“BASIC INCOME is the life-saving boat of a sinking global economy.” – Interview with Andrey “Boby” Angelov – Content Creator for the Bulgarian Facebook page about the European Citizens’ Initiative for Unconditional Basic Income.
Interview by Dorotea Mar took place on the 17.01.2014, after the very successful campaign by Bulgaria Basic Income team.
Dorotea: “What is UBI and what is ECI UBI – how would you explain it to someone who has never heard about it?”
Boby: “UBI stands for “Unconditional Basic Income” and it is an economical measure that is deeply rooted in “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. It is an unconditional monthly cash transfer that is used as a preventive and emancipatory or in other words stimulating measure for the betterment of society and against poverty. It elevates people from extreme poverty and gives them the chance to participate in society as equal human beings. When you receive an Unconditional Basic Income you receive the freedom to live your life in a more meaningful way. ECI stands for “European Citizens’ Initiative” and is the direct democracy tool of the European Union. If an Initiative under the ECI regulation meet a certain amount of signatures from certain amount of Member States it forces the European Commision to propose a legal act in an area where the Member States have conferred powers onto the EU level. So ECI for UBI is: “European Citizens’ Initiative for Unconditional Basic Income” and it is asking the European Commission, to encourage cooperation between the Member States aiming to explore the Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) as a tool to improve their respective social security systems.”
Dorotea: “How did you get involved in the UBI initiative? How did it all started for you and what made you join the Initiative?”
Boby: “Well I think I saw the bulgarian page on Facebook somewhere around june 2013 and I did a research on the term “basic income”. I found the BIEN site and pretty much read all the available info. I was amazed that I haven’t heard anything about this topic – not only from the mainstream media or the political circles but not even from the academic world and the so called “economists”. I was hooked and I started lurking for more. I have always asked myself how did we come to be in such an economical disaster and no one could have predicted it or took preventive measures. So this idea sounded too logical not to be tested and that is if you do not consider that poor people are retarded or something which I don’t – so I have found out that it was tested and the questions just got more: Why is this not talked about? Why there is not even a hint from the media, the political circles or the academics in Bulgaria? We are the poorest country in the EU and topics like this one should make headlines all the time but I guess the only answer I came across was that they are way too comfortable in their chairs. I dare them to live off the 125 Euros per month that I live off and see how this will affect their opinion about people, the world, their place in it and basic income. Those 125 Euros are not a social welfare aid – it’s a wage of a janitor – a position for a Bachelor in Industrial Management. So consider all the job offers a 31 year old engineer-manager has in a relatively big city in Bulgaria. And this is not just me – all statistics are showing an increase in youth unemployment and growing percent of unemployed people but the things in reality are even worse because the way unemployment is measured is wrong and does not provide data for those who are not registered as unemployed but are unemployed or working in the grey economy.
I signed the Initiative and wrote a message to the bulgarian page and this is how I met Tsvetelina Kalyasheva and Prem Sajeev from “The Blue Bird Foundation” who have founded it. We started working together and because I have little more experience in the administration of pages as I have created other pages like “Occupy Ruse” and “Bulgaria Loves Macedonia” most of the Facebook activity was on my shoulders. They had done an amazing job on the translations of all the important documents and the site promoting the Initiative so my job was only to add to that. I know little bit of Photoshop too so they took more responsibility in offline actions and contacts.”
Dorotea: “Why do you support the UBI initiative, what values are important for you in the initiative? Why the UBI makes sense to you and how it could improve the quality of living?”
Boby: “Well I come from the poorest country in the EU so the suffering and the misery around here have played their roles in my search for solutions. Those were the main reasons that have started me to think about our current way of dealing with these issues and to search for the alternative ways because the current ones are just not working. UBI makes sense because everyone has already benefited from this form of income. What do I mean by that – everyone was once a child, a teenager that was dependant on someone else and not a single person died from laziness during those times. So the argument that people will stop doing things is just a hypocrisy and a way of stating a disbelief in ones own capabilities and nothing more. The UBI makes more sense from a very deep down psychological standpoint: It is emancipatory – this means it is encouraging and uplifting which are both connected to the personal relationships between us all and those on the other hand are the real foundations of a more equal and just society. An uplifted individual which has the ability to sustain himself focuses on the betterment of those around him. Imagine a society full of those kind of individuals which have the economic security and the chance to focus on the really important things other than pure survival. How wonderful would this be combined with a more meaningful education and relationships between one another? In my opinion it will definitely lead to a new Renaissance and new horizons for the society but above all – BASIC INCOME is the life-saving boat of a sinking global economy. And this is possible but our inherited way of dealing with issues like poverty is just an obsolete way in a global EGOnomy in which stratification led to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.
After the economic crisis and the way we “dealt” with it, it was clear to me that a more radical approach is necessary if we do not want to wake up in a place from an Orwellian novel. For me personally all those movements “The Indignados”, “The Occupy Wall street” movement etc. represent the will of the people for a more equal and just society and Unconditional Basic Income for all is not such a crazy idea in a world where the richest 300 hundred people own as much as the poorest 3 billion.”
Dorotea: “How successful the initiative was in your opinion? And how did Bulgaria reached it’s goal so quickly at the last moment?”
Boby: “I think it made a huge impact considering the people it has reached. I’ve never thought that persuading someone to take an unconditional income would be such a hard thing to do but those 8 months really made me think otherwise. And again for me personally those arguments against UBI are just hypocrisy from people (and this is an observation) bragging night and day about the poor state of social welfare, the economy, the incompetent government and politicians and when you present them with an alternative approach all hell breaks loose and they fall in denial. Those are just and I say this again in my opinion people that are just too comfortable, too content to exit their comfort zones and really make a difference.
Here in Bulgaria something amazing happened right at the end of the Initiative that we the team still cannot believe it. The most logical explanation is the battle that Tsvetelina and Prem won after a three months of negotiations with one of the trade unions which backed the Initiative a week or something before the end. Maybe the planted seeds of the images with lots of popular hashtags and even spamming other popular pages with the statistics on Facebook also added to the huge increase. The amazing adventure which took over 8 months and I can remember coming back home from a 12 hour shift doing those images with the number of signatures collected almost falling asleep started to head in a hole another direction. We were doing translations from all sorts of places: The list Robin Ketelaars created helped a lot and the BIEN site too. I have found really good articles about UBI in the bulgarian version of “Le Monde Diplomatique”. The character of Tsvetelina and the persuading power of Prem really made the difference. I knew that Tsvetelina had meetings and interviews with Klaus Sambor and Dr. Guy Standing shown on television and broadcasted by radio but when I heard that a trade union has backed us up – I knew it was big! After the help from the trade union “CITUB” and their president Mr. Plamen Dimitrov, “The Bulgarian National Radio”, “The European Anti-poverty network” and their bulgarian representatives, “The Bulgarian Association of the Economists” and their president Prof. Krastio Petkov the signatures started flowing. This is what happened from my perspective – people just needed someone they know, someone they have heard of and a trade union leader did the job. Now my personal opinion is that all of the above organizations should inform citizens of these kind of economical measures and not the other way around but that is just me – and I am always like that. The TV appearances of Klaus and Tsvetelina the translations of Guy Standing’s amazing works, the short video promoting the Initiative, the translated and shared many times german documentary about Basic Income – all those made the difference but I think the most great impact goes for all those activists and people on Facebook and other social media that continuously created new viral images, tweeted and shared again and again, article after article, interview after interview, image after image.”
Dorotea: “What will be the next steps? How do you think we should use the momentum of UBI initiative?”
Boby: “It’s hard to say but I hope those in power take this idea very seriously. We are a community now that will continue to grow in numbers with only one thing on our mind: Unconditional Basic Income. The application of the idea, means testing the different financing approaches, spreading what we know to all those that will be affected the most by this adequate solution to social welfare and equality. Next step is the continuation of this process with all means necessary.”
Dorotea: “What do you think was done well what we have learned and what we could improve in the next approaches?”
Done well?! Well from my perspective it was a complete chaos 🙂 But chaos is good – it’s fair and order originates from it. Also chaos means that this intuitive cooperation between the citizens of so much different countries is honest, pure and self-evolving. It has bred so much fun and creativity so much new friendships and connections that it would be a shame to leave it unfinished. I can say this as a bulgarian: We have to take it to the streets! The people that would be most affected by this radical new approach cannot see a picture on the Internet or watch a television show – we need to take it to the street as united citizens under the most honorable of all initiatives: the human dignitary and the human rights! All countries have their democratic means of pushing the idea in the political life of their representatives and making it the most hot topic out there. So I wish to all the activists for UBI good luck and let the next round begin!
Dorotea: “What are the things that could help the concept of basic income to be better understood by society?”
I think examples – the pilot projects and their results. Mainstream media and the political world should start to pay attention to those and start to debate around this subject more. We need the idea to be taken seriously but in my opinion for now we should continue gathering strength in numbers through social media and offline action. Of course a lot of short quotes on images do a pretty good job there 🙂 Images with quotes are great – it’s a meme world out there and people have the capability to do their own research based only on few keywords. But to be really successful we need to take the word out on the street. The amazing work of the “Basic Income Earth Network” – BIEN should reach as much people possible because those are the people that really do the work on the idea of basic income for everyone.
Dorotea: “What does it all mean to you and what are your hopes for the future?”
For me this Initiative was a starting point for something that I hope to be able to see some day in our global society: a dynamic equilibrium. I am a big fan of Jacque Fresco’s work and I think a Resource Based Economy is the goal worth striving for. This is why sometimes I feel really discouraged when people are just not capable to see that UBI is not such a radical idea after all and in fact just the opposite – the radical idea is to abolish money from society at all. Why I suggest giving money to all the people then? Well it’s easy – in these times only this solution will elevate enough people to be able to grasp the ideas behind The Venus Project and make it a reality.
Dorotea is part of Unconditional Basic Income Portuguese Team
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