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CONDEMNED TO LIFE: essay for documentary film

CONDEMNED TO LIFE: essay for documentary film
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Оригиналът на български виж ТУК

Written by: SPINTY
Translation: Neil Scarth

ТO BE AWAKE when the whole world falls asleep deceived
ТO BE BRAVE when mortal fear with utter power reigns
ТO BE STRONG when ignorance in condescension mocks
АND TO FORGIVE when your shore is visited by foes
Then invincible will be your hand
and by your side the people’s destiny will have
its trusty, well-paved path!

~ Vaklush Tolev ~

VAKLUSH TOLEV, renowned as the Teacher of Wisdom, is a theologian by education, a social activist, lecturer and the author of a host of works with a religious/philosophical and cultural/historical subject matter, amongst which ‘The History and Theory of Religions’ in three volumes, ‘The Spiritual Gifts of Bulgaria’ in two volumes, ‘The Seven Rays of Evolution’, ‘An Uncovenanted Testament’ and others as well as the magazine, ‘Nur’, consisting entirely of original material. His original standpoints, historical interpretation and analyses go to make up an independent doctrine, which he calls The Way of Wisdom, a manifestation of a new Spiritual Wave of Wisdom which is emerging in the life of the planet. In terms of humanity as a whole Vaklush Tolev alerted the UN-affiliated Commission on Human Rights to the need to include an additional clause in the Human Rights Charter with which to defend the rights of the soul. It is the human being that is sacred and not the institution! – says the theologian, thus highlighting the right to and justification for changes in the laws of the Institution. The request for a new clause includes the abolition of ex-communication in all religions and the removal of the concept of ‘enemy’ from the social relations of people. Humanity is now entering the third millennium with a new periodic table of morals: there is no evil, there is non-evolved good; there is no enemy, there are only fellow gods in evolution, maintains Vaklush Tolev, envisaging that in the Third Millennium conflict will only be internal (with ourselves) and that it will proceed until the total victory of the conscience.
He was born in the dim and distant year of 1923, on the 7th of January, Christ’s Nativity by the old calendar, and passed on at the age of 90. After the 9th of September 1944 he was made to face the People’s Tribune because of his views and officerial rank in the Royal Bulgarian Army. He was sentenced to death, but he was destined to spend almost all of the next 12 years being tossed about from prison to prison: Plovdiv, Pazardzhik, Kardzhali, Shumen, Belene, Varna: his case was filed under ‘impossible to reform’ and he was shifted from one place to another. Since Vaklush himself has always stressed that a person’s biography is not what’s important but rather the set of characteristics he is able to develop in himself, we’ve chosen as a means of presenting him an essay in the form of an idea for a documentary film dedicated to different periods in the life of Vaklush Tolev and in it we envisage him being presented precisely in the light of his personal characteristics.

CONDEMNED TO LIFE

А high-angle shot of the circle of prisoners. A hundred silhouettes of prisoners move round in a circle in a clockwise direction. This is the place in the prison where you can exchange, ‘undisturbed’, your ideas, can hold a conversation. Only one young man is walking in the opposite direction – this is our hero. From time to time, someone breaks off from the common flow, slows their pace and sets off alongside him.
The story we narrate here in five conceptual brushstrokes condenses the story of Vaklush Tolev, who now remains forever with us, a witness in life of benightedness, the true era of ‘the nation’s enemies’. Our hero was only 21 years of age when he was condemned to death. Life, however, was to allot him almost whole 12 years of existence in prisons and political camps instead. Reminiscent of the Bible, where the young Jesus amazes the elders in the temple, grown men of 40-50 years of age from the oppressed cultural and political elite drew up a rota to decide whose turn it was to accompany this young man round the circle of prisoners.
As every form has its equivalent of a spinal column, so the mainstay here turns out to be the above-mentioned verse, the fruit of the tree of a vast quantity of experience. The five phrases contain the conception of an active alertness, of a reined-in courage, of a strength which is able to forgive, and of a wisdom which through its insights marks out paths for the future.

SCENE 1
Mid-shot of Vaklush Tolev, who supports his forehead with his hand in thought, almost revealing his face. A voiceover in his own voice describes the characteristics of the Bulgarian national spirit in aphoristic terms. In the study he wrote about the God/Sky1 Tang Ra, he maintains that ‘the Bulgarian people is the only people on the planet which cannot live even for a moment without the Sky’ – the Sky, which is the embodiment and repository of the national spirit of peoples.
An image of a flock of clouds. The camera zooms smoothly out away from them. The calm in the image disappears as the voice behind the scenes returns us to the time when communism was on the rise, with the humiliation of a people forced to sing a song of praise while mediocrity occupied the Ministries and the intelligentsia had to wear the stripes of the chain-gang.
The clouds change their direction – they start to approach threateningly. The sky of blithe blue is gradually contaminated by bloody red. Lightning crashes, and this makes the transition to black and white archive material of a sky in alarm. The archive footage of portraits of human faces takes us to the era of ‘nation’s enemies’. A mix of black and white photos add touch upon touch, bearing witness to the years of darkness brewing. The middle of the previous century, when civilian life is in the uniform of the Utopia of Class, whilst the prisons prepare to receive their ‘visitors of high-standing’. An echo of propaganda speeches, processions, parades… The poles lose their magnetism, while the compasses for human bearings of good and evil have lost their needles. It’s ‘calm’ but full of noise. It’s ‘joyful’ but a funeral bell can be heard. A rain too will fall to wash away the crime. It will pass into hail, here and there we see the large falling hailstones turn a shade of red. Lumps of ice strike the bell – they cause it to move, but instead of a sound, we hear: ‘TO BE AWAKE when the whole world falls asleep deceived.’

SCENE 2
The silhouette of a young man, scorched from so much light, wanders as if in a labyrinth along the corridors of the courthouse. Our character, in a close-up shot, recounts the charge against him and his sentence. The court declares the defendant guilty, ‘an enemy of the nation’. The sentence is ‘DEATH’ and for the admonition of others, they have, as they do from time to time, switched on the loudspeakers in the hall. The accusers think that the defendant is already crushed by their sentence, but, to their horror, as he exercises the right to some last words, the loudspeakers boom: ‘A principled struggle against communism until its total annihilation!’ The temptation is not long in coming: ‘You are too insolent for us to kill. We’ll keep hold of you until we break you.’
A subjective re-enactment of the time of the courtroom trial is conducted. The halls are empty, the corridors too. It’s not a wandering ghost, but a real person who appears once again in the corridors of memories, our current narrator, once condemned to death. Sounds convey the bygone reality in the deserted space. It’s as if they are all there in the hall – the accusers and the accused. They give him the floor. Unperturbed boldness booms out: ‘A principled struggle against communism until its total annihilation!’ The sound takes us back to the corridors where the loudspeakers blare from the ceilings. The hero once again appears in the corridor as he moves away into the distance, seen from behind. A jump-cut with the clattering of icy pieces on glass takes us back to the courtroom, where the windows are opened by the power of the storm. Completely red by now, the ice beats against the windows and enters the room. The wind’s force makes the judge’s gavel slide along the tabletop. There, where it stops, it goes out of focus and behind it the empty chair of the judge comes into focus. Amidst the stream of his narrative, Vaklush Tolev says: ‘TO BE BRAVE when mortal fear with utter power reigns.’

Vaklush-Tolev_19990318-mini

SCENE 3
A downpour of red hail: on the windows, on the courtyards, on the heads of the helpless passers-by. It’s everywhere; it’s a calamity from which you can’t hide. On the streets red torrents from the melting ice flow down. The transition from the previous scene to a close-up of our hero takes place with a very slow double exposure: a black and white shot of the red-flowing watery stream. This is followed by the story of his years in prisons and camps. The circle of prisoners from the first episode appears briefly, when he recounts the situation where a zealous new overseer tries to force him to walk in the same direction as the flow of prisoners. After several attempts to get him to obey, the overseer, flogging a dead horse, by now baffled and ready to go to extremes, declaims in warning that: ‘If you play with fire, you’re going to get burnt!’ Our character’s answer is once again an audacious retort: ‘He who is fire does not fear the flame!’
He tells us of his dozens of poems and plays, written on cigarette paper. He tells us how, at his last stop on the line, Varna, he burnt almost everything on the bonfire of the past before he got out. In this way he cleared a space in his soul for the future to come. He explains his peculiar statement to us that prison for him had been Heaven’s way of caring for him, employing social repression rather than suffering and thus highlighting his theory that ‘there is no suffering, only development’.
He shares his judgement of ‘the calamity named ignorance’, making a distinction between the behaviour of the truly ignorant man and that of the one who simply doesn’t know, the illiterate. The visual scene is from the place where he lived, his house in the village of Popovitsa in the Plovdiv region. We get to witness our hero’s ordinary everyday activities.
Since ignorance belongs to no one group in particular, it can be encountered everywhere. For this reason, the linking of it to any specific figure has deliberately been avoided. We end the scene with a shot of our hero’s prayer before supper. In the voiceover, Vaklush Tolev himself is heard to say: ‘TO BE STRONG when ignorance in condescension mocks.’

SCENE 4
A storeroom bursting at the seams with cardboard folders. A table on which some of these same folders have been casually piled up. A draught starts to blow through the room, sheets of paper start to waft around. The uppermost folder falls down. We read the police file with the classification: ‘IMPOSSIBLE TO REFORM’.
Despite being someone ‘IMPOSSIBLE TO REFORM’ and an ‘enemy of the nation’, he manages to graduate in theology in the only autonomous Divinity Faculty in existence at the time. He completed the educational cycle normally lasting several years in only 18 months. This is nothing to wonder at, if we consider the extraordinary qualities he demonstrated throughout the course of his whole life.
Walking amongst the library shelves, he explains about the time after his graduation during which he was a librarian at the Plovdiv Bishop’s Residence. He reaches one of the bookcases and takes out a book from it. This is the original of the priceless History of Caesar Baronius, which is the single copy extant in Bulgaria and there being only a few in the world at large. He talks about his work in the Bishop’s Palace and of the first exhibition of icons in Bulgaria, which he had organized in ‘THAT era’. There are some archive materials in existence about the opening of the exhibition in the crypt of Alexander Nevski Cathedral which will confirm the procession of particularly valuable icon exhibits. Documentary footage is mixed in with actual images of the hero himself during his presence in the crypt.
Maybe the inner paths he had trodden in the prisons and his encounter with theology are the labyrinth of Daedalus in which his idea of wings was born. And it’s right here that he presents to us the proposal that he submitted to the U.N. concerning an amendment to the Charter of Human Rights so that it contains a new clause for the protection of the soul, so that the soul cannot be damned to ex-communication by any religion and for the concept of ‘enemy’ to be removed from the civil and penal code. ‘You can have an opponent but not an enemy, because enmity is the damnation of someone in social terms,’ says our hero. The problem is a matter of human dignity, which has given birth not to malice and vengefulness but, on the contrary, to wisdom which seeks to bear responsibility and calls for a conscience. This is a virtue which has been put into practice and not just the profession of one which has not had its mettle tested in the fire of life.
The series of iconic images of Christ in the crypt are the conclusion of the episode and it’s accompanied by His words: ‘Fear not those who slay your body, fear those who slay your soul!’ Thus two errors committed against the human being emerge into the idea of a lesser degree of denial. The first is towards the tangible bodily aspect: a freeing from hostility in one’s social sphere. And the second is towards the intangible, towards the soul: a freeing from spiritual damnation.
Behind the scenes the words sound out: ‘AND TO FORGIVE when your shore is visited by foes.’

SCENE 5
A narrow mountain path. A view from the Rhodope Mountain Range. Vaklush Tolev is at the head of a long column of people. He is leading them to a special locality, the Cliffs of Orpheus. There he will tell them of his insights into the future of Bulgaria, of humanity and the world. He ends with the final line of the verse: ‘Then invincible will be your hand and by your side people’s destiny will have its trusty, well-paved path!’

Documentary “Way of Wisdom”, broadcasted by BNT once again on
Jan. 2018 in connection with the 95th anniversary of Vaklush Tolev’s birth

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