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Life in Post-Cold War Bulgaria

By Jack Godwin   |  

The Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended 25 years ago this November. As we approach the anniversary, I have a question: Who won the peace?

In response, let me share some personal observations from my recent visit to Bulgaria, population 7.4 million, member of NATO since 2004, member of the EU since 2007.

Although the crash disrupted economies throughout Europe, there was no crisis here comparable to Greece, Bulgaria's neighbor to the south. Fiscal discipline imposed as a condition EU membership is the reason why.

In Sofia (Bulgaria's capital city) there is a lot of foreign investment and new construction. And there are franchises including Starbucks and McDonald's.

This leads me to a prediction. By the time we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bulgarians will be facing an American-style epidemic of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, at least in the major urban areas.

The retail trade seems to be thriving. I had dinner with friends at a restaurant in the Paradise Shopping Center, one of the new megamalls in suburban Sofia. As an American, I've seen a few in my day but could not help being impressed.

The Paradise Center is not as big as the Mall of America but equally busy, full of families gathered around the food court laughing, talking and texting. I've rarely seen so many people having such a good time here, except a few years ago when Bulgaria made it to the semi-finals of the World Cup in soccer.

Nothing it seems can replace the joy that comes from watching the home team win. This is a communal joy, something you share with family, friends and complete strangers.

In the small towns and villages, things don't seem to be changing as much or as quickly. That is, the towns and villages look much like they did before the socialists took power in 1944 except for the roads, many of which are in disrepair. Other signs of modernity are subtle. Satellite dishes and coaxial cables dangle precariously from many houses.

There is poverty here, but I would not call the people poor. In the rural areas especially, people are less connected to, and less dependent on the global economy.

They grow much of their own food, buy what they can and barter for the rest. Along with this independence, I noticed a certain attitude which conveyed generosity and self-confidence, devoid of false optimism.

Back to my question: Who won the peace? Too soon to tell I'd say. The political transition to a multiparty democracy (with all that entails) is complete, but the economic transition, from a centrally planned to a market economy, is a work in progress. Stay tuned.

Jack Godwin is an award-winning political scientist whose appeal spans the political spectrum. He is the author of three books on politics, most recently "The Office Politics Handbook," and is now writing his first novel, a political thriller set at the end of the Cold War, the golden age of spy fiction. To view more of his reports, Go Here Now.
 

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The Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended 25 years ago this November. As we approach the anniversary, I have a question: Who won the peace?
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