BIG BROTHER'S LOOKING THE OTHER WAY

by Borislav Stoyanov; photography by Elena Filipova

The Bulgarians love the Russians because they live the same sit-com

russian tourists.jpg

With the collapse of the Soviet regime and the subsequent opening of borders, the Russian diaspora in Western Europe and the US has lost part of its charm. The romantic image established over the years by Tsarist emigres and dissidents has been shattered by the invasion of the crassly-mannered nouveau riche into tourist hot spots and the immigration of hundreds of thousands of people ready to do anything to survive.

The situation in Central Europe is similar in a way. Under Communism, Russians in Central Europe worked mainly in the fields of science or culture, apart from those in the army, who had almost no connection with local people anyway. But today the prevailing opinion in Prague, Budapest or Warsaw is that prostitution, and organised crime in general, has Russian origins. This, coupled with the residue of history, results in a rather negative attitude to anything Russian.

In Bulgaria, however, matters are different. Even in the early 1990s, when the nations in the Soviet sphere of influence directed their hatred of the Communist regimes in their countries at Russia, the Bulgarians did not give up their affection for the "Great Country".

I can remember the way my mother melted when she turned on the old record player, put on a Visotsky record and sat lost in reverie in her armchair.

With the advent of English-language culture my parents' generation experienced a culture shock. The Russian language, which is close to Bulgarian, was their chance to communicate with the world. Irrespective of their political inclinations, every Bulgarian is influenced by Russian culture. Shukshin and Tarkovsky created their art despite the discredited model used to make "cultural products" in Communist society. They became a symbol of freedom for the Bulgarians comparable to the Beatles and Milos Forman.

For the pre-war generations "Communist" and "Russian" had never been synonymous, and this has helped young people regard Russia without prejudice.

Today, the Bulgarians have a positive attitude towards the Russians because there aren't any economic immigrants in this country, and most of the Russian tourists coming to Bulgaria are members of a socio-cultural stratum displaying typical Slavonic frankness and good-nature.

To put it plainly, the truth is that Bulgarians love Russians because they are forthright and because they like drinking at least as much as we do. Because they live in the same sit-com. Because Communism's lies were the same for everyone. Because they are intelligent, spiritually-minded and honest. Because they are melancholic. Because they are amusing. Because they gave us Nabokov and Bulgakov. Because they are Orthodox. Because they are naive. Because they sent a man into space. Because they take themselves too seriously. Because they created the cartoon Nu, pogodi!. Because they have the charming custom of cutting a hole in the ice to swim. Because they liberated us. Because they are always kind enough to lose to our national football team. Because their women are more beautiful and more eager to communicate with men even than Bulgarian women. Because they are steadfast. Because they are proud. Because they are unrestrained. Because they are old-fashioned. Because they are inimitable. Because... we are so alike.

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