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The Harvard Name Shouldn't Have Decided Bulgaria’s Election

By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Harvard has successfully formed a government in Bulgaria. Err, let’s try again: “The Harvards” — two Harvard graduates from Bulgaria, Kiril Petkov and Assen Vassilev ’00, nicknamed after their alma mater — are poised to lead the country after the political party they founded emerged victorious in the Balkan nation’s third parliamentary election of 2021.

After former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov — Bulgaria’s former prime minister, in power for over a decade — sank under corruption allegations and months of anti-government protests, Petkov and Vassilev’s anti-corruption party, We Continue the Change, is slated to assume control. The new party comes at a critical point in Bulgaria’s history, recently faced with a rule-of-law crisis, mass distrust in government, and, with the lowest vaccine uptake among the European Union, a broiling Covid-19 pandemic.

We are happy to see that the protests in Bulgaria have led to the rise of political leaders who promise change, honesty, and stability for the Bulgarian people. Though their actions in the coming months — if they manage to form a coalition — will speak louder than the words it took to get them here, the party’s victory seems to be democracy’s response to Bulgarian’s activism.

It seems as though Kiril Petkov — a graduate of the Harvard Business School — and Assen Vassilev — a graduate of Harvard College (Economics in Currier House!), HBS, and Harvard Law School — are well on their way to becoming the “citizen-leaders” our university hopes to educate within its gates. It is encouraging to see these trailblazers apply skills they gathered at Harvard, which may have been difficult to attain elsewhere, to their home communities – wherever they may be. Perhaps even more encouraging is that many young Bulgarian expats have followed Petkov and Vassilev’s lead and returned to the country to get to work reforming their home.

Yet one aspect of the election that has troubled us a bit, despite our jokes, is the outsized emphasis on these two men’s Harvard educations. After all, Petkov and Vassilev were chosen by Bulgarian President Rumen Radev as ministers in the country’s interim government – from which they launched their campaign – in large part due to the Harvard name alone. Treating a university brand as qualifying in and of itself is peculiar and potentially detrimental along two axes: Firstly, it perpetuates the falsehood that a degree from Harvard instantly renders an individual more adept at handling anything than anyone else, an idea as present in the U.S. as it may be in Bulgaria. Secondly, it erases the likely far more important achievements of its subjects beyond the favorable ruling they, often in youth, are handed by the admissions office.

To that end, we hope to see a future in which we step away from name-dropping – both domestically and as far away as Bulgaria – and instead focus on what our citizen-leaders, including Petkov and Vassilev, have done with their credentials to earn our respect.

In the meantime, we wish these two men all the best — especially as they continue the difficult and crucial work of forming a coalition government from quarreling opposition parties and, potentially, the very establishment party these groups oppose. Perhaps, in the process, they’ll find their Harvard education useful.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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