PostCommunism

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FROM UTOPIA TO DYSTOPIA

Like Dimitrovgrad, Smolyan appeared under Communism as a result of the amalgamation of several villages. But while Dimitrovgrad is an example of Stalinist urbanism, Smolyan is perhaps the epitome of city planning under Mature Socialism.

In 1960 the National Assembly decreed three old villages along the Cherna River in the Rhodope to be combined into a town called Smolyan. It was also proclaimed the centre of the region.

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 11:24
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ETARA

When Lazar Donchev, the founder and first manager of the architectural and ethnographic museum complex at Etara died in 1976, his private study became one of the exhibits. His records and personal diary were left on the old desk, contributing to the mythical aura of the man who created from scratch Bulgaria's only open air museum, on the banks of the river Sivek, eight kilometres from Gabrovo.

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 11:22
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BYGONE NESEBAR

Zillions of stalls selling kitschy souvenirs, beach towels, jeans and conveyor-belt-produced marine landscapes cover the walls of the medieval churches and 200-year old houses.

Many tourists are actually wondering what they are doing in Nesebar.

The obvious answer is they are visiting what is probably Bulgaria's best known and most visited UNESCO World Heritage site.

Tue, 09/05/2017 - 13:30
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LAND OF LOST LENINS

If you could (or would want to) go back in time 29 years and visit Communist Bulgaria, your trip would unfold under the constant presence of one man, Lenin. There was hardly a place in Bulgaria – big city, small town, village even – without a monument to Lenin, or at least a street, school, or kindergarten named after him.

Mon, 07/31/2017 - 16:07
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FALL OF 1,300 YEARS OF BULGARIA

In the summer of 2017, after years of debates, projects and protests, Sofia looked as though it would finally part with one of the most controversial monuments of the period referred to as Mature Socialism (roughly, the 1970s and 1980s in Communist Bulgaria). Everyone knows the monument in question: it is the 35-metre-high angular construction of granite plates and metal, crowned with ghostly statues and disintegrated slogans, in front of the NDK in central Sofia.

Ironically, the name of the monument slated for demolition is 1,300 Years of Bulgaria.

Mon, 07/31/2017 - 15:24
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GOING, GOING, (ALMOST) GONE!

This would have been the perfect story for Andy Borowitz. A group of people identifying themselves as intellectuals start a war of words (involving so far just one non-verbal Molotov cocktail) over another group of people whom the intellectuals dub uncouth simpletons with fascist or Taliban tendencies over a monument no one has ever liked and everyone, including the engineers, agrees is actually dangerous not only to your sight and mind but also to your head in case you happen to be walking too close by.

Mon, 07/31/2017 - 15:19
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NDK, COMMUNIST-ERA MONSTROSITY OR CULTURE PALACE TO SHOW OFF WITH?

On its vast square, teenagers skateboard and flirt, elderly people have coffee with friends and mothers stroll with their children, while buskers and icecream sellers vie for customers. In the evening, people heading for some festival or concert at the NDK's Hall 1 flock in front of the main entrance. It has about a dozen doors, but typically just one is open. The bars around are packed, and those who can afford it head for the luxury restaurant on the top floor.

Mon, 07/03/2017 - 12:22
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THE SILENCE OF BULGARIA'S ABANDONED AIRPORTS

Uniformed beauties on calendars for Balkan Airlines, the state air carrier, reinforced that the job as an aspirational one, while for the more practically minded, the profession had another advantage. When local shops lacked essentials like toilet paper, working on an international fight meant having the opportunity to buy foreign luxuries (whisky, perfume, fur coats and Levi's jeans) and sell them for a good profit on the eager Bulgarian black market.

Fri, 06/02/2017 - 11:47
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EUROPE DAY VS. DAY OF VICTORY

Combining the celebrations of St Trifon, the local patron saint of wine and winemaking, and St Valentine, the imported patron of love – both being celebrated on 14 February, pales in comparison to what happens on 9 May. Long before and long after that date, Bulgarians argue both in restaurants and on Facebook about what should be celebrated: Europe Day or the Day of Victory over Nazi Germany.

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 14:37
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BERSERK BELLES OF GRADUATION BALLS

Despite appearances, they are not members of some mysterious sect – they are simply celebrating their graduation from high school. Rites of passage are, of course, important, although the ways they are marked around the world vary widely: from the Quinceañera, the celebration of a girl's turning 15 years of age in Spanish-speaking America, to the Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies that commemorate Jewish children's entry into adolescence, to the sacrificial rites Australian Aborigines and New Guinean tribes perform to mark puberty.

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 14:15
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BORDER: A JOURNEY TO THE EDGE OF EUROPE

Kapka Kassabova was born and raised in Bulgaria, spent her late teens and twenties in New Zealand and now lives in the Scottish Highlands. She started writing poetry as a schoolgirl, but turned to fiction and non-fiction many years ago – in English, her adopted language. Her narrative non-fiction books, including Street Without a Name and Twelve Minutes of Love, as well as novels such as Villa Pacifica have earned her an international reputation as being one of the freshest literary voices of her generation.

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 13:15
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DEVETAKI CAVE

Stoney-faced and determined, Sylvester Stallone pilots a plane, shooting at a bunch of baddies holed-up in a phantasmagorical cave. There are gunshots and wisecracks, and then the airplane enters the cave with a bang.

The scene from The Expendables 2 is pure fiction, but something in it is completely real: the cave where all the action takes place is one of Bulgaria's most fascinating natural phenomena.

Wed, 08/03/2016 - 10:44
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TOP 10 TENETS OF THE BULGARIAN WAY OF THINKING

Remember: this country never had the Enlightenment. To fathom the overwhelming mixture of the sometimes ostensible controversies of life in Bulgaria, you need to understand how Bulgarians think – and what the main tenets of the mental process that forms psychological associations and models of the world are. Here is a tentative top 10. Peruse sparingly and apply plenty of common sense as well as a little humour.

Conspiracy theories

Mon, 05/09/2016 - 15:27
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AT LAND'S END

In 1808, a German geographer, August Zeune, erroneously referred to southeastern Europe as "The Balkans" because he thought the Balkan range ran all the way from the Black Sea to the Adriatic. It doesn't. It exists entirely in Bulgarian territory: from the border with Serbia to the Black Sea coast at Cape Emine (Emine being a pretty common female Turkish proper name). The Bulgarians themselves refer to the mountain as "The Balkans" only in a poetic context. In everyday speech, The Balkans is just Stara Planina, or Old Mountain.

Sat, 04/09/2016 - 13:21
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BIRTHPLACE OF BULGARIA'S LAST DICTATOR

You are in an unsightly socialist town where rustic houses are scattered amongst prefabricated housing blocks. Men are repairing Ladas and Moskviches and women are dusting carpets in the patches of green. You head for the town square and discover that it is appropriately covered with the large white slabs to be seen in so many other Bulgarian towns, the result of a 1980s plan by Communist rulers to implement pedestrian zones. But there is something a little out of kilter here. The town is oddly clean and the pavement is not falling apart. There are few stray dogs in the streets.

Mon, 03/07/2016 - 14:36
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VANGA GOES GLOBAL

As 2015 was drawing to a close and the unravelling conflict in the Middle East (the ISIS, the refugees, the airstrikes, Russia, Turkey, the EU, etc, etc) spiralled deeper into a state that can best be described with expletives, the name of a Bulgarian suddenly hit the international news.

It was Vanga, the blind clairvoyant who died on 11 August 1996.

Mon, 01/04/2016 - 15:00
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MYSTERIOUS ROADTRIP

Travelling around a country sometimes brings you to sights and places strange and inexplicable. Bulgaria abounds with these. Some are millennia old and others appeared only a decade ago. Their strangeness may lie in their lack of familiarity to the visitor, or it may be the result of something mundane, such as the lack of proper signage. Or it can be attributed to the widespread lack of common sense in Bulgaria, or could be a factor that the ancient Romans would have called genius loci, the spirit of the place.

Thu, 12/03/2015 - 14:30
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SOFIA IN THE 1990S

After several years of hectic building and reconstruction – including new Roman ruins and roads that need repairing only two weeks after they have been inaugurated by the prime minister – Sofia looks transformed. In many ways it is. Chain stores and shopping malls dominate the urban landscape, foreign tourists fill the downtown area, and Western coffee culture is replacing the older, Balkan one. There is a metro, and the graffiti are much more sophisticated than the erstwhile political or emotional slogans scribbled on walls. McDonalds is not a novelty and sushi has gone out of fashion.

Thu, 12/03/2015 - 14:01
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PERNIK: CITY OFT-COMPARED TO MORDOR IS HIDDEN GEM

In Pernik, they continue, the guys love to drive their emblematic Golfs way beyond the speed limit, and the usual way to end a night in the bar is with a fist fight. The landscape is just as awful, as Pernik is the real-life version of Tolkien's Mordor with its mines, wastelands, and dark smoke pouring from tall factory chimneys. Don't go to Pernik, goes the popular adage, there's nothing but trouble there.

Thu, 09/24/2015 - 13:32
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