Editorial: Bulgaria’s image

Just a few days after Bulgaria unveiled its new logo and slogan intended to boost the numbers of foreign tourists visiting the country, a massive setback to Bulgaria’s image occurred in the form of the incident involving Movement for Rights and Freedoms leader Ahmed Dogan at his party’s congress in Sofia.

Of course, whatever their merits or otherwise, a logo and a slogan (“Bulgaria – A Discovery to Share”) can hardly conjure a magical difference to a country’s tourism statistics; and that is to leave alone the mixed reception that the campaign concepts have had domestically, with some enthusiastically welcoming the new campaign and others pouring scorn on it.

The Dogan incident put Bulgaria into international headlines with a prominence not seen since the July 2012 suicide bombing terrorist attack on a group of Israeli tourists at Bourgas Airport. Unlike Bourgas, the plentiful availability of video of the Dogan episode propelled it on to YouTube, where it has notched up millions of views.

Obviously, the Bourgas terrorist attack and the Dogan incident are not quite comparable, to say the least. In the former, six people, apart from the bomber, died as terrorism stretched out its deadly hand to Bulgaria, in an event of unquestionable international importance; and while the investigation proceeded, there were swift moves to reassure all international tourists, not only Israelis, about the safety of Bulgaria as a tourist destination. In the case of the Israeli market, numbers swiftly recovered.

In the case of Dogan, whatever the facts of the case may be, the incident could easily come across a bizarre Balkan episode in a far-off country of which many people know little. That politically-related violence is extremely rare in Bulgaria is a point that needs to be underlined more, especially given that very few international media did anything more than post short (and sometimes inaccurate, in terms of context) stories and video clips of the initial incident.

On another front, Bulgaria and Romania are also under assault on another front – that of the gibbering hysteria being whipped up by some British newspapers and politicians about the supposed “wave” of immigrants that will break on British shores after labour market restrictions end. This egregious misinformation campaign, a grubby attempt at clawing – respectively – for readers and for votes, would be mildly amusing were it not for the implicit portrayal of Bulgaria and Romania as nations made up exclusively of pickpockets, people traffickers, pimps and criminals petty and major of every variety.

Fortunately, some sense was spoken by British ambassador in Sofia, Jonathan Allen, who told the public broadcaster on January 25 2013 that the UK did not actually fear a mass migration towards it at the end of this year, although he did not deny that some political parties did. (He added that Bulgaria had made a lot of progress against organised crime and corruption though much remained to be done).

Thus Bulgaria proceeds in these opening weeks of 2013, its image tarnished – for reasons ranging from the serious to the imaginary. As noted, a colourful logo cannot on its own change wider perceptions about the country as a whole (and nor is it intended to); only a concerted positive campaign can do that. But there may also be despair about a wilful resistance in some quarters to listen.




Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.