You probably have heard that Bulgarians are the gloomiest nation on Earth. In 2010, The Economist even ran an article titled "The rich, the poor and the Bulgarians". This may well be true, but there is a particular segment of the Bulgarian society that does not fit the mould at all - the Bulgarian entrepreneurs. They are unabashedly satisfied with their life, regard work as a means to reveal their talents rather than to only earn money, and do their job out of conviction, not because they have to.
So, who are the people with whom you might happen to do business?
According to a research conducted by the Bulgarian Sociological Association as part of the European values survey in 2008*, Bulgarian people who describe themselves as entrepreneur-minded are a pretty different type of folk than your average Bulgarian. This applies to almost every aspect of their life. Let's start with their attitude towards work and life.
Not afraid of change
It is a universally shared belief among Bulgarians that labor is a virtue. Yet, while the average Bulgarian thinks of hard work as a social requirement (maybe a reminiscence of the Socialist times when there was full employment and not working could get you ostracized by the community in the best-case scenario), the ones that describe themselves as entrepreneurs prefer to look at work as a way to develop their talents.
There is a general tendency for people in the entrepreneurial circles to feel more in control of their life and, thus, more satisfied with the outcomes they get out of it. While every second Bulgarian thinks that society and social injustices are to blame for their poor livelihoods and only one in four is willing to put the blame on themselves, the results for the entrepreneurs are diametrically the opposite. It is even more telling that not a single entrepreneur had responded that bad luck is the root of their misfortune.
According to the survey, people who call themselves entrepreneurs are not that afraid of losing something - while you can see many Bulgarians lament the loss of their national identity and culture to "twisted" Western liberal values or the defeat of their political party, entrepreneurially-minded people are 10% less likely to fear those. This makes them more open to the world than the rest - they don't fear foreign influences as much as the rest, neither are they afraid of the unknown and the uncertain.
On the right on the political/economic compass
This makes entrepreneurs the main supporters of political reform and democracy in the country. They want to have a greater say in the decision-making of the government and wish the rule of law was implemented better. One can easily imagine why people like them would prefer a just state that would not allow thugs claiming their hard-earned business - something that is, unfortunately, not an unknown practice in Bulgaria.
What is more, they are quite wary of the idea of state interference in the economy. They stand adamantly against government regulations in business affairs, state ownership, and centralized regulation of the labor market or equating salaries. This is why they prefer the political right and center (⅔ of the respondents in the survey) or have simply had enough of the questionable merits of the left-right divisions in Bulgarian politics and prefer a technocratic approach to governance (¾ of respondents preferred this form of rule).
The dark side of business people
But it's not all roses and violets - half of the entrepreneurs who responded in the survey said they prefer authoritarian rulers who can pass these much-needed reforms. Maybe a mid-20th century, Singapore or South Korea-style dictatorship, based on competition and a relatively stable system of law and order is what they really want? An answer that probably explains the current widespread desire for strong hands.
The business-minded people are also more lax in their attitude towards moral norms and social standards. They seem more OK than your average Bulgarian when it comes to smoking marijuana recreationally, free riding on the bus (or when it comes to government regulations) and even taking bribes.
It is easy to understand why moral ambiguity is normalized in a country where rules generally come with many caveats for specific people, but this is a general world trend in the business circles, so don't be too harsh on your entrepreneurial pals. Besides, they grew up in gangster state Bulgaria of the 1990s, when mafia killings and (very) hostile takeovers of businesses were the norm.
So, if you come to Bulgaria for business, you may well consider the above portrait of the average business person. Bear in mind that they are still a relatively tiny minority - only 3% described themselves as such in 2008, although this percentage has definitely doubled or even tripled since then. Yet, you will most probably fall in this bubble, so why not enjoy it and make it mutually beneficial for both sides?
*The data from the new survey will be published next year