March 2, 2016 by American College of Sofia
Petko Bocharov of the Class of 1938 passed away on March 2, 2016 at the age of 97. He was one of the most prominent graduates of the College to this day. After graduating from the College, he studied Law and started working as an English translator at the Bulgarian Telegraph Agency (BTA), and later became the Agency’s deputy editor-in-chief. He has often been called the doyen of Bulgarian journalism. He will be remembered for his bright mind and quick tongue. Rest in peace!
Below are all interviews – texts and videos – that various members of the ACS community have taken with the great journalist and human being Petko Bocharov over the last 7 years.
Petko Bocharov ’38 – 90 Years Old
Interview by Natalia Manolova
Just a few days before his 90th birthday, Petko Bocharov was kind enough to give an interview especially for the readers of the ACS Newsletter. Accompanied by Valentin Izmirliev, a friend of Mr. Bocharov and originator of his anniversary celebrations, I was welcomed by the journalist in his cozy home. In the beginning of the meeting, our conversation was interrupted several times by various journalists and friends calling to schedule interview meetings and to find out details regarding his upcoming anniversary celebration. Naturally, this urged me to ask:
Mr. Bocharov, you are a famous journalist and, as such, you are usually the one who writes about things in life around us. Now, in relation to your anniversary, you are in the center of media attention. How does it feel?
I could not hide that all this attention is flattering – this is only a natural human emotion. On the other hand, I do confess that I am both surprised and touched. This attention makes one feel deeply touched. As it turned out, many people that I expected to be reserved and aloof towards me are actually friendly and full of good intentions. For example, I have a friend who has been a chief editor of Pogled and Duma newspapers. We have always been friends, but he has often told me: “You should only know how angry you have managed to make me while I was listening to you talk!” Yes, I made him angry, and he is still my friend. Obviously, I have made many people angry. And not only have they not started to hate me, but many of them will come to my anniversary on February 19, and I believe that they will do it with good feelings and good wishes.
How could you explain this? Is it because you always say what you think?
I dare say that, at least as far as my own opinion is concerned, I have always said the truth. I work in the genre of journalist commentary. In this genre, there is no objectivity, and what people say when they suggest that one be objective is not true. When, for example, information is being given, objectivity concerns the facts. And still – the one who gives the facts chooses what to say, how to give them, what information to make known and what to keep out of discussion. Analysis is a matter of personal opinion, so here we have 100% subjectivity. All that I have said and written is my own opinion, and I do not regret a single word. And still, people treat me with kindness and respect. This makes me glad because it shows that we grow and develop – this is valid for our culture, as well.
At age 90, you continue to write. Where do you find the motivation for work?
It is difficult to formulate this, but let’s put it this way: if your profession was such that you needed to follow global events for 30 years and then had to do the same as a freelancer for another 20 years, no doubt there would remain in you an unceasing desire to see what is going on, how, and why. Maybe there is inertia at the moment, as well, but that’s not all. Recently, a journalist asked me what quality I find to be my most valuable one. I answered that it was curiosity – I am very curious indeed. I am curious about everything happening here and throughout the world.
What’s your recipe for longevity?
There is no such recipe. There is God, and there are genes. I don’t do sports, I don’t keep diets, I even drink rakia with my wife sometimes. (laughing)
You graduated the College in 1938. What feelings does the school call within you?
Great gratitude! This is the place where I first encountered new principles and values that I started to compare trying to evaluate which ones to accept and which ones not. Let us also keep in mind that I was a student in a period which happened to be very interesting. It was the time of culmination of fascism in Europe and nothing could remain unresponsive to the epidemic. Even among the students, there was gossip about hatred towards U.S. democracy. This was a turbulent time of tendencies and ideas. For myself, I formed my worldview throughout my stay at the College. The major influences for me were the atmosphere and the teachers.
Which teachers do you remember well?
I remember Miss Stewart. She was not my teacher but was an advisor of the drama club. In my senior year, I was the president of the Dramatic Association, and at that time this was a very important position because the boy who had it was very popular at school. We prepared two shows yearly: once we presented three single-act plays, the second time we presented another play with three acts. Miss Stewart was not only a representative of the administration in the club but also worked as a director and chose the plays.
And how would you describe Dr. Floyd Black?
He was extremely authoritative. This says it all. We had a very interesting tradition. In the dining hall, the tables of the boys and the girls were placed in the two ends of the room where we dined with our teachers. In the middle was Dr. Black’s round table, with 10-12 people. For a week, every senior had lunch and dinner with Mr. Black and his wife – this was a really exciting moment for us.
What is the best memory that you hold from the years spent at the College?
They are two. One of them was when I received my diploma. The second one was when a girl paid attention to me – I was in eighth grade, she was in the ninth. She even wrote a love letter to me (at the time, girls and boys did not study together, and we were forbidden to communicate with each other – the only way was to write letters and notes). This girl had very interesting eyes – they had a hint of yellow, like the eyes of a cat. Even in the Yearbook of my class, next to my picture there is a text saying, among other things, that I was very fond of domestic animals – especially cats.
And what is your worst memory?
I was punished with 50 hours of labor. Well, again because of the girl with the cat’s eyes. I jumped over the College’s fence and walked 6 km to Sofia through some fields so that we could meet. Yes, but the teachers found out that I had escaped and punished me with 50 hours of labor. Every person chose what to do in order to work. For example, if you dug a pine-tree hole, this work counted as two hours. We have planted many pines – here is how we have the wonderful parks around the College. (laughing)
After the reopening of the College in 1992, there have been more than 1200 students that have taken their diplomas. This year, the thirteenth class is about to graduate. What would you like to wish to our seniors?
My best guess is that these young people have received advice from all around them. This is a favorite pastime of adults – to give advice. I would like, in contrast, to draw their attention to some truths. Don’t expect that things will happen as you planned. In life one must be psychologically ready for all kinds of turns. And what your life will be like depends solely on you. Many people desire riches, but rich people are not always the happiest. It is true that not everything can be bought. Yes, money is important, it can help you have a better life, but it is not everything. Now many young people go abroad – they have to be careful and to think well about whether or not to emigrate. Maximum two or three out of 1000 will succeed, and the other 997 will never have comfortable ground under their feet.
I would like to add something that comes from experience – one must see things as they are and not be dishonest and create illusions for oneself. Making compromises is unavoidable. In order to survive, you have to make compromises. Everyone creates their own destiny. The question is whether you will manage to be in peace with yourself while doing so.
A day before his 91st birthday on February 19th, 2010, prominent Bulgarian journalist and College alumnus Petko Bocharov ’38 presented his book “Sights from three Bulgarias” (Janet-45) to journalists and friends at the Press Club of BTA. In the book he combines his memoirs with documentary pictures of Bulgaria’s history during the three regimes his life passes through. Below some excerpts from the chapter dedicated to the College, translated by Petia Ivanova ’97.
From “Sights from Three Bulgarias”
…In 1932 I was just a boy that was supposed to get in a proper high school. My brother was already studying at the American College of Sofia and the school had recently been moved from the town of Samokov to the village of Simeonovo near Sofia. My friends, classmates, and I were very surprised to find out that my father had decided to enroll me in the College, as well. I was surprised mainly because the tuition fee was very high and there was my brother’s tuition to take care of for another three years. Adding six more tuition fees for me amounted for an overwhelming sum indeed. But my father’s mind was made up and he had obviously decided he could afford this. I had often thought that had he not saved this money for his sons’ education and bought a store or two instead, I could now live off the property’s rent and really take it easy. But he was reasoning in a different way and as a result I could become a journalist just because of my command of the English language.
…Drama performances and debates had a special place within the extra-curricular activities at the College. Two associations staged plays at the school. One of them was Развитие staging plays in Bulgarian and the other one – Dramatic Association – staged in English. It took months to prepare a show, starting off with auditions for the parts, choosing a director and technical staff, every one of those being a student, including the scenographer, the lighting man, and the costume designer. There was just one advisor from the school administration. He was expressing his opinion but did not interfere with our decisions.
Throughout the school year Dramatic Association had two Saturdays at their disposal to perform their plays. One was designated for three one-act plays, the other one – for one full-length play. Only students in their third or fourth year at the College could take part in the one-act plays. Auditions were held early in the fall. A main part in one of those brought the actor three points; a smaller part – one or two points. Only fifth- and last-year students could participate in the full-length play. The main part in that one brought six points to the actor. Becoming a member of Dramatic required six points, as well. And it figures how hard it was to actually gather those.
Needless to explain in detail what popularity on the other side of “no man’s land”¹ the one who got in Dramatic enjoyed.
…A short while back I was up on Vitosha, just above Simeonovo. Sofia was lying down at my feet with its west and north residential districts sunken in haze, its downtown area boasting its shiny Alexander Nevski Cathedral dome, while the lined-up little boxes of the Mladost and Drujba blocs stood out in the distance. And in the middle of all this – the green oasis of the College. Actually, one could only see the roofs or part of them as they were shadowed by the lush heads of the trees. The old-time water tower had disappeared amidst a ring of exuberant pine-tree forest. The tall brick chimney of the heating station was also hidden in overgrowth.
And all of a sudden I was amused as I realized that not one or two, but darn many of those lush trees and dark-green pines wouldn’t be there if I went to a different high school. It was I, who planted those trees with my own hands. Why and how you may ask. I’ll tell you. I planted them as part of my punishment. Today’s impressive forest is the result of the old-time system of punishing student offence.²
…In 2010 the College celebrates its 150th anniversary! There’s no capital city that wouldn’t take pride in such a pearl in its crown. …This school’s fame should spread everywhere and Bulgaria’s political leaders should take care of that. Bulgaria can solely profit from the international prestige of an international school that has existed on our territory for 150 years!
¹ part of the school campus that separated the girls’ from the boys’ buildings and where no student was allowed to tread
² Petko Bocharov was punished for leaving the school’s premises – the hardest offence at the time, followed by smoking
This material was first published in June 2010 as part of the ACS Alumni Magazine.
Senior Antonia Malinova ’11 interviewed Petko Bocharov in connection to the 150th anniversary of the College.
Mr. Bocharov, what does this 150th anniversary mean to you?
It means a lot to me. After all, this is the oldest American school outside the United States. We should be really happy about this anniversary and brag about it as much as possible. It is a great honor to have a school with such rich traditions on our territory.
What were the reasons that made you choose to study at ACS?
There were no reasons; it was my father’s decision to go there. I wasn’t particularly happy at the beginning, because all of my classmates went to other high schools and I was separated from my friends. But you know how it is: I went to a new place and made new friends.
Did you go back home often?
No! Those were six years in which there was a boys’ weekend and a girls’ weekend. Boys and girls never went to Sofia at the same time. The biggest punishment was given for going out of the college (“out of bounds”), with no permission: 50 hours of community work.
Was there an entrance exam?
No. At the time, there were no entrance exams even for universities. Everything was left to “natural selection”. Actually, many people signed up for universities, but most of the people would drop out during the first year. I think that should be the practice now, too.
If you could go back in time, would you choose to study at the College again? Why? Would you like to do something differently?
No, I wouldn’t do it differently. If the conditions were the same, I would have gone back. This is a very famous school and that is not only because of its academic excellence. It is also due to its extracurricular activities. This is the biggest strength of the College. It was full of interesting clubs created by the students. They all play a big part in creating the atmosphere of the College, in building the personality of the students. You get used to relying on yourself, not on your parents. You have the chance to develop yourself on your own. During my time, when you came to class, the teacher would first quiz the students for the first period, and then he would start teaching the new material. So, by the end of the semester everybody had a grade for every school day of the semester. The teacher would calculate the average of these grades for each student.
What clubs were you in?
I was one of the most popular students because I was the president of the Dramatic Association. This was the club for American Drama. There was another club, called Развитие, which played Bulgarian plays. The Dramatic Association would present a play on two dates during the year: one was for three one-act plays, and on the other date we would present one longer play (with three acts). The entire production – costumes, lights, technical arrangements, etc. – was done by the students. There was only one teacher, Mrs. Stewart – whom all of the boys were in love with, who was an adviser.
What plays did you perform on stage?
The play that made me a celebrity was Drugar. I don’t remember the author, but the story was about a Russian prince and his beautiful bride who left the USSR and worked as servants in the home of a French nouveau riche. I played the son of the French man, who was in love with the Russian princess.
What did the College give you that you think was crucial for your future life? How did the College influence your personal development?
You know, I can’t even express how much the College has given me. It gave me a lot. The most important quality I acquired there was tolerance for the opinions of others. However, I learned not to tolerate crimes against human rights; I learned not to accept the idolizing of a single person – the so-called personality cult. I also learned how to work with language and how to abide by its cultural rules. I notice you, for instance, talk way too fast. At the College, we studied public speaking, intonation, and techniques of speech. I get very angry whenever I hear people who can’t talk properly on TV. Their language is their most important tool and since it is damaged, they produce nothing effective. The study of speech is totally neglected in Bulgaria.
The College formed the personalities of its students. Many of my contemporaries from other schools said that we, the graduates from ACS, are different from them. I owe my personality, to a large degree, to this school.
What about the traditions in the College? What did you do at the first day of school and then at graduation?
We didn’t do anything special, we just stared at each other, amazed by the physical changes we’d seen in one another. For example, I looked like a small kid until 8th grade (junior year). My classmates were very protective of me, because I was so small. At the beginning of 8th grade, however, they couldn’t recognize me.
The graduation ceremony wasn’t that official, either, as it is now. There weren’t any caps or gowns. They just gave us the diplomas at the Assembly Hall and let us go.
What did you do during the summers?
I spent it mostly with my family.
Did the College organize some events in other countries?
Only once in my time: in 1936 some of us traveled to the Olympic games in Berlin. During the long jump competition, the battle was between an American and a German. The first to jump was the German athlete and the whole stadium sang the German hymn. After, that the American managed to jump a longer distance and the stadium was silent, except for me screaming at the top of my lungs. Then, the German jumped again: a better distance than the American and the Germans were ecstatic again. At the end, the American athlete proved to be better and set a world record. And I was really happy!!!
How did you celebrate special events such as Christmas or Halloween? Which tradition was your favorite?
I don’t actually remember, so the celebrations probably weren’t very big: otherwise, I would have remembered them. A tradition I do remember however, was a sports competition at the end of the school year. They would also choose a Homecoming queen, who had to award the medals.
A very interesting thing was also the competition organized by the Debate Club. The teams consisted of 3 people. First, there were rivalries within the teams of boys and within the girls’ teams. After that, the final contest was between the boys wining team and the girls wining team. The topics were political: is Ethiopia’s invasion by Mussolini justifiable, for example. The two winning teams had a month for preparation before the final debate. The judge of the competition was the President and the jury consisted of visitors from Sofia (not only parents, but also politicians). Finally, the president bestowed the cup to the winning team. It was very magnificent and official.
Do you still keep in touch with your friends from the College?
Unfortunately, I am the only one alive from the boys of the Class of ’38. I used to keep in touch with my friends. There might be some people who don’t live in Bulgaria, but I don’t know them and some of the girls probably I don’t keep in touch with them.
Where would you advise the ACS students to go to university? Why?
Well, this depends mostly on the family’s economy. A quality education costs a lot everywhere. However, it is very important and gives a great start in life.
Would you study abroad, if you could?
Yes, of course, but I didn’t have the chance: the war started in September, 1939.
Based on to your experience, is there something you would like to change about the College?
Yes: I would like to make the College a boarding school again. It has its traditions and it has already proven to be the best school in Bulgaria.
What’s your favorite place on the College campus?
The swimming pool, because I dug it out myself. We did this kind of community work as punishment. There was a bulletin board with the names of the “criminals” and how many hours of community work they had to do. You had to do at least two hours a day if you were punished. The biggest crime was leaving campus without permission which cost 50 hours of community work. The second biggest was smoking: 30 hours community work. Once, in junior year, one girl asked me out and I went out of school to Sofia to see her. However, when I got back I realized the supervisor knew I was gone. I moved coals for community work and I also planted trees for two hours: mind you, the hole for each tree had to be 80 cm by 80 cm.
Do you have a message for the current ACS students?
They should know that what their parents are telling them about education being so important is very true. And they might just realize it is true when it is too late. Furthermore, they should know that a foreigner will always stay a foreigner. Your roots are here and this country needs well-educated intelligent people.
This material was first published in December 2010 as part of the ACS Alumni Magazine.
December 2012: ACS alumna Petya Dikova ’03, a second generation journalist interviews Mr. Bocahrov ’38 and fellow alumna Leda Mileva ’38 in this following touching video. Ms. Mileva passed away 3 months later on her 95th birthday.
March 2014: ACS students interview Mr. Bocharov for College Life in the following video: