Hristo Damyanov Ognyanov Collection
Name of collection
- Hristo Damyanov Ognyanov Collection
Provenance and cultural activities
This collection, documenting the life of a long-term political activist, is based on the preservation of diverse materials emanating from Hristo Ognyanov’s numerous political activities before and after the establishment of the socialist state. Most of it stems from his work while in exile, when he built up a large private archive. Ognyanov (1911-1997) belonged to different Bulgarian exile communities in Austria, the USA, and West Germany. Ognyanov’s life stands in testament to the numerous ruptures and struggles of twentieth-century Bulgaria.
Born in 1911, Ognyanov studied law and economics at Sofia University in the 1930s. There, he became involved in the activities of Macedonian cultural and educational organizations. He took to the ideas of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO), which organized for the unification of Macedonia with Bulgaria. In the period leading up to the Second World War, Ognyanov collaborated with various political and literary magazines and wrote short literary compositions and pamphlets, mainly devoted to national issues and promoting the Bulgarian stance on Macedonia, as well as publishing poetry. In 1939 he moved to Berlin, where he reported for one of the most prestigious Bulgarian newspapers at the time, Zora. In 1944, Ognyanov moved to Zagreb, where he became the secretary of Ivan Mihaylov, the head of IMRO, who had close ties with German and especially Italian intelligence. Up to this day, Mihaylov remains a very controversial figure.
In September 1944, Ognyanov moved to Austria and in the early 1950s went to Germany. He was convicted in absentia by the People's Court "because of active fascist and pro-German activities" (the new authorities considered IMRO and the Zora newspaper fascist). In the 1950s, he worked for The Voice of America in Munich and the United States; he also taught Bulgarian at Syracuse University. In the 1960s he worked for Radio Free Europe. He specifically presented works from Bulgarian literature and culture that the communist regime had banned in Bulgaria. In the series, Bulgarian Literature under Communism Ognyanov reported on official decisions of the Bulgarian Communist Party and revealed lies in the party’s propaganda. Another focus of Ognyanov’s work was on religion, such as the radio program Eleven Centuries of Christianity in Bulgaria or the lecture series Religion and Atheism in Bulgaria under Communism. In Bulgaria, his activities were characterized as "subversive propaganda" by the authorities.
In the meantime, Ognyanov (who often published under Christo Ognjanoff and worked under pseudonym Boris Bosilkov) rose to become Editor-in-Chief of Cultural Issues of Radio Free Europe. In 1977, he retired but continued to deliver broadcasts critical of the state. During his many years of radio work, he systematically preserved documents pertaining to this work.
It is difficult to determine the reception of these programs in Bulgaria. The regime was certainly concerned: in the 1960s, these radio emissions compelled the state to create a special service to counter oppositional émigrés and against "ideological divergence, counter-revolutionary, nationalist and other anti-state manifestations in the country". Great efforts were also made by the communist authorities to put state security agents in the editorial departments of newspapers. A survey conducted by the authorities in 1972 in two counties (Burgas and Varna) and among students in Sofia revealed that the broadcasts by exiled Bulgarians enjoyed great support: more than 50% of the students and about one-third of all people surveyed listened to them (Kiryakov 1999: 214).
Apart from his radio programs, Ognyanov also tried to organize anti-communist Bulgarian émigrés. In 1965, the Petar Beron Bulgarian Academic Society (BAS "Petar Beron") was established at his home in Munich, with the purpose of uniting Bulgarian scholars working in the West. The society launched the Schriftenreihe zur Bulgarienforschung book series and organized numerous conferences. In 1981, in connection with the 1300th anniversary of the Bulgarian state, the society organized cultural events in the US and Canada. Ognyanov was also a member of EXIL-P.E.N. Zentrum der Schriftstellerinnen und Schriftsteller im Exil in den deutschsprachigen Länden (Centre of Writers in Exile in the German-Speaking Countries – a part of PEN International).
After the political changes of 1989, Ognyanov returned to Bulgaria many times. He was awarded the Madara Rider Order, the third-highest honor of the Republic of Bulgaria. His poems and essays were then finally published in Bulgaria.
As an intellectual, Ognyanov was well aware of the importance of materials on his work to future research, and thus systematically preserved them. Ognyanov bequeathed his personal archive and library to the Abagar Bulgarian Catholic Cultural Center in Rome, founded by his friend, Georgi Eldarov. More than ten medium-sized boxes were sent there during the 1990s and after his death in 1997. However, their destiny at the Abagar center after the death of professor Georgi Eldarov and the supposed transfer of (at least part) of the Center's collection to Sofia is unknown. Ognyanov also entered into negotiations with Boyko Kiryakov, a specialist at the Archives State Agency in Sofia, about sending the rest of his personal archive (about 30% of the total volume) to the State Archive. Kiryakov and Ognyanov met several times in the 1990s, and Kiryakov organized the intake of materials from Ognyanov's personal archive after his death in 1997.
Given the uncertain fate of the bulk of Ognyanov's personal archive, which was given to the Abagar Center, this collection is the most important source of information about this notable person. The collection, that is, the Hristo Ognyanov personal archival fund, includes the activities of nationalist groups who struggled for the "liberation" of Macedonia and its unification with Bulgaria. Ognyanov's early (pre-1944) involvement in the activities of the nationalist organization, IMRO, and his work for its controversial leader Ivan Mihaylov, is a source of controversy, as the role of IMRO continues to be a contentious topic.
The collection holds documents valuable for the exploration of different aspects of socialist Bulgaria’s history. The collection is a valuable source on the life and activities of Bulgarian émigrés. It documents their international connections and contacts with the opposition in Bulgaria. The documents provide interesting information on Cold War propaganda, especially with respect to US-funded radio stations (RFE, VoA). It is, thus, a vital source on the diasporic aspects of cultural opposition to communism in Bulgaria.
The collection can be accessed by readers in the Central State Archives at Archives State Agency in Sofia. Its content was popularized by programs on Bulgarian State Radio, as well as by a conference on the history of Radio Free Europe, held in Sofia in 2011.
Description of content
Covering his many political, literary, and scholarly activities, Hristo Ognyanov amassed a huge personal archive. This included all his publications and related materials as well as all letters he received and copies of his sent messages.
The collection includes 711 archival items: personal documents (birth and marriage certificates; membership cards, etc.); articles about and by Hristo Ognyanov; poetry; Ognyanov’s Radio Free Europe and Voice of America radio broadcasts; statutes and resolutions of the Congresses of the Bulgarian League for Human Rights Protection (1977–1986); and correspondence with leading Bulgarian intellectuals in Bulgaria and exile. The collection also includes letters to and from Hristo Ognyanov, and numerous photographs.
The collection, that is, the Hristo Ognyanov personal archival fund, holds valuable documents for the exploration of different aspects of the history of socialist Bulgaria. It is a particularly valuable source of information about Bulgarian émigré activities, notably those based in Germany. It provides information on notable individuals, their international networks, and their contacts with Bulgaria.
A detailed inventory is available on the State Archive website: http://126.96.36.199:84/Process.aspx?type=Fund&agid=41&flgid=5090547
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): 500-999
- photos: 10-99
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 10-99
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
Sofia, Moskovska Str. N 5
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Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- completely open to the public
- Ognyanov, Hristo: Sreshti prez godinite. Spomeni i razgovori [Meetings over the Years. Memories and Conversations]. Sofia: IK "Gutenberg", 2002.
Author(s) of this page
- Kasabova, Anelia Dr.
Kiryakov, Boyko, interview by Kasabova, Anelia Dr., May 06, 2016. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection