11 November 2014
Sofia – Dealing with the Past & looking to the Future in Bulgaria
Montenegrin Chief Negotiator for EU accession negotiations Aleksandar Pejovic, former Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, Economist Balkan correspondent Tim Judah, Balkan analyst Vedran Dzihic and ESI's Kristof Bender. Photo: Sofia platform.
Montenegrin Chief Negotiator for EU accession negotiations Aleksandar Pejovic, former Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, Economist Balkan correspondent Tim Judah, Balkan analyst Vedran Dzihic and ESI's Kristof Bender. Photo: Sofia platform.

On 11 and 12 November 2014 ESI's Kristof Bender attended the conference "Dealing with the Past while looking to the Future", organised by the Sofia Platform in co-operation with the Office of the President of Bulgaria and the Euroepan Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

Bulgaria has witnessed a dramatic transformation since the fall of communism, in particular since the country's economy and currency collapsed in 1996. Then, an ambitious new prime minister, Ivan Kostov, declared EU accession "within a decade" as Bulgaria's national goal. While his statement earned many smiles in 1997, Bulgaria actually joined in 2007. Despite widespread allegations of massive corruption and an ineffective justice system, as a young EU member Bulgaria has continued catching up with the richer EU member states, reaching 47 per cent of the average GDP per capita of the EU-28, up from 32 per cent in 2000 (measured in purchasing power parity). Public debt is lower than in any other EU country except Estonia. Yet, Bulgaria is still the poorest EU country and dissatisfaction among the population is high.

A study conducted at the occasion of the 25 year anniversary of the fall of communism found that barely half of the respondents know that Yugoslavia, Romania and Albania belonged to the communist block. 57 per cent say they do not know Georgi Markov, Bulgaria's most prominent dissident. 79 per cent of the 16-30 year olds say that they are "not at all familiar" with the communist period. This should not come as a surprise. Pupils learn nothing about the communist period at school. There is only one museum in Bulgaria dealing with the communist past, the Museum of Socialist Art in Sofia. The conference offered a platform for discussion how to address this lack of knowledge about the recent past.

But this phenomenon has also implications for the present. Against this background, the current socio-economic difficulties often lead to an idealisation of the communist times (even by those who know little about them). According to the study, 43 per cent of Bulgarians now consider Bulgaria's development under communism as "rather successful". Only 14 per cent claim it was "rather unsuccessful" (the remainder says "neither nor" or "cannot say). Addressing the past seems imperative to get to a clearer picture about the present.

Kristof spoke on a panel on "Unfinished Business in the Heart of Europe: Western Balkans", presenting ESI's assessment of the state of EU enlargement in South Eastern Europe. Other speakers on the panel were Aleksandar Pejovic, Montenegrin Chief Negotiator and State Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, former Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel and Vedran Dzihic, Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University. The panel was chaired by Tim Judah.

Agenda

About us
Photo credits
Alan Grant is an Irish photographer who travelled extensively in the Balkans and other countries and regions of the world. Thanks to him, ESI is able to show fascinating pictures of the Balkans: the facades of Tirana, the painted mosques of Travnik, the fabulous old houses of Plovdiv and the spectacular blue of water - dark in the Bay of Kotor, emerald in the river valleys of Bosnia, deep blue in Ohrid, twinkling in the Aegean Sea and on the Bosporus.

You can find out more about Alan Grant on his websites:
Jonathan Lewis lives between London and Istanbul. He moved to London and spent many years studying photography and now specialises in photojournalism, documentary photography and commercial work for a wide variety of private and commercial clients in the UK, Europe and Turkey. His work has appeared in a number of magazines and publications and is used on the ESI website as well.

You can find out more about Jonathan Lewis on his website www.jonathanlewisphoto.com