Monday evening there was a reception for the man in charge of getting us money through the state department. I met up with Kristin and Ellen, and we headed over there together. It was a nice chance to meet some of the senior scholars, and the coordinators involved over here in Sofia.
They provided us with some excellent hors-d'oeuvres, as well as some rakia and wine. Rakia is a Bulgarian plum brandy and very strong. It is great for a night of Bulgarian folk dancing, but not for a night of social networking and mingling, so I stayed clear.
I tried to meet some of the other people, but I admit, I didn't do the best job. It all felt a little forced, and it wasn't exactly my cup of tea. However, the people there were truly interesting people, and I'm glad I met a couple of them; hopefully, a group of us will start a Bulgarian language study group. Kristin was doing a FANTASTIC job mingling, and even was jotting down information about the people she met. Now, why haven't I learned this skill? If I eventually work as a diplomat, I will have to do these things all the time. I better practice. Maybe I could take an etiquette class...
Anyways, the most interesting conversation I had was with a couple of the Bulgarian Fulbright coordinators. Somehow, we got onto the topic of politics, and it became this huge discussion. Apparently the current government is trying to cut down on the education budget, and these commissioners, of course, are educators. We ended up talking about the political situation in Bulgaria, and to what extent it is effective. In terms of political parties, it does not seem like there is any sort of true ideological backing for the party. All of the parties pretty much have the same agenda. Politics is kind of just a game, and people are fighting for the power, not for any sort of ideology. Then again, that isn't that much different than any other country.
However, I was curious about how close the average citizen felt to politics. In the US, there is a lot of political participation through various groups and organizations, and I was curious if it was similar in Bulgaria. According to what I've read, Bulgaria had a decent growth in the civil society since the fall of communism. However, it seems like it has a long way to go. From what I've witnessed, there is a pretty large gap between the elites and the common Bulgarian. Civil society is an important part of a stable and productive democracy, and hopefully it can grow and dispel some of the pessimism I feel in Bulgaria when talking about politics.