From January to May, the European Union Center invites educators from throughout the world to come together in an online setting and discuss important topics in modern educational practice and politics. As part of this discussion, students from the University of Illinois are invited to follow the discussion and write short posts about related topics on a country of interest. Lindsay Ozburn, a student in the EU Center’s Masters of Arts in European Union Studies program, will be contributing to this series through a multi-week study of Bulgarian politics and government. Her research will provide a thoughtful and helpful case study that will give TED participants a chance to see how their discussion topics are expressed in real life.
Week One: Prompt – “Identify three current major news stories within your chosen country. What are they about and why are they so important? Is there one more important than the other two? Why do you think so (or not)?”
Bulgaria, where have you gone?
As a student in European Union studies and aficionado of Greek culture, my focus has recently been on Greece and their relationship with the EU. Hoping to become an area studies specialist, I decided to branch out from my heavy focus on Greece and turn my view to its neighbor, Bulgaria. In my initial purview on the various news networks outside of Bulgaria itself (whose validity and bias I could not ascertain; thus, I chose to stay away from their reports), I noticed a common trend: Bulgaria was mostly absent from news reports, especially in the last few months. This was very surprising to me, for two reasons: one, they are on the frontlines on the immigration crisis in the EU and are some of the ‘gatekeepers’ of the EU’s borders; two, often associated as an Eastern European country, they were very recently concerned about the threat of Russia. I’ve chosen three very different articles to share. While it appears I have chosen one important article per month for December through February, the fact of the matter is, there was only one important article published each month relating to Bulgaria (other than news about Bulgarian Olympians being excluded from the upcoming games due to steroid use; which, could be another interesting indication in itself on the state of outsider media coverage of Bulgaria).
This first article (20 January, 2016) addresses why Bulgaria has had such a difficult experience as a market economy, and offers its evidence in a unique format: a survey of major historical events and the current political powers. The article softly argues that Bulgaria’s past communist rule is the main culprit – a regime whose policies are still doing damage to this day. Bulgaria was one of the later countries to join the EU (2007), and still isn’t eligible to join the Eurozone. While the piece doesn’t address whether their absence from the Eurozone is a good or bad thing, it is possible that Bulgaria may not have survived the deflation of the Euro. Overall, the importance of this historical piece lies in its ability to share, in one location, a concise history of Bulgaria, giving readers information on the progression of post-communist effect on their market economy.
This second article (4 December, 2015) discusses British Prime Minister David Cameron’s December visit to Bulgaria, where he ruffled some feathers when he praised Bulgaria’s barbed wire fence and attack dogs on its border with Turkey – aimed at halting refugees crossing the border. His sentiments in this instance reflect Britain’s anti-refugee position, being further played out in Cameron’s purposeful recognition of Britain’s absence within the Schengen Zone treaty. Bulgaria is known for their severe mistreatment of refugees, ranging from extortion to physical abuse, robbery, and police brutality, according to a report from the Belgrade Center for Human Rights. What is especially unique about this article is Britain’s attempt to discriminate against East-European minority vis-à-vis their membership negotiations with the EU, only one and a half months after Cameron was quite chummy with the Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov.
This third article (3 February, 2016) offers a view on a large issue affecting Eastern Europe’s relationship with Western European countries. Britain is currently in negotiations with EU-level bodies to bridge the gap between some of their most contested issues (member state sovereignty, immigration, and the market economy, to name a few), in order to prevent the UK from bowing out of the European Union. One of their newest negotiation treaties contained a clause which decreases welfare, to the detriment of minority groups in the UK; of which Eastern Europeans make up a significant percentage. Eastern European countries are now grappling with the choice of either rejecting the UK’s proposal, risking a “Brexit” and thereby losing protection against Russia; or, allowing their ethnic minority groups to be discriminated against. I believe this article is the most important for three reasons: first, it reiterates the fact that Bulgaria receives very little news coverage (which I discovered while doing this exercise); and, when it does, it tends to be lumped with Eastern European countries and EU-wide issues; second, it discusses the very prevalent issue of ethnic discrimination within the UK and talk of a “Brexit”, both of which are being teased out through their membership alteration negotiations; and third, it highlights the prevailing issue of ‘old’ versus ‘new’ EU member states. Collectively, these three ongoing problems could be enough to advance the already troubled atmosphere within the EU to one of noncompliance, resulting in a ripple effect across all areas of EU competence and member state cooperation.
Week Two: Prompt - Please write about your country's citizenship, naturalization, and immigrant integration policies.
Citizenship, Naturalization, and Integration in Bulgaria: Will the EU’s Gatekeeper Ever Be (Ready for) More?
There has been much focus on Greece, Germany, and the Balkans as a whole, throughout this immigration crisis in the EU, and rightfully so. But, what about the individual Balkan countries? Specifically, what about Bulgaria? My initial research into Bulgaria revealed that they aren’t covered in international news on a frequent basis; and, when they have been (in the past few months), it was in the form of bad publicity for their treatment of and measures taken against refugees. Most specifically, news of barbed wire fence along their borders, and multiple reports of violent acts of racism and xenophobia. As one of the ‘gatekeepers’ to the EU, Bulgaria is prime real estate for human trafficking. They set an important precedence for all manner of immigration into the EU; for instance, how refugees will be treated and cared for on their trek through Balkans, how other land immigrants can be naturalized and become part of the EU community, etc.
After wading through pages of Bulgarian citizenship law documents and EU factsheets on Bulgaria, it appears that Bulgarian citizenship, naturalization, and immigrant integration laws are predisposed toward those who are highly educated, are already of Bulgarian descent, or those willing to devote their time to obtaining an all-encompassing knowledge of the Bulgarian language, customs, and obtain the usual residency and job status. While they have produced a very extensive, comprehensive document outlining plans for attracting third country nationals (TCN) to boost economic production, their actions in recent years do not mimic their words – specifically as it relates to TCN of a different religion or socioeconomic status.
According to Chapter 2, Section I of “Law for the Bulgarian Citizenship”, one can acquire citizenship by origin, place of birth, or by naturalization. Under citizenship by origin, you are a Bulgarian citizen if at least one of your parents is a Bulgarian citizen; or, if you are fathered by a Bulgarian citizen; or, if your origin from a Bulgarian citizen is established by a court. Under the origin clause, citizenship by parent appears to extend to adoptive and biological parents, alike, so long as they are a Bulgarian citizen. To acquire citizenship by birth, you must be born on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria or if you are found on this territory and your parents are unknown. This may potentially extend to embassies on foreign soil.
However, if a person is does not qualify for or is unable to obtain the stipulations stated above, you must file for naturalization – a process which seems complicated and difficult for those who are fleeing to Bulgaria. The most basic route to naturalization is to: ‘become of age’ (not clarified; presumably 18), file for a permit for permanent stay in the Republic of Bulgaria, not be a criminal, have an occupation and a place of residence in the country, do not have (or will be released soon from) any other citizenship, and, most interestingly, have control of the Bulgarian language “which shall be ascertained according to an Ordinance by the Minister of Education, Youth and Science”. The requirement of ‘control of the language’ is also listed under Article 13a, which addresses those obtaining a refugee or protection status.
Overall, most documents discussing citizenship, naturalization, and integration all agree that, for the sake of Bulgaria’s economy, TCN must be attracted to the country and be successfully socially integrated. While this appears to be at the expense of any individual of a lower socioeconomic status, Bulgaria’s goals indicate a desire to be a proactive ‘gatekeeper’ and sustainable member of the EU by combating trafficking, increasing economic output, and increase implementation of European legal norms by increasing their operational capacities.
EU Commission. 2009. “The Organisation of Asylum and Migration Polices. Factsheet: Bulgaria.” Updated September, 2012.
Krasteva, Anna et. al., eds. 2010. “Trends in Cross-border Workforce Migration and the Free Movement of People – Effects for Bulgaria.” Open Society Institute – Sofia: 7-176.
Law for the Bulgarian Citizenship. 1998. Amended SG. 33/30, April 2010: 1-11.
National Strategy on Migration, Asylum, and Integration (2011-2020). 2011.