Immigration: Bulgarian passport opens doors to West
7 December 2011
Macedonians, Moldavians and Ukrainians are jostling to obtain a Bulgarian passport. Many plan to leave for other countries in the European Union, but first they must confront the Bulgarian administration.
"I took Bulgarian nationality because I am Bulgarian. As were my father, my grandfather and my great-grandfather. I am proud of my roots and I want my passport to read: Citizen of the Republic of Bulgaria." That's what we expected to hear when we joined the queue with dozens of Macedonians, Ukrainians and Moldavians wishing to become one of our fellow citizens. Bulgaria delivers passports easily to residents of these countries who can prove their Bulgarian decent. Instead, most of those waiting openly say that they are not there because they consider themselves as the descendants of Bulgarian "khans" but for much more pragmatic reasons. "If Bulgaria evolves the way Slovenia does, if salaries increase and the quality of life improves, I would be willing to stay. Otherwise, I plan to leave for Italy with my new passport. That's where I would like to live and work", says 25-year old Dalibor Mirkovic, from Deltchevo in Macedonia. He's waiting in the long queue in front of the Department of Bulgarian Nationality in Sofia, the office in charge of delivering nationality certificates to those who come to be naturalized. Every day of the week, between 9:30 and noon, some 200 people wait patiently to receive the precious document that will open the door to obtaining a Bulgarian national identity card and a passport. Some made their naturalisation request years ago, others more recently and were lucky enough to see their cases finalised rapidly.
Young, jobless and without any special skills
These new Bulgarians complain about the poor organisation, the chaos even, during the wait for their naturalisation certificate. Often people wait for days outside the building, some sleep in their cars, others at the homes of friends or in cheap hotels.
Among the candidates, Macedonians are the most numerous. Because most live just on the other side of the border, they make the return trip by coach – some companies even specialise in this trade because of the booming demand for naturalisation. Most are very young, jobless and without any special skills. Asked about how the Macedonian authorities view this exodus, they respond that "nobody cares".
Today, Dalibor came with his cousins and several friends, all are now new Bulgarians. But none want to stay here to live. They all want to go "West". To obtain the document that would allow this, they need an address in Bulgaria. "That isn't a problem," they explain. "We are all registered at the same address. In certain Bulgarian villages along the Macedonian border, it's a real racket. Some addresses have hundreds of Macedonians registered there."
"My new nationality will simplify my life"
Dalibor made his request in 2010. Before coming here, the young man jumped through all the hoops written into the new Nationality Law. The hardest – what he calls the "casting" – was the face to face interview with the experts at the Nationality Office. He had to prove his Bulgarian roots and show a perfect mastery of the language. "I just told them my family's history," he says. "My grandfather is Bulgarian. He fought in World War II. He lived in...Pleven," he says, hesitating, " yes, Pleven (northern Bulgaria). In 1943, he deserted the Bulgarian Army and joined the Serbian Army. Later, he bought some land near Deltchevo," he adds. About twenty Bulgarians from Bessarabia are also waiting to obtain their certificate of nationality. They come from Ukraine and from Moldavia. Some have been here for years. Lila Grekova, 31 years old, arrived in 2003 from Bolhrad, in Ukraine, a city founded in the Middle Ages by Bulgarian colonists. She is studying psychology at the University of Veliko Tarnovo (central Bulgaria). "I made the request in 2006," she says. "My family has a genealogical tree that goes back to the 18th Century. From my father, I know that we came from Iambol (southern Bulgaria) and that we migrated during the Ottoman occupation," she explains, but adds that she does not want to leave right away with her new passport. "My new nationality will mainly simplify my life here in Bulgaria," she says.