Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Country Overview: Bulgaria

Bulgaria was the first country in Eastern Europe that I visited, and this added a completely new perspective to my understanding of the problem of global sexual exploitation. This country is a land of both poverty and history; new and old. I spent time in the capital city and a smaller town. The differences were extremely striking. The gap between the rich and poor is palpable. What you see below is the church where the Nicene Creed was ratified, surrounded by beautiful modern buildings.

The Basics

Bulgaria's population numbers nearly 7.5 million - most of which live in the capital city of Sofia. The official language is Bulgarian - quite a change for me from most of the previous languages, since it uses the Cryllic alphabet rather than a Latin one. The country adopted a democratic constitution relatively recently, in 1991. Bulgaria did not join the European Union until 2007.
Bulgaria and My Project

According to the 2014 TIP report, Bulgaria is primarily a source country for human trafficking. Women in particular are victims of sex trafficking from poor villages into the capital city, Sofia, of into all of the world. Every single country I have visited so far, besides Romania, has a large population of Bulgarian women in prostitution - the majority of which are trafficked. The lack of response from government and social programs places this country on Tier 2. Though the country is making efforts to combat trafficking, there is still a great deal of work to be done. In particular, there is an incredible need for more shelters to provide aftercare for the victims who are rescued within or outside of the country from situations of trafficking.

The history and poverty of this country is greatly intertwined with the problem of trafficking, I found, after asking the following questions of grassroots and government organizations alike:

  1. How does poverty impact the problem of trafficking?
  2. How are the majority of women taken out of the country - how are they manipulated and what does the transport look like?
  3. At what point in a Bulgarian woman's life is she most vulnerable to being sexually exploited?
  4. Is there anything in Bulgaria's history that is playing a role?

I also discovered that the Roma population makes up the majority of victims. Entire villages even participate in prostitution. I will be exploring the Roma culture specifically in a later post. What you see above to the right is a Roma village. Above, center is more countryside where primarily Roma families live.

First Impressions

While certain things, such as the sheer number of beautiful churches, gives Bulgaria a European feel, I couldn't help but notice how different this country was from my previous destinations in nearly every other way. As the sun rose during my overnight train from Thessaloniki, I was amazed at the poverty demonstrated by flimsy dwellings and burning trash heaps on either side of the tracks. It was if I had pass some invisible line that keeps people in a cycle of poverty. Essentially I had. Sofia was beautiful, and there are certainly things that I enjoyed about Bulgaria, but I am beginning to realize my trip is beginning to take a somber turn as the problems of sexual exploitation are no longer hidden by the mask of western development.



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