Issue 31

WELCOME TO BULGARIA!

Population

Large part of the population consists of present immigrants, future emigrants and capital citizens of country origin.

Politics

At present, the country is governed by a Russian, a Spaniard and a Turk. They take turns to rule the country every four years and after such a cycle they do so all together.

Voters are imported mainly from abroad. They are taken in bus or truckloads to the very ballot boxes.

Each voter gives no more than two votes for one party, but in different constituencies.

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GO GREEN, EVERGREEN

The commercial real estate market in Bulgaria is at a crossroads. All of the three commercial sectors – offices, retail and industrial – have felt the impact of the global economic downturn that started to affect Bulgaria during the last months of 2008 and continues this year.

The slowdown has hit quite differently across the various sub-segments, depending on the stages of development. The question now is how we choose to manage the situation, and what will take off when the light changes to green.

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BRING BACK THE BEEB TO SOFIA!

Being what it is at the moment, Bulgaria is one of the few European countries outside Russia where there are no BBC World Service FM broadcasts. The reasons are many and complex but they boil down to the Bulgarian Electronic Media Council, the watchdog supposed to supervise how Bulgarian radio and TV stations adhere to their licences, rejecting the Beeb's permission to broadcast on FM in the Sofia area. The arguments may have been different, but the fact is that Bulgaria followed Russia in banning the World Service from its airwaves.

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VERY COMPLICATED EASTER CALCULATIONS

How are you going to mark Easter and when? If you are an expat in Bulgaria, you have the opportunity to celebrate it twice. On 12 April you can follow Western tradition by hiding decorated eggs. The following Sunday you can join your Orthodox friends – and between a slice of kozunak, or sweet bread, and a plateful of roast lamb, have egg fights.

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INTRODUCING ANGEL STANKOV, MBE

Like his colleague Lorin Maazel, while conducting, he may exchange the baton for his violin to play a favourite piece with the orchestra, such as "Love's Greeting" by Sir Edward Elgar.

In February 2009 the professor acquired one more role, becoming the first Bulgarian since 2000 to receive the honorary award of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) from the Queen. The reason? His lifetime contribution to the promotion of cultural relations between Britain and Bulgaria, particularly in the field of music.

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misLEADING ADVICE No 5

Beget Good Luck and Health

A typically Bulgarian Easter tradition is related to the candles which the Bulgarians hold in their hands during night mass on Good Saturday. A popular belief says that they must take them back home from the church extinguished, but without blowing them out themselves – thus bringing good luck and health. Try helping as many people with lit candles in the street as you can.

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Celebratory Meal

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FLIGHTS OVER HELL

As Helmut Schmidt – the former German chancellor, managing director of Die Zeit and a heavy smoker for many years – can attest, since smoking was banned on airplanes, air travel has become an agony that nobody has managed to transform into pleasure.

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LIFE IN THE GYPSY GHETTO

"Don't take pictures or you will get thrashed." This is how you could be greeted if you dare to take out a camera in the Roma ghetto in Sofia's Krasna polyana district. The council flats, which house thousands of gypsies, became famous in 2007 when their inhabitants rioted in the streets of the neighbourhood, armed with clubs and knives. The official version was that there had been a clash with some skinheads in the local café. Informally, people talked about the unrest having been caused intentionally for political benefit.

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ANZAC DAY

On 30 April 1915, when Australia learned that five days earlier the country's first overseas army corps had landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in the Ottoman Empire, a wave of joy swept through the streets. The day was declared a public holiday.

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QUOTE-UNQUOTE

A lot of people in Bulgaria work for the Russians and Russia; I could say that the prevalent political establishment works in the interest of Russia.

Vasil Filipov, former executive director of Bulgargas

The demands for a 50 percent rise of the salaries of Interior Ministry staff sound brazen. Police officers should look around, listen carefully, judge the situation and see what is happening.

Mihail Mikov, interior minister

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FISH KILLER

He threaded the worms onto the hook, so that their bodies went over its length, then cast the line, taking care it wouldn't make much of a splash. He saw them hesitating in the water. Finally, the float wobbled; the thinner the rod's tip, the better you felt the fish pulling at the line. What a triumph when the body emerged from the water, flashing suddenly above the dull river. As ever, he wondered how the fish felt in that instant, what it saw, what it heard, and fish can hear with their skin...

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SOCIETY ON THE HIGH

In the past 20 years drug culture in Bulgaria has been on the rise. Originally just another transit point on the famed Balkan drug route favoured for its lax security and corrupt customs officials, it has now become a final destination, especially for one of the most potent illegal drugs, heroin.

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EXTREMELY BAD FOOD

Many Bulgarians are ready to kill anyone who criticises what they perceive as their "national" cuisine, but – sadly – the fact is that Bulgarian food is like President Parvanov: trying to conceal its very obvious deficiencies as well as the ineptitude of those who prepare it by drawing on some distant and often nebulous historical past. Like Parvanov, it is inedible in addition to being... inedible.

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MERRY MOMENTS ON BULGARIAN PAVEMENTS

In their cross concrete eruptions, slabs tilting, rocking, soaking ankles with hidden waters, potholed, jagged, stepped and rooted.

I step I shuffle I trudge I trip I stagger I lurch I shift my gaze to my feet as they chart the three dimensional jigsaw.

I am blocked thwarted diverted by the hulks of deserted cars, black monsters that nose the walls and fences and stretch their arses to the very gutter.

They sleep in my path like bulky panthers fed on elephant, sleek in obese glossiness.

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SEUTHOPOLIS

A light breeze ruffles the surface of Koprinka Dam, creating a ripple of tiny waves in its wake. Some ducks land on the water, skidding unceremoniously to a halt. A fisherman sits motionless on the shore, waiting for his luck to change. Away to the north the majestic escarpment of Stara Planina stands sentinel to this idyllic Bulgarian scene.

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APRIL FOOL!

During the war, on 12 September 1944, the European Advisory Commission, comprising delegates from the USSR, the United States and the United Kingdom, reached an agreement (to which France later acceded) specifying that, after the war Germany was to be divided into four occupation zones. This agreement stipulated that Berlin would be under joint occupation, without separating it into a fifth zone.

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TIME FOR CHANGE

When Russia stopped gas supplies at the beginning of the year, Bulgaria turned out to be not an energy but an isolated centre in the Balkans, says Georgi Angelov, senior economist with the Open Society Institute, speaking about the consequences of the crisis.

"For several years now, our country has been perceived as Russia's Trojan horse in the EU – energy policy included," he says. "Bulgaria does not support the idea of greater integration and liberalisation of the energy sector that the EU is trying to pursue."

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