The Association of Bulgarian Chevening Scholars implemented a project in 2007, carried out by an interdisciplinary research team. The team leader is Martin Ivanov PhD – historian from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The team also includes Svetozara Petkova – lawyer – LLM from Sofia and Warwick Universities, Kristina Georgieva – MSc. in biotechnology from Sofia University and a MSc. in management from Sussex University and Venellin Stoychev PhD – sociologist from Sofia University “St. Clement Ohridsky” about Britons replacing GB with BG.
According to 2007 unofficial data, between 50 and 250 thousand Britons have bought properties in Bulgaria in the last few years. Many of them live in the country permanently. Some voted at the last European parliament elections, others even ran for councillors at the local elections in October 2007. Nevertheless, there is still no official information on the exact numbers of those people, nor any sociological surveys focused on the reasons for their moving to Bulgaria and their way of life here. The few publications in the press and on the Internet and the TV reportages present the British mostly like eccentrics.
Although there are exceptions, as a rule the media reproduce the myth about the “poor British pensioners who have come here to live their elderly years in tranquillity”. As a rule, the journalists overlook the questions about the cultural meeting between the British and the local people, about the motivation of the British to come to Bulgaria and about the plans of the British and the Bulgarians for a common future.
The project was carried out in the period June-September 2007 and covers the following regions: Gabrovo, Veliko Turnovo, Lovech, Ruse, Razgrad, Turgovishte, Varna, Yambol, Elhovo, Balchik, Smolyan. These are the regions where, according to unofficial data, British citizens acquired plenty of properties.
In the course of the project, the team did a total of 62 interviews. 51 of them were with British citizens and 11 control ones with Bulgarians. Interviews covered typologically significant groups among the British and the Bulgarians. The project team interviewed people of both genders between 8 and 70 years of age from different parts of Great Britain, with various professional experiences and civil status. Interviewees included people who have lived in Bulgaria for the last 4-5 years (some of them speaking perfect Bulgarian), as well as newly arrived British who just unpacked their baggage.
The four major findings are:
- First, this survey suggests that there are no xenophobic attitudes or aggression towards foreigners on the part of the local population. The initial expectation of the project team was that some Bulgarians would be opposed to Britons coming to their country and buying out their land. Moreover, some political parties in the country (for example Ataka but also IMRO and MRF contribute to that) in recent years publicly defended positions legitimising xenophobic attitudes.
- Although the survey registers opinions of Bulgarians who are not pleased with the behaviour of individual Britons, the attitude to the newcomers is generally rather positive. This is partly due to the prevailing tendency among the interviewed Britons to try to understand the local culture and integrate into it, to learn the language and the customs of the local people and not act in a colonial manner.
- Second, the survey disproved the popular myth that it is only poor British pensioners who come to Bulgaria. Despite the fact that the majority of Britons we managed to contact are indeed retired, quite a few people in an active age also chose to come to Bulgaria along with their children who attend Bulgarian schools and kindergartens. We hardly met any people who supported themselves only with their pension – most of the respondents had some kind of business – even the pensioners were engaged in some kind of work – at least with the maintenance, expansion and repairing of their houses
- Third, the situation of Britons we contacted suggests that they are not capsulated in a closed community (as seems to be the case in Spain and in France, for example). Many of the British citizens included in the survey demonstrate a vivid interest in the local culture. Some of them understand Bulgarian well enough to watch Bulgarian TV and to read newspapers. As a rule, they are friends with their Bulgarian neighbours.
- Fourth, the existing problems are mostly connected with the everyday life and are surmountable. The report discusses in detail the existing challenges and the reasons the respondents see behind them. We can say though that there are no grounds to expect a rise of major cultural tensions between the two communities in the near future. On the contrary, while the respondents often point to the simplicity of village life, the warm human relations and the virginity of nature as leading motives for replacing the U.K. with Bulgaria, some purely administrative or everyday disorders are qualified as part of the local exotic, not as a possible reason to give Bulgaria up. Of course, this doesn’t mean that efforts should not be made to overcome these deficits.