Importing Bulgarians to Close the Population GapEditorial |Author: Ivan Dikov | June 29, 2009, Monday // 15:45| views
In 2008, Bulgaria registered its highest birthrate in 14 years. The country's population declined only by 30 000, whereas in the mid 1990s the decline was by more than 60 000 per year.
Even though Bulgaria keeps having a negative population growth and the mortality rate is stable, the stabilization of the birthrate gives some ground for optimism.
Bulgaria's population has declined by almost 1,5 million since 1989. The population decline was heavily influenced first by political factors, and then by the closely related state of the economy.
First, some 300 000 Bulgarian Turks left for Turkey the country in 1989 in the so called "Great Excursion", after the Bulgarian communist regime came up with a campaign to assimilate them by changing their Arabic-sounding names with Slavic sounding ones.
Even though many of those came back from Turkey just months later, after the collapse of the communist regime, entire villages were depopulated, and entire factories remained without workers in some regions.
Then, starting 1990-1991, as the restructuring of the economy and the political transition met huge stumbling blocks, hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians, many of them young and educated, emigrated to the West. The staggering and absolutely shocking decline in the living standard in the mid 1990s meant most Bulgarians could hardly afford to have more than 1-2 kids.
As the country stabilized starting in 2000-2001, and the economy even began booming in 2006-2008, the birthrate began to increase slightly, and this is where we stand right now.
Another positive and very unofficial trend to be noted is that - even though many Bulgarians continue to study and work abroad - a number of those are coming back even after having spend up to 15 years as immigrants in Western states.
So clearly, there is a slight, very subtle positive trend of reversing Bulgaria's population decline. My strong conviction, however, is that unless some large-scale measures are undertaken by the Bulgarian authorities and, more importantly, civil society, just this trend will not make it, and in a couple of decades the situation still could end up being catastrophic.
First of all, the Bulgarian authorities and society need to really tackle the issues of the country, making it a better place to live in... This is pretty self-explanatory and pretty general but without it nothing else would make sense. Thousands of Bulgarians all over the world crave to come back, and would do so as long as they see some improvement and positive perspectives...
Second, Bulgaria remains one of the EU states with the highest child mortality rate - about 14 per 1000. If the health authorities manage to bring that to 6 per 1000, they would influence substantially the population growth.
Third, and very important, it seems that there is no way Bulgaria would make it without "importing Bulgarians". At least 300 000 ethnic Bulgarians live in countries and regions with a lower standard of living - mostly in states from the former Soviet Union like Moldova, the Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. Their ancestors left Bulgaria fleeing from raging Ottoman irregulars back in the 17th-19th century, and many of them would be eager to come and live in an "European Bulgaria" today. My prognosis is that the issue about the resettling of these Bulgarians in Bulgaria is yet to produce major news headlines.
Finally, Bulgaria probably would still have to import foreign laborers. The main thing to remember here is that a very, very specific and smart approach would have to be figured out because Bulgaria is a pretty typical nation state and has very little "melting pot" culture.
My final point is that - having seen how inadequate the Bulgarian state institutions usually act - there is no way they would complete such complex tasks as dealing with the country's demographic crisis - on their own.
So unless the Bulgarian civil society rises to the challenge and steps up, there isn't much hope the negative population growth would be reversed despite the slight positive trends that we witness today.
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