This weekend I went to the Black Sea with my friend Q. We had a lovely time, despite the fact that there were record temperatures and I am now severely burnt.
Q is female, but depending on who was interested/available it was just as likely that I could have ended up going with a male friend. But 30 years ago in Bulgaria, that wouldn’t have been possible: until 1989, unmarried couples were not allowed to share a hotel room. Indeed, a Bulgarian friend told me recently that her parents decided to get married simply because they wanted to visit the beach together and could not do so without being wed!
This was part of the wider policy in communist times, when men and women were not allowed to live together – indeed, the militia undertook raids on accommodation where men and women were believed to be living together without a marriage license. University hostels had separate sections for males and females and strict curfews. One woman remembers her hostel director saying “if I find a girl and a boy together in one room after 9 o’clock, whatever they are doing there, they must marry immediately or be expelled.”
Family policy called the ‘Decree on encouragement of fertility’ was launched in Bulgaria in 1968. It aimed to strenthen the family as the nucleus of socialist society. Alongside changes such as an increase in child benefits and duration of maternity leave, the law introduced a ‘bachelor tax’ under which single adults who did not marry by the age of 21 were sanctioned with a 5% tax on their income, while those over 30 were subjected to a 10% bachelor tax.
The bachelor tax was abolished in 1990, since when there has been a significant rise in unmarried co-habitation. However, it’s scary to think that if not, I’d be coming up for the age where I would lose 10% of any income for remaining ‘on the shelf’… and by which age I might be better off alone, if Kiril Minkov is to be believed. In 1943 he argued against the introduction of a bachelor tax on the grounds that “after a certain age bachelors in Bulgaria could be recruited only among the contingents of mental and social psychopaths… their reproduction is harmful rather than desired.”