Bulgarian youth: caught between hope and reality

What does being a young person in Bulgaria imply?

, by Michaela Mateva

Bulgarian youth: caught between hope and reality

In the present article the author analyses the situation of young people in Bulgaria in the last two decades, from the fall of Communism to the long awaited entry into the EU. The article touches upon the topics of brain-drain, which had hit Bulgarian society especially hard, the emerging EU-generation and changing attitudes of young and old.

The State versus Bulgarian youth

In Germany you can often hear that young people there are not so willing to graduate from the University and they prefer to remain students as long as possible. It is not because they find it quite difficult to reach the last year of the Bachelor degree or because they are not professionally orientated. The German state plays a major role of the “holding” factor with its special attitude, like most of the European countries, towards young people. In Bulgaria, however, being a young person is not an advantage but a disadvantage…or it used to be?

According to several representative surveys approximately a million of Bulgarians have emigrated since the fall of communism in 1989, nearly 85 percent of them under age 30. Most of the Bulgarian emigrants went to Germany, the United States and Spain. The reasons? It is not important to list them all… mentioning one will be enough – the state did not regard its young people as a special social group that deserves any preferences, owing to their specific position in terms of the future of the nation. In consequence of this neglect the Bulgarian youth found it better to be well-paid Gastarbeiter abroad than barely surviving lawyers or doctors in their motherland.

Universities versus Bulgarian youth

Young people feel that they are not given the opportunity to be initiative. It is easier to set up a business on Mars than in Bulgaria. What is more, youngsters here find it difficult to get a job or they are employed in temporary and unattractive low-paid jobs even after having graduated from University – it means having a qualification. In spite of government declarations that young people are among its priorities and the first steps, which have been made with the creation of a State Agency for Youth and Sports, there is no clear active policy regarding young people. Higher education in Bulgaria is producing unemployed people. There is no connection between the universities and the labour market and that is why we can say that most of the Bulgarians have a Master degree and even more than one diploma per person. At the same time we have to admit that a high percentage of them are employed either in a different professional field to their educational background or they work abroad.

Youth policy – a brain-drain?!?

The “notorious” brain-drain was flourishing here and it is not a myth or a speculation of some political games. During the past 15 years Bulgaria lost its treasure but I deeply doubt that the politicians have realized that. The government, wrapped up in modernizing its legislature because of the European union and trying to boost economic growth, has not managed to prevent young people from leaving the country. Among my parents’ friends almost each family has one or two children in a foreign country studying or working or usually doing both. “Why so?” one may ask. On the one hand, I could say that going abroad became a fashion and many people decide on being a student in Germany of France because of their friends or because of their parents’ ambition. On the other hand though, young citizens see that abroad they can find not only a good education but future prospects for a professional realization as well. And while for working abroad they are paid from 5 to 9 EUR per hour in Bulgaria they can get around 1-2 EUR per hour (if even offered a part-time job).

Bulgarian young people not going to sing:

“The west is the best The west is the best Get here, and we’ll do the rest” … they want to write a song of their own!

The EU-generation is coming…

I intentionally brought the negative perspective of Bulgarians in question at the very beginning. Euro-optimism is growing among young people and in my opinion it would not lead to a new wave of ‘brain-drain’ but to an EU-generation. It consists of young people who regard the opportunities for studying, working and traveling around Europe given by the EU not as a legal way of emigration. In contrast to some British newspapers blaming Bulgarians for something that has not happened and probably will not, I strongly believe that during these 15 years of transition to democracy our generation, the future of our country, learned that citizens create the image of the country and not the country itself. Studying abroad for one semester or more should be and is regarded as a great advantage because you can gain a lot of experience that you can bring back to your country and use it for its benefit. And if now setting up a business is easier on Mars than in Bulgaria tomorrow it could be the opposite.

1989 – Idealistic thinking among young people … 2007 – Realistic thinking among young people

Fortunately, more and more young people accept this way of thinking. Now they admit that waiting for the state to solve the problems is a waste of time and completely wrong. It is true that we are not the Parliament and we are not the decision-makers but we have the power to control this process. How? It is called a civil society and creating one in Bulgaria will help us adjusting the country to our needs and ideas.

Young people have realised the basic meaning of the transformation: the centre in public life has moved from the state to the civil society.

I am happy to discover among my friends and colleagues at the university a catching motivation for being an active citizen. It can be quite funny to hear the comments of old people on this Euro-optimism. We cannot blame them for thinking in that way. We can show them (and the politicians as well) that we made up our mind and the past should remain in the past – a new future is coming and we are those supposed to take an active part in it. And while traditionally since 1989, the idealism of the young and the realism of elders meet in opposition now we are witnessing a new inter-relationship – realistic thinking of young people and idealistic thinking (in a nostalgic way) of elders.

“See how the land lies”

Joining the European Union is a new start for the young people in Bulgaria. It represents the “green street” they had been hoping and waiting for in the last 17 years, which will lead them to a higher level of professional realization and development. In the new glossary “to emigrate” should not exist anymore. It must be replaced with “to gain experience”, “to exchange” or “to see how the land lies”. The Bulgarian membership in the EU will reveal new doors for us and young people in Bulgaria are highly motivated to find the keys for them by themselves.

Image taken from the free online photo management and sharing application Flickr.

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