For the 28th time the annual international kukeri festival “Surva” took place in Pernik, and continued from Feb. 1-3. The festival attracted 94 groups and over 6 thousand masked members, making it the biggest one so far. Ten of the groups were international and 84 from Bulgaria. The audience saw participants from Slovenia, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Spain, Palestine, Aruba, Indonesia, Greece, and Albania.
There was also a big variety of the costumes people wore. The costumes were either made by animal skins or by fabrics. Costumes that resembled animals and mythical beings were made by animal skins.
There were dragons, werewolves, wolves and bears. In order to complete some costumes more than one person was needed. There were costumes which represented the traditional farm, without using any new technologies. People were dressed as an old man and his wife and another two people as the donkey pulled the sled used long time ago to harvest. The audience attention was also captured by a person with Gadulka, a traditional Bulgarian bowed string instrument, and his bear tied on a leash. Many costumes also include big bells, so when the people dance, they ring.
The cotton costumes represented more abstract beings like the phoenix. The participants dressed with that kind of costumes were mostly from the international groups.
“We go to many festivals like this one. We’ve been to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain,” said Iovana and Mija from the Montenegrin group. They have a special team which makes all the clothing. “It takes one to three months for the costumes.” Iovana was dressed in red dress with a red mask. “My costume represents friendship and happiness. We also change the theme of clothing every year,” she said.
The costumes in Bulgaria are mostly made by animal skins. “Animals are not specially slaughtered for the skin,” said Ivan Getsov, 42, participant in the group from Kliuch(Key) village, Petrich municipality.
The meaning of the festival is to chase evil spirits from people’s hearts. Before becoming such an event it was just a tradition. Now, it is a tradition and a festival in Bulgaria. Valeri Stoilov, a repoter for the Informational Culture Center in Pernik, explained that there are three unofficial stages of the festival. “They are unofficial, because no one is obliged to participate in all of them. Usually the first stage is at the beginning of the year in small villages. There people go out with costumes and perform the tradition and have fun while doing it. Then, in the second stage volunteers from the villages go to the regional cities and join the participants there. The third, biggest, and final stage is here in Pernik. People from all over the world and the country gather here for the final stage do the festival,” said Valeri Stoilov. “Participants love the festival. They have it in them. I just love watching it. My daughter, Anastasia Stoilova, was born here in Pernik and she is a participant every year. This year she has a cold, but this cannot stop her from participating,” said Valeri.
All the groups were competing for symbolic prizes. The total prizes awarded this year were in 17 categories. Some of them are for continuing the national tradition, awards for most attractive groups, awards for costumes. There are also individual awards like the Award for individual mask and the Award for soldier. All the awards are in three sub-categories – Gold Mask, Silver Mask, and Bronze Mask. Because of the hard-decision for winners in every category, there are also two or three Bronze Mask awards in some categories.
There is no age limit for the participants.
“I have participated since I was a child. And this year, my 8 year old son, Atanas Getsov, is also a participant. He is dressed like a wolf,” said Ivan Getsov.
Along with the lively atmosphere, people also enjoyed plentiful meals and candies the festival offered. There were the traditional meatballs and kebabches. They were accompanied by deserts, Turkish lokum, candies, doughnuts and cookies.
There were also many souvenirs. Most of them were handmade by their sellers.
“My sister, Elena Boyanova, and me made all the souvenirs I am selling. We receive help from our children and grandchildren. We produce everything from natural materials. We have dolls from corn, we use sunflower seed and beans for eyes and teeth. We also teach children how to make souvenirs. We weave and sew traditional Bulgarian clothing. We go around whole Bulgaria. We have been also in Switzerland and Serbia, in order to sell our handmade gifts. Holidays like this one charge us with positive emotions.” said Magelina Boyanova. She was also dressed in a costume made and decorated by herself.
The biggest gift the festival received this year is the unique collection of medals and awards of the president of the foundation of Federal European Carnivals cities, Henry Van der Kroon. The collection includes 148 medals, which Kroon received during the last 30 years from different carnivals around the world and Europe. The awards were exposed on a exhibition in Hotel Struma.
“I am happy to give the city my medals as a recognition of the wonderful deed which Pernik makes every year, in order to preserve it’s cultural heritage,” said Henry Van der Kroon.
“We’ve always seen the festival as a tourist attraction and a way to show our traditions,” said Rositsa Yanakieva, mayor of Pernik.
This year the festival also applied for the World Heritage of UNESCO.
“This and next year, our big ambition is to ‘build a road’ to establish the festival as part of the World Heritage of UNESCO. We are in a procedure to fill all the documents. We play according to the rules and we hope that this will help us with our nomination. But, still the most important thing for us is to preserve the tradition of Surva,” said Yanakieva.
P.S.: This is an article I wrote for my Writing and Reporting class. A short video and photos coming soon.