Emotional Energy of contemporary Bulgarian Identity

Kristina Petkova, Pepka Boyadjieva, Galin Gornev.

The paper develops theoretical framework and provides empirical data regarding the emotional dimensions of Bulgarian national identity in the context of contemporary Bulgaria. The paper tries to answer the following questions: 1) Which are the components of contemporary Bulgarian national identity? 2) Which are the emotional dimensions of national identity and how they relate to other key identities – personal, gender, regional, and political? 3) How these different emotional components of the Bulgarian national identity relate to differences in social action? 4) What are the emotional effects of the comparison of Bulgarians with other nations?

The main theoretical premise of the paper is the conception of the social construction of national identity and emotions . It is argued that on the one hand national identity and emotions are determined by different social structures and characteristics, and on the other that they (and their interaction) in turn have an impact on social relations and social action. The role of emotion in identity processes in the present study is twofold: 1) as an outcome of identity-based comparisons; 2) as a communicative medium and mediator of social action.

Analysis is based on data collected in a sociological survey. In the period March – May 2010 were interviewed 710 respondents from 6 regions of Bulgaria . The sample was balanced with regard to age, gender, education and ethnicity. Priming was one of the methods applied in the study. For data processing we used mainly ANOVA, factor analysis and regression analysis. Three Lickert type scales were developed – scale for measuring the intensity of national identity, scale measuring the pride of being Bulgarian, and scale for measuring the shame of being Bulgarian. Thus we analysed the intensity of national identity, the pride and shame of being Bulgarian for different social groups (defined by age, gender, political preferences, and residence).

Results show that the cognitive and group centered components of Bulgarian national identity are significantly more pronounced as compared with the emotional component. In other words Bulgarians acknowledge belongingness to the nation and share solidarity with fellow Bulgarians rather then feel happy that they are Bulgarians.

The majority of respondents do not perceive serious threat regarding Bulgarian national identity in the context of the processes of Euro-integration and globalization. Slightly more than 25% of the respondents believe that Bulgarian national identity is under pressure whereas about 45% are confident that there are no sighs of such pressure.

Respondents point EU as the main source of pressure for change of national identity. However it needs to be noted that many of them (20%) consider that such pressure for change come from Bulgarians themselves. Overall the “emotional climate” in Bulgarian society regarding the challenges facing national identity is within the normal and there is no reason for worries. The fact that part of the respondents look at the possibility for changes in national identity with hope and optimism leads to the conclusion that there are quite a few Bulgarians who are unsatisfied with the main facets of Bulgarian national identity and are ready to accept outer pressure for its change.

Emotionally Bulgarian national identity is “crucified” between pride and shame. Although the ratio between pride and shame is in favour of pride the balance is very fragile – respondents are almost equally proud and ashamed of being Bulgarians. It might be suggested that these results reflect the complex, full of contradictions historical fate of Bulgarian people, which has been marked with wrong political choices, followed by dramatic losses, long term dependency on foreign powers and incapability to protect national causes.

It is worth mentioning that the things Bulgarians are most ashamed of are part of our contemporary life – lack of law and order, dirty streets and social places, inefficiency of our public institutions. But these are things that can be handled and it is up to Bulgarians to solve these problems. It is important to determine how this emotional “crucifixion” of Bulgarians between pride and shame affects their behaviour. Does it “paralyze” them and doom them to constant wandering between different (extreme) decisions or could it mobilize them to perform something positive?

The study clearly shows that emotions do prompt action. There is a strong positive correlation between strength of national identity and readiness to support petition for protection of Bulgarian national identity; between pride and support of petition; between pride and integration with the EU. The results provide support for the model, according to which emotions lead to action when they result from experience of unfairness. Anger emerges as the emotion with the strongest emotional energy leading to behaviour. It was anger which defined the strength of impact of the other factors (such as identity threat) and eventually had the decisive effect on behaviour (support for petition) and intergroup orientation (integration/separation with Russia and/or EU).

Analysis showed that comparison with other nations seems to create emotional discomfort for Bulgarians. This tendency deserves special attention. No matter whether primed with characteristics of a nation that is ahead of Bulgaria on the basis of objective indicators (Germany) or with characteristics of a nation that is far behind Bulgaria when estimated with the universal development criteria (Albania), the effect is the same – decrease of the feeling of pride and increase of the feeling of shame. With these results we are faced with a serious national syndrome – low self esteem. And this is based not only on real problems and failures of the country but on underestimation of the achievements of Bulgaria and inability to assess adequately its actual position. The overwhelming majority of respondents placed Bulgaria below its actual location on the UN human development index.

The emotional intelligence of a nation is based on its capability to recognize and adequately and duly regulate its dominant emotions. There is no doubt that emotions such as pride, shame, and anger “clash” in every nation. In countries like Bulgaria, which has gone through numerous historical vicissitudes, lagging modernization, and as a result late integration with the EU, these emotions are often more pronounced and polarized. Hence we can argue that Bulgarian emotional intelligence is put to severe test.