I’m very proud of what’s going on in Bulgaria right now. Right now, the country’s public school teachers have gone on strike demanding a 100% increase in wages. Their wages are measly, 185 euros a month; the lowest wages in the region for teachers. The other demand that the teachers have is that the state should allocate at least 5% of the GDP for education, up from the 1% that the state spends on education each year now.
The teachers have been on strike for two and a half weeks now, rebuffing the government’s claims that it does not have the ability to raise wages or spend so much on education. Politicians, especially the Minister of Education, Daniel Vulchev, claim that the state would be irresponsible to allow such a wage raise, saying that it would cause inflation and burden a government already in financial trouble. Maybe so, but the teachers deserve to live on more than bread and water. It seems like the government really doesn’t care about education.
The results of this negligence are obvious, students in Bulgaria rarely match up to the intellectual levels of past generations. In the university level, professors take bribes to change grades, since they’re salary is roughly half that of a professional bus driver in Bulgaria. In short, the country is turning from a source of high skilled labor, to one of unskilled labor, all because the education system has been paid very little attention to in the years following communism (in other words, for over 15 years).
The social problems in Bulgaria seem to have been masked by the country’s recent successes, getting into the European Union and NATO, its high GDP growth rate, the real estate boom, growth in tourism, etc. But the fact of the matter is, the country still has a lot of issues that it needs to deal with. When I was in Bulgaria this summer, for example, many people commented that, “In other countries, a mafia exists, in Bulgaria, the mafia has a country.” What the people mean is that once lawmakers get elected to Parliament, they immediately strike a deal with some mafia group or other and immediately forget about their electorate. Or, another version, is that the politicians are incompetent (“There is no more government in Bulgaria), leaving the people open to be exploited. For example, the country couldn’t put out its own forest fires over the summer, and had to ask Russia for help. Those are the pessimistic views in Bulgaria.
I’m a little on the more hopeful side. The people there seem to finally be aware of the simple truism that if you want your lot to get better, you have to work for it. And if your life is made miserable by the way that the state is set up, then perhaps the state should be changed in order to better the condition of daily life. The rector of the state university Sofia University ‘St. Kliment Ohridski’ recently said “I don’t care about the financial instability of a state full of weak minded people. We want a country of spirit, a country of competence, in which young people would like to live.” The professor is completely correct, and I believe that the university should receive the 26 million euros it’s asking from the Bulgarian government as a subsidy to help keep its doors open.
Like I said before, it seems like the conditions in Bulgaria are improving. We’re finally seeing the broad resentment against the current status quo, which leaves the everyday person stuck on a measly salary, in a country where the state does not care about the individual. I hope that the state finally begins to work for Bulgarians, and not for a small group of greedy individuals.