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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“The Battle of Stalingrad” for Skopje led to the resignation of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev

Northern Macedonia continues to pass through tests in its attempts to affirm itself in international relations (source: Pixabay, CC0)

Bulgaria actively supported the processes that led to Zaev’s downfall and the expected coming to power in Skopje of a new majority

Nikolai Krastev

Cross-border Talks: In the recent years Macedonian politics has been marked by the country’s attempt to receive a green light for the start for accession negotiations witht the EU. While previously the obstacle to that process of admittance at a European level was Greece, in the last two years Bulgaria has been blocking the start of these negotiations. Sofia has grievances with regard to what it calls the ideology of “Macedonism”, a political tendency which negates the Bulgarian essence of a large number of Macedonian historical figures or of the Macedonian cultural heritage until the moment when a Macedonian identity emerged or was imposed. Bulgaria tends to put that tipping point at 1944, but it is probably more just to view the emergence of this new identity as a process which has started before that and continued long after it. To resolve such historical dispute a Bulgarian-Macedonian historical comission was established. However, in the absence of political will on both sides to view as common or shared the heritage, which they tend to see exclusively as yours, the commission hasn’t achieved any result.

Under Zoran Zaev there was expectation that Northern Macedonia’s Western partners would pressure Sofia to give up on its pretentions. However, the international situation after the Brexit led to developments in which some European countries are also not quite interested in a rapid EU enlargement in the Western Balkans. At the same time, the clash between pro-Biden and pro-Trump forces in Bulgaria led to a situation in which on 14 November 2021 Bulgarians would vote for a third time for Parliament in this year. Also, president Rumen Radev seeks reelection in conditions of intensified and heightened emotions in Bulgarian society. The Macedonian issue is one of the talking points in media, with a number of Trump-leaning voices criticising even the hint of a possible Bulgarian-Macedonian detente that doesn’t represent Macedonian capitulation. In October 2021 Radev organised a first-in-time meeting with Bulgarian organisations from Northern Macedonia, that could be read also in the context of the forthcoming presidential election. As we see from Nikolay Krastev’s report, Bulgaria also became a controversial issue in Macedonian local elections.

This article was published on The Foreign Insider on 1 November 2021. 

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