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08 Jun 17

Why Bulgarians Don’t Get Married

Mariya Cheresheva

Fewer people are getting married in Bulgaria, and those who still want to formalise their relationship have to endure a series of absurd medical examinations, fees and verbal humiliation.

Photo: Kalin Milanov/Flickr

Along with the never-ending battle against corruption, the protection of national security, and the price and quality of food in the supermarket, the low rates of marriage and birth among young Bulgarian couples have become a favorite topic of discussion in the country.

Indeed, recent data from the EU Statistics Agency Eurostat revealed that Bulgaria is at the bottom of the EU league in terms people getting married, together with Slovenia and Portugal, where only three in 1,000 people get married. Moreover, nearly 60 per cent of babies in Bulgaria are being born to unmarried couples – information that has sent shivers through supporters of the traditional patriarchal order.

The growing risk of the disappearance of the Bulgarian nation has provoked creative solutions, such as a campaign called ‘DNA – Do it for Bulgaria’, which encourages Bulgarians who give birth to enroll their children for mass baptism ceremonies, carried out by the head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarchy. Enthusiastic parents are also invited to post photos of their positive pregnancy tests online and even more exciting – ultrasound scanner pictures of their foetuses!

Politicians have not lost track of the growing national fears. During the electoral campaign for the snap parliamentary vote on March 26, various parties competed to encourage young Bulgarian families, offering them greater social allowances, low interest rate credits and cheap flats if only they return to good old civil marriage and start making babies.

Amid this wave of efforts to get the Bulgarian nation to reproduce – in a legal way – my partner and I decided to get married, joking that we would get the chance to see who would keep their electoral promises.  Would we get a cheap flat, tax incentives and a free baptism from the Patriarch himself?

The first steps to becoming a married couple, however, have shown rather the opposite. Like most institutional processes in Bulgaria, getting married also quickly proved to be a complicated, annoying and none too cheap matter, which requires a whole bunch of documents.

But the most interesting among them has appeared to be the so-called Medical Certificate for Entering into Marriage. The general practitioner informed me that before she stamps this precious piece of paper, I need to compulsory check-ups from a... psychiatrist and gynaecologist.

“So you mean I have to prove that I am mentally and sexually healthy in order to get married?” I asked.

The answer was positive.

And indeed, the Bulgarian Family Code - last amended in 2009 - says that people who are defined as legally disabled, or those who suffer from mental illnesses that may lead to them being defined as legally disabled, do not have the right to enter into a civil marriage.

The measure defining people who are suffering from mentally illnesses as legally disabled, which means they are effectively deprived of their property and civil rights, is widely disputed, and its removal from the Penal Code was proposed in 2016.

However, it remains in both in the Penal and Family Code.

Bulgarian law also bans people carrying diseases that “constitute a serious danger to the life and health of the offspring or the other partner” from getting married, unless the person’s partner is informed.

Although the types of diseases are not specified, simple reasoning leads to the conclusion that it probably means people suffering from sexually transmitted diseases, mental disorders and genetic malformations are deemed as risky partners.

“Well, of course, one needs to be in perfect shape in order to create a strong and healthy micro unit for the glorious Bulgarian nation,” I thought to myself bitterly, remembering that after all, the deputy prime minister in charge of overseeing social policy and demography is Valeri Simeonov, a member the far-right Patriotic Front party, famous for his anti-migrant and anti-Roma sentiments.

It turned out that my hardships would not end with simple doubts about the morality of this administrative rule, which, as I later found out, has been recently removed in EU countries such as France, but is obligatory in authoritarian states like Turkey, Morocco and Bahrain.

When I went to the relevant office to get instructions about the clinics I had to visit, I was confronted with another surprise.

“First of all, Madam, you must pay 30 leva [around 15 euros] per examination,” a grumpy lady said. “And secondly, we do not have a gynecologist today.”

“But why should I pay, I have health insurance?” I asked, thinking about the huge (for my standards) contributions I have paid to the state as a self-employed person.

Plus, considering that the minimum wage in Bulgaria is around 235 euros, making a person pay 30 euros for obligatory examinations does not sound like a fair deal. Neither does it seem to a great incentive for young people to get married.

“This is a health service, which is paid for. You are not ill, so it is not a regular examination,” the lady answered coldly.

Feeling powerless, I paid, still wondering whether they would allow me to get married if I turned out to be mad, or, for example, HIV positive.

“God forbid you ever get sick, considering how they treat people who want to get married,” another lady in the queue told me sympathetically.

Over the next few hours, I went through a totally fake examination with a psychologist, which would never have revealed whether I was ill or not, and a visit to a private gynecologist, which, to my surprise, cost less than the public one.

But the additional price of the visit was being subjected to a humiliating rant about how it is high time to become a mother, and that I and my future husband should “start working immediately” in order not to miss the last baby train.

“If it does not happen in few months, you should not wait, but seek medical help,” the concerned doctor advised me gently.

Back at the general practitioner, having to pay 15 leva (7.5 euros) for the final stamp on the document was the final straw.

“This is a complete robbery! Why do I have to pay so much for something that I do not want, but is obligatory?” I asked.

“Nothing is obligatory,” the lady laughed sarcastically. “Those who do not have money, do not get married.”

Luckily enough, I was not short of cash. But I totally understand those who run short of enthusiasm about entering a civil marriage. And when it comes to the poor and sick – who cares about them anyway?






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