by Ralitsa Behar

My name is Ralitsa Behar and I am a Bulgarian. I decided to write to you, because I was surprised by your comments on the BBC1's Question Time on January 17, 2013.

As a person who is Bulgarian, lived and studied in the UK and chose to go back to Bulgaria and build a career here instead of the UK, I wanted to take a stand on your statement regarding Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants and explain why I chose to go back to my home country.

Firstly, I would like to introduce myself and explain my reasoning behind this letter. When I was 18 years-old and was finishing high-school, I decided to continue my education abroad and applied to several universities throughout the UK. I got offers from four universities, but finally decided to take upon the offer from the University of Edinburgh, studying BSc (Hons) Mathematics and Business Studies at the School of Mathematics. It was a very proud moment for me and my family, as at it was, and still is, one of the most elite universities, ranked number 20 in the world at that time.

I lived in Edinburgh for four years and finished my studies successfully, gaining a 2:1. I can say that I was one of the active students and tried to get the best out of my time in university. I was participating in university societies and their committees, I volunteered in a charity, raising funds for cancer research; I also spend two months interning in firm in London, and was later on offered a job position.

I have always appreciated everything that the UK has given me. Firstly, as an EU citizen, I was supported by the Scottish government and did not pay any tuition fee. This was a huge financial relief for me and my family, although we still spent over £50,000 for living expenses. As a student, I was also entitled to free healthcare service, although thankfully I never needed it as much. I also appreciate the fact that I had the opportunity to live and study in one of the best places in the world – I find Edinburgh an incredibly charming and beautiful city with great atmosphere; and the University of Edinburgh – a truly astonishing institution with almost 500 years of history, with great teachers and amazing state-of-the-art facilities.

My strong connection to the UK is the reason why I decided to write this letter. Although I try and understand your immigration concerns, I must admit that I found your comments on Bulgaria untrue and somewhat insulting. In fact, they are only reaffirming my opinion of the wrongful idea that people in the UK and around the world have about countries in Eastern Europe.

I want to clarify, that I am far away from thinking that Bulgaria is doing as well as I hope it would be. I do not live in a bubble where I think that everything here is perfect – I understand our problems with our government, our law system, our education and healthcare systems. Living in the UK for so long only made me realise how much more we need to do, to learn and to grow to make our country better. Nevertheless, I have to disagree with some of the false information that you shared during your appearance on the show.

Firstly, the data that you stated on Bulgaria is untrue:

You said that the average monthly salary in Bulgaria is 200 euros. According to the National Statistical Institute of Bulgaria, the average monthly salary in the country for the last quarter of 2012 is 754 leva, which is 385.50 euros, almost double the number that you said.

You said that the average monthly pension in Bulgaria is 100 euros. The average monthly pension for 2012 is actually 138 euros.

You said that almost 50 percent of the people in Bulgaria live in poverty, however, the number is untrue; it is about 27 percent, almost two times less.

I was very surprised to hear such false data as I was thinking that a politician as yourself would take the time to check this information, as it is easily accessible online in English.

Nevertheless, I must say that not only the untrue data that you stated on national television bothered me. I believe that statements such as "If I was a Bulgarian, I would be packing my bags now, wanting to come to Britain" are bold and somewhat inappropriate. And since you were focusing on the problems in our country and why we would choose to come live in your country, let me tell you why I chose to "pack my bags, wanting to go back to Bulgaria".

Firstly, Bulgaria is a country with great potential. I am a firm believer that young people, who study abroad should come back to Bulgaria to pursue their career goals. Having a degree from a foreign university, I realised that my know-how would be much more needed here, than in the UK. After all, we are the future of our country and I believe that we are the ones who can bring this country forward.

In this respect, I would also add that my knowledge was much more valued in Bulgaria. One cannot deny that there is fierce competition in the UK labour market and it is incredibly hard, even for young people with good education, to get jobs which will allow them to be financially independent.

Furthermore, I believe that Bulgaria provides much more opportunities for businesses. When in university, I wrote my dissertation on family businesses in Bulgaria since the fall of communism in 1989. One of the conclusions from my research was that there was, and still is great demand for the creation of small and medium enterprises in Bulgaria and one of the great benefits of doing this is the fact that we have the lowest flat tax of 10 percent in Europe and only a 5 percent dividend tax rate. Additionally, it is easy to quickly launch a nеw company in Bulgaria as the founding capital required is only 1 euro.

I would like to say that with this letter I wanted not only to correct the false information that you stated on television; I also wanted to explain that not all Bulgarians and Romanians that come to the UK are "unskilled workers"; and even if they are, they also contribute to your economy. I also wanted to take this opportunity to invite you to visit Bulgaria as a guest of me and my family, so that we can explain to you how much our country has changed over the past 20 years and see for yourself the potential that we have to grow even more in the future.

Finally, I want to clarify that this letter was written with good intentions. I hope that it shed some light on the issues that you discussed regarding Bulgarian immigrants and I would be very thankful if I receive a reply from your behalf.

Yours sincerely, Ralitsa Behar


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