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Social Legislation and Population Policy in Bulgaria, 1918–1944

2014.01.08 Няма коментари
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Demography-and-NationSvetla Baloutzova

Demography and Nation: Social Legislation and Population Policy in Bulgaria, 1918-1944 *


Review of the book

by Maria Todorova, Muse.jhu.edu


In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

In this excellent book, Baloutzova reconstructs the evolution of social legislation regarding the family during the interwar period by inserting her case study into the general framework of population policy and social welfare. During the last century, population engineering has been steadily moving in the direction of limiting family size, with the notable exception of Europe, where the enormous human losses of World War I and long-term fertility decline engendered pronatalist policies. Social welfare, embattled on all sides, seems to have been in place forever, especially for those who do not know its difficult and tentative beginnings. Although the two policies have different ideological connotations and origins—population engineering being driven mostly from nationalism and raison d’état and social welfare being fueled by ideas of equality and justice—the author demonstrates that they often came together in the logic and practice of the state.

Baloutzova’s stated goal is modest—uncovering the early stages of state-instigated family policies, as well as the governmental and popular ideology behind them. Her results, however, are pioneering. No one heretofore has undertaken the meticulous reconstruction of legislative policies. Drawing on a rich variety of sources from a half-dozen Bulgarian repositories—mostly parliamentary minutes and appendixes, archival documentary data from several ministries (tracing the justification of certain bills and investigations), newspapers, and magazines—as well as from personal memoirs, Baloutzova’s social history competently maneuvers between issues of historical demography, political history, medical history, and legal studies. Her careful writing skillfully balances the survey component (especially for readers unfamiliar with Bulgarian history) with the specifics of the issue at hand.

In an atmosphere of humiliated nationalism and severe economic crisis, coupled with the “discovery” of the plummeting birth rate, the family as a metonym for the nation became the focus of public controversy. This book traces in great detail the legislative debates about professional natal care to combat infant mortality; the limited 1929 Health Bill, notorious for the unsuccessful transfer of U.S. models; issues of illegitimacy, social hygiene and eugenics, and mothers’ and women’s rights; the 1934 Decree-Law for public assistance; the introduction of family allowances, culminating in the legislation of early 1940; and the League of Child-Rich Parents and its role in the 1943 law promoting large families.

The heroes of this account, although not explicitly fêted, are Aleksandar Stamboliiski (1919–1923) whose agrarian regime pioneered the debates about preventive medicine and maternal health care, and the deputies on the left who kept the issues alive. Not surprisingly (and unlike the two blurbs suggesting that the Cold War has not ended), Baloutzova points out the communists’ conscious acknowledgment of the pre-war origins of the family-allowances scheme, even as they extended it to all ethnic groups.

Some of Baloutzova’s points are unconvincing—for example, the assertion that the social structure of Bulgaria’s peasantry and of its monarchy were major barriers against fascism. The same configuration in neighboring Romania germinated a powerful fascist movement with deep roots in the countryside. Moreover, her grounding of the debates between the proponents of a state-run preventive medicine and of a curative approach based on private medical treatment in two medical traditions—Russian and Western—is simplistic. In fact, these debates were characteristic of most European states at the time. But these minor quibbles do not detract from the overall rigor of an analysis that will serve as a foundation for further cross-national and cross-regional comparisons for some time to come.

Copyright © 2012 Massachusetts Institute of Technology and The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Inc

* The book in Amazon – here


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