My Neo-Ostpolitik Experience

by: Teodor Kalpakchiev

To me, the time spent at Brandt School was an empowering experience that indeed broadened the external limits of my conceptual capabilities and taught me to think well beyond the standard. The alternative has always been a benchmark in my life choices and facing the 50:50 choice for a project group was quite hard, as I needed to think what would better suit me – EU Development Aid and the NoPoor project, which perfectly complemented my profile and seemed like an opportunity to enact solutions and policies for a lifetime, or the Transparency International project with Ukraine, which was a hot topic already. In the end, the decisive factor was that I managed to correlate with Ukraine’s corruption problems, as these were also shattering the very foundations of my own country of origin – Bulgaria, and the psychological factor had leverage over the future of the development agenda for Europe. The positive aspect of my project group choice is also that I now possess an insatiable interest towards development, which I am eager to turn into expertise through experience.

In the Transparency International project, we had the chance to mould the end result from the beginning, and the output depended fully on our capacity for creating it. To me such a responsibility is the dream of every professional stepping up the ladder between education and professional life, and it provided our team with crucial tasks such as creating a framework of the study, adjusting workload, conceptualizing recommendations for a real actor (TI) and thinking strategically beyond the assigned tasks. Regardless of the initial fluidity of the project conception, I truly believe we managed well in creating a study that addressed the topics of Public Procurement and Conflict of Interest by providing a contextual explanation of their emergence by creating legislative benchmarks, identifying loopholes in the legislation, and transferring know-how from developed case studies. In addition, we came up with recommendations not only for improving the judicial regulation of and raising awareness about these issues, but also regarding the establishment of the internal capacity of the Ukrainian branch of Transparency International using specific tools.

Ever since I received a full scholarship to participate at the Security Forum of Arseniy Yatsenyuk in exchange for a policy paper proposing a step-by-step approach to tackle corruption, and had a chance, instead of celebrating the Association Agreement of Ukraine, to wave the Ukrainian flag amidst the emerging protests on the EuroMaidan, I couldn’t help resisting the temptation to return and began applying for internships in Ukraine. However, I was only allowed to go there after the Minsk ceasefire of 15th September. Buffed up with refreshed Russian language skills from an intensive summer language course in Tomsk, Siberia, I had to face a reality filled with contradictions. My internship at the Institute for World Policy was 50 meters from the Verkhovna Rada and offered constant field experience. On the other hand, I had to face the insufficient supply of accommodation in Kyiv both due to excessive internal displacement and a pagan-protestant sect seminar, which brought some 20,000 Russian participants.

Beyond the chaotic living environment, I witnessed how the effects of the disintegrating statehood transliterated into daily life via the informality of monetary transaction, the dreadful, lamented and forsaken surroundings, which have been once a lively cultural incubator, as well as the psychological burden that the daily anticipation of a full-scale war brought. I myself was hardly prepared to face the strong sense of personal insecurity, as I was surrounded by many people who have lost basically everything – business, homes, family, friends, lifestyle or a combination of these. The depreciation of the currency left even me, loaded with precious Euros, surprised by the encounter with misery sooner than I expected. But Ukraine wanted me to stay indeed – I received an offer to moderate the European Youth Parliament’s ASK Security Forum and to observe the parliamentary elections, but I had to come back due to a project, which I saw as a yet another continuation of my master’s thesis.

The Model European Union Sofia 2014 was my brainchild, with which I tried to connect all the actors and faces in Sofia and some 80 international participants in view of creating a product for reform of policies and the establishment of a strategic dialogue on the European Neighbourhood Instrument and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Treaty in Bulgaria. Since there were not many activities related yet to research in view of creation of policies in Bulgaria, I decided to create one, as indeed Willy Brandt himself once said – “The best way to predict the future is to create it”. Whether or not I will achieve the effect of creating a well-recognizable country fighting for a stronger and more effective European Neighbourhood Policy is yet unclear, but my project-oriented mind is already conceptualizing an even bigger event in Bulgaria to that avail, and I hope that my current exposure to decision-makers as a trainee in the European Parliament will turn handy sooner rather than later. At least one thing is sure – I managed to follow the advice of my lecturers and complete a practical thematic cycle consisting of a project group, field experience, seminars, communication activities and internships revolving around the same issue – what could be the role of Bulgaria in the European Neighbourhood Policy.