Great Britain is great because it treats people equally. Great Britain is great because it provides equal opportunities for everyone living in the country. It is those two fundamental principles on which the stability and development of the UK is based.
I arrived in the UK in January 2001. After a year-and-a-half of hard work, I set up my own business, which I still run today. It was a good time to work and save money. Like many Bulgarians, I used to work in construction, catering, maintenance and other sectors with huge demand.
Most Bulgarians still work as builders and cleaners in Britain despite often having an education at home. They consider it just the beginning of their careers, and some of those who have been here longer achieve qualifications and become better-paid professionals. Many others start their own businesses.
When Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, some Bulgarians in the UK changed jobs because their education and diplomas became recognised in the UK. Bulgarian students graduated in the UK and started new careers, from management to hospitality, education to health.
Most Bulgarians coming to the UK want to create lives here they would like to have in their own country, but is impossible because of the political situation and the daily economic problems people who live there are facing.
There was a time when Bulgarian workers in the UK were highly valued and respected because of their hard work, regardless of where they came from. Sadly, this era came to an end with the setting up of the UK Independence Party and the anti-Romanian and Bulgarian campaign of its leader, Nigel Farage. In the years since, we have seen a widespread media campaign against Bulgarians and Romanians, which has completely changed the perception that British citizens have of us. David Cameron and his government seems to have adopted this UKIP trend of blaming somebody else for their own mistakes and lack of adequate measures to rule the country.
As a result, the life of Bulgarians in the UK has changed. Bulgarian workers have started to face problems in their workplaces, including racism, mistreatment and discrimination. New work applicants have begun to face previously unknown difficulties, including being rejected from work once their employers found out where they are from.
Bulgarians have faced humiliation in all aspects in their life in the UK – on the street, in their private and social lives. There are numerous examples of this: recently, government-operated job centres refused to issue National Insurance numbers for many Bulgarians without giving a clear explanation or reason. More than 7,500 Bulgarian and Romanian students had their finance arrangements reviewed recently over allegations of fraud.
Because of this, I feel bad being a Bulgarian in the UK. Every day, I read the newspapers and I watch on TV how bad we Bulgarians are. How we are coming to the UK to steal British jobs. How we are coming here only to claim benefits and to ruin the country. The media claims that the Bulgarians coming to the UK are a gang of criminals and scammers who want to destroy Britain. This message has clearly affected the Bulgarian community in the UK – we have become a scapegoat for Britain's political struggles and the failure to tackle crucial economic issues.
I am heartbroken. My faith in the greatness of Britain has broken with all these lies. Where are the facts? How can you blame such a small community, composed mainly of builders and cleaners, who work hard every day and pay taxes to help support wealth for Britain and British?
We have been used as an excuse for the poor condition of the state by politicians greedy for power. We have been abused by sensation-seeking and sales-hungry newspapers. We have been discriminated at our workplaces and in our everyday lives.
For those of you who do not know many Bulgarians, I am proud to say that we are very hard-working people looking for an opportunity to show our skills and prove our potential. As EU citizens, some of us decided to take this opportunity in the UK, and I cannot see anything wrong with that. The UK is a great country and we are happy to live, work and develop here.
To all newcomers from Bulgaria, I will say this: the UK is a great place with great opportunities. If you decide to live and to work in the UK, you have to be ready for that. You have to follow the rules and obey the law of this country and to respect it. Because every UK citizen has many rights, but many obligations, too.
As for me, I am going to stay, work and create wealth in the UK. I am going to prove that our accusers are wrong. I am going to try to forget about my bad feelings, because I had a great time in the UK and I still do. This is a rough patch, but I feel sure that Britain will eventually see sense. We do not have to be the same, but we live together and we chase the same goals – progress and development. We are not the same, but we are one.
Emil Rusanov is a London-based businessman and the editor of Bulgarian-language newspaper Budilnik.