We hitchhiked from Sofia to the Black Sea and back. We shared the road of a total of 1000 kilometers with: a human rights lawyer who was going for a day trip to Plovdiv with his wife, a couple interested in yoga and ayurveda going for a wedding in Sliven, a mechanic driving all the way from Sofia to pick up his girlfriend from Burgas, a QA IT specialist travelling to the sea to meet some friends (and we were the lucky first hitchhikers she had ever picked up!), an elderly couple from Veliko Tarnovo who spent the last eight summers in Sinemorets, a seasonal worker who is organizing diving excursions, a father with four boys who all study music and who had spent the previous summer in Armenia, a Romanian couple from Campina who fell in love with the Bulgarian nature and Bulgarian wine, a single mother of two who picks up any job to keep her family up and running and studied to be a classical flutist, a truck driver from Velingrad who sells part of his fuel on the road to make some extra money and finally a textile business consultant from Sofia. One could say that this group of people portrays a quite accurate average of the Bulgarian population, was it not that they distinguish themselves from the large majority by their willingness to stop on the road to pick up a couple of hitchhikers, and that all had somehow enough money to own a car and drive to more distant destinations.
The task of the hitchhiker is to treat the driver with a pleasant conversation that mostly starts with exchanging travel plans, experiences on the road and information about the weather at the Black Sea as well as answering questions about where one is from and what one does to make a living. Yet, every single conversation, be it with a human rights lawyer or a truck driver, ends with an exposition of What is Wrong in Bulgarian politics and economics. This we could call the Ultimate Question in Bulgaria. The answer is always the same: corruption.
When hitchhiking the galaxy, Deep Thought provides the incomprehensible answer of ’42’ to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, because, as the computer explains, the beings didn’t know what they were asking. ‘Corruption’ is, contrariwise, a very concrete answer to the Ultimate Question of What is Wrong with Bulgaria. That is, this country is wrecked by corruption and mafia from the lowest levels to the highest political positions, and, here the people know very well what they are asking. Their question is almost a rhetorical one, as the answer is known to everybody. The question that no one has an answer to, however, is how to fix it. New elections are coming up in October after the previous government has been forced to decline after weeks of massive popular protests. The expectations are low. Nobody believes that corruption will and can be beaten. The only thing they are ask for in this stage is somebody who does not only ‘take’ money, but also does something back for the country. “Eat your lukanka, but give us some salam.” I am wondering what Deep Thought would suggest.
Corruption is related to the transition from a communist dictatorship to a capitalist democracy. During the change, the old communist leaders have been privatizing state owned companies in favor of their own accounts. “”Had we done a transition like Romania”, as the truck driver points out to us, “we could have put the whole corrupted communist oligarchy down”. Romania, once much poorer than Bulgaria, is now prospering under the wings of the European Union, while in Bulgaria, it is said, most of the financial help again ends up in the pockets of the corrupted political cast. But others point at communism as a time in which people were less greedy and life was quieter. A time when everybody was granted with a time off at the Black Sea during the summer. Oddly enough, also a time when many were hitchhiking like us, because fewer people could afford to have a car. Alas, there is no time to explore these questions further.
When our roads split and the moment of goodbye approaches, the conversation has to be concluded. At least we are alive and healthy, jivi i zdravi, that is the most important thing. The rest will come, or not. In the next car, we will start our conversation all over again. As we wave farewell to our new friends, we stand again along the road, wondering when the time will come that a Mercedes E-class will pick us up to provide us with their view of What is Wrong with Bulgaria. Probably we don’t know what we are asking.