Issue 13

MOTORING AHEAD

Whether a first-time visitor or longstanding resident you'll be aware of the recklessness of some Bulgarian drivers, exacerbated by poor roads and confusing signalling.

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KNOW THYSELF

Descending the mountain path on his way back from the Delphic oracle, Oedipus was so stunned that he barely noticed his surroundings. Sitting on her iron tripod placed over a fissure in the ground from which mind-expanding vapours were rising, Pythia, Apollo's priestess, had foretold a nightmarish future for him: when Oedipus “returned home”, he would slay his father and marry his mother. The oracle was known for her accurate predictions without which no peasant would start harvesting his crops and no king would wage a war.

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THE GASMAN COMES

State-owned Bulgarian gas transmission and supply company Bulgargaz Holding is looking to become a major regional player through a stock offering and partnerships with major European energy firms.

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FAILING TO DELIVER

How many people does it take to post a letter? It's not a trick question. In the UK, the answer would be two: yourself and the clerk behind the post office counter who sorts out the stamps and takes your money. Of course, you could always buy your stamps from a machine, reducing the answer to one.

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HOOKED UP TO THE NET

“All people are equal, but some people are more equal than others.” These words spring to mind when appraising the Bulgarian Internet. For big city dwellers and Sofianites, complete and unlimited access is only a click away. For others, it's cumbersome, expensive or simply impracticable.

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FLEEING A LIFE OF CRIME AND GRIME

Seven years ago, my mother suggested we go on a “girlie jaunt” for the summer holidays. Excited by thoughts of sunbathing and balmy nights in the Algarve or Majorca, I quickly agreed. But when she held up two tickets to the Bulgarian resort of Golden Sands I was perplexed. “Isn't that somewhere in the desert?” I protested, still geographically naive at 15.

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MINORITIES REPORT

Most Bulgarians encounter problems dealing with their insurance companies. They may have miserable experiences with the state health and pension systems. But, usually, in spite of these and other complaints, it's the Roma or Turkish minorities who become the scapegoats for their woes. Several factors influence discriminatory attitudes in Bulgaria. One of the most insidious is the stirring up of intolerance by populist politicians and opinion makers, who exploit traditional prejudices.

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A CONFEDERACY OF STOOGES

Events in the former East Germany, former Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland in the early 1990s are being re-enacted in Bulgaria in 2007. Under a law adopted at the end of last year, a panel was empowered to open up Communist-era secret police files. Many senior figures in politics and the administration have been revealed as stooges for the Communist regime. Surprisingly, the names of people previously rumoured to have been collaborators were absent from the lists – and names of people thought to have been “dissidents” were included. 

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A KIND OF HISTORY

The average English person will cheerfully admit ignorance about history. Bulgarians, by contrast, will queue up to tell you their version of their country's past. However, it seems no accident that in bookshops the now bulging history section adjoins those about mysticism and the esoteric. After the Communist drought Bulgarians find themselves willing guests at a dubious feast.

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CLIVE WILKINSON

An unlikely trendsetter, Clive Wilkinson is an unassuming, bespectacled businessman with the self-deprecating manner and appearance of Harry Palmer from the 1960s spy movies. Yet beneath the modest veneer lies a firm conviction that individuals can reform the system.

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EVGENII DAINOV: THE PRINCIPLES OF HOME PRESERVES

As a preserve maker he spends long periods in quiet contemplation. As a musician he entertains the crowds at rock festivals. As a flame-throwing political pundit, however, he attracts violence.

An enraged Boyko Borisov once approached him in a café, slamming two huge guns down on the table. An arm-wrestling contest ensued. The current mayor of Sofia lost. Don't be too surprised! Our commentator is a veteran of innumerable bar room brawls.

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HAND IN GLOVE

“The world's biggest TV channel in Russian.” The ORT, or Public Russian Television, billboard is not a sight you'd expect to greet you by the boulevard of Sofia's Lyulin district. Yet it's there, despite the fact that in Bulgaria ORT occupies no airtime and the publicity effect of its presence is highly dubious.

The billboard is just one example of Russia's tangible influence on Bulgaria. You only have to note this country's energy dependence and the role of the Russian Federation in the construction of the Burgas- Alexandroupolis oil pipeline.

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WE'VE GOT MAIL

In fact, it says on the contract, that they won't cover these risks in Serbia, Montenegro, and “outside Europe”, including I suppose Turkey, the largest part of which is in Asia.

I was quite surprised, to say the least, because I have already travelled extensively both in eastern Turkey and throughout the Balkans and I find driving conditions there a lot better than in Bulgaria. I did so in a German-registered car and on German insurance.

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WELL READ POETS SOCIETY

Nadya Radulova is a writer who refuses to indulge in the normal complaints of Bulgarian artists. She even inverts traditional grievances, claiming that hardship and a peripheral existence lead to better work.

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