DI 13 opens with the ‘Bulgarian cluster’, presenting research and artistic insights into the digital and networked culture of Bulgaria. The submissions in this section are an outcome of an international workshop entitled ‘Digital Creativity in Times of Crisis: Bulgarian Networked Culture in Global Contexts’, which was held at the Centre for Advanced Study in Sofia in November 2013. The workshop was generously supported by the Centre.
At the workshop, the participants established that from its beginnings, the development of digital and networked communication technology had been intimately linked to the two factors: crisis and creativity. For example, the early development of CMC and ICT in the United States is linked to Cold War politics, on the one hand; on the other hand, American alternative culture, with its playfulness and inventiveness, has been a major driving force. The period of the 1990s and 2010s is the phase of mass implementation of CMC and ICT worldwide; in Central and Eastern Europe it coincides with the period of radical political change and social transformation. These crises seem to induce and stimulate creativity whereas creativity emerges as a means to overcome productively social and political crises.
In the 2010s protest movements challenged the political and social status quo globally: from the Tahrir square in Egypt to the Gezi park in Turkey, from the Zucotti park in the USA to Puerta del Sol in Spain, from the Bolotnaia square in Russia to Kiev Maidan in Ukraine, to name just a few. The creative language and symbolic actions of these protests seemed to be their specific characteristic and an important resource for global protest. The decidedly moral agenda of the ‘revolutions of dignity’—as the Maidan protest labelled itself—seems to coincide with a new, creative, globally spoken language and new symbols of protest.
Only five years later, in 2015, we are in a post-utopian period of global protest, which—regardless of its just causes and the engagement of hundreds of thousands of people—seems to have experienced an overall defeat, leading to the civil war in Egypt and the Middle East, a resurgence of conservative regimes in Turkey and Russia, and violent geopolitics in Ukraine. The creativity of protest is now seen as a weakness, with protesters having been framed as aesthetic performers while ignoring and neglecting their political pragmatics. The creative artistic languages and performances of the protest have even been used as a means to discredit these movements as ‘middle class’, creative, kreativnyi revolutions, defending their liberal values and ‘life styles’ at the cost of those members of the society that feel being deprived and unprivileged. Both the idea and the practices of creativity in times of crises require radical political re-interpretations.
The Bulgarian protests from 2013 rarely figure among the more prominent protest movements mentioned above. The protests lasted for almost a year, with tens of thousands of people taking action in a country of 7.5 million people. The protests resulted in the dismissal of two governments. Initially people protested against economic deprivation (high electricity bills); however, they soon formed a broader protest movement, challenging ‘the low political morals’, corruption, government mismanagement and the failure of the transformation policies. The Bulgarian protests reveal similarities with other European and global movements, including the effective combination of online and offline mobilization, the evolution from economic dissent to a revolution of values and practices in politics, high levels of short-time mobilization and low levels of long-time institutionalization, and controversial discussions of creativity as a resource for protest and/or as a form of aesthetic escapism. Largely under-represented and under-researched, we think the ‘Bulgarian case’ should be analysed as part of the global and European protest movement, also because it has resulted in neither a state of war nor in the resurgence of repressive politics, and thus presents a different case for transnational examination.
This issue provides materials that are the first steps in this direction. It builds on previous issues of Digital Icons that explored protest movement in other settings, for example, Issue 9 entitled ‘Russian Protest Movement (R)e-visited’. The submissions in this issue give factual insights into the country, region and phenomenon, and at the same time, they tackle theoretical and methodological aspects of digital culture. Henrike Schmidt (13.1) in her paper ‘From a Bird’s Perspective: Aerial Drone Photography and Political Protest: А Case Study of the Bulgarian #resign Movement 2013’ analyses drone photography as a form of citizen journalism and describes the usage of unmanned aerial drones as a means of alternative monitoring of the protest movement. Aerial drone photography, Schmidt asserts, turns into an important tool of emotional mobilization and helps shape the self-awareness among protestors. Schmidt uses the case study of the Bulgarian protest movement to open up a comparative perspective for studying drone photography in its ambivalent usages—documentation, monitoring, and (counter-)surveillance—and discusses the ethical and political predicaments stemming from these ‘civilian’ uses of military technologies.
Valentina Gueorguieva (13.2) in her essay ‘The Student Occupation of Sofia University in 2013: Communication Patterns for Building a Network of Support’ gives a detailed account of the Sofia University student occupation that took place in autumn 2013 as part of the broader Bulgarian protest movement. Using Manuel Castell’s network theory for understanding the communication patterns in protest movements, the author shows how the students build their ‘occupation agenda’, communication patterns and strategies. The analysis centres on two key concepts elaborated by Castells—the construction of the ‘networked space of autonomous communication’ and the ‘lived experience of social change’. Methodologically, Gueorguieva relies on in-depth interviews with the protest participants and data collected through online digital ethnography. Gueorguieva comes up with some general conclusions concerning the failure(s) of the protest movement as it failed to transform its mobilizing vigour into long-lasting political change.
The issue includes a digital memoir by Krassimir Terziev (b. 1969), a Sofia-based media artist and cultural anthropologist. In his work (13.3) Terziev explores the manifold transitions and tensions between the globalized world dominated by the overwhelming multiplicity of symbolic imagery and its material groundings in technological, physical and human ‘hardware’. Outside of his artistic work, Terziev is active as a researcher in the field of contemporary media. Terziev’s digital memoir is an autobiographical account of the early digital culture and technology. At the same time it is a piece of ‘embedded’ theoretical thinking. In this digital memoir Terziev shares his memories of the early period of networked and digitized culture in Bulgaria and elsewhere. He reflects on the links between politics and art, between the post-socialist transformation and the digital revolution. While commenting on his artwork, he reflects on the broader technological, social and philosophical contexts and theories such as total immersion, post-internet art, data storage and cultural memory. We are especially grateful to the artist for giving the journal the permission to publish six reproductions of his artwork.
We plan to continue the discussion of Bulgarian digital culture in the future issues of Digital Icons. In addition to the Bulgarian cluster this issue contains contributions that aim to boost the discussion of digital creativity in the times of crises by exploring related issues in different contexts. Mykola Makhortykh’s article ‘Everything for the Lulz: Historical Memes and World War II Memory on Lurkomor’e’ (13.4) explores interactions between digital media and cultural memory in post-Soviet countries by focusing on internet memes related to World War II. It introduces the concept of historical internet memes, which are groups of digital content units associated with a historical event or a personality. The article uses a selection of World War II memes from the online encyclopaedia of Russian web folklore, Lurkomor’e, to draw comparisons be-tween historical and non-historical internet memes. By using a quantifiable approach, it investigates patterns in the origins, methods of dissemination, and functions of historical internet memes, and provides a basic framework for their future study. Finally, the article explores the role of human agency in historical meme-making by focusing on the role of the Lurkomor’e community in the production and dissemination of memes.
Jardar Østbø’s article ‘Testing and Contesting “Peace” on Russian Twitter” (13.5) focuses on mobilisation via Twitter ahead of the ‘Peace March’ on 21 September 2014, a national mass demonstration against the Russian regime’s policy towards Ukraine. Through a qualitative review of the most salient tweets mentioning the official hashtag #MarshMira, the article identifies the most conspicuous frames and classifies their functions. Contrary to the stated goal of the Peace March—to unify the people (or at least mend the divide between liberal, urban activists and ‘the people’)—the most pronounced frames propagated on Twitter served to widen this divide. Rather than pitching ‘the people’ against the regime, these frames juxtaposed liberals and their values and emotions with the ‘uneducated’ masses and their values and emotions. Instead of working towards their stated objective of unification, opposition activists communicating on Twitter reproduced their own, caricatured, largely prejudiced image of ‘the people’ and thereby put a spoke in their own wheels. However, the analysis also suggests that the interactive and multi-venue character of such demonstrations gives activists the opportunity—provided that the frames are adjusted—to narrow the divide and potentially increase mobilisation.
Contributions by Jennifer Keating (13.6), Jacob Lassin (13.7) and Gleb Koren’ (13.8) explore the issues of digital creativity in the broader context of transnational visual culture. Keating’s website review considers the impact of the digital in the cultural heritage sector, with particular reference to the online content of two of Russia’s foremost museums: the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg and Moscow’s Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. It discusses the digitisation of the physical sites of these museums and their collections, as published on the institutional websites, and the wider use of these surrogate images on third-party webpages, chiefly Google’s Cultural Institute and Pinterest. Lassin uses the case study of the online project OurBaku to discuss the wider phenomenon of how non-national identities are being revived and promoted through new media for post-socialist audiences. This website enables past and current Bakintsy to commemorate their native city’s past, while at the same time creates an alternative digital version of Baku to counter the enormous physical, cultural and demographic shifts that have happened in the city since the end of the Soviet Union. Koren’’s essay examines two types of cartographies created with the help of Google Maps and Foursquare as representative of different eras of the internet, Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, respectively. The essay interrogates the role of prosumers in constructing contemporary cartographies and their relationship to digital geopolitics.
The issue concludes with book reviews. Rachel Stauffer (13.9.1) reviews ‘The Russian Language Outside the Nation’ by Lara Ryazanova-Clarke (Edinburgh University Press, 2014); and Michael Marsh-Soloway (13.9.2) reviews ‘Fun and Software: Exploring Pleasure, Paradox, and Pain in Computing’ edited by Olga Goriunova (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014).
The issue was prepared by the editors of Digital Icons. Orlin Spassov, Henrike Schmidt and Vlad Strukov worked on the Bulgarian cluster. Rachel Stauffer, Andrew Chapman, Gernot Howanitz and Pedro Hernandez prepared the issue for publication with assistance from other members of the editorial team.
Orlin Spassov (Sofia), Henrike Schmidt (Berlin/Hamburg) and Vlad Strukov (London)