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WHAT IS EMERGING IN THE 'NEWLY-EMERGING DEMOCRACIES'? THE CASE OF BULGARIA: A CRITIQUE

by Haralan Alexandrov

Theoretical Frame

The conceptual framework of this paper derives from two major sources: the work of the system thinkers in social sciences and particularly in anthropology (Gregory Bateson; Maturana & Varela) and the school of thought in psychoanalytic theory, known as group relations (E. Jaques, D. Armstrong, R. Young, T.Tomov). It strives to transcend the linear cause-and-effect logic in order to provide a consistent explanation of the circular interactions between the domains of the individual mind and the social environment and to identify and describe the mutual formative mechanisms of these interactions. Such an approach tries further to establish meaningful relations between the personal psychic experience and the patterns of culture in order to make sense of the irrational behaviors of individuals and groups in various social contexts: families, communities, institutions and organizations.

The Essence of the Anthropological Approach to Human Development

An anthropological perspective on human resources development implies both an account of observed social trends and explanation of these trends. Such an approach should focus first of all on the negative phenomena such as the learned helplessness syndrome and the survivalist coping strategies, practiced by the majority of the Bulgarians in the transition period. In my understanding these are major obstacles for the liberation of social creativity and continuous threat for the newly emerging and still fragile practices and institutions of civil participation, since they perpetuate culture of dependency and reinforce paternalistic attitudes and unrealistic expectations towards the state. The explanations of these phenomena can be searched for in at least three related areas:

  1. The socialization patterns in the family and community in the broader historical and cultural context of Bulgarian society (priority of survivalist over achievement oriented values, culture of amoral familism and double moral standards).
  2. The failure of the public socializing institutions (education system, army, media) to foster the development of autonomous, emotionally mature and socially responsible individuals.
  3. The institutional and organizational culture in Bulgaria (diffusion of administrative roles and personal loyalties, resulting in clientelism, abusive bureaucratic treatment and neglect of human dignity, insufficient capacity for lasting commitment and long-run investment in organizational goals).

What these phenomena have in common is the way social reality is constructed in the human minds and embodied in variety of behaviors, depending on the specific context. However, in the changing environment those behaviors, respectively the underlying mental patterns, prove to be increasingly maladaptive, if not self-destructive, and when practiced, instead of wellbeing bring about misery and human suffering. Paradoxically, in the new situation the preoccupation with short-run survival strategies does not guarantee surviving any more, but rather destitution and frustration. Hopefully, an increasing number of Bulgarians seem to become aware of this and therefore search to embrace alternative life styles, often influenced by western models. These developments are usually accompanied by deep ideological splits, which can be traced along social, educational and generational lines. Those who reject the traumatic identity of victims of the circumstances and dare to claim authorship on their lives often have to pay the price of severing the links with traditional norms and values, sanctioned for generations, which in Bulgarian context means drastically to overthrow the parental authority. One possibility to cope with the resulting deficiency of emotional support and identity crisis is to join one of the new subcultures, which in the last years transformed the social landscape of Bulgarian towns. Such groups, where people belong by choice and not by birth or by chance, form enclaves in a still largely familistic society, but often manage to mobilize significant resources, drawing on the creativity of their members, and are in the vanguard of social changes. Some of them are invisible and politically underrepresented, others, like part of the NGOs and the universities, are hyperactive, innovative and operating in an expanding network. So far this seems to be the most efficient and promising model for developing human resources available in Bulgaria.

The Perception of the West

The image of the "West" and the notion of "good life" are build mostly of Hollywood mythology and is manifested in introduction of western fashion, linguistic borrowings, imitation of western sub-cultural life styles, etc. Most of the people seem to be fascinated with consumerism, opulence and freedom, associated with the West, but are only vaguely aware of the complex social organization and the continuous investment of human effort, which make these goods possible. The selective approach - we can take from the West only the products we like and avoid or postpone the costs - is manifested in a variety of ambivalent expectations. On the one hand, the West is forced into a paternalistic role - they are obliged to help us, because we are in trouble. In a similar way the state is expected to reimburse everybody, who was stupid enough to invest his savings in the suspicious enterprises of financial swindlers, seduced by the enormous interest they use to promise. On the other hand, the West is still accepted by many as inherently hostile and threatening, and is accused in cultural imperialism and subtle encroachment on Bulgarian identity. The very same popular culture, which is admired and imitated, is often pointed out, along with western foundations and the booming religious cults and charismatic Protestant churches, as evidence for the conspiracy against the national identity. Allegedly, the ultimate aim is to efface the authentic, traditional values and turn the country in an easy prey for exploitative foreign interests. On the surface this suspiciousness clearly echoes the "imperialist enemy" paranoia, fostered for decades by communist propaganda, but on a deeper level represents a defense reaction of a culture undergoing deep identity crisis, painfully facing a sharp decline in status. From being part of an imperial formation with powerful millennial ideology, claiming to bring salvation to humankind, Bulgarians feel degraded to a marginal and impoverished territory in the periphery of the developed world, beset by a centuries-old inferiority complex. At this point the coping mechanisms diverge - the young and educated overcome these depressive findings by embracing the ideology of self-determination and individual achievement, trying to perform according the western standards; the elder and less educated tend to encapsulate in defensive cultural enclaves, producing highly irrelevant, but psychologically reassuring explanations. The best summary this state of mind is the cultural enclave hypothesis, formulated by Toma Tomov in his paper "Social Violence and the Social Institutions" to explain the irrational reactions towards well-intended approaches on the part of the West:

"What is coded here as a culture enclave hypothesis is an attitude of mind that found expression in affirming that Bulgarians were a culture apart from the rest of the world; a place of special predestination governed by people of peculiar propensities; a territory on which all undertakings, fairly reliably tasted elsewhere, acquired awkward proportions. Whoever came along with a set of well working ideas in fields ranging from business, technology and society to agriculture, health and education would experience bewilderment at the special meaning these ideas took on in the context of Bulgaria and when handled by Bulgarians. Social welfare was one of the many such instances of Bulgarian "specialness".

At a closer look the culture enclave hypothesis was an encoding of vague awareness of a difference between the local people and those in Western Europe on a nebulous dimension of human nature. What lurked behind these intonations, boastful and elevated as they were, was pain and fear. This coping with a disturbing premonition about your self and your kin by adopting an attitude of self-extolment was suggestive of defenses and brought forth associations about practices characteristic of emotional immaturity often found in young age and tending to persist throughout life in certain individuals. The message as perceived by the team was of concern that the predominance of such behavior in Bulgaria was unnaturally high in compared to the West. By interpreting this behavior as a defense strategy the team was assuming that what was unconsciously experienced as a deficit had been transformed with the help of defenses into an asset, e.g., a feeling of triumph at the sight of a bewildered foreigner. Disavowed from awareness, though, in such a situation remained the destructiveness of this aggressive lack of co-operation and the display of hostility to well meaning others. The articulation of the dimension of the presumed difference, if it were possible, the team further hypothesised, would have been a statement about a delay of many decades of the advent of modernity in Bulgaria. The notion of modernity, which was in the air, the team articulated after Foucaut as the relationship with oneself, which amounted to trying to invent oneself. In other words anxiety was high because of beginning awareness of the need to take responsibility of what you are, not dismiss disturbing thoughts about identity by attributing all responsibility to nature or fate. Anxiety was actually too high to allow this to thought to be articulated. In fact, anxiety was so high that defenses of all kinds had to be mobilized to ward it off.

Institutional defenses were also employed to this end, for example, the enmity to foreign experts, the denigration of their experience and advice, the belittling of their criticisms and recommendations etc. were only too evident in the virtuoso use of bureaucratic procedures and regulations in impeding initiatives, in preventing spread of information, in distorting and misrepresenting ideas and proposals and so on. In addition to the public and state institutions, the family in Bulgaria, paternalistic as it was, provided in its turn probably the best human space for the practice of destructive defenses. In a desperate attempt to avoid facing intimidating truths, the family "legitimized" unpunished recourse to violence of all kinds.

The Transition and the Family Patterns

The ideological split and the evolution of worldviews are inseparable from the recent economic developments in Bulgaria, and chiefly the redistribution of job positions and income along generational lines. (quantitative data on these issues, if available) A current study on the qualitative aspects of poverty, conducted by the Association for Balkan Anthropology and covering ethnically diverse households throughout the country, shows that for the first time now the old generation is not in privileged position in respect to access to resources. On the contrary, it can hardly survive without the support of the next generation. As a consequence paternal authority is quickly undermined and the established pattern of possessive parenting is questioned. This is experienced dramatically by many old people, especially in the rural areas, where patriarchal traditions are vital. They share feelings of loss - loss of dignity and even worse - of the self-evident meaning of their life, which is to guide and control the next generations by means of sustaining their economic dependence and get in return guaranteed obedience and respect. Since times immemorial in Bulgaria is practiced natural exchange of goods, a pre-modern survival, depicting the lines of authority and power in the extended family. Typically, the parents in the village prepare large quantities of preserved food from their domestic farm and the young travel weekly to take it. A crucial change occurred, when the prices of petrol and public transport, heavily sponsored for decades, rose sharply and made the subsistence economy of the jars highly unprofitable. More and more town people abandon the old ways and get increasingly involved in the market. The old suffer bitterly the disintegration of these socioeconomic links, and, counter to the sound logic, many of them seem to prefer their children to earn less, only to retain their dependent status.

A similar process of emancipation is under way in respect to child rearing patterns. Traditionally, Bulgarians live in three-generation families, and infants are raised and socialized with the active participation of grandmothers. The norms in the extended family imply that the young, especially young mothers, are incompetent and have to consult their parents for everything, because they are "more experienced". The individual becomes a full member of the primary social group, coinciding with the extended family, only when he/she becomes old enough to have their own grandchildren, i.e., acquires patriarchal status. This paternalistic ethic survived and flourished under the gerontocratic communist regime, in spite of its pretence for "modernization" of society. Now the "wisdom" of the old becomes blatantly irrelevant to the changing economic environment. An increasing number of young couples prefer to raise their offspring themselves, no matter how difficult it be, because they consider the influence of the grandmothers conservative, if not harmful. Many postpone marriage and childbirth until they can afford to live on their own, only to avoid the intrusive interference of the old in their family life. The grandmothers interpret such choices as an aggressive attack on their sanctified right to raise their grandchildren. In the grannies' folklore the baby pampers - a new product, enabling mothers to work part-time and take care for their babies - is condemned as a devilish invention under the code name "anti-grandma". At last, despotic parents seem to be left with no other option but to mourn over the decline of patriarchal order and foretell the downfall of an immoral world, which has come out of joint. To busy to care for that, the young take the chance and struggle to build out of the ruins a life of their own making.

Suspicion and Distrust in Public Institutions

State institutions in post-communist Bulgaria are generally perceived as unfriendly, secretive and alienated from the problems they are supposed to address. The stereotype of the state official is that of an arrogant, incompetent, probably corrupt bureaucrat, reluctant to fulfil his/her duties unless forced to do so, lacking any concern for the public interest, preoccupied with keeping ones position instead. Sadly enough, many officers live up (or rather live down) to these expectations, and not just because of personal incapacity, but rather as a part of a perverse, still omnipresent institutional culture. A culture, which maintains rigid divisions between the superior social role of the officer, vested with administrative power, who is in control of the situation, and the inferior one of the ordinary citizen. Citizens are supposed to behave humbly when interacting with the authorities and patiently to accept their haughtiness, inefficiency, whims and abusive. Insufficient, if any, publicly available information about the rules and regulations in the institution, the organization of the work and the duties and responsibilities of the parties fosters bewilderment, secretiveness and double standards. One never knows which set of the inconsistent, if not contradictory, rules is going to be applied this time and which is the ultimately valid one if such exists. So far, due to the lack of traditions and practices of public control, most of the people are only vaguely aware of the rights they have in respect to institutions, including the right of information, and approach them with anxiety. As a matter of fact, the interaction itself is most likely to be humiliating, if not traumatic, unless one has special "connections" or patronage on the part of influential boss (a "strong" man). In the normal case all one can hope for is to be lucky enough to come upon a kind hearted person, who is likely as an exclusion to be compassionate and do his job with minimal complications. No wonder that the position in one of the redundant hierarchies does not imply the identity of public servant, but that of a privileged holder of power position, and personal connections and clientalist networks become of primary importance in an informal reciprocal exchange of services.

Familism and Double Standards

Resent research has showed that double standards are maintained not only in respect to the interaction with the outside world, but in respect to the internal organization of the institutions as well. A study of the communication between state institutions and citizens, carried out by the Center for Social Practices of the New Bulgarian University, outlined the dominating modes of interaction. The study embraced the reception offices of the Parliament, the Council of ministers, the major ministries, the police, various offices of the public administration, national, regional and municipal, the town councils, etc. Everywhere the people who look for support, cooperation or just information on the part of the administration, they try to avoid, if possible, the official regulations. They invest a lot of energy to search out any private "link" with the empowered official, firmly convinced that the formal rules are set only to create obstacles and there must be some way around them, available for special people. Any official is considered potentially liable to corruption and will bypass the regulations under certain circumstances. If one is successful in finding his private way to the circle of the privileged, then no problem can resist him and the real job will be done. These expectations are so strong that decent behavior on the part of the officials is often interpreted not as respect for the rules, but as exclusion from the circle of the privileged. The civil servants themselves are aware of these expectations and some experience them as pressure on the part of their clients to corrupt them. The very notion of corruption in this context is somehow ambivalent - to take bribes is reproachable, but to apply double standards is acceptable, if not respectable. To comply with this informal ethics is deemed more or less normal, and referred to as "human", to act according the rules and regulations is considered deviant and rejected as "haughty", "heartless", almost a betrayal of the primordial loyalties. Consequently, the people who refuse to play the game take the risk of being marginalized in their family surrounding.

It is hardly surprising that the long-term effects of practicing this morality are dire. Personal and family connections, kinship relations or clientalist links seem to be far the most important ways for appropriating lucrative job in the administration and for further promotion in the hierarchy, leaving behind the officially maintained standards such as education, qualification and individual achievement. This pattern, widespread under communism, tends to be perpetuated not only in state administration, but in private business organizations as well. The priority of nepotism over any objective set of selection criteria, usually at the cost of deteriorated efficiency and competitiveness of the organization, can be explained in terms of culture: sustainable domination of familistic, survival oriented values over individualistic, achievement oriented ones. In the culture of amoral familism (the concept is developed by Edward Banfield in his brilliant study of a community in Southern Italy "The Moral Basis of a Backward Society) there are several broadly shared assumptions about the nature of social relations. One of them is that people are intrinsically selfish, materialistic and unrestrained by broadly maintained social values, and are therefore corrupt and untrustworthy. One can really trust only people from the circle of his family and close friends, where informal loyalties are at play, guaranteed by the links of blood or history of personal relations. In a social universe thus constructed in the minds, it seems rational and adaptive to invest in building and expanding clientalist networks, to set short-term profit oriented goals and to exploit mercilessly all available public resources without much concern for the social costs.

Externalized Control and Pre-Modern Mentality

Amoral familism goes in hand with the limited pie mentality, or the unshakable belief that the amount of goods on earth is fixed and the only way to enlarge ones lot is to deprive somebody else. The resulting economic behavior can be described as zero-sum game. The economic, social and political activity is viewed as a constant struggle for control and redistribution of limited resources and not as a cooperative effort for enrichment through identifying and development of new resources. This belief, deeply rooted in the cultures of poverty, obstructs the emerging of culture of social participation and contribution and the establishment of grass-roots community institutions, since it assumes conflict and antagonism as basic modes of survival and confines cooperation only to the limits of kinship or inter-group loyalty. Democratic development, on the contrary, implies reciprocity in social interactions, trust and voluntary investment in long-term social goals, and is therefore hardly compatible with such a mentality.

All newly established institutions are in danger of being co-opted in the existing patterns of clientalism. Here we shall consider in short the way they are manifested in two radically different types of organizations - the business clusters, known as "circles", closely interwoven with the mafias, and the non-for-profit organization. No question this phenomenon of pre-modern society is largely and dramatically represented in key sectors of the economy - the infamous collapse of the bank system can be explained in terms of establishing powerful circles of private of corporate interests with expanded clientalist networks, permeating all levels of the economic administration. These circles are as a rule organized along already existing lines of loyalty and embrace "businessmen", bankers, politicians, media men and representatives of the quasi-criminal "insurance" companies, known as "wrestlers".

The "wrestlers" are an exemplary product of the extreme forms of destructive institutionalism, and probably the most sinister face of the repressive chaos of the early transition period. A peculiar brand of gangsters, roughly disguised as insurance agents, they were recruited mostly among ex-sportsmen and licensed by their patrons to terrorize the nascent private business. The patrons, central figures in each of the newly formed circles, are usually ex-officers from the secret agencies, known as "state security" under the communist regime, who have lost legitimacy, but have preserved positions of power. The criminalization and exploitation of thousands young men as a repressive agency of illegitimate corporate interests became possible largely because of the perverse way such people were socialized. Taken away at early age from their families, these boys were raised in total institutions - isolated sport schools. The only environment they had in the crucial formative years of their lives was the male gang, organized around utter obedience to the patriarch - the trainer, cult to physical strength and violence and unconditional loyalty to the group. The traumatic rites of initiation, practiced in these institutions, along with the officially sustained mythology, that they are the elite - special and untouchable, beyond the laws and obligations, valid for ordinary people - resulted in the creation of real human mutants. Insecure and alienated in the outside world, feeling inferior and lacking basic social competence, vaguely aware of the deprivation they have suffered and largely deprived of moral sense, they are easily manipulated and ready to inflict suffering and loss to anybody outside the group in order to attain their goals. Logically, these abused boys were identified as the ideal tool in the hands of the architects of the repressive post-communist chaos and in no time became a real social evil. For several years the wrestlers were the uncrowned and unchallenged kings of the underground and seemed to be invincible (nobody tried to fight them), almost openly engaged in the traffic of stolen cars, drugs and illegal immigrants, prostitution, smuggling and extortion. Their feeling of infantile omnipotence was stunning and paralyzed the resistance, the arrogance with which they took anything they wanted - fancy cars, girls, drugs, etc, would have been innocent, if it was not so destructive. The lifestyle of the wrestlers, often mistaken for "western", "market", "capitalist", attracted the attention of social scientists, journalists and writers, who partly searched for explanation, partly colluded with the new "heroes", constructing a legitimizing mythology of the strong and ruthless man, who take the risks and win. The socio-darvinist ideology, underpinning this mythologies, perfectly served the needs of the patrons, who at that time were vigorously engaged in redistribution of the national wealth by all available means, and who were only happy and flattered to be deemed and to deem themselves as the surviving fittest.

Hated and feared, envied and admired, the wrestlers turned up to be a ubiquitous part of the social landscape of post-communist Bulgaria. They seem to stir up ambivalent feelings of anger and respect, simultaneously accused in all kinds of sins by the media and the politicians and imitated by young boys, pictured as monsters in the yellow papers and praised as a success model in certain subcultures. However, the attitudes seem to shift against the wrestlers. Recently the spectacular police actions against them were celebrated by the public and summoned support for the police forces. An expected development is for their shadowy patrons to withdraw their support and to allow the wrestlers to be scapegoated, thus satisfying the public expectations for retaliation and "strong hand", escaping justice themselves and reemerging as the descent new business class of Bulgaria.

Pretending to be the new elite and indulging in conspicuous consumption, such people tragically failed to bring about development and prosperity for the society at large, but were quite successful in corrupting large sectors of the administration and the political class. The focus of their activity is distribution and redistribution of limited resources rather than exploring and exploiting possibilities for economic growth, and in this quest the basic moral is the end justifies the means. Of primary importance for their survival and the success of their "business" are the links with political and administrative power, so that its authority to allocate resources and spheres of influence can be continuously abused. This inherently anti-market behavior not only precipitated the economic collapse and deteriorated the value crisis, but deeply eroded the administrative moral, as far as it existed. Further, it discredited the very idea of a liberal, market oriented society, now associated by many with violent crime, poverty and arrogant exploitation on the part of the new potentates.

In respect to the major conflict between the organizational goals and the primitive social structures, undermining them, the burgeoning "third sector" presents an interesting and contradictory case. The numerous NGOs are as a rule heavily dependent on western funding and are therefore obliged to adopt and introduce western standards, including strict rules for avoiding conflict of interests. However, the leading foundations, responsible for redistribution of resources, are under constant pressure to enter already existing clientalist networks or to initiate new ones. Some collude with the dominating ethos and indulge in nepotism and small-scale empire building, but most resist the temptation and stick to the formal rules, usually on the cost of partial isolation and loss of flexibility. The most active and creative NGOs are not satisfied with partial solutions and embark on ambitious projects for promoting changes in the human environment which will potentially enable them to be both flexible and descent. Here they immediately come upon the numerous obstacles, rooted in culture and mentality, which are the very object of this analysis.

Under communism the state apparatus did not bother much to invest in human development for the simple reason that it could easily summon these resources, however underdeveloped they might be, through centralized command and mobilize them for the realization of the vast enterprises of planning economy. For decades the manifestations of pre-modern social mentality, ideologically denounced as "bourgeoisie survivals", seemed to be efficiently suppressed or at least confined to the domain of family life. With the dismantlement of centralized control in the years of transition its revival loomed large and proved to be a powerful adversary to social progress and change. The nascent democratic institutions were faced with multiple of atomized, disillusioned, socially infantile, often cynical individuals, poorly integrated in daily community life, let alone in a long-term social project. Deprived of authorship of their life and perspectives for the future, on the one hand, and of reliable internalized agencies of control and self-government, on the other, these people readily indulge in destructive and ultimately self-destructive practices.

The Transition in the Minds

The transition occurs not only in the economic, social, political and institutional environment, but in the minds of individuals and groups, resulting in self-perception, worldviews and value systems. Mental phenomena, more subtle and intangible, and hence hardly discernable and difficult to be studied, are nevertheless of primary importance for a human resources development evaluation. Therefore it is worthwhile to attempt a brief account on this sophisticated and elusive issues. In this quest the explanatory schemes, produced in the domain of psychoanalytic studies of human groups turn up to be the most helpful ones.

Victim Identity and the Conspiracy Explanation

The processes of transition in the minds are uneven and unfold in various modes in different groups in society. Many Bulgarians still abide a mental world, populated with primitive psychotic fantasies, persecutory fears and paranoid explanations. The hardships of the transition are perceived not as the inevitable cost of long delayed changes, but as an introduction to imminent disasters, aimed at the ultimate destitution of the nation, which are planed in advance and subtly manipulated by an unidentifiable, still omnipotent conspiracy. The social world looms as a cursed and evil place, and life is degraded to a constant struggle for survival on the edge of impending catastrophe. This state of mind, which I call victim identity, is amazingly widespread, and in my understanding can be explained only by group traumatic experience, suffered by large numbers of people under communist rule.

In his insightful paper "Social Violence and the Social Institutions" Toma Tomov introduces his innovative and sophisticated notion of traumatic identity, which is only too relevant to our subject. "A second characteristic of traumatic identity that it results from the restriction imposed by coercive environments on the freedom of individuals to experiment with versions of reality constructed by themselves and test them out. A prohibition for such practice ensues from the coercive norm that there exists one reality decreed by the authority and that the rest had no choice but to comply with it under threat of survival. One result of this normative arrangement is a cultural notion of truth marked by rigidity, inviolability and sacredness. Under such norms discourse on reality is practically abolished. The public institutions created for this crucially important formative activity, such as schools and universities, are transformed under the circumstances into instruments for mind control. Competence and skills to question what appears evident are drained away. A further corollary of this arrangement is a social practice of taking for granted that the version of reality advanced by the authority was by necessity the correct one."

In its turn, the conspiracy explanation rationalizes the self-defeating behavior of learned helplessness and sustains the culture of dependency, because it readily provides justification for practicing a host of failed strategies. The most stubborn among those strategies are: clinging to unsatisfactory, but common states for the fear of facing risks, passive compliance with social ills; avoiding choices and changes; attributing responsibility to external agencies such as the state, the authorities, the national character, the historical doom, the nature of things, etc.

Survival versus Development

In a hostile and unpredictable world, governed by conspiracies, the only way to survive and achieve at least temporary security is to belong to a stable group with rigid boundaries, providing shelter and support in exchange for loyalty. In the Bulgarian context this usually means surrendering ones autonomy for good and total compliance with the group norms. The prototype is of course the natural group, in our case the patriarchal family, and various social groups are patterned after its rigid model, especially in terms of power relations. This mechanism is clearly discernable not only in the perverse substitutes for the primordial group - the burgeoning gangs and mafias, where double moral standards are practiced as a rule, but in all kinds of institutions and organizations. Psychological comfort is achieved only after the organization is "domesticated" and turned in a big family. However, such a comfort is maintained at a serious social cost. People seem to cope with their anxiety of making choices and assuming responsibility for them by blurring personal boundaries, dissolving in the group and vesting in the leader supreme authority and responsibility, often combined with unrealistic expectations. These infantile mechanisms of constructing social relations undermine the possibility for constructive changes on various levels, since they doom people to continuous frustration and disappointment, political and organizational leaders to preoccupation with sustaining the unrealistic expectations and ultimately to failure, institutions to inefficiency and society at large to stagnation.

Dependency versus Participation

On the other hand, the situation thus outlined indicates the extend to which the combined effects of the paternalistic state and the patriarchic family have disabled people from coping on their own and have deprived them of the capacity for autonomous living, fostering a culture of dependency and survivalism. The typical Bulgarian family still fails to raise self-sufficient, emotionally mature individuals, capable of making autonomous choices and to engage in positive, cooperative interactions with people outside the established groups of loyalty. These deficiencies are exacerbated in the other institutions, engaged in the socialization of the young - the school and the army.

The Bulgarian educational system suffers from an especially malignant form of a long outdated pedagogical doctrine. All aspects of the education - rigid curricula, boring training techniques, preoccupation with discipline in the organization of the class work and outdoors activities, ritualized hierarchical interactions between teachers and students - are permeated by the understanding of learning as a one way process of instruction. The assumption about the social mission of education is that of molding on a mass scale the clay of the virgin minds in an appropriate form. The young are provided with the "right" type of knowledge, indoctrinated in the "correct" understanding of the world, coerced to adopt the "true" version of reality, established once and for ever and sanctioned by authority. Students are systematically discouraged to discover end experiment with innovative ideas, creativity is considered deviance, critical viewpoints are outlawed and often punished, and thinking is channeled in strictly set didactic models.

A hopeful sign is the declared willingness of the new administration to challenge these deficiencies, launching a profound reform of the educational system. However, the planned reforms meet fierce resistance on the part of deeply entrenched group and corporate interests. The case of the failed attempt for reforms in high education is symptomatic. The idea of the Ministry of Education to reorganize the administration of Bulgarian State universities, closing down redundant units, caused uproar among the university authorities, who blamed the Ministry for encroaching upon the academic autonomy. This criticism is reasonable, but there is another reason for this reaction - in the years of transition paid education turned into profitable business. Many young people are eager to enroll in any university, partly to postpone the traumatic moment of facing unemployment, partly with the hope that education will enhance their chances for getting better job. Many universities, high schools and institutes exploit this situation, fostering unrealistic expectations among the students and trading in degrees and diplomas. This is possible because of the lack of viable academic community, sustaining the values of academy and developing educational standards. In this context the state officials, responsible for the education, see their role in filling the void with strict regulations, which will prevent the devaluation of university education. By necessity formal criteria were introduced, such as a certain number of lecturers with high academic degrees, teaching in each program. The "old guard" professors immediately grasped their chance and started literally to sell their titles to all newly established schools and universities, pressed to legitimize their programs and able to pay for that. A new brand of ambulatory professors emerged, teaching in the morning in one university and in the afternoon in another without real commitment to any.

Another set of criteria, known as "state requirements" address the curriculum of each program, corresponding to one of the professions, privileged to be included in the "state cipher of professions". Whether the state effectively requirements guarantee the quality of professional education is questionable, since in some cases they were set by incompetent bureaucrats after superficial consultations with arbitrarily chosen representatives of the academic establishment. Probably the most striking example in this respect are the state requirements for education in social work, obliging the universities to introduce an absurd curriculum, a mechanic mixture of disciplines from other fields, which have nothing to do with the international standards for professional education. This strange document, whose authors are unknown, makes sense only if it is read from the perspective of the private interests it represents - those of several individuals with academic positions, monopoly in their fields and personal links with the officials in the Ministry under the socialist cabinet. This is a clear-cut example of privatization of administrative power for the sake of monopolizing academic territory, abusing the authority of the state to set and maintain standards. Sadly enough, the "standards", established in such a way, doom the education in social work to reproduce incompetence, ignorance of the human dimension of social work and lack of professional identity. Of course, this will reflect directly and negatively on various aspects of the human development issue.

These developments reflect negatively upon the self-perception of the people directly engaged in education. A study conducted by the Institute for Human Relations in the New Bulgarian University is several schools in Sofia outlined the major problems, faced by the profession in the transition period. All teachers who were interviewed report a bitter experience of decline in social status, related to the low income, disrespect on the part of the pupils and their parents and an all-embracing depressive feeling of lost meaning, direction and identity in their profession. Some say they feel like losers, who have to comply with the unsatisfactory conditions of their job, because they are no good for something better. A typical complaint is that the kids are becoming increasingly unmanageable and uninterested in the class work, refuse to obey orders, show neglect and even contempt for the efforts to discipline them, etc. Misbehavior seemed to be especially painful for the teachers, when demonstrated on the part of the children of the new rich, who openly show off their opulence and sometimes treat both their classmates with modest family background and their teachers like poor wretches. In some cases such boys ally with the school bullies and form gangs, who harass the rest of the pupils and challenge the authority of the teachers and schoolmasters. In most cases the answer on the part of the authorities is destructive - the troublemakers are simply expelled from school on the ground of eroding discipline. However, an increasing number of teachers develop the capacity to learn from the crisis and instead of blaming the children, start to question the relevance of the rigid pedagogical approaches they were indoctrinated into the new situation. Aware, that the more they insist on their privileged position to decree reality, the more they lose control, and to keep trying to force the rules of the institution on the new generation is an ultimately lost battle, they start to look for more adequate and cooperative coping strategies. A group of teachers, schoolmasters and school psychologists from Sofia initiated an organization devoted to assessment of the educational needs of teachers, developing innovative approaches for efficient work with difficult kids, such as conflict mediation, group work, negotiation of terms, and introducing them in class room. On their request the Institute for Human Relations developed a masters program in educational psychology, drawing on the experience of the teachers themselves. Now the network is expanding in other towns as well.

Things are probably worse in the army, which is famous for brutal violation of human rights and humiliation of soldiers and is approached by the young men with fear and disgust. Many try to escape military service (which is of course the case with conscription army in many countries), others survive it only at the cost of severe psychological traumas with deep and lasting effect. Still, it is praised as a dignified and honorable duty and a necessary initiation in manhood. We have here another good example of the public hypocrisy which is possible in a culture of double standards.

The preoccupation with control and manipulation of these institutions blocks spontaneity and creativity in the early stages of socialization and deprives young people from the experience of social participation, vitally important for the development of democratic citizenship. When there is not much space left for creative self-actualization in the "normal" social contexts, young people look for it elsewhere, usually in one of the many subcultures. This, however, is denounced and condemned as deviant. One can afford to be authentic only in the underground.

The long-term destructive effects of practicing this type of authority become obvious in the wide variety of deviant behaviors of adolescents in Bulgaria, ranging from dropout from school and escape from home to juvenile delinquency and drug abuse. Both families and institutions seem to turn a blind eye to the link between raising patterns and self-destructive behavior, and the corrective agencies tend to victimize deviant youngsters, labeling them as "failures" and confine them in punitive institutions. The disavowal of parental responsibility for the emotional well being of the young goes in hand with the repressive practices of corrective institutions, disguised as "resocialization". In a predominantly patriarchal culture family norms and parental authority are taboo and instead of being questioned at the face of their obvious failure, the blame is cast on the victims. It is my sad conviction that thepatriarchal family, the prototype and stronghold of authoritarianism in Bulgarian culture, is extremely virulent and is desperately going to resist changes even at the cost of scapegoating its own offspring.

In the social map thus outlined there are not many possibilities for mobility and individual choices, and the alternatives are often reduced to two complementary roles - that of the victim and that of the perpetrator. Small wonder that many choose the first option and desperately aspire to attain any position of power in order exploit and abuse it at the expense of the less lucky. Complying with clientalist structures and double standards is by far the most efficient way to do so, as was already stated.

Institutional Racism

The social institutions in Bulgaria, following the inertia of centralized social planning, still perceive their task in terms of sustaining and reproducing uniformity in the "correct" patterns of social life (those, approved by the authorities). Therefore they are inherently hostile towards all forms of divergent or unpredictable behavior of individuals and groups, who refuse of fail to answer the narrow expectations of mainstream society. This is the conceptual fundament of the discriminative attitudes and practices towards various minorities - ethnic and religious groups, disabled people, drug addicts, the mentally ill, the constantly poor, homosexuals or just people with markedly sub-cultural life style. Usually ignorant about the self-perception of these groups and neglectful towards their specific problems, institutions tend to classify and label them under generalized, biased and stigmatizing categories, such as "socially weak" or "asocial" and treat them accordingly - as violators of the established norms and potential disturbers of the social order.

Practically all major institutions - schools, army, police, penitentiaries, media, welfare agencies - ate permeated by institutional racism, whose favorite victims are the members of minority groups, especially the Roma people. They are subjected to various forms of discrimination, ranging from routine bureaucratic neglect and humiliations to overt violation of basic human rights. This only exacerbates the dire lot of the Roma population, which appears to be the worst affected by the economic crisis and the consequent collapse of the safety net and is now the most undereducated, pauperized and marginalized group in Bulgaria. Many Roma abide isolated neighborhoods with desperate living conditions, who quickly turn into segregated ghettos, with enormous concentration of poverty, unemployment, violent crime, drug abuse, child abuse, juvenile prostitution, etc., and "Roma" becomes increasingly synonymous with underclass.

Bulgarian primary and secondary schools, designed exclusively to foster Bulgarian cultural norms, obviously fail to meet the specific educational needs of Roma children, who drop out in large numbers, in spite of the efforts to keep them attending classes. In the army Roma youths are allocated to special labor troops, considered generally a second rank service. Social welfare agencies blame them for their "gypsyness" and press them to give up their cultural ways in order to fix into the rigid bureaucratic requirements for allocation of benefits. For instance, on some occasions Roma families were not considered eligible for family allowance because of their "deviant" family structure, etc. Offenders from Roma origin are most likely to be subjected to physical violence by police officers, when taken into custody. Media add to the plight of Roma by construing a stereotype of the group as inherently criminal, lazy, promiscuous, unmanageable, proliferating aliens, a dangerous breed of sub-humans. Only recently has there been a slight shift in that unproclaimed media policy, due to the joint efforts of many local NGO-s and human rights activists and the pressure on the part of the international human rights community.

Institutional Violence

Going back to the central issue of institutional capacity, we should recognize that in spite of the shaky social and economic environment, many Bulgarian institutions continue functioning and show an amazing capacity to close in themselves and behave as if nothing has changed in the social world outside. Persisting with the institutional agenda, no matter how inadequate in the new conditions, is a predominant mode of institutional resistance in a desperate attempt to sustain the integrity and escape reform at the face of imminent collapse. In the best case minor changes are introduced on the surface to mimic reforms and disguise the organic hostility and often paranoid fear of real, profound reconstruction, vitally necessary for meeting the new requirements of the environment. This isolationist course of action from an outsider's perspective is clearly doomed and could be contemplated as a tragic downfall, if it was not that destructive in its immediate effects of human suffering and degradation. Because institutions are unable to utilize the accumulated frustration of their employees for the creative activity of innovation, as a rule they channel it against the most vulnerable among their clients and indulge in corruption, violence and abuse instead of serving the social needs for which they were created. In this respect two major institutions deserve special attention - the welfare agencies and the police, famous for their dehumanization and violent practices, in the first case badly disguised as care, in the second arrogant and outspoken.

I will once again refer to the article "Social Violence and the Social Institutions" and quote a long passage from that profound study on the pathology of the welfare bureaucracy, conducted in 1995 by a team of researchers, whose findings, are, alas, entirely relevant to the situation in 1997:

"A passion for Control"

A puzzling finding in the course of the survey was that, by and large, social work was assumed not to be a helping profession with the role to provide services to vulnerable individuals such as children, the disabled and the old. The social welfare service in Bulgaria regarded itself as an outpost of a mother organization, "the State", this mythical construct of socialist society, the interest of which it had been called to defend against the peril posed by unoccupied loiterers and schemers against prosperity and well-being. This attitude, typical of the state/party employee, had been nurtured for decades by the totalitarian propaganda, which had imposed the "front line" mentality of constant alert to the ever new reincarnations of the enemy.

The social welfare institution had interpreted the increment of manpower in its ranks as an encouragement to spread and tighten its habitual practice of control, and not as an opportunity to reconsider critically its role under the new conditions of a society attempting to become reconciled with civility. Five years later the declared abolishment of the totalitarian regime the social welfare institution still carried unabashedly the insignia of a system designed and operated to exercise control over the individuals and their lives.

There still existed no appreciation for the services that cater for the development and needs of the individual and protect him form the hazards of the interpersonal, family and group interactions to which he was exposed. The attitude to the clients displayed at the social assistance offices was clearly one of mistrust, contempt and disgust. Although this attitude penetrated every gesture, posture and facial expression, although it was evident in the way clients were disparaged, ordered around and kept at a distance with the help of barriers like desks, doors and counters, this attitude was never articulated. It just went part and parcel with the notion of social control espoused by the totalitarian institution.

Social Engineering

The social services from day one of totalitarian rule were never even remotely seen as called upon to integrate individuals to community life by helping people to learn how to cope with suffering and loss. Quite the opposite, they had been completely dominated by segregationist institutional thinking. The social services had been reduced to identifying "the deviant", to labeling, proscribing, interdicting them. This job at the margins of the community was infamous but also crucial to the safety and survival of a social order believing itself to be surrounded by enemies. This job, therefore, was akin to what apparatchiks did, the job of a warrior in disguise. It took unparalleled, selfless loyalty, seemingly unrecognized but profoundly valued by the Authority. For endless days they had to witness shameful displays of unbecoming needs by orphans, idiots, sociopaths, the disabled, the demented, and the like, all of them stacked in institutions of corresponding types at as little cost to society as possible. There never was a word of doing something real about the needs of these unfortunate people such as, for example, empower them to cope. Quite the opposite, their demands had to be endured but never met and, above all, not allowed to disturb the society: a strategy of tacit elimination.

Victimization of the Poor

With the advent of market economy social evils like poverty and unemployment had materialized: the poor and the unemployed had started walking the streets. Shortly after they had been added to the list of categories of deviance entrusted to the care of the social services. In line with the institutional approach, fighting these evils now meant war on those who embodied them. The warrior mentality approach had spread onto the new embodiments of evil. The result was victimization (blaming the victim for being a victim) on a mass scale. In brief, the crisis of the social welfare institution which demonstrated itself as victimization and violence, amounted to no less than the failure of this institution to drop the social control function bequeathed by the totalitarian regime and to pick up instead the helping function that civil societies evolve to alleviate the plight of the individuals who, under market economy, end on the loosing side - the poor, the unemployed, the disabled."

This grave account is especially up to date in respect to the identity of welfare officers as pawns of the state, instead of helping professionals, acting on behalf of the disadvantaged. All political efforts to reform the welfare system for better are doomed to failure, unless this identity is challenged. This is responsibility of the newly established professional bodies, such as the Bulgarian Association of Social Workers, which is committed to introducing in legislation, education and institutional culture the standards of good practice and professional ethics in social work.

The study of the violence in the police unveiled a peculiar picture of the organizational culture, underlain by the same comprehensive patterns of institutional functioning. In the course of the study the police officers were approached and interviewed informally, employing the "friends of friends network", which is probably the most efficient one in Bulgaria. The working hypothesis, on which the team has built its interview strategy, was that the outburst of police violence against both Roma and Bulgarian citizens is a primitive coping mechanism of an institution which fails to change adequately in order to fulfill its primary task in the new environment - to defend society from crime and maintain security and order - and is severely criticized by the public. Society at large, unable to internalize control and contain the anxiety of chaos and disintegration, stirred by the changes, desperately needs a reliable outward social structure to guarantee its survival against the feared break through of real or fantasized energies of aggression and destruction, usually associated with rampant crime. Under communism police was perceived as an oppressive rather than protective institution, being the most visible part of the state control. Now it undergoes a painful attempt to develop a new, more positive image, but is still the perfect object for projection of both the aggressive impulses of the public and the failure to cope with them. Thus society tends to scapegoat the police forces, burdening them with the bulk of responsibility not only for crime, but for the here outlined more subtle form of violence in interpersonal, group and institutional relationships, rooted in the patterns of family upbringing and socialization. This tendency is clearly observable in the press, which blames the police for inefficiency, brutality, corruption and collusive collaboration with organized crime.

The hypothesis was to a large extent supported by the findings of the team. Most of the interviewed police officers expressed the bitter feeling of being abandoned in the battle with crime, without support and sympathy on the part of the public, which they are doing their best to protect. No one was really able to articulate and verbalize these feelings, since they try hard to live up to the rigid expectations to behave as strong, unshakable man, who fight their silent battles and never complain. How important it has become to maintain this image in the face of blatant defeat in the battle with disorder can be judged by the observed variety of behaviors, aimed to conceal the intense feelings of helplessness and vulnerability. In the course of virtually all interviews the policemen betrayed their anxiety in one way or another, most often through compulsive display of strength and power. Recurrent gestures were showing their guns, rattling with handcuffs, demonstrating muscles, along with telling horror stories about their performance, the deadly dangers they have survived and the atrocities they have witnessed, etc. The message that they are special men, tested and hardened in most unusual circumstances was interwoven in a kind of heroic mythology of the lonely, but devoted street knights of justice. Thus a counter myth of the police subculture emerges, opposing the widely spread conviction that they are impotent and good-for-nothing. Construing this identity the police estate (it still does not perceive itself as a profession) draws on both the communist imagery of the silent front-line warrior and the traditional Balkan hero culture, valorizing violence as an innate characteristic of masculinity. One important aspect of this myth is the way they explain their failure, blaming other institutions (who usually deserve to be blamed). The generally sustained version is that the police is doing its job properly, in spite of the lack of support and the legal obstacles, but the prosecution and the courts are corrupt and let the criminals free instead of sentencing them, and thus sabotage the efforts of the police. Sometimes the bosses in the police itself may be suspected in corruption as well, but the honesty and loyalty of the peer group is never questioned. The one who is entirely trusted is of course the partner, who shields your back in the risky actions (like elsewhere Bulgarian policemen work in mostly in couples). A corollary of this version is the moral justification of acts of violence, committed by officers, as the only punishment criminals ever get, and the firm belief that policemen should not be reproached, but praised for enforcing a kind of justice in world, overtaken by evil. In this context the whole human rights discourse becomes irrelevant.

The ethnicity issue adds a specific touch to this battle map. Police officers report ambivalent attitudes towards Roma people. On the one hand, they share the prevailing racist prejudices of the majority of the Bulgarians, who utilize ethnic and cultural difference for the purpose of achieving and maintaining positive self-image through the primitive mechanisms of splitting off and projecting negative characteristics on the minority group. This is manifested for instance in the disparate way policemen approach cases of rape, depending on the ethnicity of the rapist. If he is Roma, there will be an outburst of anger against the "dirty Gypsy beast", but if he is Bulgarian, it is very likely the victim to be blamed for behaving in a seductive way, walking the streets alone late at night, etc. On the other hand, some positive connotations are twinkling in the stereotype of the cunning and ever escaping petty Gypsy thief. Especially estimable is the solidarity of the Gypsy gang. This makes sense in the context of the traditionally high value, placed on group loyalty, reinforced in a situation of diluted rules and double standards, in which the police increasingly perceives itself as kind of male brotherhood with noble mission, rather than a rational bureaucracy with clearly defined rights, obligations and responsibilities.

Stability and Change

This explanation is based on the assumption, that we as human beings are caught in a continuous circular interplay between the map of social relations in our minds and the reality out there. The picture of the world, constructed in the minds as a result of the traumatic experience in families and institutions, is projected upon actual institutional and organizational contexts and acted out in the daily social interactions. Individuals enter a limited set of culturally prescribed social roles and adopt the related values, internalized in childhood and sanctioned by authorities, and consequently reinforce them in their activities. Thus the mental prototype of the social universe is objectified and reincarnated in specific roles, interactive patterns and institutional dynamics, but the actors remain only vaguely aware about the extend to which they are co-authors of their social reality and usually experience themselves as passive victims of dire circumstances.

If this mechanism really works that smoothly, than we have here a deterministic description of a static social system, locked in a vicious circle of self-perpetuation. Change appears to be irrelevant to such a construct. Still, changes are not only taking place in Bulgarian society, but they are the celebrated theme in the transition discourse and particularly in turbulent events of 1997 and their interpretations.

My point is that if we adhere to the system theory thinking approach we can predict with certainty that change becomes inevitable at a certain point because the self-perpetuating system is not isolated entity, but integral part of a larger changing environment. The described mode of functioning, centered on survival and conservation, has blocked its capacity for exchange with the environment and hence for growth and development, and thus dooms it to stagnation, exhaustion and collapse. The only viable alternative left is radical change.


The Human Nature Review
Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

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