Die lange Revolution


A lesson learned

They still resemble delicate fairies when they dance. Watching these ballet dancers, one cannot help but remember the days of Communism when Bulgaria’s female track and field athletes swept the board in international competitions. The only difference is that today the girls in Sofia’s dance school smile more often as they whirl through the air. Even the dancers’ trainer is the same person as in the old days – Neschka Robeva. “No one knows if the state will be willing to pay for this institution much longer,” she says. Robeva believes that anyone making long-term plans in Bulgaria today is either stupid or a hopeless optimist. She dislikes the general mentality that has descended on the population following the political upheaval: “The nation has not understood that self-discipline is still the most important thing, even in the new system.” Teachers like Robeva used to enjoy high social standing in Bulgaria. But today this only applies to people who make a lot of money.

Bulgaria has undergone change more rapidly than probably any other country in South Eastern Europe. In conversation with a selected group of interview partners, Return to Europe shows Bulgaria’s miraculous transformation into a relatively average European country. The most profound changes did not start until after the great crisis of the late 1990s; ever since then Bulgaria has been booming. The construction industry, in particular, has enjoyed rapid growth, as Return to Europe documents. “It has been difficult to do anything wrong over the past ten years,” says businessman Ivo Prokopjev.

Along with the money, however, came the corruption – the sleazy links between politics, business and crime. But Return to Europe also shows that, thanks to the highly committed journalists and efficient control systems of present-day Bulgaria, scandals such as the misappropriation of EU funds were uncovered. The film’s subtext is that Bulgaria’s image is far worse than it actually deserves.

The film also puts the spotlight on those people who have not been able to benefit from the upswing – the Roma people in particular. Programmes aimed at fostering education and enabling participation in the labour market are only slowly being established. “The education system has never accepted that there are people living in this country who speak a language other than Bulgarian,” complains Mischa Georgiev of the Roma organisation Romani Baht. He speaks frankly about how the Roma live “on the margins of legality” in Bulgaria. Bulgaria also oppressed its minorities during the Communist era; these included Turks as well as the Roma. After the changes of 1990 it was the Roma who lost their jobs first.

But despite the fact that nationalism might have seemed the easy way forward, Bulgarian politicians did not fall prey to the temptation to look out purely for their own interests as happened in other Balkan countries. Bulgaria recognised the state of Macedonia, and today there are Turkish ministers in Sofia. “We lost the First, the Second and the Cold War,” says pollster Andrej Raychev. “We have learned our lesson.” (Adelheid Wölfl)

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