working day for clearing and leveling the place where the construction works should start. The enthusiasm and desire were quickly broken, and this was not the case for many times. The reason was the lack of sufficient financial resources and above all the implementation of the new master plan of the capital.
In the years of the Second World War, the Chitalishte significantly reduced its activity. The meetings of the Councils are disposed. In 1940, they were 16, the next year were 13, and in 1943 only 3. The main events were a solemn celebration of national holidays and the organization of literary-musical and dance evenings. At the general annual meeting on May 17, 1943, an important decision was made. The name of the chitalishte of „Vasil Drumev“ was changed. The reasons were quite reasonable. As already mentioned in Sofia, there were two more chitalishte, which were named „Dr. P. Beron“. Besides, the school in Batalova Vodenitsa had a patron Vasil Drumev. This necessitated minor adjustments to the Chitalishte’s statute. The chairman of the Council was chosen by M. Iliev, who was in the position of the Chitalishte for the longest time.
Radical political change in Bulgaria after 9 September 1944 brought new nuances into the development of the neighborhood Chitalishte. On the agenda of a meeting of the Council was placed the cardinal and very delicate question of the attitude towards the new state administration. The following opinion was adopted: Chitalishte „Vasil Drumev“ in Batalova Vodenitsa district welcomed with enthusiasm the power of the Fatherland Front and stated that it would support its efforts to instil a real education in the neighborhood, hoping that the new people’s power will provide the best, active cooperation in the work of the Chitalishte. “ This decision inevitably lead to the idealization of its overall activities. Everywhere it was explicitly pointed out that the work of the Chitalishte was directed and subordinated to the decisions of the congresses and plenums of the CC of the Bulgarian Communist Party. In 1950, the University of People was founded. There is studied „History of the BCP“ and „History of the CPSU“. Emphasis was placed on the propagation of materials and decisions by party congresses. Everything was subject to the main purpose of the Chitalishte to become an important factor in strengthening the ideological work, the class-party, patriotic and international education of the residents in the neighborhood.
In the main activity of the Chitalishte was the work of the library. Founded in 1927, it had 50 books. At the end of the 1940s, 1860 books were recorded in the library catalog, but the titles continued to grow. There were Continued wishes to increase the library’s fund, to be organized a permanent reading room for newspapers and magazines, and to be made larger-scale home delivery. The purchase of new literature was granted annually at 20-30 000 levs. Along with this, another trend was noticed. The collection of books with „fascist content“ had been cleared. However, this heading also included titles that had nothing to do with fascist ideology, but were simply uncomfortable with the new power. Old books were constantly binding. It started receiving free Большая советская энциклопедия. A subscription to newspapers and magazines was made. The choice was not big and was imposed by the new political environment. Everyday, the newspapers „Rabotnichesko Delo“, „Zemedelsko Zname“, „Literaturen Front“, „Narodna Mladev“, „Starshel“, magazines „Chitalishte“, „Smyana“, „Ogonyok“ The number of readers increased. In 1951, 574 books were distributed to 238 people. Seven years later (1958) the library reported 7500 visits. It already had 4773 volumes, and in 1968 the number of books was over 12 000. There were predominantly Marxist-Leninist content, but also the children’s literature fund. Readers were mostly students.
Periodically the question of the construction of a community center was raised. Residents of the neighborhood actively participated in fundraising. At the beginning of 1948 in the formations for this purpose the Cooperative Building of a Chitalishte Building Fund already had a stock of BGN 342 483. This amount was paid to the Bulgarian Agricultural Cooperative Bank. In the following years, the fund continued to grow and at the end of 1951 it was already BGN 455 792. The Sofia City Committee of the Fatherland Front decided at its meeting in 1961 to start preparations for construction and at the end of next year to finally raise a community center to the roof. However, these positive intentions remained without any real cover. According to the new regulation plan of the neighborhood the terrain and the small building on 46 „Sveti Vrach“ Str were joined to the neighboring property of Alexander Mladenov for the sum of 55 000 leva. A new construction site of 2000 square meters was located, just opposite the 67th school. For any time, an initiative committee was formed in the neighborhood to build the chitalishte building that was dreamt of in the third decade. Two commissions were elected – to obtain permission for the construction right and to collect the necessary financial capital. The results of their activities were dismal. Such an object was not at all envisaged in the general construction plan of the Third District. The focus during this five-year period was on the expansion of the „Aura“ Chitalishte in the neighborhood of „Konyovitsa“ and „Kiril and Metodii“ in the „Krasna Polyana“ neighborhood. The real perspective was that only after 1962 that the „Vassil Drumev“ Chitalishte would come to order.
The lack of one’s own building forced some of the inhabitants to look for the cultural interests of their families in the nearby „Aura“ Chitalishte. It was founded in 1929. Its patron was the humanist prof. As. Zlatarov. Three decades later (1959) it settled in a new spacious building on 175 „Alexander Stamboliyski“ Bul.