That eternally elusive matter of identity
I arrived in Britain at 15 in 1971. It was a fascinating but arrogant country. Foreigners were "bloody." Everyone advised me to swot-up on the Queen’s English or face a second class future.
Huge differences aside, my native Bulgaria echoed this. Non-Bulgarian communities (Armenian, Greek, Jewish, Turkish) were outcasts, along with Muslim Bulgarians.
Well, Britain made titanic efforts to become inclusive. Ethnic and racial slurs – commonplace in the 1970s – disappeared. Glass ceilings melted. Between celebrating Britain’s 1973 Common Market entry and Bulgaria’s 2007 EU entry, I had "made it," even becoming a British company director.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria – ostensibly “internationalist” – grew chauvinistic. Indigenous Turks (ruled to be misguided ethnic Bulgarians) had their names forcibly Bulgarised. Hundreds of thousands of them were forced to emigrate. This iniquity ended amid mass protest. Yet today, anti-Semitism is rife in a land that rescued its Jews from the Holocaust despite being a German ally.
Today, Brexit makes a remarriage of “bloody” and “foreigner” ever likelier in Britain. When huge, talent-enriched Britain has embraced unreason, what hope is there for tiny, talent-depleted Bulgaria? Bulgarian nationalists are winning elections, erecting border fences, capturing live refugee game – and tying its hands with cable ties. Both countries are increasingly hostile to The Other: me and those like me – the millions who wittingly or unwittingly make up one of our age’s defining world issues: migration.
The economy seems to be at the foot of it all…
Until the 2008 crisis, burgeoning Britain drew talent from abroad; imploding Bulgaria bled talent. Since 2008, Britons are apt to perceive themselves as competing with immigrants for everything from school places and hospital beds to cemetery slots; Bulgarians are stuck in a mafia state and apt to perceive themselves as locked in a struggle-to-the-death with Islamic fundamentalists. This amid a worldscape of hard borders and ethnocentrism rising from the ashes of free movement and multiculturalism.
The economy, I recall from history lessons, also seemed to be at the foot of it all in Germany in 1933…