PEOPLE
Volume 4 Number 6
Bulgarian Lessons
01 June 1991

Eastern Europe came a little closer for hundreds of British pupils as a result of a chance encounter between Mariana Zaharieva and school-teacher Howard Grace last summer. Mariana and her husband Angel Zahariev from Bulgaria were attending a conference on `Shaping the New Europe' in Caux, Switzerland, when they met Grace. He had been taking a play he had written to schools around Britain, to encourage sixth-formers to think beyond themselves.

Eastern Europe came a little closer for hundreds of British pupils as a result of a chance encounter between Mariana Zaharieva and school-teacher Howard Grace last summer. Mariana and her husband Angel Zahariev from Bulgaria were attending a conference on `Shaping the New Europe' in Caux, Switzerland, when they met Grace. He had been taking a play he had written to schools around Britain, to encourage sixth-formers to think beyond themselves. He invited the Zaharievs to spend three months visiting British schools telling them about life in Bulgaria.

`We went to private and public schools, boys', girls' and mixed schools, Catholic and Anglican schools - 45 in all,' says Zaharieva. She was impressed with the variety of styles of education she found and with the way pupils were encouraged to think for themselves.

Most of the students they encountered knew almost nothing about Bulgaria, though some were sending food and clothing to neighbouring Romania. They were surprised to learn that the situation in Bulgaria was just as bad.

After hearing about the peaceful changes underway in Bulgaria, and of the food rationing, empty shops and huge price increases, schools immediately asked how they could help. `Charity is part of life here,' the Zaharievs commented. In Bulgaria, they said, the state had tried to take responsibility for every aspect of life and charities were not permitted. `We have forgotten how to have compassion,' said Zaharieva, adding that soup kitchens were now being set up to feed the poor.

Asked if they thought Bulgaria should go back to Communism, the Zaharievs replied that this was impossible. `There is no such thing as Communism any more,' they explained. `It just collapsed. Communism assumed that people would change if we created a just society. But we never got there. There was no emphasis on individual responsibility. Under Marxism there were no faces, just a mass.'

How had British life struck them? `At first it was a shock, coming from empty shops to this excess,' they said. `It's not healthy to have so much.'

But the democratic institutions were to be envied. `A lot of the students we met picked up the idea that they have to defend democracy - it can't be taken for granted. We are glad if we were able to bring that home.'


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