During their years under Soviet influence, Bulgarians hardly had any opportunity to travel to Western Europe or even neighbouring Greece. The isolation of Bulgaria from the Western world lasted to 1989 and beyond, as most European countries still required visa for Bulgarians until 2007. The lengthy isolation of Bulgaria from the Western world does not prevent the Bulgarians from having strong opinions about some issues in international politics.
The small souvenir market in front of Sofia`s Nevski Cathedral is filled with Swastika-labelled souvenirs from Nazi Germany. I am surprised that established merchands are not ashamed of openly displaying flattering material about Adolf Hitler. I am also surprised to hear that Bulgaria started both World War I and World War II as an ally of Germany. Naty (24) tells me that Bulgarian politicians have a strong tendency to support the strongest side in international conflicts. `At the time, they placed their bets on Germany, but that soon turned out not to be a smart move. Now during the Iraq war, they were among the first to support the USA.`
..disagree about the position of the USA in the Balkan area
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Naty continues: `We are just a small country and we need the protection of the world powers in order to stay alive. The more important the world power, the more sympathy Bulgaria`s politicians have for it. Us civilians have second thoughts about the ethical questions, but the politicians usually decide before we can. In any case, we only expect a government to do something worthwile during the first term in office. It is quite common for people to vote for opposite parties in subsequent election. Voters simply want to punish the ones in power, only to find out a year later that the other parties will mess up just as bad. Regarding World War II, we may officially have supported the Germans, but many families were hiding Jews and protecting them from the Nazi`s.`
Although Bulgaria has taken distance from its communist past, Naty does not exclude the possibility that Bulgaria will turn to Russia in case the European Union or the United States do not manage to consolidate their roles as world powers: `Russia is a large country that is more self-sufficient than the USA. It is a peaceful country. Bulgaria is happy to, still today, have good relations with Russia. The country is a major sales market for Bulgarian-produced products, so we definitely benefit from productive relations with Russia. It is actually surprising that we turned against Russia in the Second World War. Our politicians must have expected that Germany would be victorious in the end. Well, obviously they were not, and it was the Russian army who liberated Bulgaria from the Germans. Like they helped us become independent from the Turks in the 19th century.`
Bedros (27) says that the period Bulgaria spent under Soviet rule has certainly left its imprint on the country. `There was a lot of political oppression, but in spite of that, Bulgarians generally like to see Russia as a big brother. They are much more sympathetic with Russia than for example with Turkey or with gypsies.`
Bedros explains that Bulgaria has a significant Turkish minority within its borders: `They even have their own Turkish news on national television and some Turkish schools in some southern provinces of the country. They participate in society like the Bulgarians do. Maybe they are more involved in trade and independent jobs than the Bulgarians are. But the Turkish are not a subject of conversations. People care more about criminal networks that flourish in gypsy communities. They gypsies breed families of 8 kids or more, not caring about whether they can actually support their children financially. Many of them do not go to school, because the parents say there`s no money for that.`
Even though more negative attention is paid to the Gypsy issue, few Bulgarians are positive about the Turkish presence in Bulgaria once they do start talking about it. They tolerate the presence of the Turks but are not too happy about the Islamic influence they represent. Bulgaria seems an unlikely target for terrorism, due to its low profile image abroad and thanks the overall tolerance towards the Turkish minority.
Former-Yugoslavia is next door to Bulgaria and if there is one region in the world that ends up in Bulgarian newspapers, it`s the Western Balkan. Despite the very limited, if at all existent, intake of refugees during the war, the Bulgarians witnesses quite a cruel and lengthy war just West of their borders.
Kras (25) is ashamed that the Bulgarian government allowed NATO to fly over its territory so they could bomb targets in Yugoslavia. `Bombing for peace is like fucking for virginity`, he says, `And beside that, we have a lot in common with the Serbs, and it was hard to see them under so much pressure from the international community.`
The Slavic brotherhood also emerges in Bulgarian opinions about Kosovo. Roxy (23, left in photo) and Silviya (25, right in photo) think that it is unacceptable for Kosovo to claim independence, and almost everybody I speak to is equally fanatic in rejecting the idea of Serbia splitting up. Silviya says: `The Serbians are what we would like to be like. They are proud of their country and their heritage, which is something that lacks us Bulgarians. So Kosovo gets independence now. But maybe the Turks in the South of Bulgaria will also claim their own republic, which wouldn`t make sense. They live on our territory and that`s fine but they should not be too demanding. Fortunately, the Turkish population in the South is not as well-organised as the Albanians are, but still, Kosovo`s independence creates a dangerous precedent for other rebelling ethnicities across the world.`
Roxy adds that independent Kosovo creates a Muslim state at the heart of Europe, and could potentially serve as a perfect operating base for terrorism. `Apart from that, they have nothing to live from except support from third countries. So they have the support from the USA and most of the EU, but are they going to pay for people`s food. And even if they do, it would be as if the USA have sort of bought another state in the middle of Europe`, she says.
Out of all the people I speak to, only Simon (20) agrees with Kosovo`s independence. `Every people should have the right to their own state`, his humble opinion reads.
Sit and listen
At the end of one day of political discussions, I am surprised to learn how much sympathy people have for Serbia and Russia, and by the seemingly flirtuous relations Bulgaria maintains with the EU and USA. But I guess a small country in this corner of Europe has little other choice than to obey the one with the loudest voice. Waiting to be rewarded for loyalty to their allies, no matter how long - or short - the relation may last.
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