Who will make the change in Bulgarian-Romanian relations?

Could Bulgarian-Romanian relation be challenge for theorists and practicians of change (source: Pixabay, CC0)

Among other things, Europe Day 2022 in the Bulgarian city of Rousse was also the occasion for a Bulgarian-Romanian celebration of the 15th anniversary of the accession of the two countries to the EU. In the context of the war in Ukraine, local activists and representatives of institutions developing Bulgarian-Romanian relations gathered on a ship in the Danube, in an event demonstrating the Bulgarian government’s desire for better ties with Romania

Vladimir Mitev

Just a few months before the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, both Bulgaria and Romania formed their current governments and intensified their diplomatic and political relations. A number of diplomatic visits took place between their governments and heads of states. Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov’s visit to Bucharest at the end of April 2022 came up with a decision to open a new border crossing between the two countries at Ruse-Giurgiu which will manage the passenger and cargo flow of the ferry link planned to be reopened between the two cities. Plans for five new bridges between the two countries were also announced, one of them at Ruse-Giurgiu. 

That being said, political relations between the two countries have been less intensive for quite a long time during the era of Bulgarian prime minister Borissov. The spirit of competition between the two countries used to be easier to be observed while cooperation between them at the level of states was not so evident. 

In this context, an event was held on 9 May 2022 on a ship in Rousse to mark the 15th anniversary of the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU. Organized by the Austrian Embassy in Bulgaria (with the help of the Austrian Library in Ruse) and the Ministry of Transport (whose minister – Nikolai Sabev – is from Rousse and shows interest in development of infrastructure in Northern Bulgaria), the “celebration” took place on the ship “Rustchuk” in the presence of diplomats from European embassies and local politicians from Ruse. A representative of the Romanian Embassy was present.

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Doru Dragomir: Economic relations and attitudes between Romanians and Bulgarians are evolving positively

The EU and the European multinational companies have a significant contribution to the expansion of the economic ties between Bulgaria and Romania (source: Zettravel.com)

An interview with the President of the Bilateral Chamber of Commerce Bulgaria-Romania about the current activity of his organization, about the record figure in trade between the two countries in 2021, about the balance between cooperation and competition between the economic sectors of both countries and about the changing mentalities and the keys to mutual trust between Romanians and Bulgarians

Vladimir Mitev

Doru Dragomir is the President of the Bulgaria-Romania Bilateral Chamber of Commerce which has offices in Sofia and Bucharest. He worked for over 20 years in the private sector, experiencing the great inflation of 1996 in Romania and the international crisis that hit South-East Europe in 2008-2009. Dragomir graduated EMBA from Asebuss & Michael J. Coles College at Kennesaw State University in Georgia USA in 2007 and law school in Romania.

The Chamber of Commerce has over 45 members from both countries, who come from 25 different economic sectors. It is one of two bilateral chambers with a special focus on Romanian-Bulgarian economic relations.

The interview can be heard here with subtitles in English:

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Европа: Завръщане в периферията на света

Боавентура де Соуза Сантос (източник: Aula Castelao Filosofía, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia/YouTube Commons)

Началото на края на европоцентризма

Боавентура де Соуза Сантос – Wall Street International MagazineOther News, 12 април 2022 г.

Сто години след Първата световна война лидерите на Европа върват насън към нова, тотална война. Както и през 1914 г., те вярват, че войната в Украйна ще бъде ограничена и краткотрайна. През 1914 г. в европейските канцеларии се говори, че войната ще продължи три седмици. Тя продължи четири години и доведе до смъртта на повече от 20 милиона души. Както и през 1918 г., днес преобладава мнението, че е необходимо да се наложи наказание на агресора с цел превъзпитание, за да остане той сломен и унизен за дълго време. През 1918 г. победената сила е Германия (и Османската империя). Имаше и несъгласни (Джон Мейнард Кейнс и няколко други), според които пълното унижение на Германия би било катастрофално от гледна точка на възстановяването на Европа и на трайния мир на континента и в света. Предупрежденията им не бяха чути и двадесет и една години по-късно Европа отново влезе във война. Последваха пет години на разрушения, в които загинаха повече от 70 милиона души. Историята не се повтаря по един и същ начин, но изглежда и че ни учи на нещо. Тя илюстрира и подчертава приликите и разликите. Позволете ми да предложа две илюстрации.

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Капка Касабова: Мисията ми като писател е да лекувам

Граничната зона между България и Гърция (източник: Nedret Benzet)

За границите и мостовете в Югоизточна Европа, за природните и човешките съкровища, които чакат да бъдат открити: интервю с Капка Касабова, автор на “Граница”

Смаранда Шкиопу, Владимир Митев

Капка Касабова с лекота преминава от поезия към художествена и нехудожествена литература, но може би е най-известна с писането си, което съчетава пътеписи с местни и лични истории. Родом от София, България, Касабова емигрира със семейството си в Нова Зеландия в края на 80-те години на миналия век и след като завършва университет, се установява в Шотландия. Избирайки професия, доскоро запазена за мъжете – писането на пътеписи – Капка Касабова се нарежда сред други жени автори, които са насочили вниманието си към Югоизточна Европа, като Мери Едит Дърам и Ребека Уест. За разлика от тях обаче балканският й произход се отразява на разбирането й за противоречията в региона.

През 2017 г. тя публикува книгата “Граница – пътуване до края на Европа”, номинирана и награждавана в цяла Европа. Касабова се отправя на пътешествие по границата между България, Гърция и Турция, където документира настоящето и миналото на градовете и селата в този югоизточен край на бившата Желязна завеса. Преди разпадането на СССР много хора губят живота си, опитвайки се да стигнат до отдавна мечтания Запад. Сега част от тази граница е границата между Европейския съюз и Турция, още една разделителна линия между хората с паспорти, които им дават право да пътуват, и бежанците, които търсят по-добър свят. 

През декември 2021 г. румънското издание на книгата е публикувано от издателство Pandora M Publishing в колекцията Anansi, преведена от английски като Frontiera от Она Франц. 

От двете страни на днешните граници писателката среща овчари, бивши граничари, търговци, фермери, бежанци и дори трафиканти на хора. Те говорят за изгубени животи, но също и за символичното насилие на физическите граници и тяхното въздействие върху поколенията. 

Най-новата ѝ книга, публикувана в Обединеното кралство през 2019 г., е “Към езерото”, в която Касабова обикаля Преспанското езеро, разделено между Албания, Република Северна Македония и Гърция, за да открие родното място на баба си по майчина линия, но и за да научи историите на хората от Балканите.

Разговаряхме с писателката Капка Касабова в началото на март 2022 г., когато войната в съседна Украйна течеше от вече почти две седмици. Говорихме за границите, Балканите, войната, но и за нещата, които ни обединяват в този край на света. Тези неща ни напомнят, че да продължаваме да сме солидарни е отговорност на всички нас.

Тази статия бе публикувана от румънския културен сайт Scena9 на 8 април 2022 г.

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Kapka Kassabova: Misiunea mea ca scriitor este aceea de a vindeca

Granița între Bulgaria și Grecia (sursă: Nedret Benzet)

Despre granițele și punțile de legătură în Europa de Sud-Est, despre tezaurele naturale și omenești care așteaptă sa fie descoperite: un interviu cu Kapka Kassabova, autoarea cărții Frontiera

Smaranda Șchiopu & Vladimir Mitev

Kapka Kassabova trece cu ușurință de la poezie la ficțiune și non-ficțiune, dar este probabil cel mai bine cunoscută pentru scrisul ei, care îmbină jurnalul de călătorie cu istoria locală și mai ales cea personală. Originară din Sofia, Bulgaria, Kassabova a emigrat împreună cu familia în Noua Zeelandă la sfârșitul anilor 1980 și, după ce a absolvit facultatea, s-a stabilit în Scoția. Alegând o ocupație până nu de mult rezervată bărbaților – călătorul scriitor -, Kapka Kassabova poate sta alături de celelalte autoare ce și-au îndreptat pașii către Europa de Sud-Est, precum Mary Edith Durham sau Rebecca West. Spre deosebire de ele, însă, originile sale balcanice se traduc în înțelegerea cu care poate privi contradicțiile acestei zone.

În 2017, publică cartea Border — A Journey To The Edge of Europe, nominalizată și premiată în toată Europa. Kassabova pornește într-o călătorie de-a lungul graniței dintre Bulgaria, Grecia și Turcia, unde documentează prezentul și trecutul orașelor și satelor din acest capăt sud-estic al fostei Cortine de Fier. Înainte de prăbușirea URSS, mulți și-au pierdut viața încercând să ajungă în Vestul mult visat. Acum, o parte a acestei granițe este frontiera dintre Uniunea Europeană și Turcia, o altă linie de separare între cei cu pașapoarte ce conferă libertate de călătorie și refugiații care caută o lume mai bună. 

În decembrie 2021, ediția în limba română a apărut la Editura Pandora M, în colecția Anansi, tradusă din limba engleză ca Frontiera, de către Ona Frantz. 

De fiecare parte a frontierelor actuale, scriitoarea întâlnește păstori, foști grăniceri, comercianți, agricultori, refugiați sau chiar traficanți de persoane. Vorbesc despre viețile pierdute, dar și despre violența simbolică a granițelor fizice și efectele lor peste generații. 

Cea mai recentă carte a sa publicată în Marea Britanie în 2019 este To The Lake, în care Kassabova călătorește în jurul lacului Prespa, împărțit între Albania, Republica Macedoniei de Nord și Grecia, pentru a descoperi locul de origine al bunicii sale materne, dar și pentru a afla poveștile oamenilor din Balcani.

Am stat de vorbă cu Kapka Kassabova la început de martie 2022, când războiul din Ucraina vecină începuse de aproape două săptămâni. Am vorbit despre granițe, Balcani, război, dar și lucruri care ne unesc în acest colț de lume. Mi-a amintit, și ne amintește tuturor, că a continua să fim martori și să oferim solidaritate este responsabilitatea noastră, a tuturor. 

Acest articol a fost publicat pe 8 aprilie 2022 pe Scena 9.

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Europe: The return to the periphery of the world

Boaventura de Sousa Santos (source: Aula Castelao Filosofía, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia/YouTube Commons)

The beginning of the end of eurocentrism

By Boaventura de Sousa Santos*Wall Street International Magazine, Other News, 12 April 2022

One hundred years after World War I, Europe’s leaders are sleepwalking toward a new, all-out war. As in 1914, they believe that the war in Ukraine will be limited and short-lived. In 1914, the word in Europe’s chancelleries was that the war would last three weeks. It lasted four years and resulted in more than 20 million deaths. As was the case in 1918, the dominant view today holds that it is necessary to inflict exemplary punishment on the aggressor, so as to leave it broken and humbled for a long time. In 1918, the defeated power was Germany (and the Ottoman Empire). There were dissenting voices (John Maynard Keynes and a few others) for whom the complete humbling of Germany would be disastrous in terms of the reconstruction of Europe and of a lasting peace on the continent and in the world. Their warnings were not heeded, and twenty-one years later Europe was again at war. There followed five years of destruction that left more than 70 million people dead. History does not repeat itself, nor does it seem to teach us anything, but it does illustrate and highlight similarities and differences. Let me offer two illustrations.

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Kapka Kassabova: My mission as a writer is healing 

The Bulgarian-Greek border area (source: Nedret Benzet)

About borders and bridges in Southeast Europe, about the natural and human treasures waiting to be discovered: an interview with Kapka Kassabova, author of the books Border, To The Lake

Smaranda Schiopu & Vladimir Mitev

We spoke with the writer Kapka Kassabova in early March 2022, on the occasion of the Romanian translation of her book, Border. By then the war in neighbouring Ukraine had already been raging for two weeks. We talked about borders, the Balkans, war, but also about the things that unite us in this corner of the world. She reminded me, and she reminds us all, that continuing to be witnesses and offer solidarity is our collective responsibility.

Kapka Kassabova is a multifaceted writer, moving from poetry to fiction and non-fiction, yet she is probably best known for her spellbinding blend of personal and local history travel writing. Originally from Sofia, Bulgaria, she emigrated with her family to New Zealand in the late 1980s and after graduating from university, she started on her own travels and settled in the Scottish Highlands. 

Choosing an occupation previously reserved for men – the travel writer – Kapka Kassabova can sit next to other authors who have made their way to Southeast Europe, such as Mary Edith Durham or Rebecca West. What makes her stand apart is her deeper connection with the mysteries of the Balkans which translate into a more nuanced understanding of the contradictions in this area. 

In 2017, she published the book Border – A Journey To The Edge of Europe, awarded all over Europe. In it, Kassabova embarks on a journey along the border between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, documenting the present and the past of the towns and villages at this southeastern end of the former Iron Curtain. Before the collapse of the USSR, many lost their lives trying to reach the dreamy West. Today, part of that border is the border between the European Union and Turkey, another line separating freedom of movement beneficiaries and refugees seeking a better world.

On each side of the current borders, the writer encounters shepherds, former border guards, traders, farmers, refugees or even human traffickers. They talk about lost lives, but also about the symbolic violence of physical boundaries and their effects across generations.

In her most recent book, To The Lake, Kapka Kassabova explores her maternal grandmother’s roots, around lakes Ohrid and Prespa, a geographically contested area, subject of international quarrels among Greece, North Macedonia and Albania. 

This interview was published on 8 April 2022 at the Romanian cultural magazine Scena9.

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The left’s cold war paradigm has long been obsolete

A post-Cold war element from the Berlin Wall hints at human life behind the division lines (source: PIxabay, CC0)

Russia’s open intervention in the Ukrainean conflict is yet another reminder that the left-wing forces need to think with greater complexity about the world

Bojidar Kolov

Bojidar Kolov is a doctoral fellow in Russian Studies at the University of Oslo and a master’s student in Religion, Politics and Democracy at the Stockholm School of Theology. His interests lie mainly in the interplay between religion and politics as well as in psychoanalytic political theory.

The article was written a short time before the Russian recognition of the two separatist republics in Eastern Ukraine, but the events somehow proved its message.

In the midst of the information war and looming conflicts between the West and Russia, the pressure on every politically active person to “position him/herself” is increasing tremendously. Public discourse is polarised, rigidly fixed camps are formed, nuances are lost, any attempt to complicate the issue is read as (counter-)propaganda in favour of one side or the other in the conflict of totalising narratives. 

Against this backdrop, a disturbing trend is emerging on the left – not only in Bulgaria, but among many on the left around the world. Left-wing anti-imperialism – directed primarily (and quite legitimately) against the expansionist policies of Western capital – unfortunately often suffers from incoherence. By focusing their efforts on sophisticated critiques of NATO propaganda, denouncing the long hand of the US military-technical complex, and pointing to the toxic presence of the far right in Ukrainian politics, a sizable portion of the left seems to remain blind to the Kremlin’s unambiguously neo-imperialist policies. In their desire to oppose the well-oiled propaganda machine of Washington and London, they often completely ignore the Putin regime’s atrocities against the poor, pensioners, queer people, ethnic minorities and smaller nations in the so-called “near abroad,” Eastern Europe, Syria and in Russia itself. Resistance to the neocolonial policies of Western capital often seems to miss the fact that Russian capitalism is one of the most oppressive in the world, that Moscow’s foreign policy is textbook imperial (following the “brightest” European examples), that the left in Russia and the countries under its influence is almost completely marginalised, and that Putin and his friends in and outside Europe have long embraced the far right. 

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The necessary change in Bulgaria: from static to dynamic identity?

Bulgarian urban landscae from the times of transition (source: YouTube)

Bulgaria’s foreign and domestic policies are a mystery to many Bulgarians themselves. This paper develops a hypothesis and an “optimistic theory” for empowering the common man in the country so that he could become the engine of modernisation in the country and the region. This is done through a method called the ‘bridge of friendship’. It sounds ridiculous. And strange. But it works.

Vladimir Mitev

This article was published at the blog “The Bridge of Friendship” on 6 February 2022.

In the English-language world, the story from Panchatantra about the elephant and the blind wise men is popular. Each of them touched a certain part of his body and proclaimed that part to be the whole being. 

The political events after Boyko Borissov’s fall from power are supposedly unfolding before the eyes of all Bulgarians. Yet, in my opinion, the media does not provide a deep and true understanding of the elephant of Bulgarian reality. The TV channels comment on various topics: the change of leadership at Bulgargas (the gas distribution company), the Bulgarian state doing something in and with North Macedonia, bickering over the judiciary, oligarchs fighting over politics and justice, etc. Yet the feeling is that at best the voices we hear are articulating their perspective on the elephant in question. We have to create the whole picture ourselves and update it constantly as we go along the course of events – if we have the time and willpower to read the media of the various political, business and government institutions while we work out our paycheck, take care of our loved ones and recover from the stress that the corona crisis contributes to.

This text will probably also, at best, cover one part of the elephant in the room. Still, I think it may be useful as an attempt to make sense of Bulgarian reality in the post-Borisov era, of Bulgarian state and political power in the face of the ongoing redefinition of the West, perhaps even of Bulgarian identity, which is often mysterious to our close or more distant interlocutors and partners from other countries. And to ourselves.

In my opinion, there is a need for attempts to make sense of these phenomena, even if the attempts prove unsuccessful or partially successful, because our nation is undeservedly struggling, experiencing severe social problems, and the disconnect between elites and people is preventing it from modernizing and becoming part of the world.

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Cross-Border Talks #2: European Union, strategic autonomy and the Eastern Partnership

The three student of excellence in the Eastern Partnership – Georgia, Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova are in dark blue. The countries that are less interested in Europeanisation – Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan, are in green (source: Wikipedia)

A look into the EU in itself and EU with regard to its neighbours

Cross-border Talks

The future of European Union has been a matter of heated debates for years. The second episode of Cross-Border talks takes a close look at the community’s place in international relations… with special focuses to both East and West. 

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