When Bishop Michael Bruce Curry spoke these words at Harry and Meghan’s wedding, I was in a good place: “Imagine this tired old world when love is the way.” That same day, I had attended a wedding in the Bulgarian City of Varna, situated on the Black Sea Coast. The international group of people gathered there unanimously celebrated love. It can transcend borders and build bridges.
Both of these things are sorely needed in Europe, so I hope that Harry and Meghan’s fairytale wedding (as well as the one my Dutch-Bulgarian friends had) can serve as inspiration for the European project. It’s not doing so well, after all: there is little interest in future enlargement, the Hungarian nationalist Orbán is still very much in power, and a peculiar coalition in Italy has made plans for 100 billion euros, but doesn’t actually have this money, causing them to clash with the European partners.
For a minute, the Brits didn’t have to worry about Brexit, and existed in a state of pure bliss. The royal couple looked smitten, Oprah Winfrey was there, and Bishop Curry’s speech was titled ‘The Power of Love.’ Following in Martin Luther King’s footsteps, he urged the guests to imagine the seemingly impossible. “Imagine our neighborhoods and communities when love is the way. Imagine our governments and countries when love is the way.”
That’s no easy task for Bulgaria: As of 2018, the country is the poorest member of the European Union. It’s in 100th place (out of 156) in the World Happiness Report, making the Bulgarians slightly happier than the Nepalese, but slightly unhappier than the Cameroonese. Their European marriage does seem to have been beneficial. The standard of living measured in purchasing power has increased from 34 percent of the European average in 2007 to 53 percent in 2016. Along with Togo and Latvia, they have experienced the biggest growth in happiness. That may sound like ‘the power of love,’ but the country isn’t feeling all that lovey-dovey yet.
The Bulgarians may be suffering from the fact that they once performed much better. About 7,000 years ago, the first European civilization developed on Bulgarian grounds. Preceding Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus Valley, gold was mined and processed there. Although European Movement The Netherlands (Europese Beweging Nederland) celebrated the 70 year anniversary of The Congress of Europe on May 23rd and 24th – considered by many to be the first ‘federal moment’ in European history – the European project is a big question mark. At The Western Balkans Summit in May, Albanian leader Edi Rama spoke the following words: “We lived for 50 years with a red horizon which we never reached. We don’t want to live with a blue horizon now.”
Love is a two-way street, so a real marriage between the EU and Albania or Macedonia will sadly have to wait for a while. In the meantime, definitely visit Varna.
An earlier version of this article appeared on Studio Zeitgeist.