European values and the invisible network
By Ole Aabenhus
Albena Taneva has a Ph.D. in political science and leadership, an M.A. in sociology, has background in holocaust studies and is now a professor in public administration at the most prestigious institution of learning in Sofia, the St. Kliment Ohridski University.
I met her one sunny afternoon in her office. As we talk it becomes clear to me that there are two themes that she really wants to bring across: European values, and the positive sides of Bulgaria.
But soon a third theme enters the conversation: The invisible network.
The My!Europe conference, due in the ancient Bulgarian city of Plovdiv September 6-8, is about democracy and European values. This is of great importance, she says, "because Bulgaria is a
European country. Compared to other European countries, there may be differences in standard of living and in fate, but, she says, "Bulgaria was always a European country. It is not just European because it is a member of the EU".
"A political union help to develop our heritage in a better, smarter era.Liberal democracy and European values were once just a dream. Today we all benefit from this great achievement, even without doing a thing. And now, all of a sudden we are ready to complain!"
"In the North you tend to think of Southern Europe as being poorer. Still, it is possible to have shelter, not to go hungry, to find occupation and it is possible to find ways to lead a decent life".
Comparing "the quality of life" between Bulgaria and the rest, she points at the fact that Bulgaria is remarkably well provided with high-speed internet. You have free web in most villages - even on the Romanian border".
Also, Bulgaria has great philharmonic orchestras, great opera, world-famous singers, classical musicians, jazz restaurants; theatre is extremely popular. "Of course our salaries are much lower than in Denmark or in Germany. The economy is weak, but developing, -- we all know what problems we have...and have had".
She is pointing at the socialist past. "Socialism is a terrible system. It destroys everything. It destroys your institutions, social capital, the social stratification".
The People's Republic of Bulgaria" lasted from 1946 to 1991. "On a historical scale, this is not so much, but for a human being it's a lot. And it is long enough to interfere with the value system".
And this is where she started talking about "the invisible network of the former secret police". A leftover from the socialist era, still with very strong relations to the former Soviet union.
Well, she points at a Bulgarian business may, owner of a chain of chemists' stores, who has now started out in gas stations in the Varna area on the Black Sea. To everybody's great surprise he has been able to sell Russian gas at a price 20 per cent lower than any of his competitors. How? Albena Taneva notes that the invisible network has its centre in Russia, and it is probably impossible to be more precise than that. I later found this news item on the internet, about an incident that happened to the business on question, Veselin Mareshki, earlier this year:
A bomb exploded near a pharmacy located in a block of flats in the Bulgarian city of Burgas overnight, the Novonite English-language news service reported on January 29, 2016. No people were injured, but the explosion caused material damages to the pharmacy and the flat above it.
The store is owned by businessman Veselin Mareshki, who runs a chain of pharmacies bearing his surname across the country. Recently, Mareshki started a business with petrol stations, selling fuel at lower prices than those offered by his competitors.
"We have had different governments from 1990 until now, but people who were involved in the secret police during the former regime were never prohibited from having positions in public institutions, be ministers etc.", she says, using the term that there was no ostracization [exclusion from society]. "And now it's too late".
"Actually, what happened was that the financial and economic power of the communist state was transferred into the hands of people who made up the apparatchiks [members of the communist administration] and were in the secret police".
"So, some of the new rich guys were actually former bosses in their field. Lets say, they became owners".
"Maybe this strengthened the market, but the problem was that some of these networks became very efficient in corruption, and in making use of European funds in ways that break the rules. This even makes it difficult to carry out a real big change in the system of law".
"So, we are working for a system that will work in such a way that our society will be able to achieve its goal".
"That's why it's great that you are here with your project to make our beautiful and nice country more popular. It is actually nice to be a human being here. You have --- beautiful nature, wonderful climate, great winter resorts, great summers on the Black Sea, and you have history here going 8.000 years back, including ruins from the Thracian period, the Roman period..."
I ask her about the attitude of the young – of her students. Some of them have been out on EU-supported Erasmus stipends. How do they react?
"My biggest hope is that the new generation will be the answer to the problem, we have. They are not marked by the totalitarian period. As a nation, we suffer from lack of memory. Many people say that under socialism there was no crime and no unemployment – but it is all false!"
"We have to bring up the new generation to the values of free democracy. But this will take some time".
Populism is growing fast in most European countries right now. Is it the same here, I ask.
"We also have parties that play this card, changing with the circumstances so they can be against Turks, or against Roma or against the European Union, or against the US or foreign firms.
We are located on the boundaries of a great migration route, so it is easy to play with people's fear, and to create it. - This happens everywhere, but we have to find ways to cope with it."