Mary NeubergerBalkan Smoke: Tobacco and the Making of Modern Bulgaria

Cornell University Press, 2012

by Amanda Swain on November 4, 2014

Mary Neuberger

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By the late 1960s, Bulgaria was the world’s number one exporter of tobacco, perhaps the pinnacle of the place of tobacco in the economic, social and political development of modern Bulgaria.  In Balkan Smoke: Tobacco and the Making of Modern Bulgaria (Cornell University Press, 2012), Mary C. Neuberger deftly moves between tobacco production and practices of smoking, challenging assumptions about coffeehouses in the Ottoman empire, revealing the economic base of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, and demonstrating Bulgaria’s position between east and west in the Cold War.

Neuberger’s engaging and detailed study begins in the late nineteenth century when Christian Slavs learned to smoke and to be Bulgarian in Ottoman coffeehouses.  She reveals how the interwar anti-smoking movement created an alliance between Protestant missionaries and local Communists. From World War I to the alliance with Nazi Germany in World War II to Bulgartabak’s negotiations with U.S. tobacco companies, Balkan Smoke demonstrates that tobacco was a driving force in Bulgaria’s international relations in the twentieth century.  We see how Communist authorities strove to balance tobacco as a source of funding for modernization and as a potentially bourgeois and consumerist leisure practice.  The book ends with the fall of Bulgaria’s communist government in 1989 and provides a glimpse of the role of tobacco and smoking the post-community transition.

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