“For millennia, the people of the Mesta Valley have lived in an intimate relationship with their environment. My enquiry is into the nature of this relationship as it survives today, after a succession of generational mass traumas in the 20th century: political persecution, economic upheaval in the wake of the collapse of the Communist economy, partial environmental degradation in the past thirty years, mass emigration due to unemployment and endemic state corruption and misuse of power, climate change, and a dramatic generational shift from a traditional, agricultural way of life towards a globalised, digitalised, and uprooted way of life. Even so, an interesting phenomenon can be observed in the Pomaks villages here: permanent emigration is very rare. These communities are held to the land by invisible factors that cannot be accounted for by pure economics.
The villages in the Mesta Valley are remarkable for several things: their exceptionally rich biosphere where some of Europe’s cleanest foods, animals, and medicinal herbs thrive; their historic cultural and religious syncretism; their existential endurance in the face of repeated trauma, and the fact that they export the greatest amount of cheap seasonal labour to Western Europe – the fruit pickers, planters, and builders on whom the wealthier European economies depend.
Within this specific local context, I will be asking some urgent questions about inequality and double standards in Europe, and just what this says about the much-vaunted European values today. Further questions will be: what are the connections between environmental health, human health, cultural syncretism and its relationship to tolerance, and is there such a thing as a modern European quasi-slave labour market? What can the lives of these remarkable people tell us tell us about the present and future of Europe?“