Brazil and Bulgaria are worlds apart. Bulgaria is a small eastern European nation with a population of 7.2 million and an area of 110,000 square kilometers. Brazil on the other hand is the fifth biggest country in the world with over 8.5 million square kilometers and a population of 190 million.
Bilateral Bulgarian-Brazil trade reached a peak in 2008 of almost US$ 280 million, but plunged 35% with the international financial crisis in 2009 to US$ 121 million. Bulgaria exported US$ 40 million to Brazil and imported US$ 171 million.
However, Bulgarians are closely watching the Brazilian presidential elections (runoff is on Sunday, October 31) because the frontrunner, the PT candidate, Dilma Rousseff, had a Bulgarian father (Petar Rousev, who changed his name when he moved to Brazil).
Interest is so great that the Bulgarian ambassador in Brazil, Paulo Wolowski, said he has lost track of the interviews he has given to radio and television programs about Dilma and Brazil.
“Everybody is very curious about Brazil and the candidate. For Bulgarians, there is no question about her being a Bulgarian,” says the ambassador, explaining that it is a national characteristic to maintain ties with relatives who leave the country even when they lose contact and don’t speak the language anymore, which is the case of Dilma.
In the small town of Gabrovo, where Dilma’s father came from the interest is even more intense.
A journalist, Momchil Indzhov, has become a kind of Bulgaria’s man in Brazil, turning into a specialist on Dilma and Brazil. He has interviewed the candidate three times and written extensively about the campaign. He has also investigated the origins of her Bulgarian family.
Peter Rousev, born in 1900, left Bulgaria for a variety of reasons – among other things, there were political problems (he was a communist) and he was looking for a good job.
He is reported to have left Bulgaria in 1929, and lived in France and Argentina before settling in Belo Horizonte, in the state of Minas Gerais, in southeastern Brazil.
He was a very successful lawyer and worked for the Mannesmann steel company. He died when Dilma was 15. She says that what she remembers about her father is that he always had a book in his hands.
The Rousseff (or Rousev) family in Bulgaria has had some prominent members in the areas of politics and culture. A spokeswoman for the Bulgarian Electoral Commission, Ralitsa Negetsoeva, is a distant cousin of Dilma.
Rayna Negetsoeva is one of the country’s best known writers of children’s stories and is an aunt. Petar Kornazhev, a cousin, was a federal deputy for the Social Democratic Party.