FLYING COLOURS & METEORITES

by Stamen Manolov

While Mads Mikkelsen is reputedly getting bald, Bulgarians preoccupy themselves with two ostensibly unrelated events

rozhen flagople.jpg

Firstly, a bright light appeared in the sky over Vidin, at the River Danube, one dark, hot and mosquito-infested night. It was reputedly followed by a loud explosion. People were mesmerised and slightly frightened. During the following days the media reported a unusually large meteorite burning over Romanian territory, leaving no identifiable debris. But the event, which will probably go down in local lore as the World-Famous Vidinska Event, was the beginning rather than the end of the story.

A few days later the notorious 111-meter-high flagpole was finally inaugurated in the Rozhen area of the the Rhodope mountain range, in the south. The flag attached to it, according to the "patriotic" organisations that had set up the event, was the largest in Bulgaria. And the flagpole itself, manufactured in Turkey, was the highest ever erected at such a, well, height above sea level (pun unintended). Just 2,000-3,000 people turned up (some of whom pictured above), but the Facebook verbal battles surrounding the World-Famous Rozhen Flagpole, as it will probably go down in local lore, contributed significantly to the public perspiration caused by the ongoing heatwave.

As is befitting a devout and god-fearing Orthodox nation, the flag was first consecrated by a priest, although no one bothered to first fold it.

It soon emerged that the "voluntary" contributions collected to make the new symbol of national pride and unity a reality included... the Bulgarian state. The Bulgarian Development Bank, all state-owned forestry corporations and three state transportation companies had donated a total of 114,000 leva (about $65,000) for the flagpole. The Bulgarian national anthem was sung, followed by some Communist-era patriotic hits, such as the 1970s "My Country, My Bulgaria."

President Rumen Radev, who was in attendance, held one of his speeches in which he condemned the flagpole opponents who had argued, unsuccessfully, that Bulgarians should better be proud of a better education and health systems as well as smoother pavements in the cities rather than flagpoles in the mountains: "Today we reject the nihilism and unfatherlandness that crashed in their attempts to smear and stifle this initiative."

Auntie Vanga

It emerged, unsurprisingly, that Auntie Vanga, the blind clairvoyant of Petrich, who died in 1996 but whose real or imaginary prophecies continue to make the rounds, had predicted both the Vidinska Event and the Rozhen Flagpole. "When they erect a flagpole in the Rhodope, a meteorite will hit Vidin," Vanga was quoted as saying.

But not even that was the end of the story. It soon emerged that the Vidinska Event did not involve a meteorite at all. According to one of the conspiracy theories that Bulgarians just love to put into circulation, the alleged meteorite was in fact an US Air Force missile that the Americans shot at Vidin in order to implicate the Russians. However, Putin successfully intercepted it and destroyed it, both saving Bulgaria from obliteration and the world from the Third World War...

If Mads Mikkelsen was in Bulgaria and understood what was going on, he would certainly bald at least as fast as John Cleese.

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