The Guinea Pig Syndrome

If you want to see how Bulgaria has changed since 2007, here’s what you have to do. One: go to Kosovo. Two: take part in Model European Union. Three: compare.

These were the steps that European Studies undergraduate Yana Traykova followed to grasp the full effect of Bulgaria’s participation in the European Union. Only after going to another country, where everything is so similar, can you see the effect of certain slow processes that are not clearly visible to the naked eye, according to Traykova. “It is Bulgaria 15 years ago,” she said.

She went as a participant of Model European Union (MEU) in Kosovo in June 1–6, 2017. MEU is a simulation of the legislative process in the Union that was originally organized in 2007 by students from Strasbourg. Traykova returned to Kosovo at the beginning of December, this time to participate in Model United Nations. She ended up being appointed one of the chairs and helping with the overall organization of the event.

Traykova (right), together with her team mate Mila Venova (left) at Model United Nations Kosovo. Personal archive

A third-year student in Sofia University, Traykova has made her everyday life and her studies inseparable, the most obvious sign of her passion for what she’s doing. She’s a participant in Team Europe Junior Bulgaria, an initiative by the Representation of the European Commission in Bulgaria. Although most of the participants in the team are European Studies and International Relations majors, it is not only limited to students from the social sciences. The team’s main objective is to promote basic knowledge about the EU among young people and inspire them to get involved. Every participant in Team Europe has to go back to their own school and present in front of chosen audience from the 8th to the 12th grade.

Traykova has done several presentations after she became part of the team in December, 2016 and shares that according to her, there is a big gap between teenagers’ knowledge about the EU. Contrary to what we usually might expect, students from Sofia know less and care less for the presentations than students from smaller towns, Traykova said. “When I refer to student activity, I mean the basic act of seeing something wrong and knowing where to call and give the signal, instead of do nothing and complain.”

According to Traykova, Team Europe is a wonderful initiative for university students and their involvement, but it has a very limited scope, as it is only based in Sofia. She believes that youth participation should begin earlier, at the high-school level. Traykova’s reasoning behind this is simple, “Ever since the Union was created, it has offered people a parallel European citizenship, which gives you additional rights and makes you equal to people from other nationalities. You have bigger opportunities and specter of options, why would anyone throw this away and be totally negligent?”

She compares her travel to Kosovo with any other travel to a country from the European Union and how much harder the former is. “The same ID that gets you into Sugar [a popular night club in Sofia], can get you to the other side of Europe,” she said.

Currently, Traykova, along with her team mate Mila Venova, is trying to develop a project that would engage high school students into actively learning and participating in EU-related activities. The project is still on the idea level, but Traykova and Venova know that they want to shift students minds from passivity to active engagement and responsibility when they notice any kind of irregularities. Something like this would be the first step, eventually followed by Team Europe Junior, with the sole aim of educating “the active participant that each of us should be.”

Traykova insists that she is not delusional about the strengths and weaknesses of the European Union. “We have to realize that the Union is a process and not an end goal, it’s constantly evolving,” she said. “The European Union suffers from the Guinea Pig Syndrome. What is the Guinean about it, and how is it a pig? It is something like nothing else in the world. The same goes for the Union.” It is clear that it has plenty of faults and plenty of room for improvement, but when you dig a little deeper and see the overall result, it seems like a miracle that it’s got so far, according to her.

Traykova could go on and on about the reasons why we should have at least the basic knowledge of what the EU is from an earlier age. She characterizes everything said so far as just the gist of what she thinks. She is perfectly clear about the fact that you can’t just go and “throw these lofty philosophical ideas at the kids.” Instead, she prefers to act.

How you(th) can get involved:

  • MEU Blagoevgrad — an annual simulation of the decision-making process of the European Union, hosted by students of the American University in Bulgaria
  • Team Europe Junior Bulgaria — a university-student-based initiative by the Representation of the European Commission in Bulgaria that promotes and spreads knowledge about the European Union on the national level; the aim of the team is to attract volunteers from diverse spheres and backgrounds, and students from every university can become part of the team
  • National Association of the Bulgarian European Clubs — NABEC — an NGO based in Sofia that connects primary and secondary student European clubs around 23 cities in Bulgaria
  • The Bulgarian EU Presidency — a new class that will be offered in Spring semester 2018 in the American University in Bulgaria; it will be offered to Political Science and European Studies majors to provide them with broader understanding of the first Balkan Presidency ever.

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