'Europe' and the Post-Communist Public Discourse in Bulgaria

Article excerpt

Among past and future candidate countries, Bulgaria rates among the most pro-European countries. (3) Studies on the public discourse relating to Europe have been conducted for some Central European states. (4) While there are studies concerning Bulgaria's political and economic efforts in joining the EU (5), as well as general analysis of Bulgarian political discourses in post-communism (6), no study focuses specifically on the public, intellectual or political discourse about Europe. This article argues that the pro-European stance of the Bulgarian electorate, prior to EU accession, was due to a public consensus constructed around a positive discourse towards Europe. The Bulgarian public was bombarded with a glorifying message about belonging and identity guarantees rather than with specific knowledge about the EU (i.e. EU policies, EU institutions) or the impact of accession (in terms of both costs and benefits). Thus, the public was presented with a picture of the EU as a lost paradise capable to deliver Bulgaria of its current predicaments (be they economic through investments, social through jobs, political through guarantees of security or cultural by acknowledging its European identity). Such unbalanced discourse carried a promise of a better life without any contractual obligations hence the electorate sees no inconvenience in supporting it. Though securing policy continuity despite change of government, such discourse however was vulnerable precisely because of its monolithic political consensus and therefore its susceptibility to lead to a radicalization of an alternative discourse.

We focused upon two sources of public discourse, namely the Bulgarian political elite and the Bulgarian intellectuals. The construction of discourses, their impact, their single or multiple meanings are dependent upon contextual factors and influences, such as the social and political settings, historical circumstances, and the ideological environment. Avoiding exclusive focus on the "message," we also analyze the "author" (i.e. intellectuals, political elites, and media) and its imprint on the communication process. The method applied is both context- and text- sensitive, as well as reflective of the author-reader relation. The identification of the main ideas (i.e. belonging, Europe as a goal, as a policeman) present in the public discourse as well as the similarities and differences between them was followed by a linguistic analysis.

Data was archive based and draws upon magazine and newspaper articles collected from online records of Kultura magazine, from the on-line archive of internet newspaper Mediapool and archives of Trud, Dnevnik and Kapital newspapers. The selection was made on the basis of circulation and significance in terms of discursive sources. The timeframe spans from the beginning of 2002 until spring 2005, encompassing the process and conclusion of negotiations with the EU, which also coincides with the mandate of the NDSV (National Movement for Simeon II) government.

The Importance of Discourse

Politically, post-communist transition happened at both institutional and discursive level. (7) The political mythology of communism included myths such as the classless society and the new man (or what Alesandr Zinoviev called Homo Sovieticus), the fight against nature, the reinvention of history. (8) The ability of the regime to control discourse was essential for its survival. Not only had its role to be beyond question, so had to be its words. (9) The fall of communism led to a discursive vacuum and post-communism needed its own language both to replace a defunct vocabulary and to address the collective fears, passions, illusions, and disappointments the post-89 era faced. "Socialism," "classless society," "vanguard party," "plan," and "fearless leader" were replaced by concepts such as "democracy," "market," "nation," "Europe," and "civil society." (10)

While the other discourses that emerged post-1989 suffered through their own transition (i. …