The Chitalishte Network
The chitalishte (literally place to read) is one of the Bulgarian myths. The first chitalishte organisations in Svishtov, Lom and Shoumen are organised by patriotic and well to do Bulgarians in 1856. The chitalishte organisations are NGOs for culture and education, a form of civil society volunteers' association, aiming at modernizing of the Bulgarian commuunity through spiritual enlightment. In the middle of the XX century every settlement in Bulgaria has its own chitalishte.
Well organised and carefully supported more than a century, in the last 12 years the chitalishte network in the country went through challenges that uncovered parasitic forms of social commitment, that had been concealed for a long time. Today there are 3100 registered chitalishte organisations. It means that more than 1000 chitalishte organisations have not survived after 1989. Some of them have existed only in the books for decades. The demography factor, especially in little settlements, ruined not only schools but also age-old chitalishte organisations...
Since the end of 1989 a group of enthusiasts insisted to revive the Union of People's Chitalishte Organisations, that had been bluntly shut down in the 50-ties. In 1990 the union was restored, but the expectations for comitted activity were not justified. The second disappointment came from the Law for the People's Chitalishte urgently adopted in 1996. The most painful issues concerning ownership and subsidizing of the chitalishte were not resolved with determination. In many cases it led to contrariety between municipal authorities and the chitalishte boards and as a result it led to income decrease and diminished budgetary support.
At the moment approximately 80% of the financial resources of the chitalishte organisations are provided by municipal and state budgets. The funding provides only for modest saleries. There is almost no provision for any activity. Some of the reasons may be found also in the fact, that many chitalishte activists have been accustomed to the patronizing of the state for decades and today it is hard for them to step out of that shadow. Fundraising proposals for a "cultural product" did not prove to be a benefitial approach. Well mastered for decades "adopted helplessness" of the chitalishte organisations still drives many of them to appeal for a secure state financial support. (Only for comparison: in 1936 - 1937 more than 80% of the chitalishte network income had derived from own activities.)
At the beginning of 1997 the Ministry of Culture together with the UNDP launched a pilot project for the stimulation of citizens' participation and development in Bulgaria through increasing the role and activities of the chitalishte network. This program initially targetted 42 chitalishte organisations aiming at: "funding of projects through creating new activity models and practices and building up of innovative management skills". Some chitalishte projects received up to 20 000 USD for the implementation. The following stage of the program started at the begining of 2002. Already 300 chitalishte organisations are included. 25 Internet centres will be established. The ambition is to create sustainable and resourceful models for the development of the chitalishte network. 2 500 000 USD have been granted for the relization of that project in the coming years. If only the new models would not start working after such an investment, it would mean that the chitalishte times are gone for good...

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