“You wake up in the morning, and you feel no rush to do anything. You sit down, have a cigarette with your coffee and enjoy the sound of birds. Eat a small breakfast and then take your time getting ready. You go to your 9 -5 job, it’s nothing special, and you do the same thing for the rest of your life. There is insufficient mobility. Many men are factory workers or laborers; women tend to occupy more office jobs. When you come home, it’s usually pretty early, so you spend time with your kids, cook, have dinner. Women usually take care of the housework and child-rearing. Then, you go to sleep and repeat.” Yoana recounted day to day life in Bulgaria. “Oh actually, most nights you get together with neighbors for dinner and drinks. Most people work close enough to home that they can go home for lunch. So overall, it’s a very peaceful life.”
During the first half of the 1990s large sectors of Bulgaria’s youth from mostly working social classes, disillusioned with political uncertainty under the new system, began practicing a new form of socio-political insubordination. The decline of the semi-socialist system caused a mistrust in structures of authority which became more evident in the first decade of economic crisis under capitalism. This tendency created a generation of youth, growing inequality, and insecurity. The market reforms in the early 1990’s, followed by mass privatization, soaring unemployment, and hyperinflation resulted in a discontent amongst the population. It became noticeable that political forces had lost control of mobilizing youth and public opinion.
In the early 1990s, the first to be affected by “the reform” was the agricultural sector, with a massive liquidation of the capital of state-run cooperative farms and land redistribution to the heirs of the “original” pre-socialist owners. At the beginning of 1991, the National Agricultural Land Restitution Council was established to rebate agricultural lands to the pre-collectivization owners, which proved to be a prolonged process. Privatization continued in the new millennium with deals for the national telecom, electric services and natural resources. Soon after privatization of telecommunications was followed by the privatization of the electric plants. Less than a decade later the high electric bills were stated as the prime reason for the mass protest, marches, and riots against electric monopolies, which ended with fall of the government.
In the pursuit of market economy reform and approval from Washington and EU, the deindustrialization in Bulgaria was supposed to eradicate inefficient industries, restore competitiveness and efficiency by changing hands to private owners. The outcomes of the structural adjustments in Bulgaria had the most detrimental effect on the working-class. The deindustrialization in Bulgaria led to a significant restructuring of the working force. The loss of international markets as 84% of foreign trade in 1989 was the Soviet Union is fundamental for the loss employment in the industry. Nonetheless, the politically motivated privatization and the conditions of structural adjustment loans by the international financial institution eradicated the working-class. Effects of the reforms have led to a social crisis. Mounting income inequality, poverty, crime, and unemployment have led to public distrust in all institutions. The outcome of radical liberalization and imposed severe fiscal responsibility have transformed the nation to its core. Statistics show that before 1989 only 2% of Bulgarians were considered poor, while in 1993, one-third of Bulgarians were classified as such. In 2001 unemployment, amongst the youth as well the general population was soaring to previously unseen numbers.
“Bulgaria is characterized by its homogeneity and like-mindedness of its people; whereas in New York, because there are so many people, you can find your people.” She went on to describe how life in Bulgaria is different between the small towns and villages and the big cities. Life in the big cities is similar to NYC. They look to America and NY for inspiration and a paradigm for development. In smaller towns, however, you experience that homogeneity because people do things a certain way and think certain things and there isn’t much room for stepping outside of the status quo. “In small towns, there’s also a lack of passion for achieving greater things, and there’s an air of stagnancy.” Yoana appreciates that in New York, you can find people that you connect with, have a good time with and understand each other.
Her parents made the decision to emigrate. When she was born, her dad had a tough time finding a job in his field in Bulgaria. So, he applied for a Green-card and won the lottery. “It was tough for them because they had to redo their entire education and learn an entirely new language. They ended up sending me back for a year because it was difficult to transition and take care of a baby at the same time.” Housing was difficult to find as well, “The first place we lived was a grungy hotel in Rockaway beach. It was incredibly dirty, and there were addicts and prostitutes. We stayed there for a couple of months before we were able to find an apartment to move to permanently.”
To find a sense of community in the United States, Yoana’s family turned to a friend who had already been living here for ten to twenty years. He helped them find an apartment to move to permanently and connected us to other Bulgarians. He didn’t do so without warning however, “He told my parents to go back while they still had money. He had been in America for 15 -20 years, and he was just a truck driver. He saw no possibility for upward mobility. He didn’t see the United States for anything except a place to work. There was no social life here for him.”
Coming from Middle Village in Queens, Yoana admits that she never really became integrated into the Bulgarian community here. Instead, her circle is the people she met during high school, “they’re all of different ethnicities and backgrounds.” She feels like her neighborhood is very representative of more suburban or rural areas in America, “People share the same mentality/outlook on life and politics. As a result, I feel like it’s very distinct from the spirit of NYC. But since I went to H.S. in Manhattan, I was able to connect with a different demographic and find people I relate to more – people who have the New York attitude.” Had her parents decided not to emigrate, Yoana believes that she wouldn’t have gotten an education as good as the one she has now. She acknowledges that she wouldn’t have become so open-minded, “I wouldn’t have had the ability to analyze, understand and have this level of awareness that I do if it weren’t for New York. As well as the cultural knowledge.”
Post-Communist Bulgaria experienced contemporary trends in the cultural community. Despite decimation of stable financial support from the state, art has been liberated from censorship and control, especially concerning publishing, theatre, production and distribution of movies, radio and TV programs and so on. The average person was now available to access the cultural achievements of European and world culture. Despite all that, the constant economic crisis, income inequality led to the deterioration of cultural consumption on the one hand and supply on the other.
Not unlike everyone else, Yoana is susceptible to the city’s one of a kind allure. “I like South Street Seaport and the Financial District at night. I like walking around there because it’s very peaceful. It feels cozy, comforting and safe. It has the charm of a small town with its winding streets.” Her affinity doesn’t mean that she’s oblivious to its faults, however. “I’ll start with what the city does badly. Public transportation and cleanliness. I’ve been to many other American cities, and I’ve never seen a city as dirty as New York.” Unfortunately, this comment prompted her into a debate with a friend who was particularly passionate about the quality of service the MTA provides. Not completely without benefits, Yoana admitted that what works about NYC is the proximity of its suburbs to Manhattan. “People can live a quieter calm home life and still experience the bustle of a busy city.”
In the future, Yoana is planning to go to medical school in Europe, “because life is slower paced and cheaper there. I’m not closed off to the possibility of coming back to NYC after med-school. If I do come back, I probably wouldn’t want to come back to NY, I’d either go to the West Coast or a smaller city.”
Extremely grateful for all of her life experiences here Yoana says that, “My New York is the people who’ve touched my life, who’ve influenced my thoughts who’ve inspired me to do what I want in life, taught me to think outside the box, taught me to be self – aware, patient and understanding.”
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