Being a Bulgarian student at an English university was an interesting experience especially when it came to explaining where I come from and hearing what the other person has to say about it. I’ve experienced the collision between the Eastern and the Western perspective in many ways. A lot of Britons couldn’t distinguish Bulgaria from Romania, others didn’t even know where it was. I’ve even been asked if we have computers over here. But what really mattered was the way I felt when answering their questions. I felt different ways, but I can’t say I felt proud, that’s for sure.
Over the past few years I’ve heard various associations with my country. Unsurprisingly they varied from Yugoslavia, Sunny Beach, Hristo Stoichkov and Grigor Dimitrov, to our “beautiful women”, as they say (and I don’t argue). But there is so much more than that, both positive and negative.
As Bulgarians, we are raised to be proud of our long and great history, our mesmerising nature and our remarkable traditions and culture. And I really am. Yet, I just can’t seem to point at a current event and confidently state that it makes me a proud Bulgarian. It’s quite the opposite.
Quite recently I had a very interesting conversation with a person from Austria. They had read a German newspaper article about Bulgarians. It was about those Bulgarians who look a certain way, one that warns you that you shouldn’t mess with them. The breed in question goes abroad and buys cars. Then those people go back to Bulgaria to resell those cars. They are also involved in some dodgy type of business but my collocutor couldn’t quite explain what type exactly. Or perhaps I couldn’t understand what they meant because so many different examples of dodgy Bulgarians popped up in my head.
A friend of mine who lives in London, also a student, once said to me that people often assume he is a member of the Russian mafia… just because he is from Bulgaria. And I can’t help asking, are they really wrong to think this way? Well, I am not sure about the part with Russia, and I don’t think he is from the mafia, but I am quite sure there is a good reason for them to associate Bulgaria with the mafia.
For those of you who don’t know, last Thursday quite a lot of people gathered in the centre of Sofia, supposedly in support of President Rumen Radev (Bulgarian Socialist Party BSP). The demonstration was provoked by prosecutors entering and searching the offices in the Presidency. For the past few months there have been multiple scandals mainly involving Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov (the centre-right party GERB) and businessman Vasil Bozhkov, as well as other political figures.
I do not intend to elaborate on the political scandals but on what happened afterwards. The scandals escalated in a protest which brought thousands of people on the streets of Sofia. The aim is the resignation of the chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev, Borissov’s third government, as well as eliminating the mafia and corruption in the government. But it seems that apart from the general aim, every person has their own reasons to protest. People have different motives because so many things are wrong with this country, hence with their life.
There were plenty of speculations that the protesters have been paid to go out there. I don’t know whether this is true and who paid who. However, I care that for once I can see thousands of people gathering on the streets every day; I can see the Bulgarian people raising their voice which has long been silenced by oligarchs, media ownership and lack of freedom of speech. During my 20+ years of existence, I have never seen the Bulgarians as united as they are now.
In the later hours of last Friday, as the darkness fell the protest escalated into a collision between police and civilians. There were multiple videos on social media documenting the police violence against protesters. Unfortunately, the situation quickly got ugly. A law student, for example, was violently beaten up by policemen and was hospitalised. With his name trending on social media, horrifying speculations about him circulated the posts, including that he might have lost his life. He hasn’t… as far as I know.
Having in mind the events and the social reaction to them in Hong Kong, the US, Serbia, I can’t help but hope that this chain of protests and wakening, whatever the cause is, has in some way or another, gotten to my country. Many will call me crazy, but I do hope that we have finally got a 20/20 vision about the injustices (legal, social, etc.), and about everything we want to change.
I wish, though, that violence could be avoided at any cost because the countries mentioned above, including Bulgaria, are also examples of what happens when violence is a tool used by both police and protesters.
Eliminating the mafia and corruption in the government is not a straightforward textbook process. It takes time, effort, consistency, like-minded progressive people and a genuine heart and mind. Some even say it is simply impossible to happen in Bulgaria. I might not be proud of the current state of my country, but I am hopeful that one day I might just be. Seeing so many people my age on the streets, though, surely made me feel hopeful.
This post is not a political propaganda post. It is rather a heartfelt text which was inspired by pain, embarrassment and hope. I have some friends in Lebanon. When the Lebanese anti-government protests took place, it astonished me how proactive, supportive and emotional those young people were. I was amazed by their passion and love for their country. Not the government, but the country and its people.
My hope is to see the same fire in the souls, and the same spark in the eyes of the Bulgarian people. Only then can we pave the way for a better future for ourselves and our parents and children. And I am beginning to believe in the possibility that 2020 might turn out to be detrimental for Bulgaria, too.
It just might.