"You can not have prejudices against a person who is like you" is the phrase that engraved on my mind after the interview with the young and ambitious teacher of Greek Kalina Bliznashka. She is the founder of the special Greek language school in Sofia, Panellinika. For GRReporter readers, Kalina speaks about the similarities and differences between the Bulgarian and Greek people and the prejudices facing us and preventing us to get closer.
Her love for the Greek language and culture makes her take a bold initiative and only for a year, she grew from a Greek philologist to a successful manager of a private language school with 5 teachers and over 60 students.
How was your love for the Greek language born?
I am a graduate of the National School for Ancient Languages and Cultures Constantine Cyril the Philosopher, and there I began to study ancient Greek language. I was greatly interested in the language from the outset and therefore continued to study it in the Modern Greek specialty at Sofia University.
The language itself is very exotic. Even the letters themselves are exotic, as if they are hiding some kind of mystery, which you are willing to unveil. In an earlier age, the fact that you have command of a language with such ancient roots makes you feel more special as if you have command of a magic. Later, when you get deeper into the language, you are aware of how many secrets it hides and how many words, terms and everyday expressions in Bulgarian come from the Greek language, it makes you confident that you have skills and knowledge that are useful.
How well do you think Bulgaria knows the Greek culture and literature? What do the Bulgarians know about Greece, except sirtaki and Zorba the Greek?
Although we are neighbours, the Bulgarians and Greeks know very little about each other, not only in terms of literature and culture, but also as in general. The two nations have many prejudices, which prevent us to get close. These are my observations for years. Some people began to study Greek with a bias towards the Greeks and the Greek culture. Gradually, by getting to know the characteristics of the people, their traditions and their behaviour, they realize that Greeks and Bulgarians are more similar than they previously imagined. Indeed, we are more alike than we realize.
At first, most students know the Greek culture in terms of tourism, cuisine and history. The Bulgarians as a whole have a serious interest in the history and development of the Balkans and know much about Greece from this perspective. However, little is known for the literature of the country. This is an almost unknown territory for the Bulgarians, mainly because there are very few modern authors and books translated. I'm not sure why. Perhaps because the Greek translators are too busy to serve businesses and companies and they have no time to translate books. Whatever the reason, there are many books, not only classic but also completely new editions, which I think would be of great interest to the Bulgarians, but they are not translated. In any case, much more efforts are necessary and focused policies so that the two nations get closer to each other.
Let us return to the similarities and differences between the two cultures and why are we strangers to one another, although we are neighbours and Balkan people?
I am not able to give a reasonable scientific explanation, because I am a philologist. A general observation of mine is that neighbours are often the least known not only on the Balkans but also in other areas. On the one hand, perhaps because they fear each other and historical stereotypes prevent them from knowing each other. On the other hand, they are probably afraid that they will find out how many things they have in common with their neighbours and then, half of their prejudices rooted for years should be abolished. You can not be prejudiced against a person who is like you. This means that you do not like yourself. Apparently, it is not easy to find the courage to make such a trip towards yourself with a Balkan sign, which is the key for getting closer.
Learning the language is one way to get acquainted with a culture. This process allows you to go into the essence of a culture easier and gradually and to know it as yours, no matter whether you will accept it or not. It is not foreign any longer. The language enables a person to understand the mindset, the customs and cultural characteristics of a people without having to comply with them.
When do you think the distance between Bulgarians and Greeks started to shorten?
My observations are from 2006 when I started teaching, and since then, in my work with people, I see many positive trends. First, in 2007 the Greeks themselves began to accept us differently due to our official accession into the European Union. The Greeks are people with a highly developed sense of commerce and business in general. Our accession to the European Union opened many doors. At the same time, the Greeks themselves might have recognized that since we are members of the European Union, we are more valuable neighbours than we have been before.