It’s March 2018, and Bulgaria Is Neither Here, Nor There, and Going Nowhere!
This is one of those recap articles, and, as you gather from the title, not an optimistic one. And, I dare argue, justifiably so.
Now that I have rejoined Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) as an independent contributor, before diving into the depths of Bulgarian politics and society (which, to be fair, aren’t that deep but are worth exploring nonetheless!), that is, before tackling individual events and developments, here is a look at Bulgaria’s big picture. And it isn’t pretty.
Some shily positive developments on the surface are masking the reality, namely, that Bulgaria’s situation is deteriorating in a wide range of political, social, economic, and cultural sectors, and that it as a society is stagnating at best, oftentimes simply dangling on the edge of the failed state / hijacked state / extinction precipice.
Sure, Bulgaria’s economy is now growing again (for whatever reasons) at a rate that is not negligible. Heck, Bulgaria’s GDP might even (or might not) surpass the impressive figure of BGN 100 billion.
(Which, when converted to EUR 50 billion or USD 56 billion, or 0.3% of the total EU GDP, isn’t nowhere nearly as impressive.)
Some of Bulgaria’s economic sectors and their achievements are indeed worthy of respect – especially the IT sector and the manufacturing.
The country arguably has some sort of (highly condition and rather weird) political stability.
And Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov – who, no doubt, would have been at a very different place personally and professionally if Bulgaria had had any sort of decency in its public institutions, its civil society, and its people’s minds – has now taken up playing geopolitics, or at least he seems to think so:
paving the Western Balkans’ questionable road to Europe, smoothing the relations between his best bud, Turkish leader Erdogan, and Brussels, cozying up to Russian leader Putin, all the while being faithful to Frau Merkel and whoever the President of the US of A is at the moment.
Oh, but we almost forgot: Bulgaria is also presently holding the nearly meaningless rotating Presidency of the European Union (the Presidency for some reason survived the drafting of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009) – which could be the world’s most glorious achievement you achieve by default. Read: practically meaningless as well.
Against the backdrop of this at least mildly pink picture, beneath this smokescreen of sorts, the Bulgarian nation and society:
are stuck into the nothings of a predatory and outrightly dumb oligarchy,
still haven’t built a democracy worthy of the name, not to mention the tangible lack of rule law and the even more tangible prominence of corruption and organized crime,
are constantly the victims of government or private encroachments of various sorts from Russia and Turkey,
and, what’s probably the worst of all, still have no internal motivation to exist, and no idea, notion, or goal of where they are going (figuratively, of course).
Today’s Bulgaria is stuck in the later stages of post-communism but the presence of the word “later” doesn’t even imply that the country is anywhere near surmounting that ugly post-communist state.
For all practical purposes, without any radical changes (even evolutionary ones would do!) the later stages of post-communism can last forever, until they smother the respective nation to death, or take it straight to its grave.
Unlike the early stages of post-communism when there is lots of hope (actually, hope might be pretty much all there is in those stages), the later ones are where hopes come to die, killed by the promises stolen by the “former” communist aristocracy.
Long gone are the early days of hope.
Long gone are also the times when Bulgaria’s drive for EU accession had the trappings of a national ideal, or a national sense of purpose and direction. Probably an objective, or a goal at best.
The notion that a country’s EU accession in itself can be a national ideal is a flawed, if not bluntly unintelligent and uninspired to begin with.
It’s more than self-explanatory that EU accession can be a means to an end, not the end itself.
It’s like going to college (school, university). You don’t go to college for the sake of going to college (although, weirdly enough and counter to my point, I do know a lot of kids in Bulgaria who do exactly that), you go to college to acquire education, knowledge, self-awareness, and whathaveyou.
Yet, in those early stages of Bulgaria’s post-communism… actually, not the earliest stages of Bulgaria’s post-communism because those were really, truly dark and scary, and holding the promise of slipping back into the horrors of Soviet Eurasia or forward into the terrors of the bloody Yugoslavian dystopia, or into some other kinds of real-world Mordor…
So, in those not so early but still early stages of Bulgaria’s post-communism (say, 1997-2007) a number of the country’s politicians devoid of any vision, strategy, and basic understanding of their own country essentially convinced the Bulgarian population that joining the European Union was their national ideal.
When that was achieved – and achieved it was for Europe-wide security and political reasons – and when Bulgaria hadn’t been sufficiently transformed in the right direction in the meantime, on January 2, 2007, the country awoke in those ominous later stages of post-communism where:
you are technically a democracy but not quite;
you supposedly have the rule of law but not quite;
you are supposedly trying to achieve it (the rule of law) but not really;
you don’t know where you are going as a nation;
you are not exactly sure why you are where you are;
you are not exactly sure why you (still) exist.
With all that said, keep in mind that the Modern Era Bulgarian nation – the tradition of its glorious medieval empire aside, isn’t exactly a technocratic one.
It was born out of a national ideal:
the Liberation from the Ottoman Empire) in the so called Bulgarian National Revival of the 18th-19th century.
When that partly succeeded and partly failed,
it was kept going by a new national ideal:
the Unification of all formerly Bulgarian-populated lands into one nation state in 1878-1944.
When that partly succeeded and partly failed (though rather miserably, one must add),
And when the global geopolitical realities came crashing down on Bulgaria so it ended up where nobody would want in 1944,
it was still kept going by the completely fake, basically insane ideals (but ideals nonetheless) of communism, the twin of Nazism.
Since that finally, thank God!, went bust, Bulgaria’s nation has never managed to formulate a new, and decent national ideal.
Part of the reason for that is that the ugly thing called communism didn’t go away, it transformed into the post-communism of the criminal oligarchy that emerged out of the cocoon of the communist oligarchy.
Sure, there’s been all the talk of democracy, human rights, returning to the West where Bulgaria inherently belongs whether it wants it or not, and whether it realizes or not, diving into the consumer society and hanging out at the mall to spend money you don’t have on things you don’t need, joining that European Union, and feeling like “Europeans”, and all that.
Though some of these things are worthy, and others aren’t, the point is that none of that was ever formulated, or didn’t emerge naturally as an actual, real national ideal with a high moral content for the Bulgarian nation as a self-aware community that would perceive itself as such.
Once again, because of how the Modern Era Bulgarian nation was constituted, Bulgaria is bound to go rotten if it doesn’t have a national ideal. And a real one at that.
The bad news is that it doesn’t seem likely to get one any time soon. Ideals are usually formulated by elites.
When you have a real, spiritual elite with both hard-earned but sound material and moral values, you are likely to get a national ideal worthy of the name.
Today’s Bulgaria doesn’t have an actual elite. There are those who occupy the position of the elite but they lack completely the moral and spiritual integrity that would warrant the term “elite”.
Today’s Bulgaria is an oligarchy squared. You know, oligarchy2.
First, because it is ruled and wholly dominated by a rancid, cleptocratic post-communist oligarchy, a direct offspring of the communist regime.
(That doesn’t preclude one branch of the oligarchy from destroying another as was the case with the bankruptcy of the KTB bank in 2014. But the end result of the game is still the same.)
(Take note of the situation in Bulgaria's media - which barely deserve that name anymore - and which are over 90% oligarchy-dominated.)
Second, because today’s Bulgaria is not a democracy but an oligarchy. You know, as a form of government, as per Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle’s original political theory.
If you want to play with this situation a little bit, you can phrase it as a nice Catch 22.
Bulgaria needs a national ideal in order to get rid of its oligarchy (among other things) but the oligarchy is the only one in a position to formulate and propagate a national ideal. So no national ideal worthy of the name, and long live the oligarchy (in both senses of the term mentioned above.
With an oligarchy squared, and no national ideal worthy of name,
It’s not hard to understand why Bulgaria today is neither here, nor there, and going nowhere.
Independent journalist and political analyst
Ivan Dikov is a former Editor-in-Chief of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) in 2008-2013, and founder and publisher of ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com and PaxGlocalica.com. He has contributed to international media from the US, UK, Germany, and Australia. You can support his work on Patreon.
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