A woman walks by communist graffiti in Bulgaria's capital Sofia, on October 4th, 2014. This photo is from a project that aims to gauge the state and effect of democracy in the former Soviet satellite nation Bulgaria, two and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting one-size-fits-all Western values to a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest, most corrupt nations in the European Union, its post-1989 hopes wilted by political instability, high crime rates and skyrocketing inflation. While Bulgarians can now freely vote and protest without much threat to their freedom, their new oppressor is corruption - which is at a 15 year high, across political and civil sectors alike. The ennui is so casually etched on the passerby's face that it becomes routine - one that fits in sadly well against a startling backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and a vast population decline. Despite what democracy has changed in Bulgaria, the daily struggles of its populace remain largely untouched, trapped in a post-communist time capsule. This project was supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photo by: Yana PaskovaCopyright © Yana Paskova 2014
A woman walks by graffiti of a fist in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, Oct. 4, 2014. The fist came to symbolize civic protests against political corruption in 2013. It has been crossed off by a second layer of graffiti, with an adjacent sign that reads, 'Communism, but not a Colony,' in likely reference to what some political parties decry as Westernization of interests in the country.Yana Paskova
A woman walks by communist graffiti in Bulgaria's capital Sofia, on October 4th, 2014. This photo is from a project that aims to gauge the state and effect of democracy in the former Soviet satellite nation Bulgaria, two and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting one-size-fits-all Western values to a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest, most corrupt nations in the European Union, its post-1989 hopes wilted by political instability, high crime rates and skyrocketing inflation. While Bulgarians can now freely vote and protest without much threat to their freedom, their new oppressor is corruption - which is at a 15 year high, across political and civil sectors alike. The ennui is so casually etched on the passerby's face that it becomes routine - one that fits in sadly well against a startling backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and a vast population decline. Despite what democracy has changed in Bulgaria, the daily struggles of its populace remain largely untouched, trapped in a post-communist time capsule. This project was supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photo by: Yana PaskovaCopyright © Yana Paskova 2014
A donkey-drawn carriage traverses Ovcha Kupel, a row of ubiquitous, poorly-maintained apartment complexes in Bulgaria's capital Sofia, on October 3rd, 2014. "Ovcha Kupel" translates to "Sheep's Baptismal Vessel," from the legend that an 1858 earthquake in the region cracked open the earth to healing mineral water, curing farmers' sick sheep grazing on nearby pastures. This photo is from a project that aims to gauge the state and effect of democracy in the former Soviet satellite nation Bulgaria, two and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting one-size-fits-all Western values to a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest, most corrupt nations in the European Union, its post-1989 hopes wilted by political instability, high crime rates and skyrocketing inflation. While Bulgarians can now freely vote and protest without much threat to their freedom, their new oppressor is corruption - which is at a 15 year high, across political and civil sectors alike. The ennui is so casually etched on the passerby's face that it becomes routine - one that fits in sadly well against a startling backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and a vast population decline. Despite what democracy has changed in Bulgaria, the daily struggles of its populace remain largely untouched, trapped in a post-communist time capsule.This project was supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photo by: Yana PaskovaCopyright © Yana Paskova 2014
Unfinished road construction in Bulgaria's capital, Sofia on October 5th, 2014. The European Union intermittently cuts off financial aid to the country when faced with mounting evidence of misappropriated funds, meant for construction and renovation. A recent study by Study for Democracy, a Sofia-based think tank, labeled the countryís level of corruption at its highest in 15 years, across the civil and political sectors. This photo is from a project that aims to gauge the state and effect of democracy in the former Soviet satellite nation Bulgaria, two and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting one-size-fits-all Western values to a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest, most corrupt nations in the European Union, its post-1989 hopes wilted by political instability, high crime rates and skyrocketing inflation. While Bulgarians can now freely vote and protest without much threat to their freedom, their new oppressor is corruption - which is at a 15 year high, across political and civil sectors alike. The ennui is so casually etched on the passerby's face that it becomes routine - one that fits in sadly well against a startling backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and a vast population decline. Despite what democracy has changed in Bulgaria, the daily struggles of its populace remain largely untouched, trapped in a post-communist time capsule.This project was supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photo by: Yana PaskovaCopyright © Yana Paskova 2014
Hair dresser Pavlinka Paskova, 59, cuts the hair of Stanko Petrov Vulchev, 80, in Vidin, Bulgaria, on October 30th, 2014. Paskova says she has very few customers in this town of waning population: "There's little hope of prosperity for the young here - they've all emigrated."Bulgaria has the most extreme population decline in the world ó much due to post-1989 emigration, high death rates and low birth rates. There are so few people of child-bearing age in the nation that population statistics project a 30-percent decrease by 2060, from 7.2 million to just over 5 million. In other words,†Bulgariaís population declines by 164 people a day, or 60,000 people a year ó 60 percent of them aged over 65.This photo is from a project that aims to gauge the state and effect of democracy in the former Soviet satellite nation Bulgaria, two and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting one-size-fits-all Western values to a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest, most corrupt nations in the European Union, its post-1989 hopes wilted by political instability, high crime rates and skyrocketing inflation. While Bulgarians can now freely vote and protest without much threat to their freedom, their new oppressor is corruption - which is at a 15 year high, across political and civil sectors alike. The ennui is so casually etched on the passerby's face that it becomes routine - one that fits in sadly well against a startling backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and a vast population decline. Despite what democracy has changed in Bulgaria, the daily struggles of its populace remain largely untouched, trapped in a post-communist time capsule.This project was supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photo by: Yana PaskovaCopyright © Yana Paskova 2014
Protestors against bank KTB (Corporate Commercial Bank) gather around Grozdan Karadjov (partially seen on far left,) a politician from the center-right political coalition Reformatorski Blok (Reformist Bloc,) in front of the Bulgarian National Assembly in Bulgaria's capital Sofia, on November 6th, 2014. KTB closed in June, its customers no longer able to access their money, as the majority owner Tsvetan Vasilev was indicted for corporate embezzlement in absentia and placed on Interpol's and Schengen's most wanted lists. Bulgaria's central bank subsequently discovered a 4.22 billon leva ($2.71 billion USD) hole in KTB's accounts, which is much higher than Bulgaria's debt ceiling. This is the nation's worst banking crisis in two decades. This photo is from a project that aims to gauge the state and effect of democracy in the former Soviet satellite nation Bulgaria, two and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting one-size-fits-all Western values to a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest, most corrupt nations in the European Union, its post-1989 hopes wilted by political instability, high crime rates and skyrocketing inflation. While Bulgarians can now freely vote and protest without much threat to their freedom, their new oppressor is corruption - which is at a 15 year high, across political and civil sectors alike. The ennui is so casually etched on the passerby's face that it becomes routine - one that fits in sadly well against a startling backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and a vast population decline. Despite what democracy has changed in Bulgaria, the daily struggles of its populace remain largely untouched, trapped in a post-communist time capsule.This project was supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photo by: Yana PaskovaCopyright © Yana Paskova 2014
A woman sells geese from the trunk of her car, at an outdoor market in Vidin, Bulgaria on October 18th, 2014. Many Bulgarians sell personal belongings, fruit and vegetables grown at home, or resell goods as a supplement to their primary earnings. This photo is from a project that aims to gauge the state and effect of democracy in the former Soviet satellite nation Bulgaria, two and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting one-size-fits-all Western values to a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest, most corrupt nations in the European Union, its post-1989 hopes wilted by political instability, high crime rates and skyrocketing inflation. While Bulgarians can now freely vote and protest without much threat to their freedom, their new oppressor is corruption - which is at a 15 year high, across political and civil sectors alike. The ennui is so casually etched on the passerby's face that it becomes routine - one that fits in sadly well against a startling backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and a vast population decline. Despite what democracy has changed in Bulgaria, the daily struggles of its populace remain largely untouched, trapped in a post-communist time capsule.This project was supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photo by: Yana PaskovaCopyright © Yana Paskova 2014
Boys rest under a poster for Bulgaria's Socialist party on a rusty bus stop on October 17th, 2014, in Rabrovo - the only village with a hospital near Kanitz, a nearly abandoned village of 6. Bulgaria has the most extreme population decline in the world ó much due to post-1989 emigration, high death rates and low birth rates. There are so few people of child-bearing age in the nation that population statistics project a 30-percent decrease by 2060, from 7.2 million to just over 5 million. In other words,†Bulgariaís population declines by 164 people a day, or 60,000 people a year ó 60 percent of them aged over 65.This photo is from a project that aims to gauge the state and effect of democracy in the former Soviet satellite nation Bulgaria, two and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting one-size-fits-all Western values to a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest, most corrupt nations in the European Union, its post-1989 hopes wilted by political instability, high crime rates and skyrocketing inflation. While Bulgarians can now freely vote and protest without much threat to their freedom, their new oppressor is corruption - which is at a 15 year high, across political and civil sectors alike. The ennui is so casually etched on the passerby's face that it becomes routine - one that fits in sadly well against a startling backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and a vast population decline. Despite what democracy has changed in Bulgaria, the daily struggles of its populace remain largely untouched, trapped in a post-communist time capsule.This project was supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photo by: Yana PaskovaCopyright © Yana Paskova 2014
Communist nostalgia is still very much alive in Bulgaria. Tato, a bar in Sofia (currently closed due to the death of its owner,) is decorated with portraits of Bulgarian Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov (upper center,) in Bulgaria's capital Sofia, on November 6th, 2014. His nickname and bar's namesake "Tato" is a play on the word "dad" in Bulgarian. Zhivkov was the head of state of the People's Republic of Bulgaria from March 4, 1954 until the day after the fall of the Berlin Wall, November 10, 1989, when he resigned under political pressure over the country's worsening economy and public unrest. This photo is from a project that aims to gauge the state and effect of democracy in the former Soviet satellite nation Bulgaria, two and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting one-size-fits-all Western values to a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest, most corrupt nations in the European Union, its post-1989 hopes wilted by political instability, high crime rates and skyrocketing inflation. While Bulgarians can now freely vote and protest without much threat to their freedom, their new oppressor is corruption - which is at a 15 year high, across political and civil sectors alike. The ennui is so casually etched on the passerby's face that it becomes routine - one that fits in sadly well against a startling backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and a vast population decline. Despite what democracy has changed in Bulgaria, the daily struggles of its populace remain largely untouched, trapped in a post-communist time capsule.This project was supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photo by: Yana PaskovaCopyright © Yana Paskova 2014
A goat looks out of a window of a crumbling building in Belene on November 10th, 2014. Many women and men (like my grandfather) who didn't belong to the Communist party in the 1950s languished in the gulag-like forced labor camp, an island on the Danube river. Belene still houses prisoners, some for petty theft, some for larger crimes. The section of the island that was once dedicated to imprisoning political dissidents, now in crumbles, is a haunting reminder of the dangers once posed by an independent mind in Eastern Europe. This photo is from a project that aims to gauge the state and effect of democracy in the former Soviet satellite nation Bulgaria, two and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting one-size-fits-all Western values to a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest, most corrupt nations in the European Union, its post-1989 hopes wilted by political instability, high crime rates and skyrocketing inflation. While Bulgarians can now freely vote and protest without much threat to their freedom, their new oppressor is corruption - which is at a 15 year high, across political and civil sectors alike. The ennui is so casually etched on the passerby's face that it becomes routine - one that fits in sadly well against a startling backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and a vast population decline. Despite what democracy has changed in Bulgaria, the daily struggles of its populace remain largely untouched, trapped in a post-communist time capsule.This project was supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photo by: Yana PaskovaCopyright © Yana Paskova 2014
A man imprisoned for vehicular manslaughter in Belene pauses while in the prison chapel, on November 10th, 2014. Many women and men (like my grandfather) who didn't belong to the Communist party in the 1950s languished in the gulag-like forced labor camp, an island on the Danube river. Belene still houses prisoners, some for petty theft, some for larger crimes. The section of the island that was once dedicated to imprisoning political dissidents, now in crumbles, is a haunting reminder of the dangers once posed by an independent mind in Eastern Europe. This photo is from a project that aims to gauge the state and effect of democracy in the former Soviet satellite nation Bulgaria, two and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting one-size-fits-all Western values to a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest, most corrupt nations in the European Union, its post-1989 hopes wilted by political instability, high crime rates and skyrocketing inflation. While Bulgarians can now freely vote and protest without much threat to their freedom, their new oppressor is corruption - which is at a 15 year high, across political and civil sectors alike. The ennui is so casually etched on the passerby's face that it becomes routine - one that fits in sadly well against a startling backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and a vast population decline. Despite what democracy has changed in Bulgaria, the daily struggles of its populace remain largely untouched, trapped in a post-communist time capsule.This project was supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photo by: Yana PaskovaCopyright © Yana Paskova 2014
Today, October 5th, 2014, is Midterm Elections day in the States - its multi-party ticket an unimaginable reality in autocratic Bulgaria pre-1989. (R-L) Simona Kostova, from Bulgaria's voting commission, watches as a woman prepares to place her vote in the ballot box during Parliamentary elections in the nation's capital, Sofia. Despite a month-long vacillation on the make-up of their political coalitions and their new prime minister - and that only 49% of the population turned up to vote today - party leaders narrowly avoided reelections, with former prime minister and leader of center-right party GERB Boyko Borisov reinstated at the post.This photo is from a project that aims to gauge the state and effect of democracy in the former Soviet satellite nation Bulgaria, two and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting one-size-fits-all Western values to a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest, most corrupt nations in the European Union, its post-1989 hopes wilted by political instability, high crime rates and skyrocketing inflation. While Bulgarians can now freely vote and protest without much threat to their freedom, their new oppressor is corruption - which is at a 15 year high, across political and civil sectors alike. The ennui is so casually etched on the passerby's face that it becomes routine - one that fits in sadly well against a startling backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and a vast population decline. Despite what democracy has changed in Bulgaria, the daily struggles of its populace remain largely untouched, trapped in a post-communist time capsule.This project was supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photo by: Yana PaskovaCopyright © Yana Paskova 2014
A man stands on a rooftop below a handmade electrical grid hanging over a Roma village, as people turn up to vote in October's Parliamentary elections in the nation's capital, Sofia. Today, October 5th, 2014, is also Midterm Elections day in the States - its multi-party ticket an unimaginable reality in autocratic Bulgaria pre-1989. Despite a month-long vacillation on the make-up of their political coalitions and their new prime minister - and that only 49% of the population turned up to vote today - party leaders narrowly avoided reelections, with former prime minister and leader of center-right party GERB Boyko Borisov reinstated at the post.This photo is from a project that aims to gauge the state and effect of democracy in the former Soviet satellite nation Bulgaria, two and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting one-size-fits-all Western values to a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest, most corrupt nations in the European Union, its post-1989 hopes wilted by political instability, high crime rates and skyrocketing inflation. While Bulgarians can now freely vote and protest without much threat to their freedom, their new oppressor is corruption - which is at a 15 year high, across political and civil sectors alike. The ennui is so casually etched on the passerby's face that it becomes routine - one that fits in sadly well against a startling backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and a vast population decline. Despite what democracy has changed in Bulgaria, the daily struggles of its populace remain largely untouched, trapped in a post-communist time capsule.This project was supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photo by: Yana PaskovaCopyright © Yana Paskova 2014
Art during the Communist years was highly sanitized - and artists who chose not to show a utopian view of the country, censored and punished. The post-1989 years of Bulgarian art history renewed creativity of expression in its community - a gift especially to those who sought to express a variety of political ideas, or a non-idealized view of their society.A painting that used to decorate a school during the Communist era now hangs in the hallway of The Factory for Urban Art, seen in Bulgaria's capital Sofia, on November 7th, 2014. The factory is a former wholesale warehouse where artists now rent studios and create, for much lower rates than in the rest of the city. The art collective Destructive Creation - the same which recently spray-painted Sofia's Monument to the Soviet Army in Western superhero outfits - initiated the idea for the factory. This photo is from a project that aims to gauge the state and effect of democracy in the former Soviet satellite nation Bulgaria, two and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting one-size-fits-all Western values to a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest, most corrupt nations in the European Union, its post-1989 hopes wilted by political instability, high crime rates and skyrocketing inflation. While Bulgarians can now freely vote and protest without much threat to their freedom, their new oppressor is corruption - which is at a 15 year high, across political and civil sectors alike. The ennui is so casually etched on the passerby's face that it becomes routine - one that fits in sadly well against a startling backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and a vast population decline. Despite what democracy has changed in Bulgaria, the daily struggles of its populace remain largely untouched, trapped in a post-communist time capsule.This project was supported by a grant
A woman walks her dog by an abandoned building in Vidin, a town of rapidly declining population in Western Bulgaria, on October 22nd, 2014. Bulgaria has the most extreme population decline in the world ó much due to post-1989 emigration, high death rates and low birth rates. There are so few people of child-bearing age in the nation that population statistics project a 30-percent decrease by 2060, from 7.2 million to just over 5 million. In other words,†Bulgariaís population declines by 164 people a day, or 60,000 people a year ó 60 percent of them aged over 65.This photo is from a project that aims to gauge the state and effect of democracy in the former Soviet satellite nation Bulgaria, two and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting one-size-fits-all Western values to a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest, most corrupt nations in the European Union, its post-1989 hopes wilted by political instability, high crime rates and skyrocketing inflation. While Bulgarians can now freely vote and protest without much threat to their freedom, their new oppressor is corruption - which is at a 15 year high, across political and civil sectors alike. The ennui is so casually etched on the passerby's face that it becomes routine - one that fits in sadly well against a startling backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and a vast population decline. Despite what democracy has changed in Bulgaria, the daily struggles of its populace remain largely untouched, trapped in a post-communist time capsule.This project was supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photo by: Yana PaskovaCopyright © Yana Paskova 2014
Kristiyan Stamatov serves drinks at SSSR, a USSR nostalgia restaurant and bar in Bulgaria's capital Sofia, in front of a portrait of Soviet communist leader Joseph Stalin, on October 4th, 2014. Stamatov is wearing a red tie, symbolic of what was once called a "pionerche" (pioneer,) or a Bulgarian student expected to serve the country and Communist party. This photo is from a project that aims to gauge the state and effect of democracy in the former Soviet satellite nation Bulgaria, two and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting one-size-fits-all Western values to a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest, most corrupt nations in the European Union, its post-1989 hopes wilted by political instability, high crime rates and skyrocketing inflation. While Bulgarians can now freely vote and protest without much threat to their freedom, their new oppressor is corruption - which is at a 15 year high, across political and civil sectors alike. The ennui is so casually etched on the passerby's face that it becomes routine - one that fits in sadly well against a startling backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and a vast population decline. Despite what democracy has changed in Bulgaria, the daily struggles of its populace remain largely untouched, trapped in a post-communist time capsule.This project was supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photo by: Yana PaskovaCopyright © Yana Paskova 2014
An advertisement is used as covering for a farmer's stacks of hay, in Belene, on November 10th, 2014.This photo is from a project that aims to gauge the state and effect of democracy in the former Soviet satellite nation Bulgaria, two and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting one-size-fits-all Western values to a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest, most corrupt nations in the European Union, its post-1989 hopes wilted by political instability, high crime rates and skyrocketing inflation. While Bulgarians can now freely vote and protest without much threat to their freedom, their new oppressor is corruption - which is at a 15 year high, across political and civil sectors alike. The ennui is so casually etched on the passerby's face that it becomes routine - one that fits in sadly well against a startling backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and a vast population decline. Despite what democracy has changed in Bulgaria, the daily struggles of its populace remain largely untouched, trapped in a post-communist time capsule.This project was supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photo by: Yana PaskovaCopyright © Yana Paskova 2014
Veselka Vasileva gazes off into space as the TV drones on at a grocery store in Sinagovtsi, a village of rapidly declining population in Bulgaria, on October 22nd, 2014. Bulgaria has the most extreme population decline in the world ó much of it due to post-1989 emigration, high death rates and low birth rates. There are so few people of child-bearing age in the nation that population statistics project a 30-percent decrease by 2060, from 7.2 million to just over 5 million. In other words,†Bulgariaís population declines by 164 people a day, or 60,000 people a year ó 60 percent of them aged over 65.This photo is from a project that aims to gauge the state and effect of democracy in the former Soviet satellite nation Bulgaria, two and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting one-size-fits-all Western values to a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest, most corrupt nations in the European Union, its post-1989 hopes wilted by political instability, high crime rates and skyrocketing inflation. While Bulgarians can now freely vote and protest without much threat to their freedom, their new oppressor is corruption - which is at a 15 year high, across political and civil sectors alike. The ennui is so casually etched on the passerby's face that it becomes routine - one that fits in sadly well against a startling backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and a vast population decline. Despite what democracy has changed in Bulgaria, the daily struggles of its populace remain largely untouched, trapped in a post-communist time capsule.This project was supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photo by: Yana PaskovaCopyright © Yana Paskova 2014
A child leans on a piece of the Berlin Wall on November 9th, 2014, the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall. This piece was gifted to Bulgaria's capital Sofia in 2006. This photo is from a project that aims to gauge the state and effect of democracy in the former Soviet satellite nation Bulgaria, two and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting one-size-fits-all Western values to a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest, most corrupt nations in the European Union, its post-1989 hopes wilted by political instability, high crime rates and skyrocketing inflation. While Bulgarians can now freely vote and protest without much threat to their freedom, their new oppressor is corruption - which is at a 15 year high, across political and civil sectors alike. The ennui is so casually etched on the passerby's face that it becomes routine - one that fits in sadly well against a startling backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and a vast population decline. Despite what democracy has changed in Bulgaria, the daily struggles of its populace remain largely untouched, trapped in a post-communist time capsule.This project was supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photo by: Yana PaskovaCopyright © Yana Paskova 2014
A look through the window of an abandoned school toward Dunavtsi, a town of waning population in Bulgaria, on October 27th, 2014. Bulgaria has the most extreme population decline in the world ó much of it due to post-1989 emigration, high death rates and low birth rates. There are so few people of child-bearing age in the nation that population statistics project a 30-percent decrease by 2060, from 7.2 million to just over 5 million. In other words,†Bulgariaís population declines by 164 people a day, or 60,000 people a year ó 60 percent of them aged over 65.This photo is from a project that aims to gauge the state and effect of democracy in the former Soviet satellite nation Bulgaria, two and a half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of democracy in Bulgaria at age 25 is a cautionary tale about transplanting one-size-fits-all Western values to a nation still undergoing social and economic upheaval. Bulgaria is still one of the poorest, most corrupt nations in the European Union, its post-1989 hopes wilted by political instability, high crime rates and skyrocketing inflation. While Bulgarians can now freely vote and protest without much threat to their freedom, their new oppressor is corruption - which is at a 15 year high, across political and civil sectors alike. The ennui is so casually etched on the passerby's face that it becomes routine - one that fits in sadly well against a startling backdrop of rotting architecture, joblessness, and a vast population decline. Despite what democracy has changed in Bulgaria, the daily struggles of its populace remain largely untouched, trapped in a post-communist time capsule.This project was supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photo by: Yana PaskovaCopyright © Yana Paskova 2014
A woman walks by graffiti of a fist in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, Oct. 4, 2014. The fist came to symbolize civic pr
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Yana Paskova
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Broken Dreams: The Aftermath of 25 Years of Democracy in Bulgaria

Mar 10, 2015

Talking politics has always been a part of Yana Paskova's life. She remembers her family discussing the state of her home country, Bulgaria, on countless occasions during her youth. But the political was also personal: the grandfather had been sent to a political prisoner camp in the 1950s because he didn’t belong to the communist party.

At that time, Bulgaria, known as the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, was part of the Soviet Union’s Eastern Bloc.

“My grandpa spent five years in this camp. He survived and this shaped the rest of his life,” says Paskova, whose own life would also be marked by the event: after the Berlin Wall fell in November of 1989, her family was granted political asylum in the U.S.

Now, 25 years later, the New York-based photographer has turned her lens on her home country to examine its current political standing. “During my yearly trips to reconnect with my family and the homeland, it pained me to note a weariness, hopelessness and ennui, so standard in the Bulgarian passerby that it becomes routine,” says Paskova, who received funding from the Pulitzer Center to finance her work. “Of course, as a Bulgarian that loves her country, I hoped I’d find a bit more hope and a bit more faith in democracy, and find that the country was working better, but, unfortunately, almost every single person I talked to communicated to me a lack of hope in political leadership and democracy.”

This bleak assessment was particularly apparent when Paskova followed a local political activist who had organized a protest. “No one showed up,” she says. “The conversation I had with him was very revealing. We talked about how democracy is a habit that needs to be exercised, but I don’t think many Bulgarians [are encouraged] to do so, especially when they’ve seen so much corruption, even after the fall of communism.”

For a few years, after Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union in 2007, there was hope for positive change. “[Being in the E.U.] has certainly made trading of goods easier, attracted more investors and brought diversity to the country,” but, she adds, Bulgaria is still plagued by “country-wide corruption, which a recent study by the Sofia-based think tank [Center for the Study of Democracy] found to be at its highest in 15 years, across civil and political sectors.”

"Communism didn't die in 1989: it lives in people's minds, surviving political factions and visual remnants across the nation," she says.

And yet, Paskova remains optimistic: “My hope is in those inside and outside of our country who have the patience and passion to continue rekindling Bulgaria’s democracy.”

Yana Paskova is a New York-based Bulgarian freelance photographer.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

Michelle Molloy, who edited this photo essay, is a senior international photo editor at TIME.

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