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Youth Still Have Ways to Go to Realize Power

students-in-varna

Krassimir Kolev (left), an attorney for the Interior Ministry, moderator and journalist Alexander Andreev, and Dimitar Dimitarov, Varna's Chief of Police, address security and privacy concerns with young people in Varna. On the board it reads: "State -- Citizen; Security -- Freedom." EVAN MARTIN

By Joe Linstroth

VARNA, BULGARIA — There was a disappointing turnout, to say the least, last Wednesday, in this city on the Black Sea, where a rare opportunity was missed for young people to discuss, face to face, privacy and security issues with high-level officials. Just 25 people, mostly university students, sat in a corner of a large lecture hall at the economics university here as the chief of police of Varna, the country’s fourth-largest city, and an attorney from the nation’s Interior Ministry, addressed growing concerns over the lack of police protection and increased monitoring of online activity. With the poor turnout, however, it is unlikely the officials left with anything to seriously reconsider.

The meeting was the seventh in a series organized by New Moments, New Ideas, a public relations firm subcontracted with EU funds to hold similar forums at universities throughout Bulgaria to engage young people on issues related to the European Union in advance of the upcoming June elections. Aglika Georgieva, the project’s director, said the sparse attendance at all of the meetings has been a disappointment, despite publicity campaigns and direct phone calls. The offer of free cocktails couldn’t even penetrate the apathy and mistrust.

aglica-in-varna

Project Director Aglika Georgieva says attendance at the meetings, designed to engage young people in Bulgaria with EU issues, was extremely disappointing. EVAN MARTIN

In Aglika Georgieva’s own words:

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The topics of the meetings varied depending on the region and the university. For example in Svishtov, which has a prominent economics university, Georgieva succeeded in bringing in the head of Bulgaria’s National Bank. The attendance was even less than in Varna.

She chose security and privacy issues for the Varna gathering because there have been recent protests here over inadequate policing and corruption after two young people were murdered outside nightclubs earlier in the year. Some of the largest protests were led by the Union of Students and Young People, whose leaders in Varna and Sofia assured Georgieva that they would rally members for the meeting.  None showed.

One person who did was Misho Shamara, aka Big Sha, a well-known Bulgarian hip-hop artist who cut a music video with Snoop Dogg and another Bulgarian pop-singer last year. His concern was mainly about the growing lack of privacy, from street cameras around Varna to the increased monitoring of the internet proposed across the entire EU.

Misho Shamara, a prominent Bulgarian rapper, in his night club, Chocolat, in Varna, Bulgaria, in May 2009.

Misho Shamara, a prominent Bulgarian rapper, in his night club, Chocolat, in Varna, Bulgaria. EVAN MARTIN

In Misho Shamara’s own words:

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With Bulgaria’s seat at the EU table only two years old, it has been a struggle to inform many Bulgarians, both young and old, about the ways in which a governmental body located 1000 miles away in Brussels can improve their lives, especially after years of disappointment in their own government.  More investment, both in time and money, must be made to encourage young people to become more active citizens, to participate in the democratic process, and to volunteer for causes they believe in.  Currently, Bulgaria’s allotment for the EU’s Youth in Action Program, which supports such efforts, has gone largely unused because few are aware that the funds even exist. 

This lack of interest from university students is disheartening. They are the ones who will lead Bulgaria into the future and without their involvement — without the recognition of their power in numbers — it’s more difficult to see where the impetus for change will emerge.

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