In memory of prof. Philip Panayotov we recall his message: Let us not lose the ability to distinguish Good from Evil!

  • 15.06.2023
  • UBJ
  • Rozalina Evdokimova
Prof. Philip Panayotov. Photo: Ivan Vasilev

In memory of prof. Philip Panayotov, who died on June 14 at the age of 89, we recall his interview given to his colleague Rozalina Evdokimova for the UBJ website in March 2014. Let us remember his wisdom and his bequests!

The original publication of this interview from 18.03.2014 can be seen here.

With prof. Philip Panayotov we sit in the courtyard of the restaurant, which years ago with great love we called the Club of Journalists where you could meet cult figures of Bulgarian journalism as well as young reporters just tasting their new profession.

I look at him with my eyes wide open and absorb his every word, because what can a person do when he meets a man of wisdom who lives with the history of Bulgarian journalism so rich in names and events? And you have nothing else but listen. As a true Sweet-Talker, the professor who has supported many journalists to follow the thorny path of the profession, not only answers my questions for the interview agreed for the UBJ website, but also dips one story after another from the lives of great Bulgarian intellectuals.
He shares his excitement with our reality. His kind and pure Bulgarian language reminds me of a wisdom that our people have said: "Just be happy to listen to him."

For many years he worked as a journalist and lecturer in the history of Bulgarian journalism at the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communications of Sofia University. Today, apart from the Sofia Alma Mater, he also reveals the secrets of national psychology to the students at the University of National and World Economy.
He was editor-in-chief of the Pulse newspaper, of Youth magazine, founder and editor-in-chief of ABV newspaper. He is the author of a long list of books, including "The Larks", "Duel on the Airwaves", "To Withstand Everything", "Joseph Herbst", "Dr. Krastyu Rakovski", "And the Dead Will Speak", "The Truth in Which No One Believes", "Newspapers and Newspapermen".

Recently his latest book "Cuttings from Old Newspapers" appeared, in which he peeks into events and processes in Bulgarian journalism during the years of socialism.

He says: "It has never been easy for journalists, it has not been easy before, it is not easy now. But I love Herbst very much and therefore I feel that his motto deserves to be the motto of anyone who devotes himself to the journalistic profession: "To please no one, to spite no one" (or in other words: "Never fawn on anyone, never do something to spite someone”).
And one more thing I would like to quote, which prof. Panayotov had written in January 2011, which impressed me and set me thinking:

"It is very good that now so many highways are being built in our country, but they are roads to nowhere, if there is no main highway, the one that can lead us out of the quagmire, in which we are drowning, to a better future. But this highway can be built only if there is national reconciliation and agreement, especially with the efforts of all of us – of the ruling and the governed, of government and opposition, of all Bulgarians.

If there is agreement on this highway, no other disputes, discussions and debates are scary anymore.
If we do not do this, the end of Bulgaria will come much sooner than we can imagine... We will again remain in world history, but the page for us will be titled: "The Suicide of a People."

 - Mr. Panayotov, you are a big and emblematic name in Bulgarian journalism, one of the best researchers of its history, and this year we celebrate 120 years of organized journalistic movement in our country, so let's talk about the profession and the path traveled. The first thing that impresses is that the beginning was announced as the "First Council of Bulgarian Writers and Journalists" and shows the names of our most prominent artists at the time. What united them? Speech? Cause? A sense of duty to the fatherland?

- The most prominent representatives of our intelligentsia (among them Aleko Konstantinov) were united first by their admiration for Konstantin Fotinov – the founder of Bulgarian journalism, in honor of whom the council was convened.

Stefan Stambolov's dictatorial regime has just fallen and they fervently believed that no one would trample on free speech again. They have been passionately discussing what should be done so that the press in our country can develop according to the example of the European one in order to contribute to the bright future of Bulgaria.

At that time, however, Bai Ganyo smelled that journalism could also carry a kelepire (windfall. He founded the newspaper Narodno velichie and also became a newspaperman.

Not much time passes and the mentality of Bai Ganyo started to prevails in both society and journalism. Today, the initials of Bai Ganyo (BG) – what an irony! – serve as a designation of our fatherland.

- What are the most characteristic features of Bulgarian journalism from the first newspapers and magazines to this day? It is known that in other countries the first newspaper headlines appeared to inform about secular life (we came to this conquest in our days!), but it was different with us.

- In fact, as early as the beginning of the 20th century, the so-called mass (yellow, boulevard, sensational, "independent") press appeared in Bulgaria, which nowadays has flourished so much that it completely silenced our prestigious press, as far as it exists. Most of the private radio and television stations quickly followed suit, turn yellow. Since only profit is important to them, they are not disgusted by anything.

The appearance of Bulgarian journalism was determined primarily by the living traditions of our Renaissance press, but also by the numerous successors of the Bai Ganyo's gazette Narodno Velichie (People's Greatness).

- What are the names without which Bulgarian journalism would "get poorer" – including between the two world wars?

- Small nations cannot compete with large nations in wealth and power, but they too can have unsurpassed poetry and journalism, born of their dramatic and tragic fate. Our people are no exception.

We have talented men whose creativity and civic behavior are not inferior to the best European examples – Hristo Botev, Zahari Stoyanov, Simeon Radev, Stoyan Mihaylovski, Alexander Balabanov, Joseph Herbst, Geo Milev, Iliya Beshkov, Dimitar Naydenov, Danail Krapchev, Stefan Prodev.

- With the predecessors, you talk about "excellent newspapermen and venal gazettiers." Are these words all about the past? Are they in place now? And how can the poor reader (viewer and listener) distinguish between them?

- These days, the former can be counted on the fingers, and the latter have no reading. It is not so difficult for the critical reader/viewer to recognize them, especially since lately "custom-made" journalists, journalists "on call" do not bother very much to conceal themselves.

They usually deny today what they claimed yesterday, they are not shy about pouring scorn on even the most respectable people, if they are not pleasing to the owner, they lack a noble cause, the only thing they care about are fees, rapid career advancement, staying in the circle of the "elected", gaining the patronage of those in power.

- You quote the young Marx: "Every nation expresses its own spirit in the press." If we judge by our modern press the spirit of the Bulgarians, can we be optimistic?

- On the contrary, we should be worried. We are very, very far from the ideal of "a healthy mind in a healthy body." Rather, it is "a sick spirit in a sick body." Unfortunately, we have brought our society so far. And the media have their big share of fault about that. Instead of curing the infirmities of our national character, they don’t mind to further deepen and inflame them if they can profit from it as well.

- You are known as a favorite professor of students – future journalists. At the same time, you are convinced that "only with lectures you do not become a journalist." What is the most important thing you are trying to inculcate into their minds?

- I am in no way trying to "inculcating" something into the minds of my students.

During the lectures I just introduced them to the most important names in our journalism, and they themselves had to choose whose life and works to study, for whom to write an essay, a report, a coursework or a thesis. And to do this, they had to work hard in libraries and archives. To record memories of contemporaries.

Discussions often flared up during the exercises. Thus, they acquired skills to argue, to polemize because polemics are the essence of journalism. But let's not idealize things. There were also students who thought that they didn't need history, that they were just wasting their time. But they had to study, anyway, because the exam was not easy. I hope they have remembered something.

- Proverbial are the undertrained and illiterate reporters who do not know what to ask, confuse popular names, but are parading world self-confidence. Many of them have graduated your faculty. Do you feel guilty about their training and behavior?

 - If only it were the young reporters! What about some TV presenters or ancors? And the MPs? Ministers? Politicians? It seems stupidity and ignorance spread like an epidemic. Whose fault is it? There is no one guilty here, because we are all guilty, but most of all we from the old generation, because we allowed our society to become what it is today.

- And what about the language in the media – does it raise their ratings?

- "His Majesty the Language" – this is the title of one of the chapters in Herbst's book "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow". This says a lot about the attitude of our predecessors to language. That is why in their articles, essays, and even copies, we find a rich, pure, clear and euphonious Bulgarian language.

There were newspapers that fanatically insisted on being written in a nice, correct and rich Bulgarian language. And for this they were also sought by the enlightened Bulgarians -  Mir (Peace) by Mihail Madzharov, Zora (Dawn) by Danail Krapchev.

The media of the transition have committed and continue to commit a real crime against the purity, richness and beauty of our native language. I'm terrified of the thought that one day everyone will start writing like on the internet. I hope I will not live to see that.

- In these pre-anniversary months, I always ask the interlocutor: is there a name of a journalist in the past that is a benchmark for him? Is there a name for a contemporary journalist that will go down in history? You offer your students to choose for themselves whose example they want to follow. And what would you answer?

- I have already mentioned a number of names of our prominent journalists. If I have to name just one, it is Joseph Herbst. For many years I studied his life and work, but even now I continue to be amazed by his journalistic mastery. He has left lots of examples that a text can be both a topical newspaper article and a model of exquisite language beauty!

Not to mention his civil behavior, his personal struggle against dictatorship and obscurantism. He was an early forerunner of Carl von Ossietzky - the first and only journalist who was awarded the Noble prize.

You ask me which of today's Bulgarian journalists will go down in history. History likes to ridicule those who presumptuously predict what its assessment will be in 50, 100 years or more. My answer is: I don't know.

I can only admit that I follow with interest and pleasure and cut out many of the satirical drawings of Hristo Komarnitski, who not only continues but also enriches the best traditions of Bulgarian political cartoon.

- In one of your books there is a special chapter about Stefan Prodev. What is his place in the history of Bulgarian journalism?

- Stefan Prodev forever associated his name with the change in 1989. Immediately after November 10, he turned Narodna Kultura (People's Culture) weekly into a catalyst for the turbulent social processes (the second page of the newspaper was titled "Rally"!)

His high professional mastery was also evident in the creation of the Duma newspaper. He was the first to talk about the "red mobile phones" and was the first to predict what the left party would be transformed into. And Stefan Prodev became a victim of the party establishment, which could not tolerate talented, independently-thinking creative personalities.

He departed from this world bitter and wounded, but he stood up for his youthful ideals and creative impulses to the very end.

- Somewhere I read your words, "The old newspaperman awoke in me, who once imagined that the gift of speech could make man better, life better and the world fairer." Do you still believe in this journalistic cause? And what do you expect, what do you hope for?

- Whether because of my advanced age or because we are witnessing how with the help of new technologies the gift of speech serves Evil more than Good, I have more anxiety than optimism.

- What would you like to wish to the new generation of journalists?

- To my young colleagues, I would like their life and creative destiny to be happier than ours. And never lose the ability to distinguish Good from Evil.