Apart from the "proverbial" laboriousness of its citizens and their cleanliness, one of the cliches most often used to describe this Balkan "Land of Roses" is its tolerance. Bulgaria saved its Jews from planned deportation during the Second World War is the historical fact often quoted to support the tolerance cliche.
Like all cliches, however, the "Bulgarian tolerance" may have stemmed from some distant past no one can remember. Anyone chancing to venture into the streets of Sofia in 2013 will see a very different picture.
The beatings of people who look different from your idea of a "mainstream" Bulgarian have become a daily (or nightly) occurrence. Asylum-seekers from Syria are a prime target, but others have suffered as well. One of them has been a Bulgarian of Turkish origin who was born, raised and spent all his life here. His crime that brought upon him the wrath of a band of skinheads in Central Sofia? He did not look sufficiently Bulgarian.
One would have conjectured that "genuine" Bulgarians ooze some kind of Bulgarianness that differs them so radically from Turks, Greeks, Gypsies and everyone else in the Balkans. Failure to display that on your face may put you in serious danger of being attacked by the growing number of Bulgarian extremists who call themselves "patriots" and who want to rid their homeland of anyone they consider insufficiently indigenous to stay here.
The general breakdown of the of the social and political system generated by the former administration of Boyko Borisov and exacerbated by the apparent failure of its heirs to handle Borisov's mess properly provides ripe ground of extremists of all shades and hues. While the police are busy ensuring free passage for Bulgaria's MPs going in and out of the building of the National Assembly, less than a mile away people are getting hurt in front of shopping centres, at bus stops and near central street intersections in what most European countries would bill hate crimes. The official response so far? A meekly worded joint statement by President Plevneliev and Prime Minister Oresharski condemning the crimes but providing little impetus for real law enforcement action.
Concerned mainly with their own survival, Bulgaria's mainstream politicians happily divert the attention of the general public with the "crisis" Syrian refugees have inflicted upon Bulgaria. Claiming that to maintain them in the country by the end of 2013 would cost, say, 20 million leva while there is a shortage of 2 million leva to pay pensions to Bulgaria's elderly is of course mere populism, but it is music to the years of an increasing number of Bulgarians who tend to see their country in opposition terms much like they did under Communism. It is us against them, as usual. It is the West against Russia, it is Turk against Bulgar, Muslim against Christian. It is non-Bulgarians against all of us. And whoever is not with us is against us...
The sentiment was picked up at the beginning of November by a new political entity calling itself Nationalist Party of Bulgaria and incorporating groups like National Resistance, "all divisions" of Blood and Honour, the Bulgarian National Radical Party, "Fan Club Offensive" and others. The new entity's aims as promulgated in its press release are wide-ranging in an inimitable sort of way. They include, but are not limited to, banning all "anti-Bulgarian" organisations such as the Open Society Institute and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee; banning all "ethnically-based" parties and first and foremost the DPS, or Movement for Rights and Freedoms; crushing "Gypsy terror" with an iron fist; installing Christian Orthodoxy as the official religion of the state; revision of all international treaties Bulgaria has been a party to since 1944 and cancelling those that affect its national interests; calling a referendum of Bulgaria's continued membership of the EU and NATO; and "affirming" the three- and four-child "model" for Bulgarian families. Long Live Bulgaria!
In comparison to the Nationalist Party of Bulgaria, Volen Siderov looks like a tame schoolboy, but like Volen Siderov the new "party" will probably be short-lived. Its bark will probably turn out to be worse than its bite. The real problem, however, is that while politicians and probably the courts likely bicker over all this, Bulgarians and foreigners alike will continue to be attacked in the streets of Sofia for the only crime of looking not sufficiently Bulgarian.