Could we say that now, more than twenty years after the democratic changes in Bulgaria of 1989, we already have an emerging middle class, the backbone of the economy, provided that the number of savings in banks is growing? Do we have a middle class formed of knowledgeable, capable, and prosperous Bulgarians who, thanks to their hard work and perseverance, have the right to say that whatever you are and wherever you come from, you can make a fortune if you work hard and continuously expand your business?
If we refer to figures from the banking statistics, the situation does not look encouraging - half of the bank savings worth approximately 34 billion leva are kept in the accounts of only 1.5% of Bulgarians. Another European study shows that 59% of Bulgarians have no saved money for contingencies. And we could hardly blame only the global economic crisis for this. Where should we be looking for the people who form the middle class in this country – are these people only among the emigrants?
Representatives of various sectors of the Bulgarian reality give their answer, talking to RB:
"The middle class in Bulgaria is non-existant”, says Georgi Apostolov from the Applied Research and Communications Fund (ARC Fund) in Sofia. “There is a small social group that lives by the standards of the middle class, but it is not a true middle class as a real middle class means stability over time. It must consist of people who have secure employment and in many cases they are self-employed and run their own business. They have children and have secured their education, and also have savings to absorb the impact of economic crises or extraordinary events in the family. In Bulgaria, the role of the middle class is played by young, educated people working mainly in the financial and insurance sector or in subsidiaries of multinational companies and in large Bulgarian companies in the field of information technology. These are young people with incomes that allow them quality that is seemingly the same as that of the middle class in America or in a developed European country. But everything else is missing. So we can not talk of a middle class in Bulgaria. For this we need much more. One of the most serious problems is the continuing barriers to small and medium sized businesses. I mean the endless administrative restrictions, financial, tax and other obstacles, including the unofficial racketeering by bureaucrats and corrupt officials as well as the unfair competition."
The country is going on the road to a market economy, there are rich Bulgarians, people of middle income and poor people, says Mariana Pecheyan. She owns a company for metal-cutting machines, which exports more than 90% of its production, as it is a subcontractor of a major US-based company. When we talk about the middle class, the problem is that there is no clear picture of the official incomes of those who might belong to this stratum of society, says Ms. Pechiyan and gives an example:
“Take for example the construction industry. Many new apartments have been built. Well, who buys them? The answer is the middle class. Another issue is that much of the income of these people is unofficial, it comes from different sources, especially when we refer to public officials, politicians ... There is a shadow economy, it is most active with small and medium businesses. With big businesses and large manufactures, there can be no gray economy. So whether or not there is a middle class in Bulgaria can be seen when we have official data on all incomes received”.
Let’s hear another opinion on this issue – this time of Professor Dr. Sofia Angelova from Saint Sofia Hospital:
”Unfortunately, I would say that there is no middle class in Bulgaria now. There was a time when we had a middle class, but not any longer. The middle class was the intellectual community, including doctors, teachers and intellectuals, artists, journalists and scholars. Today, the middle class does not exist, because all that brainpower enter into the lower class, the class of poverty. I can share my impressions of the medical profession. After turning hospitals into commercial companies, we found ourselves in a situation where we have to be trading with human health. This is contrary to the Hippocratic Oath which we have all taken. The payment of health professionals is not enough. This is the case also with all intellectuals of this country. So we keep hearing the sad statistics of how many young Bulgarians have left the country, choosing to live and work abroad. This underfunding and the inadequate payment for one’s labor causes people to leave the country. But still, we should preserve our optimism that soon Bulgaria will become a country in which each of us can find their due place and be satisfied with what they receive for their labor.”
English Rossitsa Petcova