Dear Angela, or few words on the Bulgarian views on the Greek referendum. And on cheese.

An open letter to Angela Merkel

Dear Angela,

I am a Bulgarian Canadian, and an ordinary soldier in the army of countless immigrants of the last twenty or so years. Today, while working in the beautiful city of Toronto as a modest practitioner in the banking sector and enjoying the rich cultures and history, that form the Canadian society, I still feel the joys and pains of the ordinary Bulgarian and European people as if they are my own.

I followed closely the referendum in Greece and the reactions to the landslide No vote of the Greek people in response to the EU austerity measures. Without trying to bring unpleasant memories to mind, it reminded me of the Oxi day of 1940, the proud Greek No to the ultimatum of Benito Mussolini. Regardless of one’s views, the referendum of July 5 is undoubtedly an event, which will live in the history of Greece and, one hopes, in the history of a more tolerant and inclusive Europe.

Dear Angela,

A number of prominent economists, including Nobel laureates Stiglitz and Krugman, have written open letters to you, giving their opinion on the misguided and heavy handed European financial framework and austerity policies. They pointed, that no one accepted responsibility for the overly optimistic and completely ungrounded promises of the foreign creditors for growth of the Greek economy, when in reality it lost 25 percent. Stiglitz and Krugman wrote about many foreign interests, that benefited from the huge loans to Greece, of which capital not even one tenth reached the people and small businesses in the country. The main beneficiaries, as you are well aware, are European banks and German car and other large manufacturers. Most of the capital, lent to Greece immediately flows back to them, keeping the German economy strong and competitive and suffocating the Greek businesses, both service and export, in an artificially overinflated environment. Many have pointed the simple, obvious fact, that Greece is only a symptom of a much greater problem, that France’s debt is 9 times larger in absolute terms and that Greece has unfairly been used as a testing lab for irresponsible experiments with catastrophic consequences for the small people – that is, for ninety percent of the people. Not unlike your predecessor Schroeder, who was known as the Auto Chancellor for his warm relationship with the German car industry, I believe that you, dear Angela, have a fair chance of being remembered as the Banking Chancellor, if you forgive me this note, for the above reasons.

Yours truly is too insignificant to mention his opinion in the same line with economists like Stiglitz and Krugman, and that is not why I am writing to you. The simple reason for this letter is to ask you to look into and regulate the EU and Bulgarian mainstream media practices, as my opinion on the Greek referendum and the one of many Bulgarians have been completely misrepresented – few less pleasant words come to mind – by the media.

In previous years, while the majority of Greeks, Bulgarians, Spanish, Portuguese and others were driven to more and more critical levels of poverty, the media either ignored them or published one-sided views on these peoples corruption, lack of efficiency or of enthusiasm for the European project. As a side note, I can point to you many companies in Germany, employing professionals, educated in Bulgaria, hospitals in Berlin and Bremen, using the services of outstanding surgeons and specialists, educated in Bulgaria. I have worked in Germany some time ago, and would love to compare notes with you on that, dear Angela, and tell you how 10 inefficient Bulgarian technical specialists, including yours truly, were carrying on their backs and doing the work of 40 or so efficient German ones in an insurance company in Stuttgart, or how the uncorrupt German intermediary was keeping 80 percent and paying us the rest from the money we were making. But, as one character of the exquisite books of Graham Greene said, corruption and abuse over certain amount have to be treated as a financial operation. This experience of mine, although on a much smaller scale, is very much similar to the EU lending practices for Greece, where less than 10 percent of the original loans amount reached the Greek people. Another example you, dear Madame Chancellor, may remember – it was certainly a financial operation, and a political one, when your colleague, the EC president Jean-Claude Juncker was implicated in a tax avoidance scheme only months after he promised, in his words, “to put some morality, some ethics, into the European tax landscape”. Soon after that, interestingly enough – again other words come to mind – he was quickly restored to his position by the EU parliament. Recently a poor Bulgarian civil servant was implicated in a petty corruption case and there was a suggestion to attach cameras to all civil servants as an anti-corruption measure. When are we going to attach a camera, dare I ask, to the expensive, and without question, a very elegant suit of the dear Jean-Claude ? While on the same thought, I am trying not to notice the grotesque reality, where one, wearing a suit for thousands of euros, advises Greek pensioners and students, already living in dire poverty, to do some more belt tightening. One will do well to read the words of the Bulgarian banker from the previous century Atanas Burov, who advised to be modest, simple and forgiving, when dealing with ordinary people. And that despite the fact, that Burov was wealthier and wiser than all of today’s EU presidents and ministers.

In any case, on this one point I do agree with the German view – Germany and the North are leaders in such financial operations, while the South, we have to admit, suffers from petty corruption, because most players there are not large enough to carry out operations on Germany’ scale. But I digress.

In any case, it came as a mild surprise to me, when after the Greek referendum all EU media and many EU ministers suddenly remembered our corner of Europe, made a U-turn and became concerned about poverty in Bulgaria. Numerous articles compared the irresponsible Greeks to the responsible Bulgarians, who suffer quietly and – that is my note – tolerate widespread  poverty and with that a government, completely unconcerned with national interests and openly controlled by the EU in a colonial, rather than European, fashion. Manfred Weber from the EU parliament and the above mentioned uncorrupt EC president Jean-Claude Juncker, asked the Greek Prime Minister Tsipras to explain to Bulgaria, why Greeks should be allowed, as asked, to spend on social services and on rebuilding their economy, while Bulgarians continue the EU line of austerity, cutting pensions, education, health care and social programs. Nicolas Sarkozy warned Tsipras to be careful with the money of the French taxpayers, who are creditors of Greece. And what surprised me most was that the supposedly independent Bulgarian and EU media spoke for all Bulgarians in a very German, consolidated, orderly fashion, and declared that Bulgarians view the Greek vote as irresponsible and not reflecting the European shared values. If I did not have a strong sense of my European identity, I, frankly, would have been tempted to consider the EU and Bulgarian mainstream media similar to some very old professions.

I never authorized any media to speak for me, nor the Bulgarian government to accept the EU abysmal policies. This is a business for, and on matters of such importance may speak only, Bulgarians as a nation and no one else. Not even the Bulgarian government and Prime Minister, who is as much not representative of the will of the people as the EC and EP is not representative of the will of the European citizens, and – the government – was elected by not even one fifth of the citizens, in a shameful political landscape, not offering any alternative to the status quo. So I will outline my perspective in few simple points. I know many Bulgarians agree with me and that some disagree – that is acceptable and welcome as long as their opinions are honest and not for sale. As the head of Ryanair said recently, wherever you turn these days you are close to German credit.

In short, my simple views and few suggestions:

First, Tsipras and the Greek government are without doubt representative of the will of the Greeks and not extreme left or radical, other than in name; they are proposing common sense policies, that have more to do with Keynes than with Marx. If one thinks that the current austerity and huge increases in debt in the Eurozone are sustainable,  he is far more deserving of labels like extreme or radical.

Second, had Otto von Bismarck implemented his policies with a strong social component today, he would probably have been labeled by the EU dogma as extreme leftist. Amusing, don’t you think, dear Angela ? As a side note, the modest views of yours truly are much closer to Bismarck’s than to any left movements.

Third, the discontent in Europe has nothing to do with left versus right policies, nor with responsible Bulgarians versus irresponsible Greeks – this is wishful thinking of media, that is marching behind you, dear Madame Chancellor. Who said that Germans are always fond of marching? It has all to do with the vision of the EU today – dogmatic, irresponsible, heavy handed to the small, weak countries – versus the vision for a tolerant, inclusive Europe, giving a chance to large and small countries, and making a dignified and meaningful life and career possible for  luminaries like German Chancellors and EC presidents and ordinary citizens and soldiers from all levels of society alike.

Fourth, please pass on the following message, dear Angela, to my friend Nicolas Sarkozy – all Europeans are my friends – dear Nicolas, you either can not count or you are a common demagogue. I am referring to your warning to Tsipras to keep in mind the interests of the French creditors. The French, in net terms, are not creditors to anyone, they are the biggest debtors in the EU and France owes 9 times more than Greece. Your words are very patriotic and completely misinformed – and I do hope someone will notice my mild wording of the problem. Your words are not even Scaramouche, dear Nicolas, they are Harlequin.

For this reason, I suggest you, dear Angela, together with Jean-Claude and your army of ministers, turn their attention to fixing the French debt problem and forget about Greece and Bulgaria, who recently suffer from too much German and French attention. In fact, not only recently, but for a very long time. When the French economy improves thanks to German measures, South Europe will follow.

Fifth, and finally, a note on one minor disagreement, which I have with Greece, dear Angela. It is the Greek feta cheese, as it is incorrectly known abroad. The cheese is not Greek and is not even good feta – too over-salted and dry. The Bulgarian cheese, if this soldier has to say, is simply outstanding, more of a cultural, than gastronomic category. But I am not asking for your help, Madame Chancellor, on that minor issue. Greece and Bulgaria are good neighbors and perfectly willing and able of finding common ground. This note, dear Angela, is a suggested policy guideline to you – please leave the small people and the small countries to have their cheese the way they like it, even if the EU does not fully agree.

In conclusion, I want to say to the only statesmen, that Europe has today – not politicians, but statesmen:

Alexis, Yanis,

From this proud neighbor of Greece, thank you for restoring the hope of all people in Europe on July 5, that an inclusive, tolerant union is still possible.

I am sure, that sooner or later Angela and Jean-Claude, or their successors will understand, that the change you started is even more needed for France and Germany, than it is for South Europe. There are difficulties and risks ahead, but we know Bulgaria and Greece will raise to meet them. These strong countries and peoples have seen in the past far worse than the EU era and the methods of the dear Angela, have they not?

This, and nothing else, is the Bulgarian perspective – I, and many Bulgarians, support your ideas and policies.

Except on cheese.


Iliya Iliev

Blog “A word of a Bulgarian emigrant”

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