Think beyond Internet activism, Facebook mini-maelstroms and viral videos, and it is easy to convince yourself that young Bulgarians are apathetic, lazy creatures with zero interest in politics and social issues, who nurture unrealistic expectations of their starting salaries and dream of leaving Bulgaria, asap and 4ever.
The statistics are on your side. A 2010 survey by the Ministry of Education showed that over 61 percent of young Bulgarians are not interested in getting involved in social politics. One in eight plans to leave the country to study and, eventually, to make their career abroad.
The picture is bleak, but there are people who believe that "the saddest place in the world," as The Economist recently called it, can be changed. In 2011, a group of Bulgarian students and graduates from over 20 European universities created United Ideas for Bulgaria, a non-profit organisation. Starting on a small scale, they work with high school and university students and stimulate them to come up with ideas for improving their social milieu in Bulgaria, and then the organisation seeks sponsorship from companies and private contributors.
It is hard work, as the members of the board live in 20 countries plus Bulgaria, and are forced to sacrifice precious holidays for meetings, project coordination and fund raising. The toughest work, though, lies elsewhere.
Most Bulgarians, specifically the older generations, still believe that the government is solely responsible for dealing with social issues, despite many scandalous examples to the contrary. One of the easiest of these that comes to mind is the nightmarish conditions in the facility for disabled children in Mogilino, which was closed by public outcry after a damning BBC documentary.
United Ideas for Bulgaria tries to encourage young people to act for themselves and not to leave the initiative in the hands of the government. The organisation believes that what may look like apathy and laziness may simply be the result of lack of motivation and knowledge. Bulgarian youth don't campaign for changes because they don't know what to change and how to go about it. This is where United Ideas for Bulgaria comes in – their task is to help young Bulgarians find their voice, to give them the know-how, and to teach them that every action has consequences and does matter in the greater scheme of things.
The members of the organisation have already discovered that, given the chance, high school and university students can come up with innovative ideas with considerable practical value. With proper encouragement, United Ideas for Bulgaria believes, they can become the solution to some real-life problems.
One of the best examples is the winning project of the second Youth Project, a national competition for high school students. The team from Sofia's respected High School for Maths and Natural Sciences conducted a detailed analysis of the advantages of Lyulin Mountain as an ecotourism destination. If it materialises, this project could boost the revival of the economy and the community in a neglected, depopulated village area on the outskirts of the capital.
In 2012, the United Ideas for Bulgaria projects lining up includes initiatives such as running an interactive guide to Plovdiv, hosting a concert for disabled children and setting up a newspaper in a Sofia high school.
The first conference organised by the NGO, is scheduled for September 2012. It will bring together more than 150 young Bulgarians to find ways to stimulate the nation’s social welfare, education and tourism and its business relations with the rest of Europe.