Post-1989 Shopping Tourism to Turkey as Prologue of Bulgaria’s Return to Europe

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New Perspectives on Turkey

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Tourism -- Bulgaria, Post-communism -- Bulgaria, Bulgaria -- Economic conditions -- 1989-


The shift to a market economy is a more complex story than the standard “transition” narrative implies. Shopping tourism is a socio-cultural phenomenon that illuminates the shifting relationship between the state, its citizenry, and the market. Its existence is predetermined by a weak state and incorporation into a global economy. Shopping tourism offers a link between the socialist economy of shortage and the post-socialist informal economy. It has opened a survival niche for the unemployed and constitutes a school of entrepreneurship and consumer practices. The discourses surrounding shopping tourism have reflected anxieties about incorporation, social reordering, and blatant consumerism; recreational tourism mirrors their normalization. The Bulgarian suitcase trade to Turkey also elucidates the interplay between new consumerism and old nationalism and their insertion into the debates about Bulgaria's ideological reorientation. Bulgarian Europeanness in the 1990s was constructed against two principal foils—the socialist past and the Ottoman legacy. Ironically, the stereotypical East was constructed as the stereotypical West in a way in which market and ideological categories intermingle and foreshadow a Bulgarian consumerist “Return to Europe.” To elaborate these arguments, the article draws on an analysis of newspaper ads, statistical data, travel guides, internet travelogues, and interviews.


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