Stripped and Social Commentary

Bulgaria has been stripped of it’s EU funding and PHARE has been suspended. None of this is good news for the people that need the money (the average Bulgarian).

From Trud, via the Daily Press Brief:

The daily leads with a report on the issuance of the EC reports on Bulgaria’s progress on the mechanisms of cooperation and verification and the absorption of the EU funds by emphasizing on what it considered to be the highlights in the reports:

  • EUR 500 m has been frozen, but Bulgaria is not required to return the funds that have already been absorbed;
  • The billions of euro under the cohesion funds are not at risk;
  • Brussels is still waiting to see conviction against corruption and mafia but DANS seems to be working.

Selected reaction from the executive branch (via the DPB):

Deputy PM Miglena Plugchieve is quoted as saying that the EC report conclusion don’t come as a surprise to her but she feels disappointed that the EC has failed to report on what Bulgaria has done in the last few months.

Selected reaction from an opposition party (via the DPB):

DSB’s Ivan Kostov: The expectations that the EC will tone down its criticism were not met. The situation is worse than expected an the only way out of it is the resignation of the whole cabinet.

Selected reactions from EU representatives (via the DPB):

Geoffry van Orden: This is a tremendous disappointment. We treated Bulgaria like a friend and supported is accession although we were well aware that a lot of work still had to be done. That’s why this lack progress is so deeply disappointing to us.

Joseph Daul, Chairman of the EPP-ED Group: Bulgaria has failed to honor its commitments toward Europe to successfully eradicate corruption and organized crime. It is high time now to untangle the web of conflicts of interests and prove to the rest of Europe, that national policy-makers are not synonymous with corrupt criminals.

Ouch. Those are some stinging criticisms. Though I have to say some of them are justified. In the end, as is the case with all corruption, the people in need of the money will be the one’s most impacted by the freeze.

Every Bulgarian I’ve spoken to is pessimistic to what will happen and all hold a very negative view of the government (and the police). I was talking to a cab driver in Sofia about my work in Bulgaria. He was very surprised and grateful of the work PCVs do (he was also a little ashamed that they needed such help). He, like most people here, was skeptical of actual, tangible change I can make. I responded by saying this may be true, but the greatest contribution I can offer to the Bulgarian people is a different perspective (much like Gogo commented). This is one of the reasons I wanted to work in Eastern Europe. The problems that face Eastern Bloc countries are more abstract than other PC countries (in my opinion). Bulgarians tend to be pessimistic. This isn’t their fault considering Bulgaria’s oppressive history (Turkish Yoke, Communism). I asked the cabbie why people don’t take to the streets or if the with-holding of vital funds will force the people to take on their government and demand real change. The answer, again, is rooted in history.

Bulgarians, being occupied by so many different empires, survived by becoming reclusive and weathering the storm (the patron Saint of Bulgaria is St. John of Rila, a hermit). This is further compounded with the recent survival of communism which ended less than 20 years ago. Communism in Bulgaria was amongst the most brutal (To put this in perspective, they only had one ruler in 45 years of totalitarian rule, bordered two NATO countries with nuclear weapons and ran gulags up to November of 1989). In short, the nail that stuck out got hammered. To add to this, most of today’s youth is raised by their grandparents, people who survived the brunt of Communist brutality and are skeptical of all this democratic change (having a corrupt government, I’m sure doesn’t help). This skepticism and ingrained attitude of “don’t make waves” being instilled in the first generation who has no memory of the horrors committed during communism. My tutor vocally believes that this first post-communist generation is ruined. I’ll expand on that in a later post.

This curtails an important democratic ideal: the ability to exercise the right to protest government action (or inaction). I worry that the loss of EU funds will be met with indifference by a majority of Bulgarians. Bulgarians know something is wrong but they feel that they can’t make a difference. This is the most maddening part: that they, by in large, refuse to even try. But then again, this can be explained with history.

Bulgaria can no longer afford to follow past strategies of hiding from their problems (a la St. John of Rila and his disciples fleeing into the mountains during the dark days of the Ottoman Empire). Bulgaria is independent of foreign empires and needs to take a more proactive stance on the ills that face their country.

…But what do I know? I’m a twenty-something year old American who has lived in this country for 11 months.

I know it is unfair to judge an entire people so keep in mind these are only my observations from my personal experiences and interactions. Please don’t take my words as final in regards to Bulgaria. Similarly, please don’t judge or make conclusions about Bulgaria or Bulgarians based on what I write.

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