Interview for Vagabond magazine
An inaugural speech presented in receipt of the Distinguished Professor Degree from the New Bulgarian University
If you look at the membership of the UN you will find that about a quarter of it comprises “small states.” What does “small” mean? This is more confusing than you think. And why should we care? The most important factor, from the point of view of this commentary, is the size of the population not how much land it covers. The 50 or small countries in the UN have 1m people or fewer; 26 of them, indeed, have fewer than 100,000. Bottom of the list are Nauru with 9,000 and the Vatican with 400. Kiribati, with 100,000 people covers an astonishing 1,350,000 square miles of sea but only 310 square miles of it is land. But, all members of the UN have the same standing whatever the size.
There is no doubt that one of the main purposes of the EEC and later, the European Union, was to de-emphasise the borders of the continent’s nation states as part of the “shared vision” and “ever-closer union” to which the EU aspired. However, buried within the principal nation states of Europe were other unrecognised nations — some of which, like the Basques and Catalans, had fought unsuccessfully for autonomy and even statehood.
There is an old saying in English: “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, then it’s a duck.” In the case of the EU sometimes it seems to be an ostrich, or a phoenix, and others, like a turkey. And there is a real question about whether it can ever fly or keep its young in the nest. Why is this?
In the post-war bipolar world most of Europe outside the Warsaw Pact shared a common purpose with the USA. It would be a mistake to confuse that with a common identity. Here we have two very different political cultures, continually more evident since 1989. This becomes problematic when they share one defense system (NATO) where there is one superpower, which is a country, and the rest is scattered across many smaller nations — The EU, as such, having no defense system at all and not much in the way of foreign policy. What makes these two political cultures different?
In June 1991 completely unexpectedly, came to visit Sofia at the request of a very dynamic Bulgarian academic. I expected to stay a week and then get back to my “field” of development policy. Clearly the association didn’t end with my flight out of what was still the People’s Republic of Bulgaria at the end of that week, otherwise I would not be writing this article. It has been a “generation” since my first visit, and this seems like a good time to get some perspective on how things have changed and why. In every interview I give almost inevitably the first question is “Why did you come to live in Bulgaria?” This is often accompanied by an intonation of some incredulity since two million Bulgarians have emigrated since I first set foot here (and the population was around nine million). So, I really need to take stock of why do I live in Bulgaria?