The Truth That Killed
The preview of my play before a restricted invited audience had been planned by the theatre management with two aims in view—to sound out the authorities and to seek the public’s support. The director was Metodi Andonov, while the producer, Neicho Popov, had come out of hospital especially to watch our performance. Poor Neicho, he still believed it was possible to create an honest, hard-hitting satire without offending a regime which had always been against any fundamental criticism. For me, and I think for Metodi too, there were no illusions. Of all the principles that any form of art can follow, the least valid is that which, in the words of the Bulgarian proverb, wants to have both ‘the wolf replete and the lamb intact’. Indeed all great literature, like all great art, has always been based on the principle of clear choice: either the wolf or the lamb.
The audience’s reaction exceeded our most optimistic expectations. The actor Partsalev was magnificent and the theatre echoed with laughter. But the funnier the first act became, the gloomier looked certain faces in the hall. During the interval a well-known colonel in the State Security pushed his way towards me.
‘Why have you written such a Czech play?’ he said.
I retorted that the play was Bulgarian and moved on.
The final curtain was greeted by enthusiastic applause from the audience. Outside on the pavement, my father, who had watched the performance, said to me: ‘This play will bring you nothing but trouble!’
I went to have lunch at the Russian club. Then one of my more important friends arrived. He took me aside and asked:
‘Are your passport and visa in order?’
‘Yes’, I replied.
‘Then I advise you to go immediately. I think you might find yourself in trouble tomorrow because of today’s performance and then you might not be able to travel. Stay away for a month or two—until it all blows over.’
I went home to pack some things. My father and mother saw me to the car. I told them that we would see each other again in a few weeks. And then I left. When I reached the ring-road, the clouds had cleared after a downpour of summer rain, and the sky above Vitosha and the lovely verdant landscape shone with sunlight. The car sped along the drying asphalt and everything around me seemed strange and inexpressible beautiful. Mercilessly beautiful. It was as if nature had decided to show me the priceless riches of a country that I was destined to lose. Perhaps men condemned to death meet the last sunrise with the same cruelly persistent feeling of seeing everything for the last time.
‘Look! You will never again set eyes on this land, this nature!’ cried a fierce voice within me.
Towards six-thirty I reached the frontier. All the railway and customs officials were huddled round the television set watching the World Cup match between Bulgaria and Poland. The officer on duty recognized me and very politely invited me to join them. I made some excuse about being in a hurry. Then, on the other side of the Yugoslav barrier, I stopped by a meadow. I looked back towards Bulgaria and it seemed to me that even its natural beauty sharpened the feeling of how unbearable it was to have to live the ugly life which I and many other like me were forced to endure. I felt that I could no longer bear the atmosphere in which I lived, the work I did, the relationships in which I found myself ensnared. I realized that for many years I had been unable to enjoy anything, that everything was not only poisoned in advance, but doomed to be poisoned by this sense of the unbearable. If you have entertained a certain idea of yourself, if you have imagined that you are one thing and discover that slowly but inexorably you are being turned into quite another, then the moment is likely to come when you want to smash either the mirror or your own head. In a purely moral sense, this was a feeling of two-fold treachery – towards others and towards myself. Quite apart from morals, it was a sense of an impasse.
Walking the Belgrade streets at night, I reflected that it was impossible for me to stay in Bulgaria and remain myself. That is why I cannot claim that mine was a case of political courage or integrity; it was merely a matter of my own sense of the unbearable. Had I possessed real national courage and integrity, its most logical expression would have been to remain in Bulgaria and to attempt to struggle there, as do far braver and more honest people than I.