It is alarming to see that there is an ever-increasing rift and even antagonism between the Bulgarian community abroad and the population at home, writes Rumen Cholakov, co-founder of Millennium Club Bulgaria.
On 3 February 2016, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov attended an open meeting with the Bulgarian community at the country’s London Embassy as part of a visit to the United Kingdom. The meeting was a bruising experience for the Prime Minister and culminated with a young professional asking him whether he saw the reflection of unpopular Bulgarian politician Delyan Peevski, whose name has come to symbolise corruption in the country, in the mirror. Video footage from the meeting went viral and reverberated throughout the country. It is also perhaps the reason why the mainstream parties and the Government have since taken a course to avoid the Bulgarian community abroad.
By some estimates, there are over two million Bulgarians living abroad, perhaps the highest percentage of expats of the population of any European Union country. Financial contributions from these expats amount to no less than BGN 2bn [€1 billion] and according to many are the critical life support for people who struggle to make ends meet in Bulgaria. Curiously, Bulgaria’s fifth largest city by population may be Chicago, Illinois where it is often quoted that the community exceeds 200,000.
In 2016, I established an organisation of Bulgarian expats, Millennium Club Bulgaria, whose purpose is to bring together Bulgarians from the generation of the “millennials” both abroad and at home together to participate in the country’s socio-political and economic life. We established a think tank, mentoring programme, and academic scholarship and launched campaigns to raise voting participation at Bulgaria’s elections, simplify the process for recognition of foreign degrees in Bulgaria and support Bulgaria’s bid to elect the next Secretary-General of the United Nations.
We decided that our main priority for 2017 should be the preparation for Bulgaria’s EU Presidency and quickly offered our network and support to the Government. After a few meetings with the Ministry in charge of the preparation, we discovered that our contribution was politely shunned and all our efforts to get the attention of public institutions, including the Council of Ministers and the Presidency, to use our resources have remained fruitless.
It is alarming to see that there is an ever-increasing rift and even antagonism between the Bulgarian community abroad and the population at home. The Patriotic Front, currently in coalition with the ruling GERB party, initiated legislation to prevent Bulgarians abroad from being able to vote and when challenged by the expat community, current Deputy Prime Minister Valery Simeonov said that the expats should not “meddle in his feet”.
I strongly believe that Bulgaria needs its expats. Many countries have demonstrated how powerful their communities abroad could be for supporting the foreign policy or international economic objectives of a small country that is not otherwise a global player. There are exceptionally successful Bulgarians in nearly every financial institution, university, and major corporation all over the world, but beyond a few household names which have been incorporated into the country’s political life over the years, very little is known or heard about them.
We will continue with our efforts to popularise their success and offer the enormous potential for Bulgaria and hope that when you visit the country over the coming six months, you will also remember that there are more than two million Bulgarians you will not meet.
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