Everything’s Worse In Bulgaria*

*according to lots of Bulgarians

One of the most common conversation tropes that one encounters when talking to Bulgarians is the idea that Bulgaria is worse in every way than some country. It was literally the first conversation I had in Bulgaria. Minutes after our plane landed in Sofia for the first time, we spoke with a woman at customs who saw that we were American. The conversation quickly turned into her wondering why we would move here, particularly since everything is more expensive in Bulgaria (untrue). When Huelo pointed out that tomatoes cost the equivalent of 10 or 11 leva a kilo in the States (and taste like cardboard), versus 2 leva a kilo in Sofia during the off-season, the woman quickly conceded that, okay, tomatoes were cheaper in Sofia, but everything besides the cost of that specific fruit is worse.

The same goes for healthcare. Getting signed up for the national health service or private insurance (as we currently are) leads to a lot of conversations about how much better the situation was under Communism. Unfortunately, capitalism has provided a structural incentive to abandon people to die, which is how the American system works. Everything to do with Bulgaria’s healthcare system is cheaper and easier by orders of magnitude than the American system, which is extraordinarily cruel and objectively the worst in the industrialized world. Doesn’t matter, though, Bulgaria’s system is terrible, according to Bulgarians.

This is such a common trope that it just popped up in the New York Times. The story was concerning the recent collapse of the South Stream pipeline, a Russian energy project that would pump Russian hydrocarbons under the Black Sea and into Europe through Bulgaria. The Times has a very typical New York Times-y approach to the story, discussing Russian statecraft with the sort of overwrought, conspiratorial tone that the Times shares with the John Birch Society. In one of the opening grafs, the typical Bulgarian lament pops up:

While Bulgaria’s Energy Ministry ostensibly wrote the legislation, documents reveal the hidden hand of the Kremlin: Not only did much of the language come from a subsidiary of Russia’s state-owned energy giant, Gazprom, but Mr. Putin’s energy minister was directly involved.

If this happens in the U.S., the whole government would resign,” said Martin Dimitrov, a minister of Parliament from Bulgaria’s Reformist Bloc. “Not in Bulgaria, apparently.”

Dimitrov, like most Bulgarians, doesn’t have a great deal of faith in the government. Bulgarians routinely list themselves as some of the unhappiest people in Europe, and at the root of a lot of it is a state that’s openly corrupt. The political situation even led to a spate of self-immolations in 2013–the most desperate and extreme public statement a human being can make.

As usual, though, the idea that this is impossible in the US, rather than exactly the same, is a very Bulgarian attitude. Despite Dimitrov’s naïve and ahistoric view that this would cause the government to fall, American legislation is entirely written by the interested private parties who will benefit from it. The Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”), for instance, was written by a health care industry lobbyist, and is a multi-trillion dollar gift to the private insurance industry. That’s how all American legislation works: it’s why a recent study by Princeton and Northwestern Universities found the US was a functioning oligarchy, which Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen–the person in charge of all the moneytacitly confirmed. The government didn’t fall.

Similarly, the last time the Bulgarian government came under question, it had to do with the appointment of an oligarch’s cretinous son to head the Bulgarian equivalent of the NSA. That action, perceived by tens of thousands as an unforgivable affront to democracy, did cause mass resignations. In America, no amount of revelations about the NSA, whether it’s a similar instance of public-private cronyism or revelations of mass spying, have ever caused so much as one substantive improvement in American political life.

We’ve come to Bulgaria with foreign eyes and can see how much it has going for it. Unlike America, Bulgaria has great fresh food, a healthy work-life balance, and a health care system that’s more functional and less a blight on the civilized world. Also, everyone complains, but simultaneously has 3 houses. Talk to most people, and they have an apartment, their parent’s house outside of town, and Baba’s house in the village, all of which they can live in and will inherit someday. Bulgarians may see a lot of problems here, but their country would benefit from correctly perceiving their problems in relation to those of others. They definitely wouldn’t be the most depressed people in Europe if they did.

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12 responses to “Everything’s Worse In Bulgaria*

  1. Great article. You managed to identify the single most-important problem we Bulgarians have.

  2. Thanks for a stimulating read 🙂
    As a Bulgarian living in China, I am starting to appreciate my country of birth more and more.

  3. Thank you for this article. It’s about time that Bulgarians lift their heads up and start living a more happy and dignified life. However this may prove rather difficult or impossible as the psychology of the average Joe here is exactly as described above and it’s passing onwards like it’s contagious. There certainly isn’t a lack of reasons for this but it is a really pitiful way of thinking. I hope more people change for the better in the future

    • “Happy and dignified life:” that’s exactly why we moved here for, in fact. 🙂 Thank you for reading and commenting! We certainly don’t want to invalidate people’s experiences, and I understand Bulgaria has a lot of problems. But, yesterday I saw a doctor, a specialist in fact. I didn’t have to make an appointment ahead of time, she was very nice and extremely knowledgeable, and she wrote me a prescription. I’m not on the national health care program yet, so for this examination I had to pay 24 leva (about $15). The prescription itself cost 5 leva. This all could’ve cost me hundreds of dollars in the USA. Even if the clinics here aren’t as sparkling clean (and I have to bring my own toilet paper), seeing a real doctor for such a small amount feels like such a luxury!

  4. Great article and welcome to Bulgaria, I hope that all your good expectations sustain in the future. Can I ask you where do you plan to live? Because if you live in Sofia, then most of the things you mention are absolutely true. But if you plan to live in a much smaller town, maybe in the North-Western part of Bulgaria, then you are in for a disappointment.
    Also you pointed out things that are pretty high in the live cycle, if I might say. The problems Bulgaria has is in the lows. We have a pretty dysfunctional law enforcement system. Hardly any criminals face justice or actual jail time. This makes people very unsecure and we don’t have the habit of owning guns to protect ourselves, since the laws regarding that have always been pretty strict. So everyone live in constant negligence, since it is general knowledge that if you become a victim of any criminal act, you pretty much have no way of getting any justice.
    Also due to the hard living conditions in Bulgaria, most of the people had become very overprotective and mean. And don’t get me started on the infrastructure around the country.
    Don’t get me wrong, I love my country, but I am really tired of defending it and I am really tired of living here.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting! I completely agree that life in Sofia is very different from other parts of the country, and of course there are drawbacks to life here as well. I lived in a small town near Varna for two years, and before that in a village near Pleven for three months. Now we’ve been in Sofia for almost a year. We really like Sofia, but we don’t where we’ll end up in the future. I’m very grateful I’ve had the opportunity to see a cross-section of life here. I’ve also traveled all over the country, and I have to say, no matter where I’ve lived, I’ve met really wonderful people and made good friends. I do know a lot of Bulgarians who have moved away, and many people prefer living abroad. The grass is always greener on the other side, I guess. 🙂

    • To provide a dissenting opinion, I think our law/crime problems are just as much bloated out of proportion as our other problems. Statistically, we have relatively low crime rates and a decent number of crimes actually get solved, but the public opinion on the matter says otherwise.

      • Thanks for the perspective, Blazzard. I assumed this was the case, since crime seems relatively low here. I also can’t emphasize strongly enough how different it feels to live in a country without a lot of guns-“crime” means something different when there’s a good chance it will involve a firearm.

  5. Thanks for this article. As they put it in Married with Children: we’re dying. We’re diagnosed with Bulgaria. 🙂

  6. Very illuminating, you can expect us soon! Love,G&G

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