I have been living in the EU for a month now… It’s not what I expected it to be… I mean, you only need to look at the holes on the roads they have all over there! Just the other day I drove somebody off to Sofia Airport – my God, what a dreadful ride! And they say EU is an elite club…, elite my ass, I say!
At least the government of this country, not that I voted for them mind you, has already started the procedure for Bulgaria to join the Euro zone as soon as possible, like in 2-3 years. That’s good I tell you, for they will finally get off our backs. They will have to recognize our home-made money; all those Euro bills that we are traditionally printing here in the country will no longer be treated as forgery!
I am not so sure about salaries though… The other day somebody published the findings of an economical forecast research saying that the average pay in Bulgaria will reach EU standards by the year 2230… In fact I should not be worried at all, in fact – that’s not my problem at all. Actually, things changed for me overnight in this department, which is great! You see, until January 1st 2007 I never made a single penny as an artist in my own country! I always provided for my family and myself by commuting to work in places West, South, North and sometimes East of the borders of Bulgaria, everywhere else but… So, now that my home country is in fact the whole European Union I can safely say that most of the work I do and most of the money I earn for the work that I do, I earn at home. And that’s a big relief, I tell you!
In one word, after January 1st 2007, when Bulgaria joined the EU, I turned overnight from a lumpen artist (for in my country I have virtually no status as an artist, which is not the way it is outside of the country) into a middle class cultural worker of the visual persuasion with all those nice benefits such as for instance, traveling to France (I take the nastiest example…) on my ID card alone and taking great pleasure to bark back “it’s none of your fucking business” at the border guard when he/she asks me “what is the purpose of your visit to France”… I can even play now the solid EU partner to a poor, underprivileged and understaffed visual art NGO in Skopje, Chisinau or even Istanbul.
Truth is we are living through very interesting times; and not only us in the EU. The new cycle of modernization is affecting the whole of Eastern Europe and all of its newly defined micro-regions and split post-socialist identities. There are now several kinds of countries in what used to be a more or less homogenous post-socialist region. There are the never-to-be-in-the-EU, the not-yet-in-the-EU, the never-ever-wanted-to-be-in-the-EU, the just-initiated-into-the-EU, the already-there-and-proud-of-it-in-the-EU countries and many more. And that’s just taking into account one very superficial marker, membership into the EU (which itself used to be a kind of a social-democratic project but is now undergoing a severe crisis of identity).
Nonetheless, what I have in mind is that all through the formerly socialist Europe there is a process going on of constructing capitalism out of socialism. This is actually a process of re-creation of the bourgeois and the middle class who were largely eradicated in the first years after the revolution in 1917 and after the end of the war in 1945. Provided these new economies are booming it’s surprising to realize that this new kind of capitalism is based not on production, new technologies or stuff like that but actually on “innovative” approaches to consumption, a model best seen in Russia rather then in China, which is dumping world prices, true, but it is still producing material commodities, or something, whatever it is they are actually producing… That does not seem to be the case with Russia, which is only producing wealth and international scandals, both of these being related to natural gas and crude oil.
Actually it’s the first generation ever, the first time ever in Russian history when all (or nearly all) people living in Moscow (and other large cities) have at their disposal everything which everybody of their contemporaries allover the developed world (well, nearly allover and nearly everybody) has readily available on the streets of their cities – from Coca Cola and LG, to Prada, Bvlgari and Hugo Boss. The problem is not really that few if any of the most consumer-attractive commodities one can see in Russian cities are produced in Russia. The problem is where does actually the money come from for the app. 1000 per month salary I recently heard being offered to potential metro station managers over the loudspeakers in the Moscow subway? By any standard, that’s not a really skill-demanding job, while this kind of money is still something over there… True, the same consumer-satisfying situation is there for the first time in Bulgarian history as well… But I have not heard anybody offering such high pay to city employed workers in Sofia, with or without the EU membership. Yet, in both these countries it’s the first time in history when modernization is based on consumption. How is this possible? I think through the conscious, state-sponsored creation of a class of urban consumers which is meant to sustain the new order. This is the new urban middle class. It is supplying consumers and it is on the receiving end of the new economy/market.
So, it seems that if you want to have the new kind of capitalism, the neo-capitalism born out of socialism, first you need to produce a middle class; then you have to secure for it a certain level of income by relatively wider distribution of the wealth generated from your natural resources (in the new EU member states that’s the investment potential which is treated as a “natural resource”); then you have to train it to consume even though that might mean (at first) living on credit, then you have the bourgeoisie and then…
Well, then one starts wondering – if all of this means that we are living through some reactionary times, then who are the good guys? The question is open since all of us in the formerly homogenous Eastern Europe are actually enjoying the first time in our collective history when we have all these things available that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago… I do not have in mind only the availability of commodities… I am just wondering if I should forget my life before 1989 with all its aspects or should I rather draw some lessons from it?… By the way, there are some nice discounts these months on Bulgarian Black Sea coast real estate…
Sofia, January 31st 2007
LB was born 1957, artist, lives in Sofia, Bulgaria