Sunday, September 30, 2012

Extra patriam non est vita

During the four decades of Communist rule, Bulgaria was a closed country. Visiting other countries, let alone emigrating to them, was not a right but a privilege granted to few. Whatever you may say about the achievements and simple joys of life in communist Bulgaria, the fact that residents were not allowed to leave meant that it was essentially one big prison. And when in 1989 frontiers were opened, the effect was similar to breaking open the gates of a prison. The wild, thoughtless rush to the dreamed Free World was only enhanced by the Communist victory at the heavily falsified 1990 elections and other subsequent disastrous events.

As in every country with emigration reaching the scale of evacuation, it started to be regarded as default and remaining in the homeland as exception. Entire generations of children grew up knowing that they are likely to emigrate in the future. It is difficult to describe this climate to those who haven't lived in it, the climate in which reporters are chasing 16-yr-olds with the question "What is keeping you in Bulgaria", and a textbook for 7th-graders asks, "Would you choose for yourself the emigrant's fate?". Young people wishing to remain are often pushed by parents and peers to "go West for a couple of years to try - you may begin to like it". And some actually emigrate despite suspicions that they would not be happy abroad, just to prove themselves; because those who remain are stereotyped as good-for-nothing people whose only virtue is the realistic assessment of their laziness and incompetence that would not allow them to succeed in the West.

The sequential (and apparently neverending) massive emigration waves have of course further weakened the country. Even if Bulgaria ultimately survives, the exodus of its most active and talented youths, the blossom of the nation, has devastating effects. Though most emigrants support their remaining families and many engage in actions for the country's benefit, this can never substitute for the contributions they would make if they had remained here. Worse, the spirit of homestayers is broken. When they are fired, injustly punished, robbed, denied medical help or otherwise hit by Bulgarian reality, their primary impulse is not to think how to solve the problem but to lament that "this is not a decent country and will never be", and to regret that they have not left it in time. Young people, even if still here, are not sure for how long this would last and have little interest to work for the future of Bulgaria. And because those who should be the most active citizens are either already absent or ready to pack, politicians and their corrupted circles can do whatever they want without being bothered by civil resistance.

I wish now to write about those who left, though I cannot use 1st person here. Beyond doubt, most of them have earned a living standard they would never enjoy in Bulgaria. Many have found prospects for their abilities and have made spectacular careers. But how many have found true happiness? People are rarely sincere about this, so I cannot be sure. But my observation is that, as with other cases of mass psychosis, people rushing to the default direction often neglect or silence their internal voices. In their new countries, they may suffer from home-sickness and may subject themselves to dangers they know nothing about. In the same way as in Bulgaria we navigate our way between crazy drivers, stray dogs and pickpocket gangs and still manage (in most cases) to stay out of harm's way, other countries have other dangers to which native inhabitants are used. Every human dwelling, no matter how advanced, is hazardous and requires a set of adaptation skills - I would even say, survival skills - which are acquired unconsciously and, for that reason, cannot be taught to newcomers.

Fifteen years ago, when people of my generation were still young and making choices, I wasn't too confident in my decision to stay. I didn't try to defend it, let alone persuade other people, just wished to be left alone. When a loved one tried to convince me to emigrate, I said, "I do not tell you to stay - why do you tell me to depart?". Now, people of my generation are middle-aged. Middle age is the time when you are no longer free to choose, because choices have remained behind. The true mark of middle age is not the slow bodily decline becoming apparent, but the disappearance of second chances. It is time to draw a line and summarize the outcome of the two strategies - emigrating and staying. Now I see that, against all odds, those who remained in the Bulgarian misery are generally better off. And I regret that, as my loved ones were carried away by the wave, I didn't try to persuade anybody, didn't help anybody to stay.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Burgas, the city that was attacked

On July 29, eleven days after the Burgas bus bombing, we briefly stopped in this city on our way to the smaller resort town of Primorsko.
I am uploading three photos so that you get some impression of Burgas. They show, respectively, a figure from the Burgas 2012 Sand Festival (an exposition in the city park), an old anchor now used as street decoration, and a restaurant.
I hope you get the impression of peace. What makes some people so eager to destroy peace, happiness and life? Today is the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and I still haven't a good answer to this question. I'll update this post at some later moment to tell more about Burgas.