Sunday, February 15, 2015

European citizenship

I was very skeptical of the European Union before Bulgaria joined it in 2007.

I have softened since, though I still criticize the EU on many occasions. We Bulgarians benefited much from the free European market, the right to travel and work in other EU countries, the imperative to harmonize our legislature with European laws and the subsidies given by the EU budget (though of course much of the funds are wasted or stolen by crooks, as always happens with unearned money).

To be honest, the EU, like many other fortresses, looks far better from inside than from outside. And we need it in the foreseeable future to counter-weight the power of Russia. Though I am very unhappy to see the reluctance of European politicians to do more against Russian aggression, I shiver when I think what would happen to Bulgaria if we hadn't been admitted to the EU. Using his numerous and high-ranking supporters in our country, Putin would effectively take control of it without a shot.

Anyway, even Euro-skeptic hardliners, once their country is in the EU, should do what is best in the situation and find the best possible use of European institutions. So in the elections for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), I have always cast my vote.

There were such elections on May 25, 2014. I remember how, about a month before the date, I talked with my mother. We always discussed politics and had almost complete agreement. This time, however, there was a difference. My mother had decided to vote for the Reformist Block. My sympathies also belonged there, but at the parliamentary elections the previous year the Reformist people had failed to pass the 4% barrier and so my vote had been lost. So this time I felt inclined to vote for the bigger GERB party. (Who would think of it, after I had written so critically about the GERB leader? Years pass and things change!)

My mother said that voting for GERB was also fine and that the people occupying top positions in the GERB ticket looked nice. I said that I disliked the leader of the Reformists' ticket, Meglena Kuneva. My mother said that she had the same opinion of Ms. Kuneva and she would vote with preference for the runner-up in the ticket, Svetoslav Malinov.

Several days after this conversation, my mother suddenly died.

I tried not to disconnect from the world. As the elections approached, I wrote a post appealing to any European voter who would read it to vote as would be best for Ukraine. And I stopped hesitating about my vote. I decided to vote for the Reformist Block with preference for Mr. Malinov, as my mother would, even if I were to "waste" my vote for a second time. My mother had always valued political freedom and civil rights, yet the Communist dictatorship had deprived her of this for 4 decades, coinciding with the most active years of her life. So I wished to honor her by allowing her to vote once more, a wish that not many people would understand.

A last-minute change of mind of many right-wing voters gave the Reformists one seat in the European Parliament; and it was for Mr. Malinov, because most voters had, like me, indicated preference for No. 2. Both he and the GERB-elected representatives joined the group of the European People's Party (EPP).

Several months later, in October 2014, my father was invited to a discussion titled Communism and the Unbending Human Spirit which was to take place in Brussels, in the building of the European Parliament. It was organized by Andrey Kovatchev, a member of the European Parliament (EPP) from the GERB party of Bulgaria, with the crucial help of Daniela Gortcheva, a Bulgarian-Dutch journalist. The organizers invited me to accompany my father at their expense, because of his advanced age and disabilities. So I traveled to Brussels, saw the European Parliament from inside and attended the discussion.

I had not written about this here, only in my Bulgarian blog. I am posting below two photos from Oct. 13, 2014:

Here, in this hall, the sessions of the European Parliament take place (of course, not exactly at the moment when we were allowed to see the it).

The discussion is about to start in one of the smaller rooms of the European Parliament. Left to right: pro-freedom rock musician Vasil Georgiev better known as "Vasko the Patch"; journalist and former dissident Edvin Sugarev; Michael Gahler, member of the European Parliament (EPP - Germany); Andrey Kovatchev; Daniela Gortcheva; my father Dyanko Markov; and photo reporter and journalist Evgeniy Mihaylov.

Mr. Gahler made a wonderful impression to me by coming to the discussion and delivering an address. Otherwise, although the event was under the auspice of EPP, it was attended mostly by Bulgarians - coming from Bulgaria for the occasion like me or expatriates. My father talked about his experience as a political prisoner in the late 1940s. By the way, his speech and the reports of it apparently got on the nerves of some Communists, because after we returned to Bulgaria, they and their friends started a smear campaign against my father with phony accusations; but let me not waste more bytes on this.

In the audience, there was a young man who then came to greet me. He had been among the first my students, and was now an experienced doctor and successful emigrant in Belgium. It is good to see one's students succeeding, though at the same time it's sad when this happens more often abroad than in their homeland.

Last week, someone brought Brussels to my attention again by informing me that the European Parliament would discuss a resolution in support of Raif Badawi on Thursday, Feb. 15. (Badawi's case, unfortunately, had not made it to the agenda of the previous, Jan. 15 session.) The activist who sent me the e-mail suggested that we European voters write messages to our representatives in the European Parliament to support the resolution. However, I did not even consider contacting Mr. Malinov or any other MEP. I expected the cause of Raif Badawi to be automatically supported by European legislators left, right and center. It seemed to me even offensive to urge them to take the correct action in such a case; what would we explain to them next, that cannibalism is a bad thing? Because they can't figure it out themselves?

So imagine my dismay and indignation when I learned that the EPP had opposed the resolution! Quoting the BBC report: "The resolution calling for blogger Raif Badawi to be released is passed by 460 to 153, with 29 abstentions. The joint text was agreed between six groups - agreement could not be found with the centre-right EPP on the exact wording of the text". What had happened to the EPP group? Had their brains suddenly evaporated?

I found a Web page where one could check the vote of every MEP, and I used it to track the Bulgarian representatives. Most had been loyal to their respective "party lines". However, I was very glad to see that Andrey Kovatchev, the host of the 2014 discussion on communism, had supported the resolution despite the official position of the EPP. At least one Bulgarian EPP member had done the right thing!

Then I checked Michael Gahler who had attended and addressed the October discussion. To my delight, he had also rebelled against the party line and supported the Raif Badawi resolution. Apparently, Mr. Gahler finds human beings important, even if they are obscure almost-white folks having backward cultures and speaking strange languages like Bulgarian or Arabic. The Germans who have voted for Mr. Gahler can be proud of him. He stands for the values that have made Europe great.

I wrote congratulating messages to Mr. Kovatchev and Mr. Gahler. Then I sent messages expressing disappointment to "my" representative Mr. Malinov and to Manfred Weber, Chairman of the EPP group. By the way, Mr. Weber was absent from the Thursday vote. Maybe he realized that his group's obstinacy had pushed it to a disgraceful and embarrassing act, but it was already too late to step back.

I have no idea how many voter e-mails ever reach the MEPs they are addressed to, but sending my opinion was what seemed appropriate. Because I am now a European citizen, and though it is hard to comprehend, people like me are ultimately responsible for the continent.


Unknown said...

What a great honor for your dad!

Maya M said...

He was indeed pleased to be invited to this tribune in the heart of Europe. He is among the last survivors of this age - the others who could tell similar stories are no longer among us.