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EP lawyer Sibila Stoyanova on life in Brussels and the meaning of voting 

There are many Bulgarians in the Belgian capital who invariably vote because they are committed to Bulgaria's future

Photo: личен архив

Today, 15 polling stations are open in Belgium - the same number as in the previous two elections in 2022. A total of 308 voting applications have been submitted in advance. It is difficult to say how many Bulgarians live in Belgium, but according to statistics released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, by 2021 there were 43 104 officially registered Bulgarian citizens in the Kingdom. Of these, nearly 4 000 voted last autumn.

For the past eight years, Sibila Stoyanova has been living in Brussels, where she works as a legal officer in the European Parliament. No matter where she resides, Ms Stoyanova never fails to exercise her right to vote.

Sibila graduated from the National School for Ancient Languages and Cultures "St. Constantine-Cyril the Philosopher", has a law degree from Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" and obtained her Master's degree in Germany - a country that, as she admits, stole her heart.

It's hard to say she feels disconnected from her homeland because she is constantly connected to Bulgaria through the news stream, and contacts with her friends and relatives back home.

And despite living the European dream of unity in diversity, the Bulgarian woman has definitely not severed her emotional and civic bond with Bulgaria. Yes, she will vote today.

"Frankly speaking, I am interested in the political life in Bulgaria and at my level, as a citizen with a position, I try to express my opinion here," she says. For the fifth time, today Sibila Stoyanova is part of a polling station staff in Brussels. She says that she does not see election fatigue in her compatriots in Belgium from the fifth election in two years.

"Bulgarian communities in Belgium are diverse. Many people live in Brussels - they work in the European institutions or in big companies. These people vote very methodically and regularly. They use election day, which in Belgium is held in nice places in the city centre, to see each other, to discuss their viewpoints. I notice a persistence in them, a desire for a change. I can tell you that the voting results here are almost the same in almost all elections. Of course, there are other communities living in different Belgian cities that I do not know well, where things look different. But in general the number of Bulgarians who vote in this country is constant."

This Saturday, students in Belgium went on Easter break, which lasts all week. According to Sibila, this may affect the turnout in the country, but generally there is interest and motivation to vote."What I would like is Bulgaria to start behaving like a full member of the EU, which it is. My friends and I have commented that we have the feeling that this is a country that is "straddled" between certain perceptions, beliefs and myths inside the country and what is actually happening here on the European stage. Speaking in a personal capacity, it is important to me that a stable, regular pro-European government is formed to step in and start implementing the reforms that are essential for our country in order for us to receive funds. We need to start a working process that will produce results. For me, these political crises are destructive and actually serve interests that we must now leave behind and move on to something more rational."

In the 21st century, especially in Europe, it is a bit unrealistic to talk about a permanent emigration that would tear our fellow citizens away from Bulgaria. And in this regard, a separate constituency for voters abroad and the possibility of a majority vote outside the country is an imperative next step in changing Bulgaria's electoral legislation, says Sibila.

Today it is the people's turn to vote for a change. What their voice will say and whether it will be heard remains to be seen.

Text: Vesela Krasteva

Photos: personal archive, pixabay

English version: Elizabeth Radkova

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