70. The Gabrovo Museum of Humor Bolsters Its Legacy of Political Satire Post-Communism
Welcome to museum archipelago. I'm Ian Elsner Pews Eum archipelago guides you through the rocky landscape of museums each episode so he's never longer than fifteen minutes so let's get started in the middle of Bulgaria not far from the crumbling boozers monument why as the town of gap reveal situated in the Valley of the Balkan mountains the city prides itself on its unique brand of humor. Many local jokes are self deprecating about the gap ravine obsession with frugality and entrepreneurship and center around the comical links. The townspeople go to save money. The Mascot of the city is a black cat without a tail. It said the bruins prefer cats without tails because then they can shut the door faster when they let their cats out saving on their heating bills. This used to be the kind of humor that exist in data in the region around gobble not owning governable but then abrazos abuse were smart enough to brand it as there's best the entrepreneur does entrepreneurial course this is Margarita Sheriff's. Go hello my name. AMY'S MARGARITA DOT COM. I'm curator by profession and I'm director of the Museum of Humor and sat are based in Gobble Bulgaria. The museum was founded founded in one thousand nine hundred seventy two before the wall fell. This location was known as the Communist capital of humor extending its reach across eastern bloc countries and and also into certain circles in the West. I visited gap radio because I wanted to find out how this political humor and Satire Museum could have started here during Communist Times yes and how the museum is tackling. The global memed driven culture of the world today. There are a couple of precursors that we have to go through to understand how the Museum of two things one is the governor of jokes so someone announced a competition in the newspaper that the municipalities paying certain amount for each job that gets druid into a collection of the jokes so they collected a lot of a lot of these jokes made a book and this book was this absolute bestseller. It was immediately translating of course in the Russian those who in different languages like French English German and it started selling L. Inc very very well and the other thing that happened was car narrowed the Ghabra Carnival which was restarted in the sixties this and it is typical for being a carnival a with a lot of political humor and satire the people running the Carnival and later the museum were experts at walking up to the line without crossing it when we speak of political satire do not imagine that the general secretary of the of the part to being saturated it was very clear to what level of satire can reach so satire was an instrument in the hands of good communists to fight. Dole's who abused power but to certain level so talk to maybe your local exactly exactly 'cause very clear you're aware to set our can reach as to the governor will joke. They're not political they deal with the economy with them and tolliday of the of the local people combining the two or maybe more realistically using the Gabar Vo Jokes as a Trojan horse to present more political satire was what led some entrepreneurial Gab ravines to open the museum typical will style day didn't Butte a new building Aberdeen refurbished old leather factory so the building we are in name is a former ladder factory for secrets cheaper second it could go slightly notice because you don't need the same kind of permissions nations to build and to refurbish and if you wanted your out of the mainstream project to succeed in Communist Bulgaria asking for permission was not the way to go. The museum started to put on. BNL's festivals held every two years which featured invited Western guests. The first was in nineteen seventy three. They immediately started with the bi-annual. The first edition was dedicated to Kerr tools and small satirical sculpture. It was international and they brought in the jury amazing amazing names like amazing petunias international out so how could how could that exist well. If you ooh think of that time most Tunis in the Western World would be critical. They'll be leftist so they'll be very welcome in Bulgaria and that indeed the gathering place for people from East and West but there was a problem with that first biannial the jury selected for first prize a cartoonist from Turkey Berkey a country on the other side of the Iron Curtain Director. Oh well what we did and they started asking themselves between never asked for permission mission to make that make an international together. All these people are going to be a huge problem. What are we going to do and then he thought okay don't think I can do is go straight to the monster. So the museum's director went straight to the daughter of the general secretary very with Mela Sheesh Cova who would later become Bulgaria's minister of culture. She was she was good enough to listen. She was smart to pursue seve good ideas and support them. So it worked she came she opened the be annual. Antidote went to on well and they never gave award award having more to a cartoonist coming from a country. That's the initial. The museum and the bienial kept growing until communism collapsed in one thousand nine hundred nine nine thousand nine hundred nine. They had more than eighty four in guests artists jewelry coming in for a new and that was massive after eighty nine was the collapse indeed at that time there were more than one hundred people working king house of Humour Mark. Because if you think of all the different departments cinema literature folklore it was big enterprise. We need a lot of events tweets amazing executions when I look at photos from exhibitions from the seventies and eighties. I'm absolutely astonished by exhibition designed. You see it's it's amazing. It's so well done. I don't think anywhere in Belgrade Bulgaria exhibitions were so good. After the collapse the museum staff shrink to a skeleton crew as you can imagine until one thousand nine hundred ninety nine my colleagues would insist that humor is juniper very so that whole human being laugh and humor is omnipresent than Union for so and so on the first fight I short of had to have with the team when I came was to say I'm sorry but humor is not universal. Humor is so culture based. It's totally coacher base. Of course it's safe for into say humor is universal and not go into political humor. It's safer but you don't do your job. Our mission needs to be very very timely to very actual to show things that are happening today from their museum can do that. Who else would be able to do that while it has improved over the past decade in Bulgaria. Media Freedom is declining most of the press has been purchased by the guards and corruption and collusion between in media and politicians is widespread. You know there are issues with freedom of expression in Bulgaria Freedom Media media media ownership and so on so at least a museum should be some sort of outlet the museum addresses the Civic Space in Bulgaria with a new temporary Rachel exhibit called Garden Town. The charming subtitle is where mischief has a happy end motive of town where the different neighborhoods address different issues such as you know graffiti. You're invited to draw or voting over. Dare the place where you go by a yourself and it's accidentally a toilet but also voting rule then we have some guerrilla gardening making bumps of seeds leads and then finally is the park where kids because they usually come in groups. They are invited to sit down and have a discussion and reach a decision to give them some advice about how to have a discussion and also explain how they could reach decision like tossing a coin or consensus. ASSOC- or voting or you know different offices including anarchy. It's really something to see how far the museum has come from starting within the Communist system to reinventing itself to remain relevant in ways that are crucially important to a modern Bulgarian audience. The roofs good mitts that the next stage of reinventing interpreting interpreting humor on the Internet to an audience that lives mostly online hasn't happened just yet the first big challenge. I could think of when I I when I learnt that. The museum is looking for director aching to retire looked at it. I was really impressed and then I told okay. How can you change this place. What can you do about it. And how can you make it really fun when all the funny near is on your phone you know you can just scroll. Oh for hours and you wouldn't stop laughing. So what can museum do about that. Are we supposed to show the same things. No I mean you don't go to museums due to look at something that you see on your phone. Internet certainly has changed humor a lot and this is an exhibition that we've been planning for ages and we're trying to to find the right research team to prepare that means different. Thank fully games. It's really interesting to see how Internet has been changing humor and where are we at now. The way that jokes jokes developed in Gabarevo where people told slightly different versions to each other and in the process carefully distilled the most sharable essence of the joke mirrors. Here's the way that memes are forged in online communities constantly morphing to get more attention. Maybe the best chance we have of interpreting communities. He's on line and off comes from a humor museum. The Gabar Vo Museum of Humor and satire which has already morphed through twenty years of communism and thirty years of democracy accuracy is a good place to start. Just close the door quickly when you let the cat out this has been museum archipelago the you'll find full transcript of this episode along with shouts at Museum Archipelago Dot Com Club archipelago members get access to the bonus podcast feed that sort of like the director's commentary into the main show fund extras like stickers support the show and join club archipelago today today the two dollars Patriot dot com slash museum competitive. Thanks for listening and next time bring a friend.