GABROVO, BULGARIA – It’s her summer vacation, but she is in her cabinet, hands full of work and desk covered with art catalogues from all over the world. On top of the pile lies the album from the latest show by Christo and Jean-Claude in London, next to hardcovered books on counter culture, street art, and 20th-century architecture.
But no, we are not at a curator’s office at Tate Modern. We are at the House of Humour and Satire in the small Bulgarian town of Gabrovo.
Margarita Dorovska, the 35-year-old director, is a rare Eastern European with a master’s degree in Curating Contemporary Art from the prestigious Royal College of Art in London. For two years now she is putting on contemporary art shows in her 60 000-people-strong town in Central Bulgaria known as the local capital of humour and industrial development.
“The potential is big. I returned home knowing that there is a lot of work to be done,” she said.
It’s hard for an Eastern European curator to break through the London art scene. In comparison, she said, Bulgaria was a land of opportunity.
“I can be most useful and productive for my environment here than somewhere else,” Dorovska said, sittig at her desk dressed in a cotton blouse and linen pants in matching shades of brown and beige.
Official data shows that more than a million Bulgarians live and work abroad today, a result of a decade-long exodus fuelled by corruption, poverty and crime. But anecdotal evidence suggests that a reverse trend is also taking place.
Many young and middle-aged Bulgarians opt to return home after completing their studies or work experience abroad. “Tuk-tam”, a non-profit organization that helps newcomers to communicate with employers, says that the number of registrations for their annual event has grown significantly in recent years. Their last meeting was visited by 1500 people, which is almost 10 times up compared to the first one. Since 2007, when the foundation was established, “Tuk-tam” matched more than 10 000 people with over 500 companies, the organisation said.
One such firm is “Modis IT Outsourcing”, a Sofia-based company with more than 1200 employes, 40% of whom have studied or worked abroad, Desislava Vasileva, who works at the company’s human resources department, said.
Christo Peev, a 26-year-old software enterpreneur, found his first job in Bulgaria with the help of “Tuk-tam”. He has a bachelor degree in computer science with business, and a master‘s in innovation and technology management from University of Bath.
Peev began working in an IT company and realized that the salary to standard of living ratio in the industry in his native country is higher than the one in the UK and Western Europe.
“Speaking of design, innovations, and IT, we have to say that in Sofia there is a serious and fast developing environment, and companies who search for such service,” Peev said.
Two years ago he started his own company, “Motion Software”. He has, so far, hired 30 employees, a third of which had also studied abroad.
In Peev’s opinion people work for him because he offers them to. “If Bulgarian companies give job opportunities to students abroad, even before their graduation, I think that the number of them coming back will be even higher,” he said.
Yuliana Lazova, а researcher who studied Bulgarian-German migration between 2015-2018 also agrees that one of the most common reasons why people decide to return is the good job opportunity.
She says that currently, the Bulgarian labor market is very favorable for people fluent in German or German speakers of all professions with degrees from abroad. That explains why more Bulgarians with fresh German diplomas decide to get their first job at home, she said.
According to Lazova’s research, the other important argument is for personal reasons such as marriages, family and friends.
“Despite the business part, everything I grew up with here also made me come back,” Peev said.
For Dorovska, another impulse to return home was the birth of her son. It made more sense for her to raise him in Bulgaria.
Two years after moving with her young family to Gabrovo, she said she can already see the results of her work. With its more than 8 000 square meters, the House of Humour and Satire is currently hosting five permanent and seven temporary exhibitions, one of which is now being prolonged due to growing interest.
“The beggining was worrying, but from the feedback we get we know that we’re in the right direction. We have the feeling of a positive change. This motivates us to continue,“ Dorovska said.