Like Dimitar Berbatov, I am Bulgarian. It’s not the easiest country to be proud and patriotic about. We are small, eastern European, involved in organised crime all around the world, classified as the most corrupt country in Europe, our lovely beaches and seaside support a recent explosion of alcohol-related tourism and most recently, we have been ranked as the most unhappy nation relative to the money we earn.
Despite all this I do like to feel proud about my people and birthplace, even though I have not lived there for most of my life. True, I like to feel proud about South Africa as well (another place often associated with more bad things than good), but when asked where I’m from, I always say “Bulgaria”.
Moments to be proud of my country include singularities such as the 1994 Football World Cup when Bulgaria reached the semi-finals and Hristo Stoichkov got the golden boot. More generally I am proud of things such as our beautiful mountains, forests and seaside and the world-famous Bulgarian yoghurt and cheese.
Compared to some countries, you would think that when we do have an opportunity to be proud of our nation, we take it by the horns. Well actually, no.
Take our most famous recent football export – Dimitar Berbatov, for example. He appears to be, at least in public, a modest guy and true professional. He carries himself well and I personally have not once seen a scandal relating to him in the press. He has had a topsy-turvy start to his Man United career but no one can dispute that this season, he has been one of the star players of not only United, but I dare say, the world. Look at the Bulgarian press and you see a different image. Hatemongers spew out one criticism after another; the press for the most part ignores his successes and only blurts out his short-comings and that all famous team of 1994 seems to be playing a major role in ensuring that no one, not Berbatov or any other rising star ever emulates their success.
Excuse me for generalising, and as someone who hasn’t lived his whole life in Bulgaria, I may make some assumptions that others will dispute. I do however know that a people’s shortcomings are often reflected in the jokes we say about them. It comes as no surprise that there are numerous jokes and anecdotes of this “if your friend is successful you better pull him right back down” mentality which is engraved in the Bulgarian condition.
From the moment Berbatov scored 3 against Liverpool to claim a late victory for United, or when he almost made a new record by scoring 5 against Blackburn, or even last night when his 2 goals helped us stage a dramatic comeback against Blackpool, people around the world have talked about this man, this Bulgarian who lead Manchester United to victory. Football fan or not, United fan or not… Berbatov is another reason to be proud of our country and I personally hope he goes on to become the most famous and well-regarded Bulgarian footballer of all time.