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The website is interviewing Maria S. Topalova, chief editor of GRReporter

30 April 2013 / 23:04:34  

Maria S. Topalova, chief editor of GRReporter: "The Bulgarians in Greece have advanced and they no longer have the self-confidence of labourers."

The Bulgarian media in the capital of Greece, GRReporter, and the Bulgarian Sunday School "St. Cyril and Methodius" in Athens have announced the first international literary competition "HELLO versus ZDRAVEI – the Cyrillic alphabet and the internet." It is intended for children and adolescents aged from 10 to 18 years. Each participant may submit up to two literary works, specifically written for the competition. There are no genre and aspectual restrictions. Each participant can write an essay, a story, a composition, a tale or a poem on the topic. The works should not be longer than 500 words. They should be sent to e-mail:
A 3-member jury with the special participation of writer Deyan Enev will rate the competition works. In the letters to the literary works, the authors should write their names, address, grade, age, the name of their school and an e-mail address. The submission deadline for the literary works is 30 April 2013. The results will be announced on 26 May this year, when we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Bulgarian School "St. Cyril and Methodius" in Athens. The winners will be awarded a material prize of 200 euro and two material prizes of 50 euro.
The initiator and coordinator of the competition is Maria S. Topalova, Bulgarian journalist in Athens. She presented the competition "HELLO versus ZDRAVEI" during the tenth edition of the International Tourism Fair of Cultural Tourism in Veliko Tarnovo. Teachers and students at the Humanitarian Secondary School "St. Cyril and Methodius" in the old capital of Bulgaria have immediately joined it.

- Mrs. Topalova, how was the idea of the competition "HELLO versus ZDRAVEI – the Cyrillic alphabet and the internet" initiated by you born?
- In Greece, there are four Bulgarian schools - one in Thessaloniki and Crete, and two in Athens. The Bulgarian institutions should interact and we have decided, as an incentive for the children studying at the biggest and oldest school in Athens, named after the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius, to organize an annual literary competition. We want to encourage the children, who grow up in a foreign language environment, where their life is harder but more interesting, to share their experiences. We turned to the school principal and the teaching staff, who embraced the idea, and we started considering a theme. It has turned out that this year is the 1,150th anniversary since the start of the mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius to Great Moravia; the 1,120th anniversary of the ecclesiastical and national council held in Preslav (893), which proclaimed the Slavic language the official language of worship and of the government of Bulgaria and the 530th anniversary of the first book printed in Glagolitic alphabet (1483) in Venice. We decided that the contest should be associated with the alphabet, thus giving birth to the idea of tracking what is happening to our alphabet on social networks. We have shaped the contrast between the Cyrillic and the Latin alphabet in the title to make it slightly dramatic and provocative although we do not believe that there is some drama in the mixing of the alphabets. We want to provoke the children to think when they write to each other.
- The communication on social networks and through SMS from mobile phones is a great mix between the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets and the spelling is missing.
- Do you believe that spelling is suffering due to this mix? I find it funny. There are a lot of original ideas. This happens not only in the Bulgarian language but also in all languages. The classic spelling, grammar and word order have remained part of the official correspondence. I think that if somebody wants to joke and flirt on social networks, the mixing of the alphabets adds to the language. If I were to write an essay on this topic, in no case would my position be that the Cyrillic alphabet is suffering or that the Latin alphabet is taking its place. On the contrary, I think that both the alphabets can interact, thus allowing the children to create with the letters, giving birth to something new.
- What are your expectations from the competition?
- Our idea was too modest and it was aimed at that Bulgarian school in Athens. The teaching staff has decided to spread it through the Association of Bulgarian Schools around the world and allow all children, who study at Bulgarian schools abroad, to take part in it. Subsequently, it turned out that the idea has become very popular among the schools in Bulgaria as well and actually, it has evolved into an international competition. Originally, we had planned that the works for the competition should be written in Bulgarian, but Bessarabia Bulgarians, who cannot express themselves in Bulgarian well, have expressed their desire to participate and so, we have extended it to all languages ​​that use the Cyrillic alphabet. There are participants with Russian language as well. Fortunately, the children think and they are impressed by the writing on Facebook, they have an opinion and they want to express it. The contest will be annual but its theme will be different next year. However, in any case, it will be related to the interaction between cultures, ethnicities, religions.
- Tell us a bit more about the school "St. Cyril and Methodius" in Athens?
- It is the oldest Bulgarian school in Greece and this year, it celebrates the 10th anniversary of its establishment. 185 children from preschool to the 12th grade are studying there. The school is part of the educational programme in Bulgarian language, literature, history and geography abroad and it is supported by the budget. It is not quite a public school because the parents pay a fee to form the school budget. My younger son is studying at this school. In the film about the school, which I presented in Veliko Tarnovo, my son is the child, who does not know how to say leather sandals in Bulgarian.
- What is your assessment of the educational system and of what is happening at school?
- There is no similarity with the time when I was in the 6th grade when my only window to the world was the TV broadcast "Atlas" and "Pippi Longstocking" and few such books that were translated into Bulgarian. I must tell you that the first thing my son does, who is already 11 years old, when he wakes up in the morning, even before he gets out of bed, is to check out on his iPhone how much the price of Google’s shares has increased and how much that of Apple’s shares has dropped. His day begins with this information. This is nothing to do with my childhood.
- Many Bulgarians have decided to stay in Greece, even to work for lower pay than to return. There were several scandals and incidents with Bulgarians. What is your human and journalistic view as regards the daily environment of which you are part in Athens?
- In fact, I am not part of the Bulgarian environment very much, but of course, I am very well aware of the Bulgarians, who are living in Greece. They are staying in Greece despite the crisis, because in Bulgaria, they can never get the money they earn in Greece although they work for lower pay. The generation of Bulgarians in Greece has changed as well. If they were only caregivers for the elderly and housekeepers 10 years ago, this is not the case any longer. The fact that their children attend a Greek school from Monday to Friday and a Bulgarian school during the weekends shows that these people are aware of the importance of education to children. The Bulgarians in Greece have advanced. They already occupy middle management positions, or even higher; there are Bulgarians who win Greek state awards. For example, teacher Anna Kalincheva from the Bulgarian school in Thessaloniki won a state prize for a history-teaching project. Interpreter Zdravka Mihaylova won last year the Greek state prize for translation of Greek literature in a foreign language. The Bulgarians in Greece no longer have the self-confidence of labourers.

- What parallel can you draw between the latest protests in Bulgaria that have brought down the government and the strikes in Greece?
- In general, Greece has a great tradition of striking. There, when it has been decided that a national strike will take place, the country really closes down. The trade unions are very powerful; we do not have so powerful trade unions in Bulgaria. Otherwise, the street chaos during protests and the political desperation is present both there and here. In Greece, when the most active protests were taking place a year and a half ago, many people did not know why they were on strike; they wanted to throw all the deputies out of the parliament, to change the constitution. In Greece there are scoundrels too, you should not think that there are no such. There is the talk about an economic crisis but actually, it has been caused by an extremely deep social crisis, from which the extreme right has benefitted. It has turned out that in a country in which fascism, as an ideology, has never had any seeds, the third political force that won approval of between 11% and 13% is a neo-Nazi party. Our political party "Attack" is not the same. There, we are talking about people with criminal record, who had placed bombs in theatres and cinemas, who have convictions for petty hooliganism but also for more serious motives and who have become the third political force in Greece. The parallels are many.
- Have you ever considered retiring to Bulgaria?
- I have been in Greece since 2001. For me, everything in the world is temporary. I like to keep my doors open; I do not exclude anything. I like being there at present. I'm in Athens, but what I am doing is intended for the Bulgarian audience and it is following it with the help of new technologies. I can decide to go overseas and to continue writing for the Bulgarian audience. The new technologies have removed all borders, especially in the media. The location of my physical presence is not important at all.
- There has been a feeling that Bulgarians abroad are more patriots than the people living within the territorial borders of Bulgaria are.
- The Bulgarians abroad are very different. I can tell you about my older son, who had studied in Bulgaria until his 4th grade. Then, we moved to Greece and it was hard for him to get accustomed to the new situation. The age difference between my two children is 15 years and my older son lost the connection with Bulgaria at a very early age. Then, he went to study at a university in the United Kingdom and there he met a group of Bulgarians. Suddenly, my son, who had broken his connection with Bulgaria, began singing along with his friends the Bulgarian anthem in the lobby of the university on 3 March and giving out martenitsi (twined tasseled red and white thread, symbol of spring and health) on 1 March. Here's how my older son, in whom we have failed to develop his patriotism, has suddenly surprised us in the most unexpected place for us. We all carry patriotism within ourselves; it is a matter of situation in life when and how it will manifest itself.

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