Where is Bulgaria?

Emiliya Bratanova

With the aim to try to give specific meaning to the word “Bulgaria”, the third event of the cultural orientation programme for refugees and asylum seekers was symbolically named “How to recognize that I’m in Bulgaria?”. It took place on 11th January at a hall which was kindly provided by the Bulgarian Red Cross. The event received great interest from the participants and was attended by 25 refugees and asylum seekers from 6 nationalities: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and India.

We opened the gathering with technical and historical information about Bulgaria, its geographic borders, population, basic economic indicators related to the cost of living here and a little bit of history. We put the focus on the common past with the countries of origin of the participants, that is: the interesting historiographic hypotheses about the origin of the proto-Bulgarian tribes from the territories of today’s Afghanistan; the common Ottoman past with Syria and Iraq; the life in a totalitarian regime and the relations between our countries before 1989.

This part was followed by a talk about the most popular and spectacular holidays in Bulgaria, including the “Ice horo” ritual on St. Jordan Day, the Kukeri festival, Baba Marta, Easter (Jesus Christ’s resurrection) and Christmas (Jesus Christ’s birth). A common characteristic of Bulgarian holidays is that to a large extent there is a historical mingling between pre-Christian and Christian beliefs and rituals, which influence the way we know and celebrate the holidays today. The participants found this combination very interesting. They also asked if in the Kukeri ritual there were some religious elements, and were surprised to hear about the popular in Bulgaria (but also in some parts of Europe) name days, about the true origin of Santa Claus or St. Nicholas, the fortune cookie notes and the coin on the festive table on Christmas Eve, and many other unfamiliar rituals.

After we could all try the Christmas Eve festive table dishes, prepared by the team, it was time for the most interesting part of the day. Carriers of two cultures, Bulgarian and Syrian, but also experts in the area of humanitarian aid for refugees and the political analysis of the events taking place in the Middle East and Syria in particular, our special guests at this event, Sabrina and Ruslan Trad, immersed us in a talk about the social relations in Bulgarian society. Sabrina presented the traditional and modern wedding and birth rituals in Bulgaria, and added some statistics according to which in 2012 every second marriage in Bulgaria ended up with divorce (NSI data). Moreover, in the same year, 40 000 out of 70 000 children were born out of wedlock. This piece of information was quite shocking to many of the participants in whose countries of origin divorces are rare phenomena and out-of-wedlock children is a taboo topic. However, this information was considered most useful for and by the participants with respect to their understanding of the way of life in their host country, Bulgaria.

At the end of the interesting day full of new information, Ruslan described the political situation in the country subsequent to the refugee wave, the lack of capacity of the state institutions, and the lack of information among Bulgarian society about the human fate of refugees beyond the statistics. He emphasized that due to the conflict in Syria, few people are aware of the continuous conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and many African countries. In order to dissipate the dark context, he added that apart from the nationalist rhetoric playing around with the lack of information among people, there is a wide circle of people who help the refugees with their unabating volunteer energy.

After exchanging coordinates with the special guests and full of emotions, the participants attended the theatre play “The Moth” at “Ivan Vazov” National Theatre. You can read more about it here.

You can find more pictures from the event here.

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eea grants / a25 culgoral foundation

eea grants / a25 culgoral foundation