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Rough Around the Edges? 

Bulgaria and the European Union

Rough Around the Edges? Bulgaria and the European Union

Ranked the most corrupt and poorest nation in the European Union and perceived as being under the sway of oligarchs and organised crime, Bulgaria often receives a bad press. But just how fair is this?

Ranked the most corrupt and poorest nation in the European Union and perceived as being under the sway of oligarchs and organised crime, Bulgaria often receives a bad press. But just how fair is this?

Departure Dates

31 Mar – 5 Apr 2019
7 – 13 October 2019

Length

7 days/ 6 nights

Tour Route

Sofia – Plovdiv – Sofia

Language

English

Included

All in-country costs*

Rough Around the Edges? 

Bulgaria and the European Union

Being the European Union’s South East border, with Turkey to the South, the Black Sea to the East, and the Western Balkans to the West, Bulgaria takes pride in being among the few South East European members of the European Union. It was also with great pride that it assumed the Presidency of the EU in January 2018, just 10 years after it joined.

But the place of Bulgaria in the European Union is also complex. Along with Romania, it is part of a special European Union review mechanism to monitor reforms, which is an effort to address issues of corruption and judicial independence. Yet, paradoxically, the country is also viewed as an island of stability in a region where nationalist political quarrels among sensitive neighbours can quickly escalate. Despite some growing nationalism, the country has also largely eschewed the populist politics of some Central and Eastern Countries, choosing “United We Stand Strong” as its slogan for its EU Presidency.

The role of external factors in Bulgaria’s political and public life is complex and acts as a microcosm of the broader challenges facing the European Union in its relationships with some of its neighbours. The relationship with Russia is particularly complicated. While many bemoan its grip on the Bulgarian economy and influence in the country’s politics, for others Russia is an Orthodox brother and Liberator of Bulgarians from the Ottoman yoke. Similarly, what happens in neighbouring Turkey, which continues to test the extent of its own democracy, impacts upon Bulgaria and requires a delicate balancing act.

Yet behind these modern day political challenges, lies a country with an extraordinarily rich and diverse history and culture. And this history is never far from the present, as many of the very same forces and actors which have shaped Bulgaria throughout its history continue to play out today.

Accompanied by the expertise of the Bulgarian School of Politics, this tour will look at the reality of Bulgaria today. Through visiting places of key political and historical importance and meetings with politicians, academics, civil society, journalists, entrepreneurs and ordinary people, we will go behind the stereotypes. We will explore what the European Union holds for the future of the country and what Bulgaria provides to the European Union. We will look at the extent to which the local political and economic realities have been able to catch up with the long democratic traditions of the West. What are the forces in play that shape this part of the European Union? How do these forces affect other parts of Europe? And what has been the contribution of a country symbolizing the crossroad between Europe and Asia, West and East, Christianity and Islam, democracy and authoritarianism?

Daily Itinerary


Day 1

We will start our tour by meeting for dinner, where we will have the opportunity to get to know each other and discuss the week ahead.

Overnight in Sofia. 

Day 2

As a scene-setter for the tour, we start the morning with a talk from a prominent analyst who will sketch out the landscape of the major political, social and economic issues in modern Bulgaria within the European context. As we will have discovered, it is impossible to understand present-day Bulgaria without exploring the historical forces which have helped shape the country. Nowhere are these more visible than in Sofia, where Roman ruins, a medieval Orthodox church, a synagogue, a Mosque and socialist classicist buildings sit within 400 meters of each other. We will spend the rest of the morning piecing together this landscape through a walking tour of central Sofia in the company of a historian. We will look at what this medley of influences means for present day Bulgarian identity and the impact on modern politics.

Over lunch and throughout the afternoon we will have a series of meetings with NGOs, past and current politicians and commentators talking in more depth about the current economic and political environment, reform process, and the government’s strategy for the development of the country.

We will be joined for dinner by a member of the international diplomatic community to hear their views on Bulgaria within the European context.                  

Overnight in Sofia.

Day 3

We continue to explore in more detail some of the issues raised the previous day. In particular, we will spend the morning focussing on issues of corruption and judicial reform. These are central themes within the country and are also the subject of special European monitoring. We will have the opportunity to meet with politicians and policy experts looking at the progress which has been made, the significant challenges which remain and the degree to which there is a robust and independent media. A critical challenge for the country is the provision of economic opportunities for the next generation.

Over lunch, we will build on this theme of looking to future prospects by exploring the views of active young professionals, including on education and the booming tech sector. As the poorest country in Europe, how the economy develops is obviously critical to the country’s future and its place in Europe. We will spend the afternoon examining some of the strategically important sectors within the Bulgarian economy, including meetings with business representatives and economists. 

The evening is free for you to explore Sofia according to your own interests. We will, of course, provide suggestions about concerts, cultural events, etc.

Overnight in Sofia.

Day 4

As with most countries in the Balkans, Bulgaria has its fair share of complex international relationships with deep roots in history. Notably, relations with ever more assertive Turkey and Russia continue to have a significant impact on the country and the region. There are also deep historical ties with the other neighboring countries (Greece, Romania, Serbia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), whose legacy on the present day continues. We will spend the morning in the company of an international affairs expert exploring this complex foreign policy landscape and security.

In the late morning we will set off for Plovdiv, which is about an hour away. The weight of history, ancient trading routes, liberation, national identity and multiculturalism all collide in Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city and European Capital of Culture in 2019. As such, it is the perfect place to put the discussions on international relations into an historical context, as well as exploring minority issues in Bulgaria.

Over lunch, we will discuss multiculturalism and minority politics in present-day Bulgaria. As with some other European countries, there continue to be very significant challenges around the social inclusion of the minority Roma population. The afternoon will be spent in the company of NGO representatives visiting the Stolipinovo Roma Quarter in the city to look at what is being done and how the many issues are being addressed. In the late afternoon we will explore the fantastic sites of the old city, illustrating many aspects of the story which continue to shape the country’s psyche, including reunification, the role of the Great Powers and the saving of Bulgarian Jews during World War II. 

We will have a late dinner in Plovdiv before returning to Sofia. Overnight in Sofia.

Day 5

Bulgaria’s geographical location as the South East border of the European Union, means that the country plays a key role in European security and migration issues. Bulgarian aspirations to join the Schengen area have not yet materialized, despite the fact that the country believes it has made significant contributions to the security and border controls of the Union.

Today, we will explore these issues from a variety of perspectives. We start off by meeting with a security experts to discuss security threats, Bulgaria’s involvement in and contribution to the European security architecture and the country’s bid to join the Schengen area. A key issue throughout Europe has been, and continues to be, the issue of migration. In particular, the influx of refugees as a result of the conflict in Syria. We will explore this in the late morning, looking at the role Bulgaria has played as part of the broader European response which has proved highly controversial in a number of countries.

We will then leave for the Rila Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site (about a 90 minute drive from Sofia), which has played an important role in Bulgarian national and Orthodox history. We will be joined by an expert on religious affairs, who will walk us through the mysterious inter-relationship between Orthodox Christianity, international relations and politics in the present world. We will have dinner at the foothills of the Rila Mountain before returning to Sofia.

Overnight in Sofia.

Day 6

On our last full day together, we turn our attention to some of the modern social issues within Bulgaria. The country’s politics continues to be polarized and in some ways there is a large degree of public disengagement. Yet, there are also signs that there has been a recent growth in civic activism around more local and specific issues such as environmental activism, LGBT rights, young people’s organisations, women’s rights. This is, of course, similar to debates going on throughout much of Europe, but with local specificities. In the company of NGOs, civic activists and commentators, we will spend the day exploring what the implications are of these movements for the country as a whole, the extent to which the democratic system in Bulgaria is equipped to respond to these increasing demands and what the future holds. Do they point to a new form of political engagement in Bulgaria in an age where the liberal democratic system is increasingly challenged?

We end the accompanied part of our tour with a farewell dinner, where we will have an opportunity to reflect on what we have seen and discussed over the past week and say our goodbyes.

Overnight in Sofia.

Day 7

Breakfast at the hotel, check-out and departure to the airport or other onwards destinations.

All of our tours are dynamic and seek to take advantage of current political events. Thus, final itineraries can be subject to modification. Also, some people we plan to meet might no longer be available or still be in their positions. This is simply the nature of the types of tours we offer and the reality of some of the countries we visit. In all cases, we will seek replacement meetings of a similiar level. 

If you think there are relevant topics missing from the itinerary which you are interested in, please do suggest them and we might be able to include them, as our tour experts have wide-ranging and diverse networks. 

Tour Expert

The Bulgarian School of Politics works to support the promotion of democracy through the training of civic and political leaders throughout the country. The core values it promotes in its work are pluralism, tolerance and informed debate.
Read more…

Travel Details

Price:

 €3,450 per person based on sharing double/ twin room

 Single person supplement €350

*Includes:

 All meetings, experts, specialised tours, entry fees, translation, venues, cultural events/ entertainment (see itinerary)

 Upper middle class and middle class hotels

 Private busses and rented taxis

 All Meals except on free evenings (see itinerary), non-alcoholic drinks

Please note:

Tour language is English

Price does not include flights to and from destination

Valid passport required, no visa required for EU citizens (see information for travel/health requirements German Foreign Office)

Tour is partially suitable for people with disabilities (please contact us)

If the minimum number of tour participants (6 people) is not reached, New Perspectives Travel reserves the right to cancel the tour up to 20 days before departure (see Terms and Conditions).

Please inform us of any special requirements you might have

Further Information

Please visit our About Us and Frequently Asked Questions for further information on our tours or simply contact us!

Being the European Union’s South East border, with Turkey to the South, the Black Sea to the East, and the Western Balkans to the West, Bulgaria takes pride in being among the few South East European members of the European Union. It was also with great pride that it assumed the Presidency of the EU in January 2018, just 10 years after it joined.

But the place of Bulgaria in the European Union is also complex. Along with Romania, it is part of a special European Union review mechanism to monitor reforms, which is an effort to address issues of corruption and judicial independence. Yet, paradoxically, the country is also viewed as an island of stability in a region where nationalist political quarrels among sensitive neighbours can quickly escalate. Despite some growing nationalism, the country has also largely eschewed the populist politics of some Central and Eastern Countries, choosing “United We Stand Strong” as its slogan for its EU Presidency.

The role of external factors in Bulgaria’s political and public life is complex and acts as a microcosm of the broader challenges facing the European Union in its relationships with some of its neighbours. The relationship with Russia is particularly complicated. While many bemoan its grip on the Bulgarian economy and influence in the country’s politics, for others Russia is an Orthodox brother and Liberator of Bulgarians from the Ottoman yoke. Similarly, what happens in neighbouring Turkey, which continues to test the extent of its own democracy, impacts upon Bulgaria and requires a delicate balancing act.

Yet behind these modern day political challenges, lies a country with an extraordinarily rich and diverse history and culture. And this history is never far from the present, as many of the very same forces and actors which have shaped Bulgaria throughout its history continue to play out today.

Accompanied by the expertise of the Bulgarian School of Politics, this tour will look at the reality of Bulgaria today. Through visiting places of key political and historical importance and meetings with politicians, academics, civil society, journalists, entrepreneurs and ordinary people, we will go behind the stereotypes. We will explore what the European Union holds for the future of the country and what Bulgaria provides to the European Union. We will look at the extent to which the local political and economic realities have been able to catch up with the long democratic traditions of the West. What are the forces in play that shape this part of the European Union? How do these forces affect other parts of Europe? And what has been the contribution of a country symbolizing the crossroad between Europe and Asia, West and East, Christianity and Islam, democracy and authoritarianism?

Daily Itinerary


Day 1

We will start our tour by meeting for dinner, where we will have the opportunity to get to know each other and discuss the week ahead.

Overnight in Sofia. 

Day 2

As a scene-setter for the tour, we start the morning with a talk from a prominent analyst who will sketch out the landscape of the major political, social and economic issues in modern Bulgaria within the European context. As we will have discovered, it is impossible to understand present-day Bulgaria without exploring the historical forces which have helped shape the country. Nowhere are these more visible than in Sofia, where Roman ruins, a medieval Orthodox church, a synagogue, a Mosque and socialist classicist buildings sit within 400 meters of each other. We will spend the rest of the morning piecing together this landscape through a walking tour of central Sofia in the company of a historian. We will look at what this medley of influences means for present day Bulgarian identity and the impact on modern politics.

Over lunch and throughout the afternoon we will have a series of meetings with NGOs, past and current politicians and commentators talking in more depth about the current economic and political environment, reform process, and the government’s strategy for the development of the country.

We will be joined for dinner by a member of the international diplomatic community to hear their views on Bulgaria within the European context.                  

Overnight in Sofia.

Day 3

We continue to explore in more detail some of the issues raised the previous day. In particular, we will spend the morning focussing on issues of corruption and judicial reform. These are central themes within the country and are also the subject of special European monitoring. We will have the opportunity to meet with politicians and policy experts looking at the progress which has been made, the significant challenges which remain and the degree to which there is a robust and independent media. A critical challenge for the country is the provision of economic opportunities for the next generation.

Over lunch, we will build on this theme of looking to future prospects by exploring the views of active young professionals, including on education and the booming tech sector. As the poorest country in Europe, how the economy develops is obviously critical to the country’s future and its place in Europe. We will spend the afternoon examining some of the strategically important sectors within the Bulgarian economy, including meetings with business representatives and economists. 

The evening is free for you to explore Sofia according to your own interests. We will, of course, provide suggestions about concerts, cultural events, etc.

Overnight in Sofia.

Day 4

As with most countries in the Balkans, Bulgaria has its fair share of complex international relationships with deep roots in history. Notably, relations with ever more assertive Turkey and Russia continue to have a significant impact on the country and the region. There are also deep historical ties with the other neighboring countries (Greece, Romania, Serbia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), whose legacy on the present day continues. We will spend the morning in the company of an international affairs expert exploring this complex foreign policy landscape and security.

In the late morning we will set off for Plovdiv, which is about an hour away. The weight of history, ancient trading routes, liberation, national identity and multiculturalism all collide in Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city and European Capital of Culture in 2019. As such, it is the perfect place to put the discussions on international relations into an historical context, as well as exploring minority issues in Bulgaria.

Over lunch, we will discuss multiculturalism and minority politics in present-day Bulgaria. As with some other European countries, there continue to be very significant challenges around the social inclusion of the minority Roma population. The afternoon will be spent in the company of NGO representatives visiting the Stolipinovo Roma Quarter in the city to look at what is being done and how the many issues are being addressed. In the late afternoon we will explore the fantastic sites of the old city, illustrating many aspects of the story which continue to shape the country’s psyche, including reunification, the role of the Great Powers and the saving of Bulgarian Jews during World War II. 

We will have a late dinner in Plovdiv before returning to Sofia. Overnight in Sofia.

Day 5

Bulgaria’s geographical location as the South East border of the European Union, means that the country plays a key role in European security and migration issues. Bulgarian aspirations to join the Schengen area have not yet materialized, despite the fact that the country believes it has made significant contributions to the security and border controls of the Union.

Today, we will explore these issues from a variety of perspectives. We start off by meeting with a security experts to discuss security threats, Bulgaria’s involvement in and contribution to the European security architecture and the country’s bid to join the Schengen area. A key issue throughout Europe has been, and continues to be, the issue of migration. In particular, the influx of refugees as a result of the conflict in Syria. We will explore this in the late morning, looking at the role Bulgaria has played as part of the broader European response which has proved highly controversial in a number of countries.

We will then leave for the Rila Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site (about a 90 minute drive from Sofia), which has played an important role in Bulgarian national and Orthodox history. We will be joined by an expert on religious affairs, who will walk us through the mysterious inter-relationship between Orthodox Christianity, international relations and politics in the present world. We will have dinner at the foothills of the Rila Mountain before returning to Sofia.

Overnight in Sofia.

Day 6

On our last full day together, we turn our attention to some of the modern social issues within Bulgaria. The country’s politics continues to be polarized and in some ways there is a large degree of public disengagement. Yet, there are also signs that there has been a recent growth in civic activism around more local and specific issues such as environmental activism, LGBT rights, young people’s organisations, women’s rights. This is, of course, similar to debates going on throughout much of Europe, but with local specificities. In the company of NGOs, civic activists and commentators, we will spend the day exploring what the implications are of these movements for the country as a whole, the extent to which the democratic system in Bulgaria is equipped to respond to these increasing demands and what the future holds. Do they point to a new form of political engagement in Bulgaria in an age where the liberal democratic system is increasingly challenged?

We end the accompanied part of our tour with a farewell dinner, where we will have an opportunity to reflect on what we have seen and discussed over the past week and say our goodbyes.

Overnight in Sofia.

Day 7

Breakfast at the hotel, check-out and departure to the airport or other onwards destinations.

All of our tours are dynamic and seek to take advantage of current political events. Thus, final itineraries can be subject to modification. Also, some people we plan to meet might no longer be available or still be in their positions. This is simply the nature of the types of tours we offer and the reality of some of the countries we visit. In all cases, we will seek replacement meetings of a similiar level. 

If you think there are relevant topics missing from the itinerary which you are interested in, please do suggest them and we might be able to include them, as our tour experts have wide-ranging and diverse networks. 

Tour Expert

The Bulgarian School of Politics works to support the promotion of democracy through the training of civic and political leaders throughout the country. The core values it promotes in its work are pluralism, tolerance and informed debate.
Read more…

Travel Details

Departure Dates:

31 Mar – 5 Apr 2019
7 – 13 October 2019

Length:

7 days/ 6 nights

Tour Route:

Sofia – Plovdiv – Sofia

Price:

  €3,450 per person based on sharing double/ twin room

 Single person supplement €350

Includes:

 All meetings, experts, specialised tours, entry fees, translation, venues, cultural events/ entertainment (see itinerary)

 Upper middle class and middle class hotels

 Private busses and rented taxis

 All Meals except on free evenings (see itinerary), non-alcoholic drinks

Please note:

Tour language is English

Price does not include flights to and from destination

Valid passport required, no visa required for EU citizens (see information for travel/health requirements German Foreign Office)

Tour is partially suitable for people with disabilities (please contact us)

If the minimum number of tour participants (6 people) is not reached, New Perspectives Travel reserves the right to cancel the tour up to 20 days before departure (see Terms and Conditions).

Please inform us of any special requirements you might have

Further Information

Please visit our About Us and Frequently Asked Questions for further information on our tours or simply contact us!