Issue 7

THE BODYGUARD

The American Congressional Quarterly is not among the best-known foreign magazines in Bulgaria, but when it published Jeff Stein's article "Bush's Bulgarian Partner in the Terror War Has Mob History, Investigators Say," the reaction in this country was instantaneous - mostly because the person whom the article accused of having a shady past is Bulgaria's man of the moment: Boyko Borisov.

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FREEDOM OF THE PRESS OR FOR THE RABBLE?

Freedom of speech and the press in Bulgaria is guaranteed by the Constitution, but sometimes journalists find it hard to exercise this right. Especially when a radical political leader bursts into the editorial offices with a hundred supporters, demanding to speak to the editor-in-chief and the author of an article critical of himself. Shouts like “We'll rip out your liver, we know where you live!” coming from a crowd of surly men do little to contribute to a calm, rational conversation.

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ODD BULGARIAN OUT

The caller to Sky News was increasingly belligerent. You felt a new political party was about to be formed, the Bulgar-Bashing Brigade. “They're the most vicious people in Europe; the KGB used them as assassins. We're going to be importing a nation of hit men! At least the Poles were on our side during the war.” The presenter berated the caller for “crude national stereotyping” and ended the exchange.

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TURN RIGHT AT THE PARLIAMENT

“The European family is now back together,” said then European Parliament president Josep Borrel, welcoming the new legislators from Bulgaria and Romania, in the first legislative session of the year.

It was a moment of mixed feelings for the right-wingers in the European Parliament, strict opponents of enlargement, immigration and the integration of Eastern countries. Traditionally, Bulgarian and Romanian deputies would not have been welcomed by their fellow parliamentarians from the right, but, on that day, champagne was in the ice bucket.

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CAR BOOT SALES AT CHERNO MORE

For a dozen Britons, paradise has a name: Kosharitsa. Some four miles west of Sunny Beach, this is the village they now call home.

Most of them lived in the north of England, but didn't know one another before they came here. Now, settled for good and showing no sign of wanting to return to the UK, they consider themselves part of the local community. They've even organised an expat club which meets regularly on Thursday evenings. Its purpose, however, is not to set them apart from the rest of the villagers, but to find ways to better integrate in the local milieu.

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BOOM OR BUST

A Norwegian who has spent most of the past 40 years in Spain, but has nevertheless been appointed a knight by the King of Norway, Per Svensson is the secretary of the national association of foreigners in Spain, Ciudádanos Europeos, or European Citizens. The association was formed in 1992 following decisions in the Maastricht agreement to foment European Citizenship and works on a non-profit basis to protect the interests of European citizens in Spain.

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BULGARIA FOR BEGINNERS

Chow Down, BG style.

Eat 100 percent Bulgarian-style for a day, just so you can say you did. Kick off in the morning with banitsa, an oily, cheesy pastry creation suitable for breakfast and roof insulation purposes only.

At lunch, have a gevrek. They're those bread-rings sold by old ladies on street corners. Possibly invented during the war, when fresh bread was unavailable, the idea kind of stuck, as a nostalgia thing. Chewier than old boots, you'll be munching away for hours.

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HISTORY OF BULGARIA: FROM THRACIANS TO NDK

You don't need to live long in Bulgaria to learn from your Bulgarian friends or from whatever scarce English language brochures you can get your hands on that the country boasts a rich history and an invaluable cultural heritage. It has been the birthplace of incredible generals and remarkable statesmen, an outpost against every foreign invasion into Europe and the cradle of at least a couple of great civilisations.

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WANTING TO DO THE HAJJ, BUT ENDING UP WITH A HADZH INSTEAD

A cross from Jerusalem or a phial of water from the Jordan: these are the most likely souvenirs from the Holy Land that you will get if a Bulgarian friend of yours goes to Jerusalem for Easter. Whatever feelings you may have about such kinds of presents, bear in mind that you should congratulate the one who gives them to you with Chestito hadzhiystvo and address him at least once with "hadzhi".

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PROFESSION: TRAVELLER

Not unlike a religious mystery screenplay, a banknote fallen from somebody's pocket provided the link between world-famous director Wim Wenders and the little-known country of Bulgaria. After the Jerusalem Film Festival in 2000, Stefan Kitanov, director of the international Sofia Film Fest (SFF), was walking with his wife in a small valley by the Holy City. There, under a tree, he found a 20-dollar note. "Lucky me!" Kitanov thought without even suspecting the sort of followup that the invisible scriptwriter had prepared for him.

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NO PHOTOGRAPHY

"If you want to take photos, you will have to pay another 10 leva." What you hear at the ticket desk of the National Museum of History (NMH) in Sofia may cool the enthusiasm with which you headed for the former residence of Communist leader Todor Zhivkov in Boyana, wanting to learn more about Bulgarian history. The shock will be even greater if you compare this with the situation in most British museums, where not only entry but the photography of exhibits is free - and encouraged.

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SPRING CLEAN

As investors' pockets around the world start thawing out, we leave behind a very mild Bulgarian winter. Spring, being the time to get your house in order, is celebrated traditionally with an annual spring clean. Likewise, it is perhaps time to have a spring clean of your property portfolio and consider the future of the Bulgarian real estate market and general investment climate.

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MIND YOUR LANGUAGE

"In Paris they simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language." American author Mark Twain's tongue-in-cheek assessment of his somewhat dubious linguistic skills in The Innocents Abroad serves to remind us even today that learning to speak a new language presents a cultural, as well as a guttural, learning curve.

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SIX MEN IN A BOAT (TO SAY NOTHING OF THE LEADER)

April is a terrible month - not cold enough for skiing and not warm enough for swimming. And weekends are the most terrible days of this month; you stay at home and while wondering what to do, engage in meaningless things like rearranging your books. For rafting fans, however, there's no better month than April. The snow in the mountains has melted and filled the rivers with "white water," just excellent for the purpose.

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RIPPING WASHBASINS OFF

According to the first, a girl from Gorna Oryakhovitsa went to a construction site to see how things were going. The lass, whose name some linguists claim to know, was so pretty that the washbasins just attached to the bathroom walls came off onto the floor. “The washbasins got ripped off!” the workers said.

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WE'VE GOT MAIL

Need I say more?

E. B., Sofia


DEAR VAGABOND,

I'm just back from Bansko, where I was reminded of a practice that you might like to include in your guide. We fell foul of this a couple of times in Sofia as well.

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PIRATES ONLINE

We are a nation of criminals - internet pirates downloading free music and films. We should all be arrested and put in jail. At least, that was the message behind the government's latest measures in the fight against organised crime.

Since all of Bulgaria's big time criminals like smugglers, murderers, drug dealers, mafia bosses, pimps and thieves are already safely behind bars, it seemed it was high time that the State did something about the millions of teenagers and otherwise respectable people stealing from Bill Gates, the members of the BSA, the MPAA and the RIAA.

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THE PITFALLS OF ONLINE SHOPPING IN BULGARIA

Last week I ordered a spare tyre for my car online and had it delivered to the office the next day, leaving my colleagues speechless. Most of them would never have believed such a thing possible. It turned out that few of them had ever ordered anything online besides concert tickets. In fact, only about five percent of all Bulgarians have ever indulged in any form of distance shopping.

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