Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Croatia asks: "Are We Really More Successful than Bulgaria?"

Marko Biocina, translated by Adelina Marini, August 13, 2012

On August 9th, in the blog of the most circulated Croatian daily Vecernji List, a commentary was published of Marko Biocina, a columnist in the newspaper, who makes a parallel between Bulgaria and Croatia and asks the question which of the two countries is more successful. We offer you herewith a translation of the full text of the commentary.

In fact, we don't have any particular opinion about them. At least, regarding their country. The name of their parliament is for us a synonym of a failed organisation, while Bulgarians [bugari] we call the yellow coins of our currency. When in 2007 Bulgaria was accepted in the European Union most Croatian citizens asked: "What are they better than us with?" and with a lot of malicious joy we commented a recent incident when a contemporary artist depicted Bulgaria as a toilette on Europe's map [the Czech artist David Cerný]. And indeed today, when Croatia is in a tough economic but also a general crisis of society, the Bulgarians are one of the rare peoples in Europe, whom Croatians still perceive as less successful than themselves.

This is not a matter of nationalism. These perceptions had been building up for a long time and were always based on real events. Besides, because of the division of the Iron Curtain, the local citizens, even as part of an undemocratic regime, had a lot of privileges which the Bulgarians during communism could only dream of.

How was Bulgaria's public debt falling?

Yes, the standard of living in Croatia is significantly higher than the standard of living of the Bulgarian citizens. It remains higher even today and to see this you don't need to look into the dry statistics. Moreover, everyone who visited Sofia (Bulgaria's capital city) was probably shocked seeing the neat rows of buildings in the style of "communist realism", parcelled out by green areas, overgrown by weeds and full of garbage. In short - we have cleaner streets and better roads than the Bulgarians do; our police is more efficient, health care is more accessible; even our educational system is more developed. But does this mean that we are more successful than Bulgaria? Think again!

In the past few days, the Croats learned with horror that by the end of February the country's public debt was 165.2 bn kunas [22 bn euros], which is approximately 48.5% of gross domestic product (GDP). Only in a month, compared to January this year, it has grown by 7 bn kunas or almost 2% of GDP. This is nothing new. Only in the first nine months of last year, that same debt grew by 14.7 bn kunas. Then in the end of the year it dropped a little but again continued to grow this year.

What does this have to do with Bulgaria?

Well, if all Croatian power men had shown a little interest for the sake of society to see the real scale of these numbers, apart from them, as a comparison, they would show the statistics of other countries. If they had done that, the Croats would have known that Bulgaria, after Estonia, has the lowest public debt in Europe. In the end of last year it was 16.3% of GDP and in the mean time it dropped more but, nonetheless, it means that at the moment it is three times less than Croatia's.

Of course, by itself, these data mean nothing but they are only part of the big picture, which for the Croats would be quite shocking. More precisely, in 2000 the Bulgarian public debt was 75% of GDP and in the following 11 years it dropped by 80 per cent to reach today's level. And since then and today the domestic debt of the country was around 100% (similar to Croatia's), it is natural to think that the country was paying its debts and that that spot was taken by the private sector.

How did the Bulgarians manage to do that? Actually it is very simple. In parallel with modest economic growth, the state controlled strictly its spending, reduced salaries in the public sector, as well as the level of services it provided to the citizens. The money collected from privatisation were spent in such a way that the need of debt declined and for the purpose the country used the accessible and cheap money from its entry into the EU. And in that time Croatia was spending. We were building roads, we painted tunnels, built sports arenas, created various agencies, state services, paid Christmas and other bonuses. In short - we were doing everything an organised and reasonable country would do but with one difference - we had no money for this. And we piled debt. The Bulgarians did not do this and now they live worse than us. But honestly, they spent only as much as they had.

Once, long time ago, this concept seemed the only right one before some financial and economic experts started to teach us how we can spend without us having what to spend, how tomorrow everything would be more effective, of better quality than today and that we would have no problem to pay everything back. Ten years or so passed. Nothing is of better quality, we have not become more successful, our debt is huge and now I hope that our sons will have better qualities, whom we elegantly left to pay the debts we piled.

In short, we lived in the decade of lies, moreover watching with contempt all those, like the Bulgarians, who lived more modestly but according to their capabilities. After this decade of feasting, now comes the time of sobering. If we want to live through, in the next ten years we will have to do what the Bulgarians did in the last ten years. If we are not ready to admit that before ourselves, we can really end up as a "Bulgarian assembly".

The photos and links are euinside's. The original title in Vecernji List is "Are we really more successful than the Bulgarians?"

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