On Pride and Prejudice

16 September 2008

The recent 30.75 M pounds transfer of Bulgarias most famous football striker, Dimitar Berbatov, to his dream-team, Manchester United, caused a wave of national pride that swept across the small Balkan country and raised many questions about the average persons self-identification as a member of the nation. The psychological reasons behind this phenomenon may be a key to understanding the character of the Bulgarian and may help illuminate a few of his/hers already outstanding features.

Bulgaria Lacks Heroes

There are no positive characters in todays Bulgarian social existence. In all media, a heavy accent is laid predominantly on negative characters and announcements containing information about crime, accidents, misery. Few news broadcasters launched good news sections in their airtimes, newspapers, news emissions; these, however, have generally failed to win popularity. In a hero-void age, the average Bulgarian has continually been seeking self-identification with various characters, less from history and more from contemporary times, who would serve to intensify the feeling of national-belonging. Notably, during the past 18 years of modern history, the only such successful and perceivably popular identification has been the one with Bulgarian national football team players.

Fourth in the World

In the 1994 US-held world football championship, Bulgarias representative kickers climbed up to number four, snatching the bronze underneath the nose of perspective teams such as Argentina, Mexico, and Germany. The names of footballers easily recognizable by almost everyone even today were shouted out loud on the streets of every Bulgarian town and city, national banners were flown and fireworks shot, the nation rejoiced as hardly ever before, fascinated by the football dream.

Love and Hate

Those same names the people praised one day were sent to hell and damnation on the other, all their female relatives referred to explicitly, when the Bulgari yu-na-tsi! performed poorly in the following years. Less than a hundredth of those numbers gathered together in early 1997 when the country saw mass protests against a Socialist government that had led the state over the edge and down to an abyss of national catastrophe.

Protests, Anyone?

Very few people actually make it into the street to voice their disgruntlement with those in power nowadays, while hardly anyone will ever say they are satisfied. The little number of demonstrations there have been during the past 8-9 years were always strictly-same-branch attended, united hardly a good word to describe them. Employees in other sectors would most often 1. Grumble and complain about the discomfort the protests were creating, 2. Be openly jealous, saying they already get salaries big enough, whats the matter with them asking even more! and not rarely resort to abusing (verbally and sometimes physically) the protesters, and 3. Be rarely sympathetic, hardly ever supportive.

Those in Power

Hardly anyone would want to identify him or herself with the figures in power. Although elected with their votes, Bulgarians normally never say a good word about their politicians. The politicians, in their turn, seem to forget what they have been elected for and whence they came from as soon as they set foot in the Parliaments chambers. The peoples representatives appear to quickly develop into beings who believe they are always above the law who can, for instance, threaten to fire a policeman for telling them off for bad parking like that. This was most clearly demonstrated by a recent PM Stanishev comment that the tripartite coalition were the only ones working for the good of Bulgaria, while the whole population was working against it.

The Opposition

Bulgarias opposition is huge in street comments, news forums, occasional newspaper articles. It is, however, miniature, when there is real need for it. In fact, the whole of Bulgaria is an opposition, whose only occupation is to relentlessly criticize everyone and everything. A fact worth mentioning is that the current political opposition in the country is mostly comprised of people who were previously in power. Interestingly enough, those in power start having good ideas and solutions to all sorts of problems as soon as they step down and become opposition, while miraculously failing to conceive even one appropriate measure while in power.

The Voters

Perhaps exhausted by the great disillusionment with the prospects of change of the early 1990s that came to stay, the people nowadays can hardly be bothered to vote. In the past decade, parliamentary, presidential or MEP polls hardly managed to lure more than 40% of eligible voters to the ballot rooms, with the tendency clearly on the downslope. Elections in Bulgaria are strictly won by those parties who have a hardcore electorate who always vote as instructed, even though they sometimes cannot read the text on the ballot (the correct choice marked or announced for them before they enter the ballot room). These are people who rarely have a completed secondary education, are not too often bothered to read a newspaper, and at best can get reception of two or three TV channels, but usually only watch one. A not an insignificant number of these are dead, in the real meaning of the word: every time there are elections, thousands of names mysteriously appear on the eligible voters lists that can otherwise be only read on a tombstone somewhere. The majority of people those who could vote and could elect good politicians or could become united over the removal of those failed ones they only shrug shoulders saying all politicians are the same.

The Role Models

The most successful role model in Bulgaria is the tough bully that drives a shiny and powerful car, has lots of dough, many friends in key positions, and occasionally smashes the head of an accidental passer-by for the sheer fun of it. If you ask teenagers, the majority of them would prefer brawn and a muscle car to learning school stuff and getting excellent marks. Probably because they all know too well that marks and diplomas can be bought just like you buy bread at the store.

For the few that are occasionally suffering from pangs of consciousness, the best role model, for the time being, is Boyko Borissov. BB is tough and demonstrates his well-built figure before the paparazzi with pleasure, and his tongue is as sharp as an officials tongue can ever be, and sometimes even more. BB is going to fight crime in no time, and he is going to kick the sorry asses of the three wimps that rule the country the moment he manages to find some time off of the millions of problems he has to deal with because of them.

The Slavi Show

Perhaps the only medium that the people clearly perceive as being on their side is the show that still ranks in the top TV programmes, the Slavi Show. Its host, a two-meter-tall bully with clean-shaven skull, and his team, broadcast material that openly criticizes, ridicules, and attacks the politicians in power almost on a daily basis, their most recent shows clearly calling for removal of those political figures. Indeed, it was, broadly speaking, those same people who in 1996-7 started the January Revolution with their anti-establishment appeals. They called themselves hushove, after the rebellious intellectuals and workers who in the 1860-70s lived in Romania and helped organize uprisings against the Turks. Slavis shows popularity has, however, been decreasing in the past year, a few of his editors and actors quitting.

Stoichkov, Hristo Stoichkov

The famous 1990s striker who brought many victories to Bulgaria and to Barcelona was admired by many, if not by most. People would easily forgive him his ill tongue that produced more curses, sore oaths and swear words for the exchange of the brilliant goals he netted, making the name of Bulgaria known for one more reason, albeit one accompanied by a pile of unpleasant mutter and squint looks. When Stoichkovs play deteriorated and his coaching skills were manifested to everyone as somewhere between the nill and the zero, whereupon his tongue's sharpness stood out more prominently, most of his fans, previously convinced that he was doing his country a favour, glorifying the name of Bulgaria, now stood up against him and sent him back to Spain with even more curses that he could produce.

Berbatov, Dimitar Berbatov

To watch how thousands reveled in admiration for the success of Berbatov, who finally made his dream to play in a world-famous team come true, was a daunting experience. Awesome, because for once I could see Bulgarians being happy about and proud of someones success, instead of groveling before the omnipotent Bulgarian trait of character best illustrated in the saying Better my neighbour be doing bad than me be doing fine. Intimidating, because in this year alone there were many dozens of occasions when the superiority of the Bulgarian genius in fields such as Mathematics and Programming was demonstrated on a worldwide level, and yet these did not even make it into the news