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“Interest in Bulgaria is reviving”, says Rayna Mandzhukova

New ImageWe don’t have to reinvent the wheel to feel proud of being Bulgarians, says Rayna Mandzhukova, President of the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad.

Business Card: Rayna Mandzhukova is born in 1970 in Kairaklyia, a Bulgarian village in Bessarabia, within today’s Ukrainian borders. She arrived in Bulgaria in 1989 with an experimental group for the study of Bulgarian language from the State Pedagogical Institute in Izmail. She graduated in Bulgarian Language and Literature from the Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski. She works at the SABA since 15 years and became its President on August 12, 2009. Rayna Mandzhukova is the author of numerous publications linked to the Bulgarians out of the homeland and she has been an anchor in a similarly themed TV broadcast, “Oblache Le Bialo”. She is an editor of the online publication “BG around the World”. She is also a co-founder of the Global Bulgaria Association and of the Association of Bulgarian Schools Abroad.

What is currently the Agency’s main activity?

The Agency is a body of the Executive Power. It is created to co-ordinate Bulgaria’s policy regarding Bulgarians abroad. This policy consists in building a conception of community between Bulgarians out of the country and those living here. Building the awareness that we are alike, regardless for how long and for what reasons some of our compatriots are living out of Bulgaria. Whoever is being conscious of himself as a Bulgarian is entitled to being recognized as one of us. All what we do is aimed at that. SABA’s activity is the everyday maintenance, build up, and update of the interrelationships with Bulgarians out of the country.

How do you maintain these contacts? New Image5
Through the organizations. The Agency has a database with nearly 800 organizations of Bulgarians worldwide, with which we’re communicating the most. The Agency is the sole body having a real grasp of how varied the structures of Bulgarians abroad are. At SABA’s foundation in 1993, we had to collect the information piece by piece. Among Bulgarians abroad, There was distrust of Bulgaria as a state, owing to various ideological buildups. Their main reason for staying out of the country is disappointment, discontent – whether with politics, with the economy, or with the impossibility of expressing oneself as a human or of achieving as a professional. This is why we had to rebuild trust.

What are the differences between Bulgarian organizations worldwide?
With time, organizations evolved. In the early 90s, we kept in contact mostly with cultural and educational associations. Their goal, which they had set themselves, was to let our compatriots gather and communicate, and thus keep the Bulgarian thing. Later, a desire to present Bulgaria to the host people as well surged in them. This is when mixed associations were founded – of Bulgarians and friends of Bulgaria. Then with the onset of new emigration waves began the creation of new organizations as well. I mean Bulgarian schools, Bulgarian media – electronic or printed – informing Bulgarians in their native language about events that concern them. All these organizations have their communicational idiosyncrasies: some need contacts with colleagues-journalists in Bulgaria; the schools need support for the performance of their activity. This is what our work is built upon. It’s targeted mostly at the young generation and its education.

How many are the Bulgarian schools worldwide? How many children are attending them?
The Bulgarian schools abroad are more than 130. The largest ones are attended by about 200 children. There are much smaller ones – with 10-15 children, as in China, for example. The reasons are that not many Bulgarians live there, while the distances are quite long and it’s difficult for teachers, parents, and pupils. The teachers are mostly volunteers. Last year, the Ministry of Education launched the Maternal Language and Culture Abroad National Programme, for which the SABA applied serious efforts. It has funds budgeted towards remuneration of the teachers in these schools, although most of them continue volunteering.

Are young people coming back to Bulgaria?
Our work with young people is in two directions: Bulgarians who study abroad and youth from older Bulgarian communities around the world who study in Bulgaria. Our main idea about the second group is to give them here not only training but also education, to achieve their inclusion in Bulgaria. Whether or not they will stay here is a question of their choice. What’s important to us is to make them Bulgaria’s envoys, wherever they are. In addition, we’re providing organizational support to different initiatives of Bulgarian students around the world, in order to maintain their link with Bulgaria. Another serious project from last year was “Career in Bulgaria, Why Not?” This is a forum through which people who graduated abroad may seek opportunities to come back. Many Bulgarian businesses looking for such applicants are responding with offers. This initiative is a ground for deliberation, as what’s commonly heard within our society is that young people are unwilling to come back to Bulgaria.

It’s also said that Bulgarians around the world are not united. Is it true?
United, in what sense? We too here are not like a united family, in which we love each other. We have favourite circles with whom we communicate, while we’re not finding tangent points with others. Choosing which organization to adhere to is their right. Here too there are people not interested in Bulgaria, its history, etc. We’re working with those who want to be Bulgarians. Moreover, nostalgia exists and it wakes up sooner or later – roots are roots. There are people who don’t seek links with Bulgaria for years, yet sometimes a small cause makes the things tumble. Such people are usually more sincere and helpful than others who wave the standard of nationalism.

New Image3How many Bulgarians are living abroad? How many among them speak Bulgarian?
About 3.5 millions, according to statistical data and to the estimates of Bulgarian communities. Most of them know Bulgarian, even if this is a particular regional dialect mixed with vocabulary from the respective state. This is occurring in communities formed 100-120 years ago. There are also successors of émigrés to Argentina and Brazil from the 1930s who don’t speak the native language but whose interest in Bulgaria is reviving. There are instances of elderly people applying for Bulgarian citizenship. They realize that they won’t return to their homeland but want to leave this world with a Bulgarian passport. They’re inciting their children and grandchildren to learn Bulgarian. Nowadays, it’s an open world. If you go to France for a job, are you an émigré? You may spend a certain time there and come back.

What traits are making Bulgarians known around the world?
In every community, there are people who make a part of the face Bulgaria’s showing outward, and we’re helping them with whatever we can. People through whom others perceive Bulgaria positively. Not necessarily should they have made some great discoveries: suffices they were good people, with a positive attitude for others. For example, in Bessarabia, Bulgarian is a synonym of industrious – remember our proverb, “Work as crazy, don’t stay as crazy!” This attitude has piled up with time, became an axiom. In Vienna, there are Bulgarians with bad fame – pickpockets, but an artistic elite is also gathered there – painters, stylists. As any other nation, we do have our good and bad facets. It’s detrimental to put forward only the ones or the others; it’s an indication of complexes. We don’t having invented the wheel to feel proud of being Bulgarians.

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