From a glimpse of hope to a burning fire - Andrea Venzon

A short account on the creation of Volt in the land of roses, karaoke, and the current EU presidency…

Witnessing the foundation of our Bulgarian chapter has been a transformative experience. I wish more of our non-Bulgarian members could have been part of this 24-hour marathon which brought Volt from being an interesting project to becoming a real political party (as it is already in Germany and Belgium as well!).

At my landing in Sofia, I was greeted by the local team in an impressive, modern airport hall – the first visible sign of the benefits that the European Union brought to one of its most recent Member States. Despite being net beneficiaries of EU transfers, only 55% of Bulgaria supported EU-membership in 2017 (49% in 2016), showing once more the major difficulties for Europe to be positively present in the life of its citizens. Something that we aim to radically change.

After a couple of hours wait, Damian (VP) and Mike (Tech Lead, or as he prefers “Director of Technologies”) joined me and together we ventured into this warm & welcoming city, without knowing that we were set to participate in the biggest Volt “display of force” so far. Over dinner we were greeted by – among others - Nastimir Ananiev, the new elected president of Volt Bulgaria and driving force behind the impressive growth of the chapter, Boris Borissov, deputy leader and key brickstone of the European team, where he coordinates our fundraising effort, and Zlatimira Colova, restless factotum from Brussels to Sofia, and the person that brought Nastimir to Volt. A good night of sleep recharged our battery for the next day.

That feeling of “something great is happening here”

Arriving at the venue, we understood that the day was going to be special. Hundreds of people were flocking in from every corner of the country (and not only – one member came from Atlanta, USA!). Still predominantly young, the local Volters represented well the full spectrum of society thanks to the great work of the local team in involving existing “networks”, such as civic association, sports union, and like-minded activists. From experienced civic leaders from the countryside, to the 18-year old millennials from the capital, Volt Bulgaria has it all!

After registering the 500-strong founding members (!!), the event was opened by a band of traditional Bulgarian musicians performing the Ode to Joy – which was really touching. Things like this fully represent our work in Volt: bringing Europe to our communities, being united in diversity. After that, I had the chance to share a few thoughts in the plenary (and Damian was not happy that I did not tuck my shirt in!) – these are the key messages that I tried to deliver:

  • THE SPIRIT BEHIND ALL OF THIS: This is Europe, and Europe is here. As all the posters were reminding every guest, and as Damian also highlighted in his speech, we are embodying the true spirit we advocate for: a more united Europe, as a family of diverse people that have one shared vision and direction for Europe.
  • “WOW” FOR VOLT BULGARIA, AND NOT ONLY: Six months ago, I was meeting Nastimir in an Italian restaurant in Brussels for the first time in my life. Over a tiramisu we discussed the potentiality of Volt in Bulgaria. Today, Volt Bulgaria is set to become the shining star of the Volt galaxy – source of best practices and inspiration for all of us! In the span of one year, Volt has gathered thousands of supporters, incorporated three parties, and is present in 25 European countries. This is an impressive achievement, and we should never forget it. Without famous names or funds, we managed to pull off an impressive infrastructure – congrats to all Volters, from Lisbon to Warsaw, from Copenhagen to La Valletta!
  • 3 KEY MESSAGES FOR ALL VOLTERS: Addressing directly the founding members of Volt Bulgaria (and now all the readers), I asked them to focus on three actions as promoters of this movement:

1) Inspire people, to take up responsibility and change the society we live in,

2) Solve real issues, because we are doing politics to help solve problems that affect life of citizens, not to sit on a leather chair, and

3) Lead by example, because if we want to change the way politics is done we have to live up to our own, high standards!

After my intervention, Damian gave an overview on the run up to the elections and a personal take on why he was extremely happy to be there. All the members had then the chance to vote on the statute and decided to elect Nastimir as their President! After that, Volt Bulgaria became a reality and started the process to be recognized as a political party under Bulgarian law!

The day continued with same working sessions, great chats, and an outstanding karaoke-night with the core team (where I did not live up to the expectations, because I restrained to enter into a singing competition with a Neapolitan guy on the notes of “Azzurro”).

What can we all learn from Volt Bulgaria?

As you might have understood, the day has been memorable. What are the learnings that every Volter can take from our Bulgarian colleagues?

  • GO ALL-IN: most of the people that created Volt Bulgaria and organized this huge event are workers and students, often with family obligations too. However, they sacrificed their free time to a mission, the one of making sure that Volt will stand a real chance in changing a country that still nowadays has a minimum income of around €260/month and many structural challenges. I am sure that many of us are doing a lot already, but this is a real example of a team that went “all-in” for what they believe in.
  • BE PROFESSIONAL, BE A TEAM: in addition, during my quick interaction with the local members I realized that each one of them seemed to rely a lot on the work of the others – in short, they count on each other as in a real professional environment. As volunteers, we often face time constraints and difficult moments. The lesson that we can learn here is the following: be extremely professional in our duties, communicating upfront what we can do or not do for our teams in our limited time. This will bring more efficiency and a better team spirit too – did you know that the Bulgarians team members are jointly sponsoring one of their members (which name was randomly selected) to come to our Paris Retreat?

  • WORK HARD, CELEBRATE EVEN HARDER: while being efficient and professional, a consistent amount of time in the week-end was dedicated to celebrate the achievements of the team, whether on the stage of the Assembly or of the Karaoke bar. It is extremely important that we always remember that everything we accomplish at Volt is built upon the good will and dedication of outstanding volunteers and could not be done if we were not a group of visionaries working for a better future. Meet up, discuss, and celebrate – I am personally enjoying getting to know incredible people in every corner of Europe with this project, and I hope that’s the same for you!