12 Insurmoutable Problems for Boykoland in 2012
The new year has already started to go just as the previous one as far as Bulgaria is concerned. Under the GERB party and Prime Minister Boyko Borisov Bulgaria – or better yet – Boykoland – has remained a place where the government is constantly overlooking severe, potentially destructive structural problems.
Why is that? Is it because of corruption, incompetence, lack of goodwill, incapability of understanding them? I will leave it to each reader to decide for themselves. And if you live abroad, you are certainly in a better position to understand it than the people living in Bulgaria who are constantly manipulated with fake media stunts such as the saga between the Lukoil Bulgaria refinery and the Bulgarian Customs Agency that started in the summer of 2011 (in which Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov "threatened" to close down the country's only refinery managed by his close friend Valentin Zlatev.)
The fact of the matter is that the previous three Bulgarian which served their full terms did overlook the same problem as well. But in early 2012 Boyko is in charge of Boykoland, and he'd better abstain from making his favorite excuses with the actions of the previous governments. Of course, those were true up to a point – but what has the Borisov Cabinet done differently?
In all fairness, one should first mention the positive things in Boykoland. I tried to come up with 12 but I only got six: actual improvement in some major infrastructure projects (highways); macroeconomic stability; preservation of low tax rates; measures against some types of organized crime; tangible EU funds absorption for the first time; reactions in emergency situations, including by sending government planes and helicopters. But beyond these positive moments, which often go only halfway, there is the big picture.
Today's Boykoland (Bulgaria) is a state with the trappings of a Western-style democracy, at least on paper, but it is a place where important decisions are made through channels that are very different from democracy. These decisions benefit almost entirely the local oligarchy circles or foreign interests. At the same time, the head of the government sets everything in the first person singular, with the Bulgarian media sycophantically running around him – both literally and figuratively speaking. And when Boykoland's institutions actually get down to work – this is usually with no vision or strategy. They simply "absorb" (as in absorption of (EU) funds) without it being very clear why.
So a nice start of 2012 warrants outlining the twelve problems of the Bulgarian nation in a Boykoland mode – that is, the real problems whose solution would have been the matter of the unconditional, invariable, and incessant work of the Bulgarian state and society if those had at least some of the following useful qualities: goodwill, competence, dignity, commitment, and patriotism.
Insurmountable problem No. 1. (Un)competitiveness of the Bulgarian Economy. In Europe and globally Bulgaria remains on one of the last spots when it comes to science-based and high-added value goods and services, and investments in research and development. And that's not simply because "there is no money" – but because those things are not a part of the value set in Boykoland. Regardless of some independent examples to the contrary – such as several large Bulgarian IT companies – the general trend remains stable and there is no salvation lurking around the corner. With respect to the statistical growth of Bulgaria's export – it would be nice if somebody had a look at how much of it comes from high-added value goods, and how much of it is faked in order to drain VAT.
Insurmountable problem No. 2. Education. That is obviously directly related to the economy. But it also has another dimension. Actually, all kinds of dimensions – from individual spiritual values to civil society development – as well as the fact that uneducated populace is the easiest to manipulate. The high number of people with university diplomas in Bulgaria is misleading – with a few institutional and personal exceptions the quality of skilled labor produced by Bulgarian universities is deplorable. The same now goes for high schools in Bulgaria. It is just that spiritual and intellectual development is not a value in Boykoland, and therefore cannot become important.
Insurmountable problem No. 3. Death of Bulgarian Regions. This isn't just about regional development. Regional development is a suitable expression in countries that enjoy at least some of that. The Bulgarian regions have had no development since the 1970s – the time when the completely mistaken model of socio-urban engineering of the communist regime matured. Today's Bulgaria is a place where not just villages and towns but also district capitals are perceived as having no demographic, economic, and spiritual potential. This goes even for once major cities such as Ruse, Pleven, Shumen, Haskovo, Blagoevgrad. Unless there are urgent measures for real "regional development", the last remaining spots with any potential – Varna, Burgas, Plovdiv, and Sofia – will follow suit.
Insurmountable problem No. 4. Infrastructure. First of all, even though the leadership of Boykoland might not realize it, there is a lot more to it than just highways, and, second, even though it has gotten a lot done, the Borisov Cabinet hasn't gone very far when it comes to highways, either. No to mention the fact that the infrastructure projects currently implemented are not well thought through, and only worsen the regional imbalances. They are concentrated around Sofia and the transport "ring" in Central Bulgaria. For example, the mind boggles why the southern highway "Trakiya" linking Sofia to the Black Sea coast is directed towards the Sunny Beach resort, instead of the Port of Burgas from were it could draw international freight traffic. Bulgaria has no Danube bridges, no canals, no irrigation for its agriculture, no international railway corridors, no tunnels under the Balkan Mountain, not even a single inland port – despite the potential of Port Varna-West. On the whole, infrastructure is a lot more complex than highways – even though, obviously, Bulgaria does need the highways.
Insurmountable problem No. 5. Corruption and Organized Crime. All in Bulgaria know their organized crime and corruption: the Interior Ministry and the police, the Prosecutor's Office, the judiciary, the Parliament adopting the laws, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the stray dogs. The only thing I am left with here is to paraphrase a quote by a renowned Bulgarian writer, Nikolay Haytov, "Knowing is one thing, wanting is another, being capable of doing is third thing, and doing is fourth and fifth...*
Insurmountable problem No. 6. The Collapse of Bulgaria's Healthcare System. 2011 saw a rising number of medical mistakes. Thousands of people in Bulgaria don't get the medical aid they need from their GPs or other medical specialists because they are overlooked or neglected, or rudely kicked out; many are left with no medications because of state regulations. Many Bulgarian hospitals are already short of nurses who choose to emigrate. The Bulgarian healthcare system is rapidly collapsing, and turning increasingly inhumane and cynical, which is only one of the manifestations of its crisis mode.
Insurmountable problem No. 7: Bulgaria's Demographic Catastrophe. "Catastrophe" is a better word than "collapse". Bulgaria had a demographic collapse in the 1990s. The situation is now becoming critical. Even though the birth rate stabilized somewhat in 2004-2009, the outflow of people is incessant. Bulgaria's authorities do not promote and encourage "responsible" family planning – i.e. providing tangible support for families with 2 or 3 kids. (Giving birth to more under the present global economic and environmental conditions not just in Bulgaria but in any place on earth should not be supported by the state for sustainability reasons). At the same time, Bulgaria hasn't even considered a basic program for attracting immigrants. And that doesn't even refer to more culturally distant sources of immigration such as China, Vietnam, or Nigeria – but to the ethnic Bulgarian communities abroad. The long lists of Macedonians getting Bulgarian passports waved around by Bulgaria's former Diaspora Minister Bozhidar Dimitrov just won't do the trick.
Insurmountable problem No. 8. (Non-)Integration of the Roma. The situation here is pretty terrible – as indicated by the case of Katunitsa, the southern village which in September 2011 became the site of the murder of an ethnic Bulgarian boy by the associates of a Roma clan boss, Kiril Rashkov, aka Tsar Kiro, leading to anti-Roma protests across Bulgaria. Katunitsa was of course quickly downplayed and forgotten by those in charge in Boykoland. But that doesn't change the fact that enormous masses of the ethnic Roma in Bulgaria (though not all of them) live in pre-industrial communities based on clans, and don't participate in the economic and social life of the nation, having been left under the control of clan bosses such as Tsar Kiro. At the same time, the Bulgarian society has very little understanding – and is lacking the desire to understand – of the Roma issue. This is clearly no way to find a solution.
Insurmountable problem No. 9. The Role of the Bulgarian Oligarchy. The problem here doesn't really lie with the fact that many from the Bulgarian oligarchy got rich through criminal activity. The problem is that, now that the dark times of "capital accrual" are said to be over, the Bulgarian oligarchy isn't transforming itself into a responsible national elite that would invest in its own country, and would start obeying rules in order to provide for the consistent development of the society in which it operates. Not to mention any having any international ambitions – because national elites are logically the main players on the international stage under the cloth of the nation state. In Boykoland some oligarchy circles are acquiring stronger positions, to the extent of achieving virtually feudal control over some regions or economic activities. This is still going the opposite way from the transformation mentioned above. That's not helping Bulgaria, and it's not helping the oligarchy itself either, even it might be still hard for the latter to realize this fact.
Insurmountable problem No. 10. "Geopolitical Disorientation". Unlike what most Bulgarians would have you believe, Bulgaria is very isolated in terms of thinking from global developments (though not in terms of political and economic consequences). The understanding of global processes in Bulgaria either equals zero, or boils down to insane conspiracy theories. Not to speak of comprehending a supranational entity such as the European Union. The majority of Bulgarians just know that "it's better in the west". This lack of understanding of the world is easily transferred to the rulers of Boykoland who hardly ever are active internationally or within the EU. What is more, they tend to overlook key threats – such as the geopolitical pincers in the Balkans closing in from the southeast and the west.
Insurmountable problem No. 11. The Lack of a National Ideal. Bulgaria has no national ideals. First, there is nobody who can come up with one, and, second, there is no one who can "sell" it as an authentic ideal. The third Bulgarian state (formed after the National Liberation in 1878) had its greatest moments precisely when it was mobilized by a national ideal. Today a national ideal is no longer about territories and borders, especially now that Bulgaria is part of an entity with a vast territory and no borders. But it is still needed in order to generate greater solidarity and spiritual values. It would be useful even if the creation of a "working consumer society" was styled as a national ideal.
Insurmountable problem No 12. It's All in One's Mind. There are a lot more wretched, destitute, and insecure places in the world. At the same time, somehow, Bulgaria tops the global unhappiness rankings. Why are the people in Afghanistan, Gambia, Bosnia, Ethiopia, Zambia, Iraq, or Palestine, for example, happier than the people in Bulgaria? The answer is simple. It's all a matter of perception. The Bulgarian society has decided that Bulgaria is a terrible place, and it has no pioneers, no innovators, and desire to struggle for development, investments, competitiveness, science, spirituality. Walk in the streets of Sofia, and you'll hear people either cursing the state, or explaining to some youngster that they should get the **** out of Bulgaria. The same amount of monstrous nihilism is exhibited by the Bulgarian diaspora – which is nowhere near those diasporas whose money and influence actually secure the existence of their homeland.
Bulgaria could be a very nice place to live in but that will take a lot of efforts. However, nobody seems to care enough to exert some. It is weird, though – if the same kind of thinking was in place in the "West" over the past couple of centuries – where would people from countries like Bulgaria emigrate to today?
Bulgaria's greatest problem is precisely the last one. In fact, none of the problems listed above is insurmountable in principle. Unfortunately, in early 2012, in Boykoland there is no mention of many of these problems, not to speak of their solutions. The major problem here is that many of those are very time sensitive, and the entire Bulgarian state and society should get down to dealing with them regardless of what the Prime Minister is called.
*The original quote from Nikolay Haytov's "Manly Times" ("Mazhki Vremena") goes: "Wanting is one thing, being capable of doing is another, and doing is third and fourth."
This article in BULGARIAN
I agree with the excellent analysis and the comments on it. However, as often in Bulgaria, discussions get stuck on analysis, while the next steps, to propose a solution and a way to reach that solution, is ignored. I hope your next editorial will be full of such proposals!
I agree with the previous poster that this is an excellent, well thought out article.
I am a foreigner and lived in Bulgaria for 9 years now. I avidly follow the politics and the editorials published om Novinite. But, like evey article you write Ivan, you portray Bulgaria and the government in a poor and negative light.
The government here is less than perfect (just like every government on the planet), but Boyko unlike the the other 2 govenments I have lived under here is actually doing something positive for the country and the people. True, it might not be enough, but one has to start somewhere.
As we all know, nothing in Bulgaria is as it seems and the power behind the throne is murky. This is inevitible given the history of the country over the past 20 years. In time, it will change.
You talk of the mindset of the people, and yes I agree that it is mostly pessimistic and negative, but you seem to be no different.
Being a columnist you are in a position to influence that mindset. Bringforth ideas, inspire, motivate people to go forward with their lives, to be productive in their work, to raise the standards in their enviromnent, to be confident that they can make a difference. It is not going to be easy, but it can be accomplished. Someone has to start the ball rolling and this should be you Ivan and your collegues. Give people a starting point. Make a difference!