Who was Sava Popov? The Unlocking of an Archive
Who was Sava Popov? The Unlocking of an Archive


Who was Sava Popov? The Unlocking of an Archive

Yours: Sava Popov

In 1958, Sava Popov was hired at the newspaper Literaturen front (Literary Front), but not as a journalist. At first he was a manager, then he became a managing editor, and finally, in 1973, he “rose” to deputy responsible secretary (the link between editors and designers).

Literary Front, the official publication of the Union of Bulgarian Writers, was the most important weekly for working criticism during the socialist era. It was not an exception from the rest of the culture media – it imposed policies, tastes, and styles strictly following the directives of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Negative author evaluations printed on its pages could lead to the banning of their future publications or being stricken from the lists of orders and awards. And vice versa – positive reviews were a promise of high circulations and inclusion among the “big” writers, a respected stratum of the communist nomenclature. For Sava Popov, his position as shadow organizer and editor may have been a compromise, but it meant a job without large amplitudes and shocks. In the archive, we find the complete issues of Literary Front from 1967-73, models for the newspaper, notebooks with minutes of meetings of the editorial board, and hundreds of pages with corrections of someone’s articles and official speeches. Also, drawings and a few cheerful photos.

The atmosphere in the Literary Front editorial office in 1964 has been captured in the snapshots of the photographer and journalist Todor Slavchev. He took photos of work meetings, but also moments of relaxation – playing backgammon while drinking coffee, “departmental parties” with conversations and dancing. Amid cigarette smoke and drinks, editors and artists, bosses and secretaries appear equal. These are scenes of timelessness, where the dark side of life doesn’t seem to exist.

In the spring of 1968, in the hall of the National Assembly, the First Congress of the Union of Bulgarian Writers (UBW) was opened. The long-awaited festive day was marked by an “incident.” From a confidential document it is understood that the chairman of the UBW, Georgi Dzhagarov, did not thank or shake the hand of Petr Pujman, the chairman of the Union of Czechoslovak Writers, who spoke before the congress about the changes in Czechoslovakia and the efforts to build “socialism with a human face.” This speech was censored by the Bulgarian media, and it did not find a place in the special issue of Literary Front dedicated to the congress. Long reports by Georgi Dzhagarov, Bogomil Raynov, Nikolay Haytov, and Anastas Stoyanov were published without abridgement. Speeches, greetings, letters, and telegrams filled every page of the newspaper. A new managing council of the UBW was chosen; the writer Yordan Radichkov was one of the newly-elected members. At the same time, he drew the propellered creatures on this page preserved in the archive. On August 21, 1968, the armies of the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia.

From the Greeting of the Congress of the UBW to the CC of the BCP

[…] Our modern literature is developing in a healthy atmosphere created by the historical April Plenum of the BCP – an atmosphere of creative tension and trust in the work of every artist, an atmosphere which is the most favourable for uniting the artistic intelligentsia around the Party line. Today we enjoy artistic diversity, ideological unity, and a constant influx of new creative forces, which is a guarantee that our literature will achieve new conquests and will gladden our nation with enduring artistic works. We know that the power of our literature is in its blood ties with the Party and the people, in its loyalty to Marxism and Leninism, but the popular love with which it is surrounded is owing to its incompatible relationship with all kinds of deviations from the Marxist-Leninist foundations that either vulgarize our aesthetics or represent a capitulation to the bourgeoise ideology.

(Literary Front, 24 May 1968)

At the newspaper, Sava Popov also performed layout and design, helping the artist Boris Angelushev. After Angelushev’s death in 1966, Sava Popov took on more design responsibilities – choosing the artists, explanatory conversations with them, composing the pages, deciding on typefaces and sizes, communicating about the production of type plates, correspondence with the printing house, etc. Preserved in the archive are the originals of hand-drawn mastheads and illustrations of some of the most experienced and established artists of those years, as well as of some very young and then unknown names.

These artifacts are a representative sample of the level of calligraphy, typography, and illustration in Bulgaria of the period. Among the artists, we see Ivan Kyosev, Simeon Venov, Svetlin Roussev, Georgi Nedyalkov, Rumen Skorchev, Nikola Bukov, Ivan Kirkov, Lyuben Dimanov, Hristo Neykov, Zlatka Dabova, and Ivan Kozhuharov; among the cartoonists – Boris Dimovski, Donyu Donev, Georgi Anastasov, Radoslav Marinov – Reme, Todor Kuzmov, Asen Grozev, Karandash, Stoyan Venev, and many others.

Headlines from Literary Front – 1970, no. 17, dedicated to Lenin

When we say Lenin, we understand – the Party
Lenin – Party – Communism
Lenin and Class-Party Criteria in Art
Lenin – the Large Topic of the Century
Leninist Principles for Party Leadership of Artistic Creativity
First Forays of Leninist Aesthetic Principles in Our Country

The front page of Literary Front usually began with articles devoted to the leading role of the Party, to congresses, directives, and theses. The introductory illustration was usually a portrait of a prominent person or a composition on a labour theme. Along with literary criticism, the inside pages had columns on cinema, theatre, concerts, and exhibitions. The newspaper was richly illustrated, mainly by young artists. They often used their assigned subjects as an occasion for dynamic compositions in which the artistic qualities of the drawings would surpass the topic.

The sketch-like quality of the drawings in the newspaper was predetermined by the printing technique and the short turnaround time before each weekly issue was published. But it is precisely these circumstances, and the fact that they were drawn with an applied purpose and clear limitations, and not as artist works “for exhibition,” that seem to remove the artists’ inhibitions and free them from the ambition to do something extraordinary. Many of the illustrations formally carry the inertia of expressive clichés during these years. But in the period after 1960, one can clearly observe a general rejection of both the academic chains and the imported postulates of socialist realism.

Along with all of his obligations at the newspaper, Sava Popov was also responsible for correspondence. Letters addressed to Bogomil Raynov, Lozan Strelkov, and other managing editors were forwarded to him to reply. The editorial office regularly received letters from unknown would-be contributors, compulsive writers who wished to see their names appear in print. They would send poems, stories, comments about workplace and domestic disturbances, some of which Sava Popov kept in his archive. Most are banal, while some are funny. Unfortunately, the reply letters ending with “Yours, Sava Popov” are in someone else’s archives and there is no way for us to read them here.

Sava Popov worked at the newspaper Literary Front from 1958 to 1973.

Sava Popov was sought out by writers, journalists, and editors on all kinds of topics – for references, advice, and editing. His general culture, his work discipline, and his knowledge of the publishing process made him an indispensable collaborator. His library contains dozens of autographed books in which the authors called him a friend and thanked him.

Rayna, Sava Popov’s wife, worked all her life as a typist. Thanks to her professionalism and efficiency, she was sought after by many writers. Among the thousands of pages of manuscripts she transcribed are the stories of Nikolay Raynov, prepared for publication in the Bulgarian Writer Publishing House in the 1960s and 1970s. The family loved and lived with books. Everyone read, discussed, commented on them. When they were at home, they left each other funny notes, and when they were not, children and parents alike wrote nice long letters. Rayna – on a typewriter, and Sava Popov – always in beautiful handwriting.

Because of his newspaper job, Sava Popov had a journalist’s card and could use the privileges of membership, along with his family – tickets for vacations at the seaside in the resorts for journalists and writers. We find postcards filled with jokes about their stay and everyday details, light-hearted poems and greetings to friends and relatives.