Is Bulgaria a 16th Republic or a 51st State?
"Bulgaria is now an unhappy country. It has never been rich, but was a prosperous country, and became impoverished."
These words belong to Russian historian Oleg Ayrapetov, who was one of the guests in a discussion aired by the prominent Russian website Pravda.ru.
Ayrapetov, whose above-cited comment is marked in bold in the transcript of the discussion, concludes that "instead of thinking about how to get out of the situation, to live normally, people are offered to discuss politics, to look for enemies and grounds for fighting."
The transcript's title is Bulgaria: Saved, Ungrateful, Impoverished?
The two-hour discussion, a recording [RU] of which is available on YouTube, for its part is titled History of Bulgaria: a 16th Republic or a 51st State?
This is an apparent reference to a Communist era proposal by Bulgarian officials that, apart from its belonging to the Soviet Bloc, Bulgaria be integrated into the Soviet Union itself. Back then the USSR consisted of fifteen separate entities called "republics". The accusation of being "a 51st state of the US" has often been hurled at Bulgaria by some Russian politicians and experts, but also by pro-Russian politicians inside Bulgaria.
The conversation also features the Bulgarian blogger Plamen paskov (also a historian though this is not mentioned in the introduction) who has been notable for his pro-Russian stance on a number of issues, and Pravda.ru's Editor-in-chief, Inna Novikova.
It gives an account of Bulgaria's fate and collapse following the First World War and all the intricate games played out by world powers on the country's territory.
Throughout the discussion the role of Russia (and later the Soviet Union) in saving Bulgaria from a further disaster during the war.
The place of Macedonia in Bulgaria's political life is also subject to discussion, with Paskov arguing "for us Macedonia is more than [what] Kiev [is] to Russia".
Oleg Ayrapetov for his part claims Bulgaria was "in a privileged condition" during the Soviet era, with products from the country having gained access "to a huge market".
"Any other country couldn't even dream of such [a development]," he opines.
He further states that in the 1990s, when a joke ran in Bulgaria about the infighting between "blue [anti-communist] grandfathers and red [communist] grandmothers], Europe benefited from the fact that Bulgaria exited the Russian market, coming to Bulgaria and "sharing" it among themselves or simply "ruining" it, delivering "a huge blow" to the country.
He even compares Western actions in Bulgaria to a "nomadic invasion".
The historian uses a striking example of a four-story shop where there are four customers in the busiest parts of the day. He is referring to the Central Department Store, formerly modeled after the USSR's State Department Stores, which has registered a substantial decline over the past years.
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