Central and Eastern Europe

Bulgaria, the country that people never bother checking their facts about

Update: In a new blog post, Georgi Ganev has provided a series of graphs illustrating the fact that Bulgaria is as close as it has ever been in fulfilling the criteria for Eurozone membership. As he points out for your amusement, the Eurozone does not fulfill them itself at the moment. The text is in Bulgarian, but the graphs are in English and speak for themselves!

Last night’s (16 January) main news at 20.00 on Dutch channel 1 (nos.nl) contained such a blatant misrepresentation of the facts that I cannot let it pass without making a new category for this blog: Bulgaria, they never checked the facts. I find that this happens more often than it should in different fora, from professional conferences to various Dutch news items, Bulgaria gets added to a group of countries based on people’s feeling where it belongs, with minimal research or reference to the facts. Even though I am often very critical of many aspects of governance in Bulgaria – most Bulgarians are – I find it useful to criticize the country for problems that it does have, instead of ones which it does not. Last night’s news item was a case in point. The journalist reported from Bucharest (not in Bulgaria, by the way) about problems with riots in Romania linked to reforms in the health care system and the crisis with public debt in Romania. Hungary was added as a country where things are getting worse wth debt and mortgages and then there was Bulgaria too, mentioned twice at the beginning and the end. At the end of the report, the journalist literally said that Bulgaria was for the moment free of protest and stable but with this crisis it was only a matter of time, because it has a huge external debt the IMF would be coming and making people’s lives harder and they would protest. In other words, it must be bad there. Now the facts: it takes about a minute to dig up most recent economic data on Bulgaria (here and here for example, via the World bank and Eurostat) and discover that it has been praised by the European Commission for being among the three countries in the EU with the lowest government debt to GDP ratio in 2011, as CNN reports:

The lowest government debt to GDP ratios were recorded in Estonia (6.6%), Bulgaria (16.2%) and Luxembourg (18.4%), according to the Eurostat report.

The IMF has of course been supporting Bulgaria for many years after the fall of communism and there have been so many reforms to deal with problems of the economy inherited from the last decade of communism ( for examples and comments on the most recent economic trends, see updates from prominent Bulgarian economist Georgi Ganev), that both the IMF and its budget advice seemed for a while a feature of the political landscape. Not, as it happens, at this very moment.  Standard and Poor’s rating for Bulgaria includes an outlook which is stable, which says something in these times.

The problem with such reporting as what we heard from the NOS last night is not only that it is crap journalism (compare with CNN above), but that it does confirm people’s prejudices instead of helping us understand what governments are really doing in Europe to cope with crisis and debt. Not that life for people in Bulgaria is less hard because the country has one of the lowest debt to GDP ratios in Europe. It might be that the budget is in good shape but quality of life and social spending are too low. Bulgarians are (in)famous for their pessimism (see here an interesting take on why a better economy brings no happiness).  But why this is and what the implications are is for another debate, among people who have checked the basic facts first.

7 thoughts on “Bulgaria, the country that people never bother checking their facts about

  1. This is all well and good, and I agree that indeed Bulgaria is prematurely judged by people who have not researched the facts properly, however let’s agree on one thing that CNN is by far one of the worst networks to report news properly as it takes up a political economy perspective on the majority of its reports! See Ralitza Vasileva for example and the way in which she presents her news..constantly keeping up a suggestive tone in her voice.

  2. Why don’t you send this to the NOS and let them know about your view or the real facts. I mean these are big companies and what they here on TV falls in line with what they personally believe because the probably don’t really get the real facts. The false statements they hear or report on TV is for them, I believe, to a certain extent sort of like brainwashing themselves, voluntarily or deliberately. These kinds of news are easy, believable and fall in line with the consensus of general perception. Go straight to the channel or news outlets and give them or tell them what the real deal is. I would do it too, but I guess I don’t have to energy or passion to do. That I think is the problem, that what you said, no matter what the people think in their head. They rather just sit in front of the television than make a statement like you did on this website. People have become complascent and detachted from what REALLY is going on! None the less, I really liked your article, keep up the good work!

  3. I am from Holland and morethan once corrected people with the facts instead of what the media say. A lot of the Dutch people IN Bulgaria do so. And we keep on doing that until people know and see the truth about Bulgaraia, all the good and all the bad (the real ones of both).

  4. How true. Somehow in the Netherlands they know nothing about Bulgaria and do not take the trouble to check the facts.

  5. Unfortunately it is not only The Netherlands. It’s a “sign of the times”: people can contact each other all over the world, but it seems they know a lot less about other countries or read up on it. All countries about all other. It is sad. But we have to keep on telling how it really is.

  6. @Michael Tepe: I did now indeed send a letter to the NOS, to let them know the ‘mistake’ they made and provide them with real data. We keep on informing about this beautiful country (with its good things and flaws).

    1. @Patrick Lans: Thank you Patrick, for doing what I needed to do but did not have the time. and yes, I agree with you, it seems to happen more and more often that people do not bother to find out facts and developments, but feel justified passing judgement based on gut feelings and stereotypes…

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