Are you one of those people who equate the tag, say, “Made in Germany” with high quality? Or perhaps “Made in China“, or Turkey, with low quality? Do you think fashion has to be “Designed in France,” or Italy, for it to be worthy of your attention? Do you think Scandinavian Design is synonymous with modern, minimalist, pure, and crisp? How about “Made in Bulgaria/your country” then?
Bulgarians are full of stereotypes about others, and find it notoriously difficult to think positively of themselves, or of the goods they produce. We tend to think of our foods as more genuine than the Western European/American ones, but we always suspect malpractice and chicanery; we usually think our clothing is well-sewn but the lack of a recognised label disturbs us; and we generally believe our furniture is solid and quality, but we dash off to IKEA every time we need something with a guaranteed cosmopolitan feel.
On the other hand, we’re not entirely dour and during soccer matches of the national team we ecstatically shout “Brave Bulgarians” at the top of our lungs, and we’re proud that the armies of Khan Tervel fought on behalf of Charlemagne in the war against the Avars, or Huns, that subjugated the Avars, thereby allegedly saving Europe from Islamisation in the late 8th century.
Thus we demonstrate, I’d say, a wholesomely ambivalent self-assessment that apart from highlighting our strong points, does not fail to pinpoint our weaker ones. Strong individualism and lack of constructive problem-solving skills within a community is our arch-sin. Putting profit above reputation is another, putting private interests above community ones, or the law, is yet another, and low self-confidence and idolatry of all things foreign is yet another.
I believe some of the traits I mentioned above can be observed in other nations that have shared a similar past. However, the long interplay of these traits in the Bulgarian mind has resulted in Bulgarians’ being perhaps the only people in the world to have coined a phrase describing the process of undermining a sound or commendable initiative through ignorance, neglect, procrastination, intrigue, and corruption. This process, and its results are called A Bulgarian Job.
The Bulgarian Job, or българска работа, is essentially the result of passive aggression and Resistance as described here. It is a state of inability to look in one direction and work to a common purpose.
It might be, arguably, the everyday-life manifestation of a unique Balkan invention, the Balkanisation, which, unlike Californication, neither has to do with fornication, nor is something particularly coveted in other parts of the world.
In fact it is, according to the Wikipedia definition, “a pejorative geopolitical term originally used to describe the process of fragmentation or division of a region or state into smaller regions or states that are often hostile or uncooperative with one another.”
The meaning of terms varies by context of course, so according to the FT Balkanisation is “a way to describe the breakdown of cross-border banking, as nervous lenders retreat in particular from the more troubled parts of the eurozone or at least try to isolate operations within national boundaries. The term stems from the historical break-up of the Balkans, whose national boundaries have fragmented at various points over the past 200 years.” To each their own.
According to Polish essayist Kazimierz Brandys (1916-2000), of whom I’ll definitely tell you more sometime soon, there is no getting away from our nations, identities, home-grown problems, and family affairs, so we have to endure with dignity the challenges they inevitably pose.
Along the lines of endurance and being dour, which now I am not, a great ballad by Alcatrazz, a metal band that boasted among its members great musicians such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Martie Friedman of Megadeth, and Graham Bonnet, who at one time was singer at Rainbow. Title, very appropriately, is Suffer Me.
Suffering is addictive, but one does have has to approach endurance practically at some point. This song, by Bulgarian 1980s rock band FSB, suggests the coping strategy of raising one’s mind above envy, resentment and intrigue. In this way, the song argues, the elevated individual would emerge from the common mud, and would become visible to those who love, or want to love, them. The lyrics were written by great Bulgarian poet Evtim Evtimov, who has recently died and some of whose poems I have covered in earlier posts, when I was struck by an inexplicable urge to translate poetry. Wonders never cease, and this song is certainly one of them, alongside the breathtakingly beautiful Bulgarian mountains displayed as song video.
I’ve just remembered a Baudelaire poem that speaks of exactly the same – elevating and cleaning oneself of “this morbid, vaporous place” full of “ennui, past troubles and ordeals.” So I just can’t not end on it as a positive note today.
That’s not a very Bulgarian job, I can assure you, but what to do, a person I have recently been introduced to has later commented that I appeared foreign.
Happy endurance, elevation, and shoe polishing,