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Bulgaria in the trap of neoliberalism

In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and the so-called “transition period” for Central and Eastern Europe began. The goal pursued was a radical change of society at economic, political and social level. In relation to this, Bulgaria endorsed a variety of development programs, which were manipulated by the two supranational institutions – the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The country was quickly encompassed by a wide network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) whose number amounts nowadays to 38,000. The UN agencies, supranational authorities and NGOs organized and coordinated Bulgaria’s transition through the same methods, ideas and language, which were being used for the Third World Countries by that time.

by Daniela Penkova

PART 5 - The Rhetoric

Although the supranational institutions of development declare as their fundamental purpose “the struggle against poverty”, they keep on demanding economic reforms which have proved to be totally inefficient. The leading assumption is that only the free market and strongly restricted government intervention are able to guarantee prosperity. Instead of nations to be allowed to act at their own discretion in order to increase the welfare of their people, they are forced to adopt neoliberal policies. After that no one measures whether the life conditions have improved, but only to what extent the recommended policies have been implemented.

The advertising of the reforms imposed outside is a job of the think tanks, hiding behind the disguise of NGOs. Their projects are being financed by big development agencies among which the American USAID stands out. The foundation representing USAID in the country is “America for Bulgaria”. Think tanks use the same rhetoric they have been using until now in the Third World countries. They speak about democracy, reforms, good governance, citizenship formation, freedom, development and so on. The loans imposing the above listed “reforms” are being called “aid”. The World Bank and other agencies are being described as “donors” and every political idea in the interest of the population is being straightforwardly qualified as “populism”. The goal is to manipulate the public opinion using the methods described by Pierre Bourdieu:

The one reproducing the official knows how to produce, i.e. to manufacture, making theatre (in the etymological sense of the term producere, which means bring to the light), something which does not exist (in the sense of sensory, visible), and speak for it. He has to produce that in which name he has the right to produce. There is no way that he does not make theatre, create forms, perform miracles. The most ordinary miracle for a speech artist is the verbal miracle, the rhetorical success. He has to present that what justifies his words, that is, the authority for which he has the right to speak.

An important example of the rhetoric used is the book “The Bottom Billion” by the director of the Development Research Group of the World Bank Paul Collier. Collier is a typical neoliberal economist totally devoted to the policies of the development agencies from the last decades. He encourages the “shock therapies” using in his book the usual language of “freedom, democratization, aids, transition, struggle against poverty” and proclaims the politicians who dared to impose these policies as “brave reformers”. Everyone who dares to follow a different economic path and use the available funds for building state social services is being branded as “dictator”, while the adversaries of these reforms are called “politically motivated” and “Marxists”. For example, he praises the neoliberal policies of Blaize Compaore: “For more than a decade the governments of Uganda and Burkina Faso have demonstrated satisfactory development rates partially fixing the damages caused my their horrible predecessors.” The “horrible predecessor” in this case is Thomas Sankara who implemented policies of Keynesian type and was eliminated in 1987 by Blaize Compaore with a coup aided by France, the USA and Liberian militaries.

Besides, Collier claims that economic growth is the means to reduce poverty, but he fails to mention the fact that the profits of this growth are being exported beyond the state borders (remember the convenient swap of GNP with GDP) and he also dodges the question about the way the remaining in the country income is being distributed among its population. The same two omissions are being made by all neoliberal economists and think tanks in Bulgaria. Collier even comes to deny reality by claiming that neoliberal policies have reduced poverty. And in those cases when the denial of their failure is impossible, he attributes the blame to bad luck: “Nigeria’s best phase of economic policy was the reform phase of the late 1980s, but the benefits of these reforms were completely swamped by the coincident crash in the world price of oil” Collier supports the most radical “reformist” line of action, calling for a total and instantaneous acceptance of the packet of neoliberal prescriptions (“necessary albeit very painful at times”), which are very well depicted by Naomi Klein in her book “The Shock Doctrine. The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”.

Collier never stops praising the American interventions in Africa, calling them “truly magnificent”. From him we also learn that “spread of democracy is an explicit agenda – indeed even the overarching agenda of the United States in the Middle East”. It is hard to find any connection between democracy and the US support for the brutal regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar or Bahrain. Having made the argument that the US and Britain are “morally compelled” to intervene in countries of the “bottom billion,” he notes that peacekeeping also provides “reformers” with a vital opportunity:

There is the odd looking result that reform is more likely after civil war… How can these two seemingly contradictory results be reconciled? I think that they are telling us that post conflict situations are highly fluid ... This suggests that our policy interventions to help failing states need to differentiate between types of situations, treating post conflict situations as major opportunities.

This is a pragmatic example of a “shock doctrine”, depicted by Naomi Klein as follows:

The shock doctrine, like all doctrines, is a philosophy of power. It’s a philosophy about how to achieve your political and economic goals. And this is a philosophy that holds that the best way, the best time, to push through radical free-market ideas is in the aftermath of a major shock. Now, that shock could be an economic meltdown. It could be a natural disaster. It could be a terrorist attack. It could be a war. … These crises, these disasters, these shocks soften up whole societies. They discombobulate them. People lose their bearings. And a window opens up, just like the window in the interrogation chamber. And in that window, you can push through what economists call “economic shock therapy.” That’s sort of extreme country makeovers. It’s everything all at once. It’s not, you know, one reform here, one reform there, but the kind of radical change that we saw in Russia in the 1990s, that Paul Bremer tried to push through in Iraq after the invasion.

From Collier’s book we can understand that behind all the rhetoric for liberalization, democratization and struggle against poverty there lies the only intent to implement the neoliberal policies of the free market in all countries, using all the necessary methods, one of which is military force, considered to be totally justifiable.

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