Dr. Paskal Zhelev, “New Trends in the EU Industrial Policy – Implications for Bulgaria”

Dr. Paskal ZhelevOn October 16th, 2015, Dr. Paskal Zhelev, a senior assistant professor at the University of National and World Economy, gave a lecture entitled “New Trends in the EU Industrial Policy – Implications for Bulgaria.”  From the perspective of his background in International Economic Relations, he outlined industrial policy (“IP”) in general before describing the EU’s new IP, the state of Bulgarian industry since its transition to a free market economy, and his prescriptions for the implementation of a new IP in Bulgaria.

Dr. Zhelev remarked that while there is no commonly accepted definition of IP, it can be regarded as “any policy that shapes or influences the competitiveness of a country’s firms and industries.”  IP involves concerted actions on the part of a national government to promote particular economic sectors via policy tools, in order to provide for economic growth. More broadly, IP is responsible for the modernization of an economy.  The result of a successful IP would be improved specialization of high-tech, research-intensive, and skill-based sectors or industries.  Because such jobs provide a higher standard of living, they improve a nation’s economic conditions.  However, because IP involves direct government intervention, it is probably the most controversial issue in economics.

Dr. Zhelev described two conceptions of IP.  The first is a neoliberal approach based on the “Washington Consensus,” which contends that the role of the state should be limited in order to “ensure a stable macroeconomic environment.”  This approach relies on the role of free market forces, and thus prescribes deregulation and privatization of state-owned firms.  The second is a structuralist approach, which places “less trust in free market forces as a driver on dynamic competitiveness and more in the ability of governments to implement effective interventions.”  Depending on the approach, a given IP can have either a “horizontal” (“soft” or “functional”) or “vertical” (“hard” or “selective”) model.

According to Dr. Zhelev, the theoretical basis for IP is the failure of markets to produce optimal economic (and social) results, as well as the importance of the manufacturing industry in economic development.  Examples of market failures justifying IP include information gaps, the existence of dynamic scale economies (which preclude newcomers in certain industries), and the need for government intervention in protecting the environment.  In recent years, there is a general consensus that the question is not whether or not IP should be pursued, but rather how to do so.

The European Union’s IP was incorporated by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 (which also led to the creation of the euro).  It was formulated as a horizontal (or neoliberal) model, meaning that it only put conditions in place for driving the economy.  According to the treaty, while the EU has the power to “support, coordinate, or supplement” the actions of member states, IP is pursued only at the national level.

The European Union has several other policies in place that affect the IPs of member states.  One of these is the Internal Market Policy, according to which member states “cannot restrict free movement of goods, services, and people between themselves for the sake of IP considerations.”  The EU’s Common Competition Policy, which (among other things) prevents businesses from price-fixing and forming monopolies, also affects the IPs of member states.  In principle, state aid is incompatible with the common market – however, there are exemptions that allow member states with lower standards of living (below 75% of the EU average) to promote economic development, which is particularly relevant for former transition economies like Bulgaria.

However, the EU’s economic growth strategy for the present decade (“Europe 2020”) “explicitly encourages” EU-level IP initiatives.  According to Dr. Zhelev, the key features of Europe 2020 include annual reports of the competitiveness of the EU and of member states, easier access to international markets, a “targeted approach” to economic sectors, and promotion of investment in innovation in “six key areas: advanced manufacturing; KETs [Key Enabling Technologies]; bio-based products; clean vehicles and vessels; sustainable construction and raw materials; [and] smart grids.”  The EU has also designated additional funds for the reindustrialization of member states: € 2.3 billion to support entrepreneurship (COSME),  €100 billion for investments in innovation and industrial competitiveness (distributed according to a “smart specialization principle,” whereby each country has to have a strategy showing where these funds will be channeled) (ESIF), and €80 billion for the commercialization of research (Horizon 2020), which has an emphasis on technology and is intended to stimulate innovation.  In the latter case, though, the program is administered by the EU, and entrepreneurs from various member states have to submit proposals in English.  This means that people from Eastern Europe aren’t really on equal footing with English or Western European entrepreneurs, which Dr. Zhelev argues is why so few Bulgarian projects have been approved by Horizon 2020 so far.

Bulgaria’s transition to a market economy in the early 1990s was accompanied by severe deindustrialization, which, according to Dr. Zhelev, was “triggered and exacerbated by trade liberalization and poorly executed policy reforms.”  This deindustrialization included a huge loss of skills in qualification of labor and deterioration in the specialization of the economy.  Additionally, the “adoption of an active IP was regarded as a return to the detrimental former practices of the planned economy” – the Bulgarian government instead adopted a neoliberal economic policy.  As a result of these factors, Bulgaria’s industrial competitiveness has been deteriorating consistently since 1990.

Dr. Zhelev argues that the laissez-faire approach didn’t provide the needed results – therefore, the “national interests of Bulgaria rely on the political elite realizing the need to develop a coherent, long-term strategy.”  He contends that this will require “adopting a systematic approach to integrate and coordinate efforts” in the fields of science, technology, and innovation policy, foreign direct investment (FDI) policy, human capital policy, as well as in the administration and allocation of resources provided by EU funds.  According to Dr. Zhelev, such an approach will “support a new type of economic growth model, sustainable in the long run, that is pro-investment and export-oriented,” and will “achieve a gradual shift in the industrial structure from resource-based and low-tech activities to medium- and high-tech industries.”  Ultimately, he contends, the adoption of a more active IP will set Bulgaria on the path towards reindustrialization.

Matthew McWilliams is a REEES M.A. student and a FLAS Fellow for the 2015-16 academic year for the study of Russian.

Visiting Scholar Highlight – Paskal Zhelev

Dr. Paskal Zhelev

Dr. Paskal Zhelev

REEEC welcomes Dr. Paskal Zhelev, a visiting scholar from the University of National and World Economy in Sofia, Bulgaria.  He received a Fulbright research grant to study at the University of Illinois through the fall semester.  His research interests include industrial policy, international competitiveness, foreign trade relations, and European economic integration.  He has published extensively on Bulgarian industrial competitiveness and the effects of Bulgaria’s European Union accession, and has participated in many state- and EU-funded research projects on related topics.

Dr. Zhelev received his Ph.D. in International Economic Relations at the University of National and World Economy in 2009.  His thesis topic was “European Integration and Export Specialization (on the Example of Bulgaria’s Integration with the EU).”  It assesses Bulgaria’s competitiveness in the European division of labor, and provides policy recommendations for the improvement of Bulgaria’s position.  During his doctoral studies, he received an Erasmus grant and an Ernst Mach grant, which enabled him to study at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Warsaw and the European Institute at Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration, respectively.

He is currently a senior assistant professor at the University of National and World Economy, where he has been teaching since 2009.  He has taught courses on “International Economics,” “European Integration,” “Contemporary Issues in the Global Economy,” and “Bulgaria in the Global Economy,” among others.  Dr. Zhelev is a member of the Commission on Industrial Policy at the Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association, the Union of Economists in Bulgaria, and the Association of Lecturers in Economics and Management of Industry.  He initiated the University of National and World Economy’s membership in the Virtual Institute of the United Nations Conference of Trade and Development, and serves as a core coordinator.

Dr. Zhelev’s Fulbright research topic is entitled “The Manufacturing Imperative: New Trends in the Industrial Policies of the USA and EU, and Implications for Bulgaria.”    The project, which builds on the extensive research undertaken for his Ph.D. thesis, has been in development for over a year; it has already resulted in some publications, as well as new contacts with NGOs.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Bulgaria went from one economic extreme to another: from a heavily planned economy to a post-communist laissez-faire approach to economic development.  The transition to a market economy proved to be a difficult process, particularly because it was accompanied by severe deindustrialization.  Despite the extremely negative social and economic effects of deindustrialization, the Bulgarian government – adhering closely to the neoliberal prescriptions of the “Washington consensus” – did not develop any industrial policy to counteract this process in the first decade of transition.  According to Dr. Zhelev, everything connected with state control of the economy was considered a regression to the old days.  In addition to this taboo against government intervention, there are certain economic constraints associated with EU membership – for example, EU member states governments cannot set tariffs, or limit the outflow and inflow of capital and people.  Furthermore, because we are now in the era of globalization, it is difficult or impossible to implement some of the successful industrial policies from the past (e.g. those of East Asian countries).

A major economic problem for Bulgaria is that the transition has led to a huge deterioration of the trade specialization of the country, which is still predominantly specialized in labor-intensive and raw material-intensive goods, rather than research-intensive goods. The discrepancy between Bulgaria and the more prosperous EU nations in terms of production and export structure is reflected in its comparatively low standard of living (measured in terms of GDP per capita).  Despite the fact that Bulgaria began its European integration process in the 1990s and has been a full EU member since 2007 – which many believed would be the silver bullet – it is still by far the poorest country in the EU.  Additionally, Bulgaria is in a demographic crisis: partly due to access to more affluent markets in the EU, the country has experienced a huge “brain drain” in recent years.

For Dr. Zhelev, the question is one of finding ways to strengthen Bulgaria’s economic position in the EU, and therefore – by improving Bulgaria’s international competitiveness – to improve the standard of living of the population.  The ultimate objective of his project is to provide insights on industrial policies that could be implemented in Bulgaria for successful reindustrialization (and accordingly, economic growth).  One of his goals is to undertake a comprehensive appraisal of the current trends in conducting industrial policies in the USA and the EU, and subsequently to find applications for Bulgaria.  He believes that results based on research conducted in the United States (which has the world’s largest economy), particularly on a topic susceptible to ideological opposition, are more likely to be adopted by the Bulgarian government.

Matthew McWilliams is a REEES M.A. student and a FLAS Fellow for the 2015-16 academic year for the study of Russian.

From Occultism to Science: Suggestology and Parapsychology Under Communism

On April 7, 2015, Veneta Ivanova, Ph.D. Candidate in History at the University of Illinois, delivered the REEEC Noontime Scholars Lecture entitled “From Occultism to Science: Suggestology and Parapsychology Under Communism,” which  discussed the scientific study of parapsychology, the investigation of paranormal and psychic phenomena, in socialist Eastern Europe. Beginning in the 1960s, parapsychology came under increasing scientific study in several Eastern European countries, especially Bulgaria. Consequently, the number of centers studying telepathy rose. These parapsychology centers combined the cultural and spiritual spheres with hard science. In her lecture, Ivanova sought to address the following questions: How could spiritual science be pursued in a socialist materialist system? What were the social, cultural, and political causes of spiritual science’s rise in the 1960s? What is the relationship between communism and parapsychology?

Veneta Ivanova giving her REEEC Noontime Scholars Lecture

Veneta Ivanova giving her REEEC Noontime Scholars Lecture

In October 1966, a parapsychology lab opened in Bulgaria, which aimed to scientifically explain telepathy and clairvoyance. It later expanded into a national scientific group, the world’s first dedicated to the scientific study of suggestion. Vanga, a famous Bulgarian clairvoyant, became an important subject of the lab’s study. The lab’s scientists daily examined her brain functions and her processes of clairvoyance.  In addition, Vanga was the first clairvoyant, of any country, to be on the state payroll. Though visitors to Vanga came from all social classes and backgrounds, local, regional, state, and Communist Party authorities had priority access to the lab’s services, specifically consultations with Vanga. The rising popular demand for her services underscored the institutionalization of parapsychology in Bulgaria, where the state funded and actively participated in it. Belying socialist Bulgaria’s officially atheistic and materialist doctrine, a close spiritual bond came to exist between the practitioners of parapsychology and high government officials, including Lyudmila Zhivkova, the daughter of Bulgarian Communist Party leader Todor Zhivkov. Visits to Rupite, a village in southeastern Bulgaria where Vanga lived, became part of the official delegation. Such privileged access meant it became almost impossible for ordinary citizens to consult with Vanga. Although the government openly sanctioned parapsychology, Bulgarian intellectuals proclaimed to be close friends with Vanga to indicate their cultural sophistication and their dissidence of state materialism.

According to Ivanova, the late 1960s was a key period of the nationalization of Vanga, linking her to the state. She simultaneously became  a subject and an object of scientific inquiry. Not only did Vanga become an important figure, but the 1960s, in general, was a period of heightened popular interest in parapsychology as well as spirituality, mysticism, occultism, and the paranormal – all part of a burgeoning New Age movement.  Although scientific studies on psychic phenomena occurred in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe much earlier in the 20th century, they stopped in 1937 in order to emphasize materialism. The Cold War provided a crucial context for reviving psychical research in the 1960s. The study of parapsychology was an area where the socialist states, especially Bulgaria, were more advanced than the West. Moreover, Ivanova pointed out that in late socialist Bulgaria, the doctrine of philosophical materialism, once a crucial part of communist ideology, was only paid lip service. There was a considerable degree of openness and debate permitted in discussing parapsychology, which appealed to the general public. Under communism, research on parapsychology flourished and became consolidated; the standing of parapsychology became solidified. Ivanova argued that the growth of scientific establishments studying parapsychology happened so rapidly because the interest in the field fell in a favorable environment. Many people regarded parapsychology as a legitimate science that did not run counter to material science. It was linked to physiological laws and operated according to laws of behavior. Furthermore, during the 1960s, the study of telepathy occurred within mainstream science and appeared in traditional scientific journals. The majority of scientists supported the study of telepathy, and scientists from all over the world attended symposiums and conferences on parapsychology in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Even Bulgarian schools used suggestology for pedagogical applications, and it became the primary method of instruction.

However, by the 1970s, public access to extrasensory perception (ESP) research closed in the Soviet Union. Bulgaria continued studying parapsychology, but attitudes had noticeably shifted. The discourse turned westward, emphasizing the strategic potential (such as collecting intelligence) of parapsychology. Anxiety about the military and strategic uses of ESP, particularly since the West deemed Soviet and Eastern European knowledge of parapsychology as superior, led to vigorous research in the United States and Western Europe. Stanford University, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the U.S. Department of Defense were some places that conducted the research.

Ivanova’s lecture was a fascinating and compelling study, challenging the assumption that socialist Eastern Europe was only concerned about the material world. She contextualized the growth of both the study and appeal of parapsychology in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe, particularly its connection to state authority. She analyzed the political, social, and historical reasons for how parapsychology became an important feature of late socialist life.

Stephanie Chung is a Ph.D. Candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests are in Soviet literature and culture, Russian women’s writing, and Czech literature. She received her B.A. in Plan II Honors/Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies in 2007; and her M.A. in Slavic Languages and Literatures in 2009 at the University of Texas at Austin. She plans to write a dissertation on Soviet women’s memoirs as literary and media texts.

Backlash in East-Central Europe? What Happened to the Promise of 1989?

On February 27, 2015, John Feffer, the director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, gave a talk that was part of the European Union Center’s Jean Monnet lecture series and co-sponsored by REEEC entitled “Backlash in East-Central Europe: What Happened to the Promise of 1989?” As the title of his lecture suggests, he attempted to explain the disillusionment with the post-socialist system that is taking place in several countries of East-Central Europe, such as Hungary, Bulgaria, and the successor states to the former Yugoslavia. Many of these countries are now members of the European Union and NATO. In terms of economic growth and democratization, the post-1989 transformations  have been remarkable. Yet many in the region – politicians and everyday citizens alike – perceive the promises of 1989 as unrealized, and there is widespread dissatisfaction with the current system. In the face of broadly emerging Euroscepticism, some leaders – most prominently Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary  – have blatantly acted to undo aspects of the post-1989 transition to economic and political liberalism.

John Feffer describing the difficulties of the post-socialist transition in East-Central Europe

John Feffer describing the difficulties of the post-socialist transition in East-Central Europe

Mr. Feffer attempted to put these developments in context. He had traveled to the region in 1990, and interviewed over 250 local leaders and activists on the changes that were happening, specifically concerning the Roma, women and the workplace, and Yugoslavia. In order to gauge public perceptions of change, he traveled back to the region in 2012-13 as an Open Society Fellow to re-interview those with whom he had originally spoken, as well as many new people from civil and political society.

Mr. Feffer began his lecture with two stories illustrating contradictory experiences during the transition from communism. One was of Bogdan from Poland, who experienced a typical progression of shock, adjustment, and prosperity – or the “Golden Age” of the post-transition period. Mr. Feffer countered Bogdan’s story with that of Miroslav from Bulgaria, who had been a minority rights activist but left the country after facing extreme political isolation and disillusionment with the transition. Together, their stories create a picture of two co-existing worlds in today’s East-Central Europe – one of prosperity and a successful transition to economic/political liberalism, the other of widespread disillusionment and dissatisfaction complemented by strong anti-liberal trends.

Several factors indicate this latter world, which Feffer referred to as the “non-Golden Age.” One factor consists of public opinion polls, in which people say that their experience is worse today than it was under communism. There are also problems associated with mass emigration from these countries, often of the young and educated (i.e., those most capable of enacting further change). Coinciding with these trends is the rise of intolerant nationalistic parties, who take advantage of disillusionment in the region. Mr. Feffer lastly described the new push towards “illiberal democracy,” in which some countries have seen polar transitions from liberal ideas and parties towards models based on Russia or China.

If the above serve as indicators for what has happened, the following attributes of the transition help contextualize the situation that exists now. Mr. Feffer described disappointment (i.e., failed expectations), economic hardship (i.e., shock and unemployment), justice deferred (i.e., neglect of rule of law and immunity to those who benefited from insider privatization), and political backlash (i.e., a leftist critique of economics mixed with far right politics). Mr. Feffer argued that the left has been largely discredited in the region today because of its communist connections and conduct after 1989, while those from the far right have become the main actors on a stage of bad economics and politics. One such example is the rise of anti-Islamism in the region. Those who are not necessarily racist still often support overtly racist parties because of other unrelated hardships.

Even though most of the countries in the region are now full members of the EU, Euroscepticism is on the rise. Superficial images of progress (e.g., infrastructure development and EU membership itself) belie local disenchantment with the European Union and the perception that the expected benefits of EU membership have not manifested. Another important point Mr. Feffer made is that many of these countries are relatively conservative, and therefore, their stance on issues such as women’s and gay rights lead Western Europe to regard them as fostering “social illiberalism.”

Mr. Feffer did not try to argue that the liberal project has completely failed in East-Central Europe because the people there now have a degree of agency which they previously lacked. Rather, he suggested that there were flaws in the liberal project to begin with – even with Poland, considered the EU’s success story. In Poland, Mr. Feffer learned from his interviews that even those who favored the Balcerowicz Plan of rapid liberalization still admitted that the plan should have paid more attention to those left behind. Those who were left behind the most in the region were the Roma. Mr. Feffer described their situation as simply being a process of “uninterrupted shock,” consisting of widespread discrimination and extremely high unemployment.

However, Mr. Feffer concluded by arguing that these trends – disillusionment, economic problems, and a return to conservatism – are ultimately not peculiar to East-Central Europe. Instead, he saw them occurring throughout Europe, especially concerning debt issues and austerity. Furthermore, Euroscepticism and disaffection with politics are also happening in Western Europe, not just in the former socialist states. He described those sentiments in terms of a “pendulum swing.” Whereas there was wide support for liberalism in the 1990s, the pendulum now swings the opposite way and will likely shift again in the future. This was his larger argument, but the trends have been particularly acute in the places where a significant many perceive the promises of 1989 and the post-socialist transition to be currently unrealized.

To see a video recording of Mr. Feffer’s discussion, please follow the link to the EUC article on their website: http://eucenterillinois.blogspot.com/2015/03/backlash-in-east-central-europe-what.html

Alana Holland is a second-year MA student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. Her research interests include the Holocaust, modern Russian and East European history, memory studies, and the post-socialist and post-Soviet transitions. She is currently writing her thesis on themes related to the Soviet liberation of the Majdanek concentration and death camp, and will pursue her PhD in History in fall 2015.

The EU’s Big Bang and Beyond: A Decade After Eastern Enlargement

On February 26, 2014, the Consuls General from Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania visited the University of Illinois campus from Chicago to participate in the roundtable “The EU’s Big Bang and Beyond: A Decade After Eastern Enlargement,” an event organized by the European Union Center and the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center.  Prior to the  roundtable, they met informally with students to introduce themselves, discuss foreign service careers, and answer any questions about their countries or about the European Union in general. Robert Rusiecki, Deputy Consul General of Poland, has been in Chicago for three years.  He is not a career diplomat, but started out in banking. In 2008, he began a foreign service career. Marijus Gudynas is the Consul General of Lithuania. His consulate encompasses 28 states, more than half the United States. He calls Chicago the “second largest Lithuanian city.” George Predescu, Consul General of Romania, joined the foreign service in 1990. His first diplomatic posting was in Washington, D.C. One of the highlights of his career was helping Romania become a member of NATO. Not only does his office serve the 60,000-100,000 Romanians in Chicago and others who live in the 12-state area that his consulate covers, but it also tries to promote Romania in the region. Simeon Stoilov is the Consul General of Bulgaria. He joined the foreign service 2.5 years ago from the private sector. He calls Chicago “the third-largest Bulgarian city.” In his work, he find opportunities for cooperation and partnership between the U.S. and Bulgaria. The visit was his second to the University. During the meeting, the Consuls General and students engaged in conversation on a wide variety of topics such as EU agricultural policy and foreign service careers.  Each of the Consuls General agreed that it is a “great honor to serve your country” and encouraged students who are interested in embarking on such careers to do so.  To succeed in the foreign service, they emphasized the importance of knowing one’s country well, but also understanding the needs and demands of the host country. From personal experience, they stressed that a person must really have passion to pursue a foreign service career because diplomats and consuls are “nomads,” though “well-paid.”

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Shortly after the meeting with graduate students, the Consuls General gathered for the roundtable.  Anna Stenport, Director of the European Union Center, gave the introduction. Following her remarks were those of Bryan Endres, Interim Associate Provost for International Affairs and Director of International Programs and Studies, and those of Carol Leff, Associate Professor of Political Science, who was the moderator.

Marijus Gudynas gave the first presentation. He began with a brief history of Lithuania, highlighting its ties to Europe. He mentioned that Lithuania was the first of the former Soviet republics to separate from the Soviet Union. In 1991, the country became a part of the United Nations. It applied for EU membership in 1995, and became a member of the EU and NATO in 2004. Most recently, it held the EU presidency in 2013. Gudynas noted Lithuania’s highly educated and multilingual population, and its strong economic growth as an EU member. At the conclusion of his presentation, he encouraged the audience to follow him on social media and visit Lithuania.

Next was George Predescu, who spoke about Romania. He emphasized that Romania’s EU experience has been very important. EU membership had been a “national goal.” In 2007, Romania joined the EU, along with Bulgaria. Predescu described EU enlargement as a “key factor in the democratization of Europe.” Enlargement is a “significant pillar” to a free and hopeful Europe. Although he acknowledged that EU membership is difficult to attain, it pays in the end because it is a “stimulus for economic reform.” He wholeheartedly showed support for the integration of the western Balkans and solidarity among European states.

Following Predescu was Simeon Stoilov of Bulgaria. He opened with the comment that EU integration was “not a big bang” for any of the countries represented at the roundtable. Rather, joining the EU was a long process that affected a country’s “total environment, its industry, culture.” Like Gudynas’ presentation on Lithuania, Stoilov began with a brief history of Bulgaria. The country was established in 681 A.D. and had always been called Bulgaria. Though the country is at a crossroads between diverse cultures, he asserted that Bulgarians have “always believed our place is in Europe.” Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007. Stoilov expressed Bulgarians’ pride in standing firm with the policies of NATO and the EU, and in Bulgarian becoming an official language of the EU. In conclusion, Stoilov affirmed how the EU values of freedom, respect for human rights, equality, democracy, and rule of law are essentially Bulgarian values. Different ethnic and religious groups peacefully live together. To Bulgarians, equality means uniting because of similarities.  Like Predescu, Stoilov promotes EU expansion as a way to overwhelm economic and cultural crises. To those who believe that the EU will fail, Stoilov asserts that “everyone is sure the EU will survive and expand further.”

The final presenter was Robert Rusiecki. He began with a brief history of Poland, noting how Poland and Lithuania formed a commonwealth in 1569 which had the first written constitution. In 1989, Poland became a democracy; in 1999, it became a member of NATO. Rusiecki called the big bang the “biggest single enlargement of the EU,” when 10 countries joined the organization, in comparison to the average admission of 3 to 4 countries. According to him, the objective of the EU is to “ensure peace and political stability, secure greater prosperity, further democracy, and reinforce Europe’s role internationally.” Speaking specifically about the Polish case, Poland has made a “great leap forward” with EU membership. Economically, it has experienced fast growth and was the only country to avoid a recession in 2008. The relationship between Poland and the EU is a “success story.” However, Poland still has problems that it needs to address, specifically its population decline, which is also a challenge for other EU member states. After 10 years in the EU, Rusiecki proclaimed that 78 percent of Poles support EU membership and 74 percent consider themselves European as well as Polish.

After all the Consuls General presented, they answered questions from the audience. Since the crisis in Ukraine was on many people’s minds, the Consuls General addressed that topic. Marijus Gudynas called Ukraine’s integration into the EU “stolen at the very last moment” by former president Victor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the Association Agreement. Other questions audience members asked were about nationalism and far-right parties in Europe, EU funds and economic aid, and further EU expansion. All three Consuls General advocated for full EU membership for countries who meet all admission criteria. They agreed that EU membership is “work,” but it is certainly worth the effort.

Stephanie Chung is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests are in Soviet literature and culture, Russian women’s writing, and Czech literature. She received her B.A. in Plan II Honors, and Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies in 2007; and her M.A. in Slavic Languages and Literatures in 2009 at the University of Texas at Austin. She plans to write a dissertation on Soviet women’s memoirs, with a particular focus on the writer and translator Lilianna Lungina.

A Woman Politician in the Cold War Balkans from Biography as History: The Case of the Bulgarian Communist Functionary Tsola Dragoitcheva (1898-1993)

On February 20, 2014, Krassimira Daskalova, Professor of Modern European Cultural History at Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski, delivered the REEEC New Directions lecture entitled “A Woman Politician in the Cold War Balkans. From Biography to History:  The Case of the Bulgarian Communist Functionary Tsola Dragoitcheva (1898-1993).”

Prof. Krassimira Daskalova

Prof. Krassimira Daskalova

In the beginning of her lecture, Professor Daskalova spoke about the tendency of Eastern European historiography to marginalize gender history and Western gender history scholars’ tendency to marginalize Eastern European gender history. She argued that exploring the gender history of Eastern Europe would expand the scope of historical inquiry, particularly in the fields of social and cultural history, history of everyday life, and transnational history. Professor Daskalova went on to state that political and diplomatic history cannot be regarded as gender-free or merely the realm of male agents, and that even topics like Stalinism, Cold War, or International Affairs cannot be adequately understood without considering gender as a category. Gender historians would greatly benefit from examining the gender aspects of Eastern European history, which would increase the breadth and accuracy of gender scholarship, as it would provide comparative perspective and decentralization.

According to Professor Daskalova, material scarcity has been an essential factor seriously affecting every aspect of women’s experience in Eastern Europe including women’s integration into the workforce, the struggle against male domination, as well as other crucial factors of gender history scholarship. In her opinion, women played an extraordinarily active role in building state socialist economies, but their perceptions of the meaning of women’s participation in societies differed sharply with the perceptions of Western gender scholarship.

Professor Daskalova noted the increasing importance of oral history, as it reveals that women had embraced new socialist identities which gave them positions of authority in their respective societies, where socialism was not simply an abstract ideology or a failed experiment, but an uplifting experience. Though we can indeed see oral history as an interesting field of study that enriches our understanding of the historical record, I would argue that the scholarship on oral history in post-1944 Bulgaria should include the accounts of the many victims – male and female – of the communist regime. A good start would be Atanas Kiriakov’s documentary on the survivors of the Bulgarian communist forced labor camps entitled The Survivors: Camp Tales, available at the REEEC Library as well as online

(with the accounts of female inmates at 36:17 and especially at 50:00).

With the Bulgarian communist regime’s human rights record and economic performance in mind, it seems unclear to me how the building of state socialism in Bulgaria could be considered an uplifting experience in any respect, except for officials like Dragoitcheva. While Nazi terror and crimes have been universally condemned, the Eastern European communist regimes’ state-organized terror practices and crimes against humanity are still little known. In addition to the above-mentioned documentary, there are some texts from western scholars who have examined the 1944-1955 experience in Bulgaria, such as the account of the Ethridge Mission in Bulgaria[1], as well as John Horner’s article on Nikola Petkov’s trial and execution in 1947[2], although this period generally remains under-researched.

Professor Daskalova noted Tsola Dragoitcheva’s involvement in the 1925 terrorist bombing of the St. Nedelya Church in Sofia, but not the fact that the incident is one of the worst acts of terrorism of the early 20th century with over 150 dead, mostly among the civilian population, and hundreds of wounded. In addition to Ms. Dragoitcheva’s direct involvement in the bombing, she was among the executioners of communist assassinations prior to the September 9, 1944 Coup, as well as one of the main leaders of the Bulgarian Communist Party and government after that. The anti-Fascist German journalist Wolfgang Bretholz reported that she had taken pleasure in her direct participation in one of the most horrific mass killings after the People’s Tribunals’ kangaroo trials – the mass execution of 25 regents and ministers, eight counselors, and sixty seven former representatives in parliament in February 1945.[3]

Professor Daskalova defended an anthropological approach that treats people as individuals, rather than as members of groups and organizations, which would allow historians to better understand the reactions of men and women to historical events. While I agree with this point, I would add that research from a gender studies perspective on this period of Eastern European and Bulgarian history should not exclude the numerous accounts of the regime’s female victims. Certainly, Professor Daskalova’s work on Tsola Dragoitcheva represents only one part of her larger project, but the conclusions she draws and the sources she consulted (including the official archives of the Bulgarian People’s Women Union, the Bulgarian Communist Party, and Women’s International Democratic Federation, along with the published memories of Tsola Dragoitcheva) regarding the emancipator aspect of communist policies toward women would likely alter with a broader range of sources. Further research into oral history and biographic sources would bring to our attention other, less compromised female historical figures who were not involved in mass killings and official communist politics like Ms. Dragoitcheva. Their accounts examined in comparison with Tsola Dragoitcheva’s case would give us a broader and more accurate picture of women’s changed roles in post-1944 Bulgaria.

Hristo Alexiev is an M.A. student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. A native of Sofia, Bulgaria, he has pursued Balkan Studies and East European and Eurasian Studies at the Sofia University, North Harris College, University of Houston and the University of Texas at Austin. He is also a graduate of the Music Department of Sofia University. Before being accepted into the MA program at REEEC on a FLAS fellowship in 2012, Hristo worked in Kosovo for five months in 2011, providing linguistic support to the US troops in KFOR. A recipient of the FLAS 2012 Summer Fellowship and the Boren Fellowship, Hristo studied in Turkey at Boğaziçi University during the 2012-2013 academic year. His acceptance of the Boren Fellowship includes an obligation to work for one year for the federal government. He hopes to pursue a career in the foreign service.

[1] Stone, D. R. (2006). The 1945 Ethridge Mission to Bulgaria and Romania and the Origins of the Cold War in the Balkans. Diplomacy & Statecraft, 17(1), 93-112, available through the UIUC Library multi-subject search tool.


[3] Cited in Troanski, H. (n.d.). The Communist St. Bartholomew’s Massacres. In Stanilov, V. (2004). The international condemnation of Communism: The Bulgarian perspective: excerpts from the reports presented at the Colloquium in Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria, 24-26 September 2004. Sofia: Vassil Stanilov Literature Workshop. Available at URL: http://www.decommunization.org/English/Communism/Bulgaria/Massacres.htm for another account of the February 1945 killings and communist terror in post-1944 Bulgaria, see Black, C. E. (1979). The start of the cold war in Bulgaria: A personal view. Review of Politics, 41(2), 163-202. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/38283571?accountid=14553

Caroline Wisler on Ringing the Bells at the Banner of Peace

Banner of Peace Monument in Mladost

The central belfry of the Banner of Peace Monument in Mladost

Early in the fall semester, Stefan, another American Research Center Sofia (ARCS) fellow and doctoral student from the History Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and I spoke about visiting the Banner of Peace Monument, a socialist monument located in Mladost, southeast of the Sofia city center. Not until late November, when I had only a couple days remaining on my visa and on what may have been one of the most uninviting days of soggy grey weather since our arrival in September, did we start in the general direction of the monument. We were unsure of precisely how to get there. At the end of the city bus-line, where we were the only two left on the initially overcrowded bus, we headed out on foot. We carefully avoided the waves of water surging off the tires of passing vehicles as they sped through ankle-deep puddles when they came and went from the massive shopping centers huddled next to the highway.

The monument was situated centrally in the International Park of Peace, on the top of a small rise just next to the noise and bustle of the highway and commercial center. They both dwarfed the monument’s oddly unassuming 37-meter high central belfry. In 1979, when the monument was first inaugurated, it would have likely appeared more impressive, having greater visibility in the landscape. Now, it appeared defeated and quite forgotten in comparison to the activity of the shopping center nearby. On this day, the only other visitors to the monument were a dog searching for his lunch and a sleeping guard, reclining comfortably in his kiosk. The stairs leading up to the monument looked less like a processional route and more like a staggered foundation struggling to hold the neglected monument upright. Thin, gangly trees obscured the space leading to the belfry and circular enclosure of nearly 100 bells, each representing a country or international organization which contributed to the monument’s creation. As Stefan and I moved counterclockwise around the monument, it became clear that many of the bells had been removed, damaged or defaced in the years since the original Banner of Peace program was discontinued in 1990, perhaps even earlier.

Signs in English (above) and in French (below) dedicating the monument to children everywhere

Signs in English (above) and in French (below) dedicating the monument to children everywhere

The inauguration of the Banner of Peace Monument marked the occasion of the first International Children’s Assembly “Banner of Peace” in Sofia, which was held in accord with the International Year of the Child designated by UNESCO in 1979. The program was created by Lyudmila Zhivkova and continued after her death, in 1981, until 1990. The motto of the Children’s Assembly program, still visible on the monument, was “unity, creativity and beauty.” It encouraged the peaceful interaction of children from all over the world, but also suggested that all individuals can contribute to peace, upon which the future relies, through the embodiment of this motto.

The circular enclosure of nearly 100 bells, each representing a country or international organization which contributed to the monument’s creation

The circular enclosure of nearly 100 bells, each representing a country or international organization which contributed to the monument’s creation

The title “Banner of Peace” has further significance, however, and references the Roerich Pact of 1935, signed into law by the United States and the majority of member states of the Pan-American Union. The Pact was intended to protect artistic and scientific institutions as well as cultural monuments, during times of both war and peace.  The Banner of Peace, a white flag with a red circle within which are three red spheres, designated these sites as neutral. Furthermore, for Nicholas Roerich, who attributed the ideas of the Pact, a nation’s cultural heritage was of global significance and had the potential to facilitate unity and peace: cultural heritage has the unique ability to unite despite the differences it may embody. These principles were and continue to be repeated within subsequent international agreements such as The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954) and in the development of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention (1972).

Despite the principles that the Banner of Peace Monument in Sofia embraces, the bells composing the monument and representing so many of the participating countries and international organizations, are decaying. Some have been stolen and others defaced. Some bells convey sharp hypocrisy: those from the countries of Syria, Cyprus, Colombia, Israel and Yugoslavia, among others, made me consider the events that have occurred in the years intervening the dedication of this monument. A sign at the base of the monument instructs visitors that only children may ring the bells and then, not too loudly. Perhaps this sign is as revealing as the condition of the overlooked monument.

Sign saying that only children may ring the bells, but not too loudly

Sign saying that only children may ring the bells, but not too loudly

The state of the monument indicates how the process of peace has fluctuated over time. Additionally, it illustrates how the cultural landscape can communicate that which is typically written and spoken of elsewhere. It is this understanding that encourages me to continue looking at cultural landscape as a source of both information and inspiration, in particular for its potential in peace-building efforts. It also suggests the importance of a trans-disciplinary approach, one which was found during my experience at ARCS, where I could consider the landscape from the perspective of my colleagues: a historian, anthropologist, archaeologist, sociologist and classicist, in turn.

Caroline Wisler is a doctoral student in the Department of Landscape Architecture and a FLAS Fellow for Academic Year 2012 – 2013. With the joint support of a Research Fellowship from the American Research Center Sofia (ARCS), Caroline spent the fall semester conducting research on cultural heritage and studying the Serbo-Croatian language in Sofia, Bulgaria.