by Emilia Karaboeva
It's not unusual in Bulgaria these days to hear foreigners asking: Are all these people, with their faces posted all over the streets, wanted by the police? The truth is that these names and faces, watching us from every street corner, trees or lamp posts, belong not to the criminals but to deceased people. By which answer this fact in not less impressive.
The impressive thing for Bulgarians in this anecdote story is something else - that for them it's natural to live watched by the dead, while for the strangers it's at least exotic behavior.
The 'Necrolog' - term used in Bulgaria for printed death notices - is usually white sheet of paper in form generally known as A4 (8.26 high/11.68 inches wide) with printed black and white text composed in certain shape. (see Appendix - scanimage64)
Text announces someone’s death or burial (when title is 'Sad News', 'Farewell', 'Last Goodbye', 'Died...') or memorial service (when title is 'Remembrance', 'Sad memorial service', ' Sorrow' etc.)
Excerpt the title necrolog contents:
- The Holy Cross or other symbol that represents religious affiliation of the dead person;
- the name of the deceased person (sometimes just his/her first name or nickname or diminutive);
- text by the authors (which is from few words to few paragraphs long, sometimes in poems) placed under the name. Text is addressed to the deceased one, speaks in person to the dead man explaining the sorrow of the kin and how they suffer. Sometimes the obit’s text includes information on events that happened after the death of the man - the baby was born to the family, death of another member of the family that followed, building of a home, etc.
- without the case of the very first necrolog (the actual notification about the persons' death) in most cases the following necrologs contain the picture/photo (sometimes color one and almost always the head picture from the ID/passport);
- in some cases, depending on author’s wish, necrolog includes additional information for the deceased man - the reason for the death, his/her birthdate and deathdate, his/her job occupation, number of his/her social roles and explaining the relation to the surviving kin;
- message for the date, hour and the place of the burial ceremony or memorial service and invitation to all relatives, friends and people who knew him/her to join the service;
- at the bottom are placed the authors of the necrolog. They can be summarized simply by the word 'The suffering ones', but there can be detailed explanation of the kinship, some first names or there can even be no authors at all;
- with the very small font on many necrologs we can find a short advertising of the company that produces them but this element is not a basic one in the structure of the necrolog.
Nercolog is issued right after someone’s death, usually by the closest kin, but quite often by friends, colleagues, class-mates or even by institutions. The sex, social or economic status of the deceased is not a driving force behind this. The only difference is that necrologs with more biographical data and printed in larger forms belong to famous personalities like people from politics, culture etc. These are issued by the institutions. The necrologs issued for the same deceased people by private kin/friends follow the traditional form.
After the first necrolog the same dead person is remembered by the following ones after 40 days, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 18 months and then every next year with the last 'frontier' dependent on the fact are there any living people that still remember the deceased one. During my research on the event I registered 60 years as the longest period after the death of an 'ordinary' Bulgarian remembered with the street necrolog and 65 years - with the obit published in the newspaper.
The rhythm of the issuing follows the 'individual rite time' of the deceased person that - as it is prescribed by the Orthodox Christian tradition - begins with his/her death. Necrologs are posted on the entrance door of the deceased's house, on the church building, at the graveyard and on the places related to his/her life. They can mailed to relatives or friends too.
The same necrologs - usually reprinted by the original - are published in local newspapers with biggest circulation in Bulgaria. But we have to point out that - even after dailies offer sometimes 2 to 3 pages for this - printed ones are much more less in numbers than the street ones.(see Appendix, v. 24 chasa, 21 September 2002 - DeathNotice_3) To some extent this is related to the press restrictions imposed by the communist regime during 1944-1989 period. But 'newspaper' necrologs tradition was revived 12 years ago and even though street necrologs totally dominate the culture.
And it is really a total domination of a mass event because it affects everyone living in Bulgaria without relation to his/her nationality or religious affiliation. In fact every ethnic Bulgarian is remembered after his/her death with necrolog (almost without exception they all are Orthodox Christians) we can find necrologs for ethnic Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Muslim-Bulgarians, Germans, French and others that sometimes didn't even live in the country but have relatives in Bulgaria. Muslim Bulgarians stopped issuing necrologs after the fall of communist dictatorship because their religion prohibits this. Even though we can still find today street necrologs issued by the Muslims on the Balkans - good example is Kosovo, located in neighboring Southern Serbia with over 90% Muslim population.
Thousands and thousands of necrologs can be seen all over the cities and villages of Bulgaria - they are posted on the doors, building walls, message boards, bus stops. street lamp posts, trees (even in the parks - see Appendix - Image011.jpg) For Bulgarians the necrolog is such a common event - they are so much used to them, that it's part of the street face, element of the day-to-day life - that is accepted without any consideration. Most of Bulgarians - even the ones that happened to travel abroad - think that there are necrologs in every country in the world and are shocked to notice their absence the same way foreigners are shocked to see them in such huge numbers in Bulgaria. Generations were raised with this black and white face of the World Beyond. Children are grown with this placarding of the Death and the suffering of the survivors that somehow they are unconsciously preparing themselves for the fate that comes upon them, too.
And even that, the necrolgs printing is not a local tradition. It comes from Western Europe as a phenomenon that first entered newspapers. It's just after the Liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Turks in 1878 that the tradition of the street necrologs is born.
The earliest printed necrologs can be found in 'Tzarigradski vestnik' ('Tzarigrad newspaper') in 1849 and 1850. The first one (dated 14 May 1849) is reprinted epitaph inscription from the tombstone of Petar P. Nikolov, who died of cholera in the city of Tulcha on 17 June 1848. This is a classic example of the epitaph, in poems, written by the name of the deceased and directed to the readers.
It advises them:
'Oh. Dear reader
Stay in sorrow and say:
'Young, dear and precious,
You're with the Living God!
Be blessed your soul
And light the soil on you!
How many died
and were blessed
May your memory live forever,
Peter, as you rest!'
The second necrolog is dated 21 October 1850. It comes closer to the obituary tradition and is titled 'Spomen ca Tchorbadjy Stoyana Teodorova Tcholakova' ('Memory on Mrs. Stoyana Teodorova Tcholakova'). At the beginning of this detailed obituary is the death notice followed by biography and praise of her personal qualities and honored life of the deceased.
On the bottom is the ritual formula:
'For good deeds
lets be long memory on Earth
for the deceased
and peaceful relief by God
with the pious people in Heaven!'
Until 1878 most of obituaries were composed by the editing staff of the newspapers or by outside authors. General trend is obituaries to be lengthy, some of them even printed in the subsequent issues of the newspaper (as the case of obituary from 1857 in Tzarigradski vestnik, titled 'Pismo ot Moskva' ('Letter from Moskow'), published on two pages in two subsequent numbers from 6 June and 15 June 1857). They contain more or less detailed biography of the deceased plus the explanation of his/her virtues and how did his/her funeral proceeded. Most of them aim to give good example to other Bulgarians to follow. It's good to mention that almost all of the obituaries are for the freedom fighters that died for Bulgarian political or Church liberation.
It's only at the end of the period that necrologs can be found - the ones that resemble the form that soon will dominate both the street and newspaper necrologs after the Liberation in 1878. Usually these were notices for people that weren't part of the liberation movement, men and women that were unknown to the general public, with date and reason for their death plus few words for their life.
In the necrolog in 'Zornitca' ('Morning Star') newspaper from 3 February 1877 girlfriends of Radka lajkova from the city of Tulcha notify the readers that she died after long illness. And they suffer, because she was virgin 'which prepared herself to be one of the best housewives and mothers; and she was just to enter her life as a spouse when the ugly Death took her away from this world'.
The very first necrolog - outside the newspaper tradition - discovered in the course of my research is from 1850. But it is under question to call it 'street necrolog' because obviously it's purpose was to serve as an invitation and was sent by mail to certain pre-selected people. Because of political and religious consideration this necrolog was printed in the city of Galatz, Romania.
The text follows:
'We invite Mr… in the morning at ... o'clock
at the Holy Mass in the Church of 'St
Paraskeva' at the sermon in the name of the deceased Bulgarian
non-female (as it's in original - E.K.) Greek Vassillie Evstatievych
Apprilov, who was laid to rest two years ago.
Galatz 20 May 1850
Typography Zhurnaluj Danubio
And signed by the hand of V. Rashev'
The very first Bulgarian street necrolog in my collection comes from 1883. It's purpose was to be posted across the town to notify the general public but it still resembles as content and structure the newspaper obituaries. At least we should notice that it contains a message about the funeral that happened a week ago. Since this moment every necrolog I found during my research follows the established form - as a text and as a print. This form is different from the contemporary ones in the beginning of XXI Century and is well explained by Hariton Ignatiev in his book 'Prostranen pismovnik' ('Detailed epistle'), published in the city of Plovdiv in 1897. According to this explanation/instruction funeral notifications should be printed on a paper with black frame, with Holy Cross or allegory of Death with Cross. The necrolog should include:
'1. All close relatives/kin of the deceased - by kin and by marriage - without any omission even of the smallest ones;
2. All of the far related relatives by kin, with detailed information do they have children;
3. Their names, nicknames and their kin relation to the deceased person;
4. What was the illness - short or long, light or painful - that caused the death;
5. The age of the deceased person;
6. The day and the hour of the actual death
7. The day and the hour when the body is to be moved out from the house;
8. The name of the church where the sermon will be;
9. In the case that deceased is not well known, the address of the house from where the body will be moved out to the church'.
Necrolog should be finished with the place and the date of issuing.
'Prostranen pismovnik' stipulates that absolutely the same form should be followed for the newspapers and that in the case of suicide necrolog shouldn't be issued (today the last prescription is not followed). Then there's instruction to post necrologs on the walls at the most public places around the city.
It's important to mention that the author is explicit in his advice that it is bad manners to write long and detailed necrologs with deceased person’s qualities, details on the funeral or to be too elaborate in explaining how much suffering the death brought on the family.
The necrologs from that period that I examined in the process of this research follow that instructions to the letter. It's seen too that - by the advice and by the collected examples - that Bulgarians printed only death notices but not the ones for memorial. If there were any at that time they were exception and their number rises with the following years, the changes in the form and the moving away from the Western tradition. On the cover page of 'Prostranen pismovnik' the author underlines that he collected and summarized the best of foreign epistle guides. As confirmation to this the examples of foreign necrologs from that period in my collection - mostly from Austria-Hungary and France - confirm that there wasn't difference in necrologs writing and composing between Bulgaria and the rest of Europe . This comes to show that at the end of XIX century necrologs were posted on the streets of Western Europe with this tradition slowly disappearing. Yet even today street necrologs can be found on the street in some Western European towns - mainly in Italy.
At the same time in the newspapers develops another from of death notices. These are articles written by professionals with elaborate story on the life and the person of the deceased. Special attention is applied to the funeral. But these stories were dedicated to famous persons (mostly from the politics) in Bulgaria or in foreign countries. These articles are close to the newspaper event that the Western tradition calls 'obituary'.
Soon after the communist coup d'etat in September 1944 necrologs disappeared from newspapers in Bulgaria. The only exception - and they followed obituary from - were the ones for communist party officials but because of ideological reasons they were quite distorted. At the same time the street necrologs blossomed evolving to their contemporary form. For the first time appeared necrologs without religious symbols and even with black five-pointed star as a sign that deceased belonged to communist party. In 1940’s there were some necrologs with photographs of the deceased, during 1950’s their number increased and today there are few necrologs without photo. Gradually the part of the necrolog dedicated to the list of suffering survivors and the one dedicated to the death circumstances were reduced to clear the way to more rich and emotional texts dedicated to the dead person. Quite often we can see how these texts (even if they are short) dominate the structure of the necrolog, while almost everything else - except the name and the photo of the deceased - disappeared. On more and more rare occasions was written the invitation to the funeral or memorial service and the authors were omitting their kin relation to the deceased or necrologs were anonymous.
This changes not simply the structure and the look of the necrolog but its direction, too. In previous decades we witnessed the functioning of the necrolog as a message for someone’s death and funeral but this function faded away and is replaced by the new one - the one of ritual relationship with the dead.
The change can be traced back to 1930’s but it is clear since 1950’s. The explanation to this is the tectonic shift in structure of the urban population that followed large migration from the villages to the cities. Village loses its people, the city loses its pre-war urban culture. The necrolog as a city phenomenon starts to transform itself influenced by the incoming traditional rural culture.
This way in the structure of the contemporary necrolog can be traced elements of at least three culture traditions:
1. The well established on the Balkans attitude to the Death, the dead ones and rites related to their funeral and remembrance;
2. Constituting role of the Christian thinking of Death and Christian rites;
3. The modern man' attitude to the Death, dead ones and the new ways to explain it to the public.
If we accept that the notion of Death as non-being, as total annyhilation of the personality is a modern times priority we'll found that tyhe man generaly thinks about the dying as a passage from one reality to another and about the Death as another life after actual death.
In Bulgarian traditional culture the notion of Death is as a passage from 'this' to the 'other' world where the after life starts as a this life's continuation. The outer world is accepted in the terms of 'this" one; the deceased live in families and villages as it's on Earth, soul is not dying but is immortal and 'keeps the same form, same look of the dead body, even is dressed in same clothes'.
The process of distingushing both worlds and the notion of passage assumes the existence of a border line, treshold, limit. According to the traditional culture this border 'opens' itself in certain periods when there are needed terms, circumstances to establish and support contact with the 'outer world'. Usualy these are Saturdays, holidays and the periods from the year sicle, when the border between both worlds are easy to be overcomed (All Souls' Day). But during the rest of the time the border should be re-established so the influence of the Death should not be allowed in the world of living. In this context cross-border contacts are aimed at re-establishing, confirmation of this border, regulation of the relationship between two opposite but isomorphed world.
As much as necrologs are related to the post-funeral rites they should conrubute to the final passage of the deceased one to the world of the ancestors . If this fails to happend people from the 'outer world' bring the danger of return to this world in the dead body, intrusion of the evel force, evel spirits. This treshold presnts itself rather as a barrier that is lifted at certain moment and fixes exact belonging to the death or life. The enforcement of this border is achieved by the funeral rite directed to th closure of the border (Hristo Vakarelski, Poniatia i predstavi za smartta i dushata, Sofia, 1939, p.6). The necrolog issuing is consistent with the individual ritual time, with the begining established by the death, and its spread is consitent with the space, related to the decesed one - the centre is the home from where the body was moved out and the surroundings are the limits of the necrolog posting on key and potentialy dangerous places like the church, graveyardq crossroads and streets. This way the necrolog draws not simply the deceaseds' teritory, his past-present, but establishes the lock doors on every potential doorways to/from the Death. This distinctiveness is becoming more clear after 1940-es with the increasing numbrs of necrologs issued and duplication of the traditional (and to some extention with CHrtistian) memorial cycle. Up till 1940-es necrologs are issued not later than 5 years after someones death.
In the context of the traditional culture it's good to mention that in allost every ocasion the first necrolog after death is issued without a photograph of the decesed. The reason behind this for a long period was simpli technical one - it was not easy in the times before the computer to reproduce picture on paper. Today computers resolve this problem and that's why we find more and more 'Sad news' necrologs with photo. More interesting on this background is the fact that irrelevant to this inovation there's established tradition that forbids printing of the deceased photo before the 40th day after his/her death. Old people in Bulgaria use to say that 'this is bad', 'forbiden' and 'people don't do like that'. This fear can be related to the notion that up to the 40th day after the death the dead person still walks around the places he/she used to visit (necrologs are posted on these places). Another notion - and it's still in ptactice in Bulgaria -stipulates that up till the 40th day every mirror or reflecting surfave should be covered so the soul couldn't see itself and this way to embody again.
The soul can not only 'see' (and that's why it shouldn't see his/her face on the necrolog) but according to traditional notions between the two worlds there's no sound barrier. This stipulates another conact form with the deciesed - the crying for the dead. Parallel with the text of the necrolg appeares slowly and is considered as a late, contemorary event. During the first 60-65 years of the necrolog as phenomenon of Bulgarian culture - at least up to 1940-es - this parallel is absent. Gradualy with the establishing of the necrolog tradition texts come forward that totaly duplicate the structure and the spirit of the crying for the desased . Dimitar Marinov writes on this event the following: 'Crying contents biography of the deseased, his/her wishes and longings, his/her ocupation, his/her pofession and fate. Crying contents his/her real estate or family situation after his/her death and closes with commission to bring 'all the best' to all relatives that died before him/her'. In this the notion of the decesed is as as living one and the dialogue with him/her is as with a living one, deceased is called back from the Death, he/she is blamed that he/she is not comming back, questions are asked to him/her. Kaufman quotes text from the necrolog from 1984 with close resemblense of the crying:
'Fo forty days I'm waiting for you to come back and you're not comming! Why? Is it for the river of our hot tears is deep and you can't cross it? Or the black earth is too heavy so you can't stand up? Or the darcness is upon you so you can't find the way back? Or you already don't remember us? But you don't speak!'. The same authors mention that in 1930-es and 1940-es they witnessed necrologs that made their readers cry. These days we can find on the streets moving words to the deceased closed to the example quoted above.
'At the begining I neede you so much and you were next to me. Than you neede me and I wasn't nexrt to you. now I'm looking for you, looking in the infinity, where are you... I don't know. I need you Mum!'.
These days in necrologs is usual t use talking by the first name to the deceased, but the elaborate explanation of the suffering is not usual. Most of the texts are short and a lot of them are formal:
You wll always be with us!
Class-mates from the French College'
'On 23 January we remember 40 days since Milka Todorova Savova left us.
More and more are the necrologs of that kind and very often they even don't include the full name of the decesed - just the nikname - there're no authors or thei names are reduced too to first names that mean something only to the dead person and this is another sign of moving away from the tradition of the ritual crying. At the same time they represent moving away from the traditional function of the necrolog as a message to the public.
There's another relation of the necrolog to thetraditions - this time to the Christian prayer for the dead. If the relation to the crying is in the content and function, the parallel with prayer is in function and sense. Orthodox Christisanity stipulates that the fate of the deceased is unknown to the living ones. After the 40th day temporary verdict is put upon soul and the final verdict comes on The Judgement Day. The living ones have un obligation to pray fro the dead ones and this way to obtain by prayer peace and sins redeptmion. Believe in the force of the prayer 8is based on love that keeps going after the death - the love to the deceased ones is not in vain.
Western Christian tradition is similar to the Orthodox one. Even during the first centuries of Chtristianity it was accepted to write down the names of the dead people in church books so they can be read out during the cermon and the believers can pray for them. In the Middle Ages these church writings were turned into lists (necrologium, obituarium, regula, martyrologium) that were kept and filled by the Church and monasteries. In VII century A.D. these lists were quite common. After the death of bishop a messenger was sent with rotuli - death message. Rotuli content eulogy, biogrphy with honor to the deceased qualities and at the end it was said that regardless of his deeds he was a man and therefore unperfect so the living ones should pray for his soul.
In Christian Church the tradition to read the names of deceased was well established sometime at the end of II century A.D. and begining of III century A.D. But in the Western Churches this tradition is not so spread as in Eastern ones. This rite fades in Catholic Church with the establishment of the idea of the Purgatory. According to some Protestant Churches relationship with the dead ones is immposible so they refused ti accept the need fro the pray. Quite the opposite - the Eastern Orthodox Church up till today keeps the days of reading the deceased names. The motive behind saviour function ofthe prayer and the mess can be found even in some fairy tales from Eastern Europe. One Russian fairy tale is about a soldier that goes by the order of his tzar to the other world to understand how his father 0 the previous tzar lives there. The soldier goes there just to see that the old tzar is tortured by the devils. Soldier asks the tzar how he lives and he answers: 'Ah, soldier! Bad is my life. Make a bow to my son and ask him to order a cermon for my soul; and maybe God will put mercy on me and will free me from ethernal pain'.
The difference in the attitude towards the ritual side of the reading of the deceased names is eventualy one of reasons behind the differences between the content, structure and functions of the Eastern necrologs and Western obituaries.
The necrolog in Bulgaria to some extention seizes the funtion of the prayer in mentioning with love and hope the deceased names and with its formula for memotising and peacifying of the soul. The most common word are 'Deep bow to your light memory', 'Sleep well your ethrnal dreem', 'Peace to your ashes'. But you can find some more elaborate wording: 'Lets remembr him, pray to the God and make a bow'.
or even detailed writing of the full prayer:
'Dear Lord, Jesus Christ,
and you Holy Mother,
Take close to you
our dear spouse and father
Let his road to you, Dear Lord,
be light and fast and filled with light
and free of earthly pains!
To be in harmony and beaty
together with those that are already there.
And who loves you!
And to be bright and beatiful
the momory for him in the minds
of those that loved and love him here
in the living world...
I'm calling upon them:
Remember his pure heart and thoughts
his honoured deeds!
and say together with his relatives -
Holy oil on his bones!
(Chepelare, Bulgaria, 1999, authors collection)
(Some similar wording can be found in Western Europe too - obituary from France, 1895 , uses the wording “Que son ame repose en paix” and another one from 1903 uses the wording “Priez pour lui”)
But the necrolog is something even more than this - with its mass circulation it positions the reader in the role of the one who prayes or at least makes good wishing to the deceased. This way the whole community is asked to help the soul in its hard way to the ethernety. The hope that soul' fate will be better multiplyes.
Christian tradition stipulates that the death should be constantly remembered as an endless push for repentance. In the paradigm of the Christian conception of the world the necrolog turns itself into behaviour corrective, the facs of the deceased around us become silent judges of our deeds. They remind us that the life has an end, that there are values beyond the day-to-day life, re-direct the attention from the body care to the soul care - the care for the soul that shouldn't leave the body without repentance. This way necrolog becomes important ellement of prepearedness for our own death.
Some authors claim that in the West the Death is covered and limited , that for the living ones the deceased becomes an 'ousider' for society or 'forbiden for society' , that upon Death is imposed heavy silence and society and individuals don't recognise the Death. To the opposite, in Bulgaria street necrolog in parradox fuses the trend of refusing and covering the death with the trnd of its public announcement , mass circulation even imposing on the public space of the living. Street necrolog secretly combines living and dead ones, sufferung ones and sympatizers, death as a fact and death as a sign. Death and the sorrow are not under taboo but a rather opened to the maximum, moved outside o eeryone can see it - under black& white mask in mass circulated newspapers, undercovered as gossip. In this socialy sanctioned, accepted form, death is imprisoned, sent into exile in necrolog - we see it ant it looks on us from there, but there is still irreversible broderline - as much as necrolog is this borderline itself - psyhologic and ritual one. Necrolog takes the death outside, in the life, shows it just ti hide it. And to fuse it with the being.
With the multiplication of the faces we know and recognize on the street necrologs rises the feeling of sympathy, of participation, of community belonging - to the world of the deceased and the world of suffering ones. Identification feeling is feeded by the very importatnt part of the necrolog - it's part of fureal rites (in terms of Christianity, citizenship and political terms) but at the same time the street necrolog in Bulgaria is repeat, analogy, joint sign of the fureal rite. As a sophisticated sign of a prayer, grave and cermon or in more simple way as a message, crying and remembering, necrolog is manifestation of almost all ellements of the funeral rite and symbolically replaces them withou ignoring them. That's why more and more people issue necrologs without actually going to the graveyard or without ordering the cermon in the church thinking that this is ehough. Necrolog becomes the tool of moving the event from one place to another, the participation tool. the tool of presence. For the passers-by the necrolog IS the funeral rite. This is a play mode by which the reader enters step by step every role of the actual funeral rite. At the end, the reader enters the role of the deceased without loosing his conciouss of a outside observer, of a witness. Counciouss is splitted - to pass beyond the surface of the necrolog, to feel the outer world and to enter it through its own thoughts and well wishing.
This unconciouss deed is repeated again and again in every stop infront of a necrolog. And if we push the feeling a little more and focus ourselves on the messages of the multiplied death all over the city we can start an endless funeral procession to our own death. We can foresee, we can in advance pass through our own funeral.
Bulgarian Historical Archive (BIA), at: Bulgarian National Library 'St. st. Cyril and Methodius', Sofia, f.ІІ А, 1999
BIA, f. ІІ В 8528
BIA, f.272, a.e. 6238, l. 3
BIA, f. 271, a.e.2, l.73
Scientific Archive of The Bulgarian Accademy of Sciences (NABAN), f.11к, op.4, а.е. 285, l.40
NABAN, f.11к, op.3, а.е. 1166, l.4
Tzarigradski vestnik, 'Tzarigrad newspaper',14 May 1849
Tzarigradski vestnik, 'Tzarigrad newspaper',21 October 1850
v. Zornitca, 'Morning Star' newspaper, 3 February 1877
v. 24 chasa, '24 Hours' newspaper, 21 September 2002
v. 24 chasa, '24 Hours' newspaper, 29 October 2001
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