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Hunger in Bulgaria



The notions of hunger and satisfaction have varied in the different epochs and with the different nations. Four centuries ago the good King Henry IV dreamt of having each French family with a hen in its pot once a week. Four decades ago General de Gaulle complained of not being able to govern a people that has 365 kinds of cheese. The "poverty" of present-day Eastern Europe is an impossible dream for some hundreds of millions of people in Africa and Asia.

According to the high standards of the Old Continent, Bulgaria belongs to one of its underdeveloped quarters.

In fact, during the early Middle Ages


Low yields, wars, epidemics and natural disasters, periodically bringing about mass famines, were dramatized by nobody at that time - people just believed them to be part of the Divine Order. The division of Europe into "poor" and "rich" started in the 12th-13th centuries. From that period on began the rapid growth of towns, of trade and crafts, of agricultural innovations which, in the course of the following centuries, were going to make some peoples richer than the other. Actually, the borderline between relative welfare and relative poverty does not follow the "East-West" demarcation. Europe's Southwest is also lagging behind its Northwest areas.

Because of the insufficient evidence we have no clear idea of the standard of living in Bulgaria further back in the past. It could be asserted that a continuous nation-wide hunger was caused by the invasion of the Turks in the second half of the 14th century, when as a result of military operations, forced migrations, emigration, diseases, etc. this country lost about one third of its population. Data about the Bulgarian lands in later periods increase in number, but become more contradictory. On the one hand, sources indicate a low living standard, and, on the other - Western travellers of the 15th-18th centuries, for example, described Bulgaria as a country abounding in cheap food products (which has also something to do with backwardness) and excellently tended fields and gardens. On the one hand, the Bulgarian did not keep a proper table, but rather, as the proverb goes, "stayed his stomach"; on the other, in the people's memory there is no living remembrance whatsoever of any extraordinary, biblical famine.

Anyway, in the decades preceding and following its Liberation from Turkish power (1878)


with the high-quality products of its field and stock farming. The Bulgarian goods were welcome in every spot from Teheran and Cairo to Leipzig and London. The national currency, the lev, was absolutely stable, even families with moderate earnings were able to send their sons to the European universities of highest repute. Aleko Konstantinov (1863-1897), Bulgarian writer known for his permanent lack of money, made a voyage "To Chicago and Back", as he entitled his travel notes, affording himself the pleasure of enjoying only first class steamships, trains, hotels and restaurants.

An exception to the rule was the hunger that came after the war against Serbia, Montenegro, Greece, Turkey and Roumania in 1913, followed by World War I. However, this phenomenon was both short-lived and, in a sense, all-European. And what is remarkable, although the men had been on the front for years, in spite of the hundred thousands killed, injured, crippled and captured, in spite of the hundred thousands refugees from the territories occupied by the neighbouring countries, and although its population was twice as small as it is now, in 1919 Bulgaria produced  much more wheat than it does now, in 1996.

Besides, no matter how strong hunger was in the past, it had always been mitigated by the Bulgarian patriarchal spirit characterized by mutual aid between relatives, neighbours and friends.

The same thing happened also under the Great World Depression which began in 1929. Then - in the 1930's - Bulgaria entered the period of  its relatively greatest prosperity. At that time the country held 40 per cent of the European market of grapes; the Bulgarian eggs, milk, white and yellow cheese, tobacco, fruits, vegetables, etc. were an international synonym of quality. In sheer statistical numbers consumption during those years was lower than in the most successful years of totalitarianism. However, from  the 1940's on the Bulgarian native would never again see on his table products of such taste, nutritiousness, purity and healthfulness. Before World War II


being only some or no way inferior to states like Portugal, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia. Estonia. Nevertheless, even in the 1930's, Bulgarians acknowledged that they had never eaten so well as they did in the  British prisoner war camps in World War I. Even during their capitalist period the Bulgarians' food was of a Mediterranean type - the products, the technology, the spices, the drinks, all were close to those in Greece, Italy, Spain, Southern France. But two major distinctions can be found here. In the Bulgarian cuisine sea products are very scarcely used, and the long list of exquisite meals characteristic of each nation having had its aristocracy in the past, is also missing. A typical feature of the traditional Bulgarian cookery is its functionality, rationality and harmony with the specific characteristics of the country's climate, natural environment and way of living. On the other hand, although only to a small extent, the Bulgarian cuisine has followed the changes and tendencies occurring in Europe's advanced regions. To feed the population was only a supplementary, side activity for communism, and what communism achieved was only some kind of beggarly prosperity. As a result of the maintained levelling and the regime's love for qualitative indicators, it managed to "stay the people's stomachs", filling them up every day with those same 3600 kilocalories characteristic of nutrition in the advanced countries.


however, the big anomalies developed - the awfully nasty "quality", the fertilizers and chemicals, and, certainly, the total shortages, which destroyed the traditional system of reasonable and natural consumption. As a rule, Bulgarians cook their meals using the products they can find in the shops, rather than the products required. The whole nation has stayed away from the new world tendencies, characterized by thousands of articles from all parts of the globe, an all-year presence of fresh fruits and vegetables from all geographical places, highly processed products offered on the market, abundance of ready-to-cook food, high rate of visits to restaurants and canteens.
At the same time, by making of the peasant a hired worker, communism destroyed peasantry as a class, which, in the long run, led to a heavy food and population crisis. In the late 1970's and in the 1980's general hunger was already latent - concealed only by the monopolies of the school for idleness, known as the Council for Mutual Aid, as well as by the milliards of dollars received from the West to prolong the life of the totalitarian regime.

All these elements existed, to a varying degree, in the rest of the communist countries, but with the exception of the USSR, the voluntarism of totalitarian social "engineering" was most destructive in Bulgaria. Today's hunger and the crisis in this country are so severe, because their roots are deepest. And that is why some well-informed leaders of the ex-communists, like Alexander Lilov, for example, took a stand against the pre-term elections in 1994 that would place their party in the position of cleaning the Augean stables it itself had been fouling for 50 years.

Hunger in Bulgaria nowadays is not the result of some unfortunate coincidences, to say nothing of wars or other calamities. It has been the product, so to say, of human will and intellect.


But apart from the horrible totalitarian legacy, the overcoming of hunger had to bear also the burden of the ideological commitment of the ex-communists in power - they sabotaged the restitution of land to its owners and privatization (Bulgaria lags far behind, even Mongolia, by these two characteristics). However, in addition to dogmatic prejudice, there are purely economic reasons for this.

How is it possible for a number of Bulgarian foods to be more expensive than those imported from the West, taking into consideration the generally miserable expenditures, receipts and transport expenses of their home producers? Well, this depends on the interests of the Mafia-like "financial groupings" which, as it were, have both "input" and "output" control of production. Precisely these monopolistic groupings supply producers with the needed raw materials at outrageous prices, then buy up their production at rock-bottom values, and, finally, desperately affect their means of living once again through the inflated retail prices. Thus the circle is closed - because of the low wages there is no demand on the market; this leads to a decrease in production, which causes a reduction of income, and the latter, in turn, brings about a new drop in production, etc. The robbery becomes even more rapacious, because the ordinary Bulgarian subsidizes for the second time these same groups, as well as the ever unprofitable state enterprises controlled by them (through the taxes paid - spent on unreasonable dotations, - as well as by means of the actual "privatization" of personal savings as a result of the financial failure and liquidation of banks). Thus for the first time in its history Bulgaria has become a country of the banana republic type, which, on top of it, is so perverted that people even have no money to buy bananas.

Behind this all lies the insatiable greed of the "financial groups" (a euphemism for the several dozens of excessively rich families) which, to top it all, are most probably local agents of foreign countries and foreign secret services. The everyday dimensions of this man-made hunger can be unmistakingly perceived by every, tenfold skinned, common Bulgarian. Still, what will happen when the notorious Bulgarian patience gets completely lost, or when, in other words, "the camel's back gets broken" - this can be predicted neither by the insight of scholars studying the future, nor by the vision of astrologists.