PostCommunism

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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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ST ANASTASIA ISLAND

Bulgaria's Black Sea can be calm or full of tourists, pristine or packed with ugly hotels, but one thing it is not: a sea where numerous islands, large and small, are available for exploration.

Only seven islands dot the 354 km of Bulgaria coastline and some of them are so small that they are little more than rocks in the sea. In the summer of 2014, however, one of the islands in the Bulgarian Black Sea became a genuine tourist attraction.

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 08:19
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COMMUNISM'S FLYING SAUCER

Bulgaria has yet to produce an architectural site capable of generating a high-degree wow-factor, with the likely exception of Sofia's NDK, Shumen's Founders of the Bulgarian State monument and the urbanisation solutions seen at Sunny Beach. Yet, the country does have a strong contender for world fame in a new, but growing field of interest: abandoned, ghoulish, straight-out-of-a-dystopian-movie-set constructions visited by folks interested in off-off-off-the-beaten-track tourism and captivated by anything from extraterrestrials to Goths, Communists and urban decay.

Tue, 08/05/2014 - 12:48
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STILL AT BLACK SEA COAST

As you travel along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast you will inevitably pass through Varna and Burgas, the two biggest Bulgarian seaside towns. As you stroll through them, you will inevitably be confronted with a couple of monstrosities that will make you wonder, who or what are those to celebrate? Do they not belong to a bygone era that few Bulgarians want to remember? Should not they be consigned to the dustbin of history, as Marx put it, which seems to be their rightful last abode?

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 12:37
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RUPITE

The summer heat is oppressive, yet the shallow mineral pools in the yellowish clay are packed with men and women. Pleasure, peace and silent ecstasy can be read on their faces, which seems strange, as the temperature of the water is 75°C, the air stinks of sulphur and the skin of some of the people in the pools is alarmingly red.

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 12:25
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HORROR ISLAND

If there was a competition for the most surreal road sign in Bulgaria, Belene would be a top contender. The standard signposts in the centre of this 8,300-strong town on the Danube list the following places of interest. First is "Municipality," the building of the City Council. Then comes the Bus Station. And then – hold your breath – you can choose to go to either the Nuclear Power Plant or the Prison.

Thu, 05/08/2014 - 13:31
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BORDERLANDS

A land the size of a palm: this was how Bulgaria is described in the still quoted verse by Communist poet Georgi Dzhagarov. What is not mentioned in that poem, however, is that under Communism this "handful of land" was strictly guarded. Socialist Bulgaria was surrounded by enemy NATO-members Turkey and Greece, and the deviant Comrade Tito's Yugoslavia and the maverick Comrade Ceausescu's Romania. Bulgaria needed the highest protection. So went the thinking, and the protection was organised accordingly.



Mon, 03/11/2013 - 08:49
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DIMITROVGRAD

Travelling in Bulgaria can become a surreal experience when you look at the expensive cars parked in front of shabby apartment buildings, at the stunning landscapes dotted with relics from either Antiquity or Communism, and when overwhelming hospitality alternates with plain rudeness and paranoid suspicion.

Few places in Bulgaria, however, can rival Dimitrovgrad in strangeness. It seems to epitomise best the three main characteristics of 21st Century Bulgaria outside the gated communities and the five-star spa hotels: chalga, tackiness and post-Communist destitution.

Fri, 11/09/2012 - 14:38
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FALLEN MESSERSCHMITT

There is hardly a visitor to Sofia who has not crossed the vast square in front of the National Palace of Culture, or NDK, and not gasped at the sight of this strange structure that looks as if coming straight out of an urban nightmare piece of sci-fi.

Rising 35 metres from the ground, the tall thing curls somehow at an angle in the air, ending up looking somewhat like a wing. Ghostly human-like figures crawl and pose on its granite surface, where holes gape, revealing the rusting skeleton of steel.

Mon, 09/10/2012 - 12:41
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DERELICT BULGARIA, PART 2

Bulgarians are proud of their ruins. There is probably no expat in the country who has been spared the conversation with an overenthusiastic history lover boasting that Perperikon outshines the Acropolis in beauty and importance or that the new discoveries in Sofia's Roman centre make Rome itself look provincial in comparison.

Indeed, over their millennia of continuous habitation, the Bulgarian lands have acquired more than their fair share of prehistoric shrines, ancient cities and fortresses.

Mon, 08/20/2012 - 13:29
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DERELICT BULGARIA, PART 1

One of the major things that will impress first-time visitors to Bulgaria, especially if they stray off the beaten track or undertake a trip through the countryside on their own, is the huge number of abandoned and dilapidated buildings that no one cares about and that look as if they have just emerged from a major armed conflict. Only that, notwithstanding some sporadic Allied bombing in 1943-1944, Bulgaria hasn't had a "proper" war on its territory since at least 1878 when it gained independence of the erstwhile Ottoman Empire.

Mon, 07/02/2012 - 14:04
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FORGOTTEN PLOT

There is hardly a village in Bulgaria without a monument. Those to local victims of the two Balkan and the two World wars are the most common, followed by memorials to Communist partisans and monuments of workers and other "builders of Socialism." There are also the monuments to Revival Period figures, who were usually born or met their end in a particular village.

Mon, 07/02/2012 - 13:48
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GEORGI LOZANOV

Arguably Bulgaria's most prominent intellectual, Georgi Lozanov – a philosopher, professor of mass communications in several universities and the current chief of the Electronic Media Council – has always been an outspoken critic of the system, any system. Some compare him to Noam Chomsky – but with a strong dash of the Wildean penchant for bons mots – no matter whether he is talking about the legacy of Communism, organised crime, the games played in the Bulgarian media or the best restaurants in Sofia. But Georgi Lozanov is a lot more than the Chomsky-Wilde cliché.

Sun, 05/13/2012 - 13:43
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