'Dialogue by Correspondence with a Presidential Candidate' - Interview by Bestselling Bulgarian Author Zachary Karabashliev
This interview with Bulgaria's first ever EU Commissioner and presidential hopeful, Meglena Kuneva, was provided for Novinite.com by Zachary Karabashliev, bestselling Bulgarian-born author, now living in the US.
Novinite.com is publishing it in English without any changes in the text – both questions and answers.
Novinite.com does not officially endorse any presidential candidate and will publish interviews with others if and when they become available.
About 10 days ago, traveling on the Varna-Sofia night train, I could not fall asleep over the heat and the clatter coming from other compartments, where children returning from camp were seated... I was thinking of this and that and jotted in my notebook several questions to one of Bulgaria's presidential candidates, Meglena Kuneva. Questions that are important to me as a human being and a citizen of the country through whose dark planes the train was taking me. I emailed the questions in the morning; I had the presidential candidate's email address from an acquaintance, but honestly, without investing too much hope in receiving answers. What was my surprise when I did receive them! I share them here without any comment and without any hidden motive. I think the answers below will help each and every one of us make their personal choice. It does not matter if this choice is Mrs. Kuneva or another candidate for the post. What matters is for the choice to be personal. I would like to ask similar questions to the other presidential candidates and I hope to have the opportunity to do so.
In politics (like in playwriting) the dialogue must be the moving force behind the action.
Are you an idealist?
Yes. And I put an end of being uneasy about openly admitting it. Many people feel uncomfortable talking about ideals over the fear they will be taken as people who cannot deal with everyday life. There will always be a difference between the way things are and the way we want them to be. Actually, we need a moral goal, an ideal beyond interests to give our live dignity. We need moral advancement. I am trying to give a rational answer. Maybe in this case, a simple "yes" to your question would be sufficient.
What would be different within the presidential institution, compared to your predecessors, if you become president?
Everyone enters politics with their personality. I think mine would clash with most of the ceremonialism of the presidential institution. At least, as it is understood right now. I will turn this towards myself. I know the joy of the concrete achievement, the adrenaline it brings! I was fortunate to present clear results from my political labor, both in Bulgaria and in Europe.
I have outlined results, clear tasks, year by year. An account about the state of the nation, not greeting addresses. I want clarity in appointments for the so-called quotas of the institutions, and I will give an example. I think good practices can also be contagious. I watched the election of new members of the Supreme Judicial Council, VSS, by the majority and thought that we just laughed in the face of the European Commission the very same day it issued its critical report on Bulgaria. I say this openly today, and will say the same if I am elected and there is a similar case. But first, I would try to prevent it. I know how a joint plan of the three institutions – Commission, Parliament, Council – works in Europe and I can do this at home. Good goals need the best ways to achieve them.
How would you stand up for the interest of the citizens against lobbyist forces that move our politics?
I would better understand your question if you had asked me about the dark forces. These forces do not declare themselves as lobbyist. In Bulgaria nobody trusts anybody. This is why nothing is advancing well – economy, politics. The loss of trust is paralysis. It "eats" our human and public time. And live is measured as a road, a direction and time, since the world turns...
To the question – first, I am not one of them, the lobbyist circles. And this is evident through many different ways, including the furious opposition against me as a player outside the system. Second – I do not enter into under the table deals. Regardless of the price I have to pay. Third – I am open. I can and I want to explain what I am doing and why.
Do you believe in the capability of the individual to change the course of history?
Yes, I do believe it to the level of Ayn Rand – stubbornly and forever.
What would you like to change about yourself?
Outside my political being, many things – patience, planning of my time, the ability to cherish the moment. But in politics I want to be myself. There is a threat the change there could turn into adaptation. People I see, people I work with, help me a lot to strive to be good; to do better; to be compassionate; to not forget the important; to not give in to success for the success' sake. I believe them unconditionally. The best part is the meetings with amazingly interesting people, whom one can meet all over the place. And to suddenly receive an answer to a painful, existential question or an equally painful practical one.
Can you make, in a few words, a diagnosis of the state of the nation?
Huge potential and equally huge lack of trust. In ourselves. But there are numerous islands of tomorrow: a woman from Sliven, who was able to integrate her Down syndrome son so that he can have a job today. She now continues to help others. The Karandila Junior orchestra wich includes some extremely talented kids who are under the care of Angel Tichaliev. The 10 women who take magnificent care of the children from the orphanage of Vetren without even having public transportation available to take them to work. The movie script award of my friend Iglika Trifonova from the festival in Cannes. A favorite bookstore, where people know how to cherish what they do. These are just some of the examples. I am telling you about people whom I met just in the course of the last month and whose stories are proof there is hope. There many such people. We only need to connect them.
Do you believe your political discourse is adequate?
It is right. I know that. My thoughts are clean. And it will lead to good results. If adequate means sly, than my answer is – no, it is not. Just in the last months, I visited 13 cities and towns. Meeting with people means to me careful listening and a dialogue. What drives these meetings is not the political discourse, but people's stories as they tell them. When one brings them together, one sees how stories are told in Bulgaria: there are story lines, characters and we have to bring them together to have a composition. This is the authentic tale. This is what I believe in.
Who are the Bulgarian male politicians you can defeat in a wrist fight?
This is not my sport. I cannot win in it by playing honestly. Any other way is not of interest to me.
What about chess?
Chess is a very good book on politics – one has resources, rules, brain, qualities, experience. You dispose of what you have learned. The difference is that in chess the adversary's mistakes can make one a winner, while in politics the adversary's mistakes are detrimental to the entire society. And one must not remain silent on them.
When several years ago Barack Obama announced his intentions to run for president, a huge part of the voters saw it as a joke. He did, however, win by a convincing margin. Your comments on that?
This is natural. Americans elect the best person, according to his or her contributions. When one votes, one must think of tomorrow, not of yesterday. Obama succeeded – he showed this exact "tomorrow." One can make fun of a certain individual, but not of his or her future. While here, in Bulgaria, we think about yesterday; we think in past tense. This is part of our growing in the last 20 years – our democracy is young. It is learning. We are learning to elect. I believe in the wisdom of the Bulgarian nation. We are no different from Americans – we want certainty in our "tomorrow." Brazilians made the same choice with Dilma Rouseff – they agreed they will be looking at the future. Why couldn't we? Right now, precisely during these upcoming elections?
There are hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians, living abroad, but deeply interested and moved by what is happening in their homeland. Do you believe you can unite them in a more active participation in the political process? And does it need to be done?
I do not divide Bulgarians. It is absurd today to define one's belonging to a certain country by a postal code. See the writers: some of the best contemporary texts on Bulgaria are written outside Bulgaria. As far as do Bulgarians abroad have to participate in politics? Yes. The potential of a nation is in the energy of its people. Politics are the profile, the face of the agreement we have reached. Stable politics are a function of the agreement. People's disagreement with a certain policy is the strongest push for change and reforms. Regardless of where they live, Bulgarians are vital for our country. Especially, when they are demanding and active – both in the agreement and the disagreement with politics.
This question will be long. My family and I left the country months before the International Monetary Fund, IMF, "set foot" in Bulgaria. Do you think our then-politicians negotiated fair conditions with IMF for Bulgarian people? Conditions allowing them to live a dignified life? Do you think State servants, teachers, doctors, employees deserve the wages they receive for their labor?
No one was prepared to negotiate with the IMF. These were not planned negotiations. This was begging for money in times of serious crisis. I think it is high time for us to know how much State we want; where is the State to act and how to finance it. We cannot just float with the current and count on discipline imposed from outside. As far as wages – there is a correlation between a job well-done, salary and dignity. I am not a fan of thinking of society as divided in sectors. Such thinking leads to deficits. Good goals are achieved with clear and shared responsibility, not by division. We already divide ourselves in so many other ways and for such a long time.
Which three values top your personal ranking?
Kindness, loyalty, compassion.
What is the role of faith in your personal choices?
Determining. I could not do it any other way.
Which literary character has touched you the strongest over the years?
They have been different at different times. From fairy tales – the characters of Brothers Grimm. I remember the voice of my father when he was reading to me. Andersen, Wilhelm Hauff, and Nikolay Raynov – I was already reading them on my own. Later – Mark Twain – more Huckleberry Finn than Tom Sawyer. Later – Maupassant, in fifth grade, secretly from my parents. And one day – Zorba the Greek. And when I saw the movie, I realized the power of a well-told story. Telling stories is power, Zachary. You know it best. Later, in ninth grade, almost during the entire summer, I read Dostoevsky. I felt physically sick, literally. Fortunately I could talk to my parents about it. And later? Later, I maybe grew up. But I will never forget the times when I discovered Faulkner and then Doris Lessing, Margaret Drubble, Max Frisch, Hermann Hesse, Toni Morrison. "Beloved" – what a live-changing book. Until today. Today I find Alessandro Baricco just marvelous. Everything he had written is worthy. But Bulgarian authors are particularly dear to my heart – maybe because we understand the layers; they are close to us with their humor, feelings.
What are you reading now?
A series of Jorge Amado – Tieta, Shepherds of the Night, the autobiography of Claudia Cardinale. My day lights up when there is a good book. I have the feeling something beautiful has happened to the world and to me personally,
July, 2011, Varna – Sofia – San Diego
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