06/12/2010 by Christopher Buxton

I was recently castigated by a former student for becoming yet another foreigner to “treat Bulgarians as though they were aborigines”.

I learn from the comments appended to an article on the early release of Michael Shields, that “the English have always treated Bulgarians as if they were aborigines.” You may remember that Michael Shields was the English football fan, who was imprisoned in Bulgaria for the grievous maiming of a Bulgarian citizen, but then was transferred to serve the remainder of his sentence in a British Gaol.

In the right wing “patriotic” press, American Ambassador James Warlick, who has the temerity to comment on Bulgarian internal affairs, is routinely described as “regarding Bulgarians as aborigines.”

I have been searching for some history of this most surprising of comparisons. I would like to know whether any foreign commentator has ever compared Bulgarians with Aborigines.

Apart from the fact that both peoples have suffered from Imperial repression and a degree of cultural isolation, there are no points of similarity beyond common humanity.

What may be true is that those Bulgarians who perceive the world as an ethnic league table would identify aborigines as occupying the lowest position. Patriotic Bulgarians would also hold as an article of faith that history or even malign world conspiracy has handed Bulgarians the outrageously unjust fate to be placed on a lower position than that enjoyed by other “advanced” nations.

Anyone from one of these supposedly “advanced” nations, who lives in Bulgaria will, like me, be tempted to comment on the joys and challenges of everyday life. Bulgaria’s entry into NATO and the EU makes it inevitable that Bulgaria will become the object of report and even advice.

The problem is that any critical comments will be construed as patronising and arrogant.

In England, the failure of the World Cup Bid has led to a storm of self-righteous fury. Accusations of corruption in the British popular press, feature FIFA Third World representatives, Russian kleptocrats and oil rich Sheiks. How dare the world ignore the whiter than white combination of Prince William, David Beckham and David Cameron?

Ha! Ha! Ha!

I would imagine that in the rest of the world, people are quite pleased by this very public punishment of perceived English arrogance – even while admitting the fallibility of FIFA as an institution.

Arrogance involves the assumption by the individual of some superiority. Arrogance is perceived by others – seldom by the individual. And I admit that as an English citizen I have to try to monitor myself when daring to comment on another country even though I live in that country and am affected by social and legal issues.

Seizing on some comments I had made about attitudes to homosexuals and gypsies, my former student last year launched a diatribe against the horrors perpetrated by the English over the centuries. I could have written this part of his article for him. I could be accused of arrogance if I stated I could have written it better.

There is a kind of arrogance which is based not on a feeling of social superiority, but on a tortured sense of persecution. This sense of persecution, however justified, will foster entrenched opinions and stereotypes. Thin skinned sensitivity and perhaps a commercial need to pander to a like-minded audience may lie behind the oft-repeated accusation that Bulgarians are being treated as if they were aborigines.