Georgi Toshev says his biggest investment is his address book with phone numbers of Bulgarians in every part of the planet.
Georgi is the first Bulgarian to use TV presenting to connect Bulgarians from all over the world – something that he did for more than eight years with his TV show “The Other Bulgaria”. A journalist in Bulgarian and international media, producer, intellectual, bohemian, Georgi is always on the road and divides his time between Sofia and Paris, where his daughter and her mother live.
How did you come to create “The Other Bulgaria”, Georgi?
Like an unfulfilled immigrant from the mid-1990s, I wanted to answer the question where life could happen as in ‘the dream’ – here – or in “The Other Bulgaria”! With my colleagues we created a television programme that for several years tried to look for the answers from people with different educations, different social environments, experiences, ages, dreams. I had no idea at the time how this project would affect my life today. Not just because I travel and live between different cultures, countries and languages, but because I feel part of one dynamically changing world. I’ve met over 6000 Bulgarians across the globe who have allowed me into to their world, and shared their anxieties, joys and dreams with me. I’m happy that as a television format “The Other Bulgaria” scored much higher than a number of reality shows today. That means it was a programme which was needed. The show gave an impetus to other journalists to inquire about the lives of our compatriots around the world, which means that the efforts of our team were worth it. Let’s not forget that over 2 million Bulgarians live outside Bulgaria, and how many Bulgarians are born around the world is another whole story.
Which people do you keep in your emblematic address book – celebrities or all the people you’ve met?
I keep every meeting in my emotional memory. I do not divide the people into famous and unknown. If I’ve met them, they were important to me. And the address book grew with the years. My book also holds the memories of many foreigners with whom I have come across through life or through work. Among them there are some very popular personalities, valuable people with missions.
Why are you so busy building contacts and telling their stories with inspiration?
Because I believe in communicating, sharing, overcoming borders and prejudices in all spheres, not only geopolitically.
How do you manage to maintain all these contacts and where do you find is the meaning and power of this enormous “world”?In a professional and personal way, one lives in a network of contacts. This is part of the contemporary rhythm of the working man, of the doer. I am a dynamic person and I like the movement, the exchange of ideas, their realisation. I can not imagine life alone. It would be boring. I like to work in a team, preferably with people who are more talented and capable than me.
You’ve travelled to 186 countries, met thousands of Bulgarians – do you remember every single story and are there any that have affected you deeply?
There are many stories – both funny, and moving. One time I met a guy, Ivan, in the Province of Chaco in Mexico. He was born on the ship his parents were sailing on at the beginning of the last century, in search of a better life. He has spent his whole life in Mexico, yet he speaks wonderful Bulgarian, even though he has never actually been in Bulgaria. Yet on the wall in his damp little house there is a huge map of Bulgaria. Every time he glanced at it, his eyes filled with tears. I asked him how can you love something you do not know? And he replied, “With the heart”! This is a story about belonging to one place, language, culture. No flags or patriotic tattoos on the chest, just a sense of belonging.
“The Other Bulgaria” is a symbol of a community in which people with one homeland exist in different geographic locations. Do only successful people live in this other Bulgaria?
Success is something relative that I do not dare explain. It can mean money, social status, professional realisation, family and personal happiness. Perhaps it’s a bit of everything, but for me success is satisfaction, realisation, necessity. People are different. And this is a wonderful thing, because if everyone was beautiful and good, we would not realise that that’s what they actually are …. Success is a sense of being needed – by yourself and others.
What did you acquire and learn in these eight years filled with countless meetings with Bulgarians living all around the world?
They gave me more knowledge about the Bulgarian people, about their spirit, complexes, prejudices, qualities and disadvantages. They taught me not to judge others, but to learn from their successes and failures, to look back at them for the answers to questions that concern me today. I learned empathy. I meet remarkable individuals. They make me a man truly rich of experiences.
Which interviews are you most proud of and which meetings would you like to repeat?
I do not like to repeat anything in my life, even the success. I am impatient and quickly move on to my next dream. I do not sit in one place, intoxicated by success or depressed by failure. The interviews I’ve done before are a document of time, of the environment of one person. They are my reflection as a person and journalist to tell a particular story without the claim to exhaust it. I have good interviews, but I also have less successful ones. Both types of conversations I would not repeat, because they belong to the past. I live in present.
What feelings are you left with you after meetings with celebrities like Sting, Placido Domingo, and after you wrote a book about ABBA?
They are like every human being – they are excited, have strong and weak moments, they love, they get angry. But there is something that distinguishes them from the rest of us – they create music, movies or things that we cannot create, just admire. Talented people have always inspired me.
Few people can withstand your “pace” of life and work. Where do you get it from, this incredible energy?
This is my way of life, my rhythm. Sometimes I suffer from having to keep going and it separates me from many people, some of whom are precious to me, but they have a different rhythm. I love the restlessness of spirit, the lack of prejudices, the willingness to throw yourself into an adventure without being interested in the result.
You defend the idea that young people should be helped in their professional and creative path. Are young Bulgarians around the world our new hope?
I believe that only by helping young people on their way, we have a chance to change this world that we do not always like. I admire young Bulgarians – they have a goal, they are looking for direction and do not give up easily. They also have a self-confidence that is important to succeed.
Before we used the word “emigrant”. Today we are talking about a global world, where everyone has the right to freely choose where to work and live. Do you think Bulgarians around the world continue to feel nostalgia?
Today the world is attainable and despite the attempts of some forces to convince us that United Europe and Schengen are nonsense, I believe in open borders, free travel, and free movement of labour. It is a matter of regulation to achieve a good model of coexistence between different cultures, religions, races. Nostalgia is a personal experience that I wouldn’t allow myself to analyse. Each of us has experienced it, whether traveling or settling permanently somewhere far from our native country. To me, nostalgia is emotion.
In this sense, how do you accept the ideas of the IBA?
It’s great that a platform is being launched to bring together Bulgarian businesses and help people explore, learn and understand how to work together in this global world. I believe in the values declared by its founders and the goals they have set. I hope that it goes on to develop as more than an emotional encounter, and becomes a working platform.