An open letter from a global citizen to Theresa May
Where am I from you ask?… Well that’s not a straight answer… not for me. Putting my life into perspective, it’s been a constant travel since I was a toddler. What I can say though is that I was born in Budapest, Hungary in a very turbulent year… 1989. The year in which the Berlin wall fell… many call it the “Autumn of Nations”.
Momentum towards full blown revolution began in Poland in 1989 and continued in Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Romania.
Although I was born in Hungary I have deeply embedded Bulgarian roots in me, but I don’t feel Bulgarian ether. I’ve lived in Slovakia and that’s where my childhood belongs… I’ve lived in Bulgaria too, that’s where I got my bachelor degree and where I met tons of friends. I’ve lived in Gibraltar and Spain and now I’m living in London and that’s where my current life belongs. What do I call home? Well to be honest I’m not sure, but what I usually say is that home is where your toothbrush is. I’ve lived in three of the ex-communist countries listed above and visited each one of them except Romania and Poland. While all of them are pretty different they all have one thing in common… 1989, the very same year I was born.
That story though starts way before I was born. It starts with the communist ideology. It starts with how it affected my life even before I was born. And mainly how it affected the life of my parents and grandparents.
My grandfather Zhivko from my father’s side had a great childhood… well at least that’s what he used to tell me. His father used to have a massive business who was from Macedonia (which was part of Bulgaria). They had three factories and a huge house which was supposed to be a hotel built in 1928… one that we still have. My grandfather used to tell me that they had loads of money and the lev at that point had the same value as the french franc…(hard to believe right?). He actually used to study in the same class with the king’s son Sakskoburggotski… no joke. They put a lot of that money into charities and one of the churches in town still has my grandgrandfather’s name (hadjinichev which means he went to Jerusalem for worshiping) on it as he gave money for the church to be built. After the communists took over they took pretty much everything from him… as well as his family. It wasn’t good to be rich or smart during those years. But that’s not what’s important.
What’s important is the story of my other grandfather Angel. His story explains partly who I am and where I am from. Similarly to my other grandfather he had to run from the communists who killed his father, because he was trying to hide a person who just didn’t agree with the ideology. From that moment on and after his dad was gone, he had no future in Bulgaria anymore. That’s why he fled with a relatively small group of people. He wanted to be a film director and he applied in Prague. He was pretty good and they wanted to accept him, but because it was a communist country too, he needed to be checked if he and his family were loyal to the party… the rest is history he had to run again. Eventually he ended up in Hungary and met my grandmother in Budapest. That small group of people in the second world war - the Bulgarians in Hungary formed a small society. They had a school, where he used to work and one thing that hit me three days ago… a church. A church where they say goodbye to all the Bulgarians who died in Budapest. There’s a portrait of each one of them inside… including my grandfather.
My mom grew up there and eventually met my father while studying in Sofia. Shortly after my birth my mom and I went back to Bulgaria. Life in Bulgaria in those years was like in Venezuela today. I was talking to a guy from Venezuela a month ago called Javier…I knew what he’s been through without him explaining it to me… he bursted into tears while I was talking about Bulgaria… We’ve lived there for a while until one fine day in 1993 when we moved to Bratislava, Slovakia. I’m not going to lie… I don’t remember much from the years before 1993, but I do remember that I had a terrific childhood in Bratislava and it felt like home. My grandparents were 160km away in Budapest which meant that almost each Sunday Saturday we’d meet. We traveled a lot… and spent a lot of our weekends in Wien (Vienna). When I say we traveled a lot… I mean it… we went to Germany, Austria, Italy, Czech Republic, France… you name it. Just after the new millennium started, we went back to Bulgaria things settled down a bit. I was there until I finished university in 2013. I did miss Bratislava a lot, my friends but mainly my grandparents and my Uncle in Budapest. Despite that I was happy to spend more time with my other grandparents in Plovdiv and I was able to go to Budapest in the summers…. A little more than ten years later I finished my bachelor degree and in 2013 I moved to Gibraltar where I worked and lived in Spain, met some really good friends and shortly after that I moved to London. I’ve been in London for over 3 years now and if you ask me where I am from… I’ll be puzzled to explain that in one sentence.
Why did I say all of that?… well just because I think sometimes you can’t just put a label on a bottle. Sometimes things are much more complex than they look. I’ve been shaped from my experiences and the past of my family as well as all the places that I’ve lived. The more you move and the more you see, you start realising that everywhere and nowhere is home. Even going back to the places you’ve lived is not easy… people change, the cities change… even the jokes change and you can find yourself lost in the place you’ve once called home. I’ve read an article couple of days ago that lays things out pretty well.
“The sense of never being at home anywhere is very real”
Few people can understand what I’m talking about. I wouldn’t change anything in my life, although life was never too easy on me. I remember one of my bosses taking the piss out of a colleague because he was from South Africa, but had a UK passport. That he’s confused with his identity… I think there are people who will never understand, although in this article it says they’re more than I thought.
I had an opportunity to have a chat with more Hungarian Bulgarians and Hungarian Greeks last week and I was able to find a lot of things in common. Their parents were Bulgarian and Greek… one thing he said stroke me…
“We grew up here and we live here, but this is not our home. It never was… our relatives are everywhere… we want to retire somewhere else”
I could say I can identify myself with that small group of people in Budapest. A Hungarian Bulgarian, or a Bulgarian Hungarian… it doesn’t really matter. Both nations were nomads and they both try to cope and adapt with changes. The only difference is we use planes and cars instead of horses nowadays.
Couple of weeks ago Theresa May said…
“But if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what citizenship means”
Well to be honest… she’s right. I really don’t understand what citizenship means and I am a citizen of nowhere. I think while globalisation grows, borders and countries are totally redundant. I do value each country’s identity but going back to 1989 and putting borders is not fixing the problems that the year 2016 faces. 2016’s problems are the ones that we need to face together. As we have global problems, we need to come up with global solutions. And it’s just us as a society who can finish the story that begun 27 years ago. Immigration is not the actual problem, but the consequences of a bigger problem that has much deeper roots than you might think.
I’m not sure how to summarise all of that, as I could write forever, but don’t be narrow minded and look behind those walls… destroy them and question everything. Living in a bubble is not problem solving. Problem solving is facing the issues that are out of your comfort zone. If you don’t want to live alone in isolation, you need to make compromises and sacrifices. Closing the door doesn’t solve anything.