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Dilma Rousseff and Georgi Parvanov

On October 5th, the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, returned to her father’s birthplace – Gabrovo, Bulgaria. Read more about Dilma’s Bulgarian roots in my previous post.

The Bulgarian president Georgi Parvanov held his welcoming speech for Dilma Rousseff in front of the symbol of Gabrovo, the April High-School, where Dilma’s father, Petar (Pedro) Rousseff had studied as a child. While walking around the school earlier, the two presidents had spontaneously decided to set up a Portuguese class there, as well as to encourage the study of Bulgarian in Brazil. Dilma’s visit, according to Parvanov, was one step further towards bringing our nations closer.

Dilma Rousseff's Family Tree at the Gabrovo museum

Mrs. Rousseff’s speech in front of the April School startled the citizens of Gabrovo with its warmth and wholeheartedness: she shared that this day was one of the most emotional in her life, comparing it to the birth of her child and grandchild and her election as president, because she was fulfilling her father’s dream of one day returning to Bulgaria. She said, “Part of Bulgaria lives in Brazil in the face of her President.” Rousseff also spoke of creating a new world of tolerance where differences in religion, culture, and ethnicity do not matter.

In Gabrovo, Dilma personally met with the relatives of her father, Petar Rousseff. She visited a museum exhibition called “The Bulgarian Roots of Dilma Rousseff” where she shed tears at the sight of her Bulgarian family tree, which dates back to 1730. She was also very impressed by the portrait of her aunt whom Dilma is named after.

Dilma Rousseff's note in the visitor's book at the Gabrovo museum

The presidential visit was indeed as emotional for Dilma as it was for the people of Gabrovo, who were completely won over by the Brazilian head’s sincerity and humanity.

I  am very impressed that one of the world’s most influential leaders took the time to pay respect to her father’s roots and to honor his people. I find it fascinating that the relationship between Petar Rousseff and Bulgaria was so strong (even after he had to flee the country) that it transferred to Dilma. To me this is a striking example of the powerful link between the emigrant and his motherland and of the burning nostalgia for home that can transcend even generations.  

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Dilma Rousseff is the newly elected President of Brazil

Happy New Year 2011 to all of us! May it be better than 2010 and worse than 2012! 🙂

With the New Year along came the New President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff. She is the first woman to ever hold this office, and she is half-Bulgarian!

The new head of the 8th economic power in the world and “the 16th most powerful person in the world” according to Forbes magazine is the daughter of the Bulgarian lawyer and entrepreneur Petar Rusev (Perdo Rousseff) and the Brazilian teacher Dilma Jane da Silva. Petar Rusev was from Gabrovo, but emigrated from Bulgaria during the political persecutions of 1929. Notably, he was an active communist and a friend of the Nobel Prize-nominated Bulgarian poet Elisaveta Bagriana.

The whole of Bulgaria followed the Brazilian presidential elections with bated breath and crossed fingers. Dilma’s victory received as much media attention in Bulgaria as in Brazil. Truly, Bulgarians feel tremendously proud that someone who we consider very close to us has earned the trust of the entire Brazilian nation and has been elected to the position of one of the world’s top leaders.

Young Dilma (top) with her mother Dilma, brother Igor, sister Vana, and father Petar Rusev (Pedro Rousseff)

The best of it is that the warm feelings seem to be mutual. During an interview in October, Dilma Rousseff said that she “feel[s] tenderness and love,” for her father’s homeland Bulgaria. The 36th Brazilian president has definitely not forgotten her origins. During the last days of 2010, Dilma received the Bulgarian official delegation headed by the Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who presented her with her father’s family tree.

Dilma’s candidacy and election caused quite a media frenzy in Bulgaria. Our TV and newspapers closely followed her 2010 campaign. The citizens of Gabrovo even compiled an exhibition called “Gabrovo Roots of the Brazilian Presidential Candidate Dilma Rousseff” in the town’s historical museum. Her relatives from the Rusev family have already collected old photos and memories from her father’s youth. They are awaiting her visit, which will most probably take place this year. Dilma’s aunts said that they are excited to meet the Rousseffs and to fill in the missing names on the Brazilian branch of the family tree.

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A recent article in The Economist expressed surprise that Bulgarians are cheering for Dilma’s election. After all, the article said, Hungarians’ didn’t claim that Nicolas Sarkozy was one of their own when he became the French president, so why should we. The European media calls the Bulgarian sudden interest in the Brazilian politics “Dilma’s fever”.

Do you think that it is silly for a small country like ours to celebrate the achievements of those who share, at least partially, our common heritage?

I agree that our interest is a bit of an overreaction. The fact that everyone here knows about Dilma’s origins, but hardly anyone knows much about her party or policy speaks enough. But after all, Bulgaria does not claim that this development will have any effect on our countries’ foreign relations.. or maybe it will, I don’t know!  But in response to the skeptics, I would only say that I think the Bulgarian reaction is just a testimony of how important family relations and blood connection are to Bulgarians. Plus, we are happy that Dilma is not one of the many immigrant descendants who turn their back to Bulgaria. In the end, we don’t expect any favors and don’t want anything from her.

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