The CIA claims that there are 0.92 men for every woman in Bulgaria. Yet, despite the unequal odds, you can still catch occasional glimpses of the endangered species known as the Bulgarian man.
This biological novelty appeared at the end of the 7th and the beginning of the 8th centuries, when Han Asparuh's Proto-Bulgarians took to the Balkan stage, sharing it with the Slavs who had arrived there a century earlier. Their cohabitation produced the first specimens of the Bulgarian male.
During the Middle Ages, Bulgarian men – divided into aristocracy, clergy and peasants – kept themselves busy for centuries by either attacking or protecting themselves from Byzantium. The Ottomans, however, put a stop to the fun. They annihilated the aristocracy and the higher clergy. Among the socially equalised Bulgarians, only a few mutants rose above the masses – their irrepressible initiative driving them to get rich by trading or by collecting taxes for the sultan.
By the middle of the 19th Century, another short-lived mutant strain appeared – the revolutionaries. Natural selection quickly took its toll, however. They perished in the April Uprising and the subsequent reprisals.
When Bulgarian men finally became independent after the founding of the Kingdom of Bulgaria in 1878, things changed. In a few short years, new subspecies emerged – intellectuals, industrialists, scholars, Communists and descendants of the crudely pragmatic Bay Ganyo.
However, when the Red Army rolled into Bulgaria in 1944, the Communists and the Bay Ganyos killed off the others. Years of hardship followed. In theory, all Bulgarians were supposed to be humble workers, building Socialism. In practice, most of them wanted to become Politburo members, armchair intellectuals, Black Sea Don Juans or – best of all – international truck drivers. Anyone outside these professions was considered a loser.
The 1989 Democratic Transition changed all that. After a decade in which most Bulgarian men were either mobsters or pretended to be (this is when shaved heads became the rage), new strains gradually emerged. We present to you five of the most notable subspecies of current Bulgarian men.
THE GOLDEN BOY
Barbi is every Bulgarian's dream. Teenage girls fantasise about being his girlfriend or wife, thanks to his gorgeous eyes and fat English salary, rumoured to be around 69,000 euros a week. Men want to be him – because of the girls and the joy of scoring a goal against Liverpool. Elderly Bulgarians dream about having a son like him, who bootstrapped himself up from the streets of Blagoevgrad to make good in London. In fact, CSKA's former striker is so loveable that even fans from rival Levski adore him – at least some of them. So, what is Berbatov's secret? Most likely his girlish eyelashes and talent for scoring goals have something to do with it. Berbatov has much more to offer, however. He is the first famous Bulgarian to volunteer as a UNICEF ambassador. Another sign that a tender heart beats beneath his footballer jersey is the fact that his favourite films are Schindler's List and The Pianist. He also draws in his free time. So, who couldn't forgive him for that nude photo romp with a blonde back in 2002, or a recent scandal alleging that he cheated on his girlfriend with a dancer from a Sofia night club?
Career After playing for Pirin-Blagoevgrad and CSKA, Berbatov graduated to Bayer Leverkusen, and from there to Tottenham Hotspurs and Manchester United. He's been a member of the Bulgarian national team since 1999 and now serves as captain.
He says "For the moment, my career is the most important thing, but I know who I love and who loves me. I know who the mother of my children will be."
Bulgarians love saviours. Until 1989 their favourites were the Russians. In 1997 Ivan Kostov saved them from the economic crisis brought on by the Socialists, and in 2001 Simeon Saxe-Coburg rescued them from Ivan Kostov. It was then – in his role as chief secretary of the Interior Ministry – that the ultimate messiah appeared – Boyko Borisov.He even looks the part. He combines Don Corleone's tired gaze, square jaw and stooping shoulders with Batman's black clothing and a talent for always being in the public eye. It's no surprise that Bulgarians immediately believed that he would wipe out organised crime. In 2005 when he ran for mayor of Sofia, they also had faith that he would use his superpowers to tackle the potholes, the rubbish, the stray dogs and the corruption in the city administration. Even a quick glance is enough to confirm that organised crime, potholes, stray dogs, rubbish and corruption are still alive and well in Sofia. Bulgarians are nevertheless convinced that Bate Boyko, or Big Brother Boyko, as they affectionately call him, isn't to blame. The real culprits are the secret forces which, like that pesky Joker, continually prevent him from fulfilling his mission. For that reason the party he founded, GERB, continues to gather support, and many observers predict that the initials of Bulgaria's next prime minister will be BB.
Career He started out at the Interior Ministry as a fireman, but quit in the early 1990s to start a private security firm. Illustrious clients who benefited from his protection included former Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov and ex-ruler Simeon Saxe-Coburg upon his return from exile.
He says "We catch them, they let them go" – in reference to criminals when he was this country's top cop. Now, as the joke goes, the same is true for the stray dogs.
THE SELF-MADE MAN
If you're looking for a person in Bulgaria that everyone loves to hate, look no further. Slavi Trifonov is your man. At the beginning they considered him as a good guy who likes to play the bad guy. Slavi was the prime mover behind the satirical television shows "Ku-Ku" and "Kanaleto." He led protests against the catastrophic policies of Socialist Zhan Videnov and didn't hesitate to poke fun at Ivan Kostov's democratic government. So they censored him – which only made him more popular. This, together with the light brand of chalga and patriotism that he peddles, guaranteed him an eager audience for "The Slavi Show" on bTV. He continues to be a moral and aesthetic guide for most Bulgarians. Many of them wonder, however, whether his self-confidence has gone beyond the boundaries of common decency. His war with the yellow press didn't win him many fans, and news that he had gone blind in one eye provoked not sympathy but suspicions that this was just another trick to raise his sagging ratings. When his ratings recovered, Slavi announced that his vision had stabilised, and now he's back in the limelight sporting a new pair of glasses.
Career Impressive when you consider that he started out as a viola player. At the moment he hosts "The Slavi Show" – a Bulgarian knockoff of Letterman – and is owner of the production company 7/8. It brought the first Bulgarian versions of "Survivor" and "Music Idol" to the airwaves.
THE BAD BOY/GIRL
The inclusion of a person who combines bloodcurdling chalga with the bloodcurdling appearance of an obese Balkan Marilyn Manson on our list is controversial. Indeed, it is questionable whether Azis even falls into the category of Bulgarian men. Azis – born Vasil Boyanov in Kyustendil – refers to himself in the feminine and even has breast implants. Azis has an innate talent for shocking the Bulgarian public. It's hard to say what irritates them the most – the fact that he's a chalga star, the fact that he's a Gypsy chalga star, or the fact that he's a gay Gypsy chalga star. As if that combination wasn't enough, he/she now needles Bulgarians on a nightly basis as the host of his/her own television show, flaunting his/her lack of taste. He/she also married a man, fathered a child by his/her housekeeper, and erected a huge billboard advertising his/her non-standard sexuality right next to the memorial to Vasil Levski in Sofia. Mayor Boyko Borisov took down the billboard, but the rivalry between Vasil Boyanov and Vasil Levski continues to irk Bulgarians. The Bulgarian Wikipedia article on Azis is almost as long as the one about Levski. Azis was also among the nominees in the "100 Greatest Bulgarians" contest (the other Vasil won). To top it all off, foreign journalists visiting Bulgaria always remember Azis – the most recent example being Michael Palin – yet they rarely mention Levski.
Career His/her first CD was an album of evangelical Christian tunes. The next nine, however, were sufficiently explicit to transform "Nelly Vasko from Kyustendil" into the gender-bending superstar, Azis.
He/she says "I still feel like wearing high heels" and "The Gypsies rejected me because I have blonde hair and blue eyes. They think I really look like I do on pictures. They don't know that Photoshop exists."
Associate Professor Georgi Lozanov stands out among Bulgarian intellectuals (as a rule, they're a dull bunch who assert their existence primarily via petitions in support of the Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant) like an Umberto Eco novel in a children's bookstore. You'll recognise him by his bow tie (Bulgarians consider this the height of frivolity) and the beautiful woman by his side (this is his own wife). Every time he opens his mouth or seizes his pen, he is intelligent, thoughtful and innovative. His topics range from Richard Avedon and Big Brother through the mafia and former State Security agents, to the Bulgarian media's lack of full independence. Elitist in spirit, Lozanov is surprisingly egalitarian towards his audience and gives interviews with equal ease to VAGABOND, mass-media outlets like bTV and tabloids like Show. Yet he still finds time to serve as editor-in-chief of the lifestyle magazine Pet Zvezdi, or Five Stars, and as associate editor-in-chief of Kultura newspaper.
Career Lozanov is the only person in Bulgaria who writes "philosopher" in all seriousness in the space for "profession" on official documents. Most Bulgarians know him as a media expert, since he was a member of media watchdogs in 1997-2004. Lozanov teaches at the Journalism Department of Sofia University, New Bulgarian University and the National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts.
He says "If I had wanted to get involved in business, I would be a different person. I write texts, little words."