FORUM

NEW SETBACKS FOR BULGARIA'S DEMOCRACY

The Bulgarian parliament approved a draft counterterrorism bill meant to give wide-ranging powers to law enforcement. The bill will empower the army to be able to make arrests and assume policing functions. It would also grant the police rights to detain citizens, impound vehicles, destruct property, tap communications, impose surveillance on emails, listen in on phone calls and so on and so forth, acting only on suspicion and without any evidence.

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BULGARIA'S HURTING PRIDE

"In Bulgaria, there is no homophobia," reads the bold text of a poster near the Red Army monument in Central Sofia featuring two young men in an embrace against the backdrop of a Communist-era apartment block. A man in his 70s sits peacefully in the midst of the brightly-coloured youth, and holds a rainbow flag, while two teens perched on the monument kiss.

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ONE OF GERB'S POTEMKIN VILLAGES

Prince Potemkin, the Russian military leader, statesman, nobleman, artist and reputedly lover of Catherine the Great, once erected a series of cardboard villages to impress his patroness on her visit to Crimea, in 1787. Since that time, the expression "Potemkin Village" has gone down in all world languages to denote a pretentiously showy facade intended to mask or divert the attention of the public from the unpleasant reality. Erecting Potemkin villages has been used with great success throughout the history of the Soviet Union, now Russia.

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TOP 10 TENETS OF THE BULGARIAN WAY OF THINKING

Remember: this country never had the Enlightenment. To fathom the overwhelming mixture of the sometimes ostensible controversies of life in Bulgaria, you need to understand how Bulgarians think – and what the main tenets of the mental process that forms psychological associations and models of the world are. Here is a tentative top 10. Peruse sparingly and apply plenty of common sense as well as a little humour.

Conspiracy theories

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LARGO OF SERDICA, ANNO 2016

In 313, a PR trick helped Constantine to become the sole ruler of the Roman Empire, whence he would go down in history as "The Great." Before a crucial battle he claimed that he had a dream in which he was advised to paint the initials of Jesus Christ, a theretofore forbidden god, on the shields of his soldiers with the promise that this would bring him victory. He did just that. He won, decriminalised Christianity, became a saint, and so on and so forth.

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PLENTY OF VENOM

Imagine you spoke Bulgarian, watched Bulgarian TV, bought Bulgarian newspapers, conferred on important issues with your Bulgarian pals on FB, and delved into the darker recesses of the Internet where there are plenty of nebulous websites purporting to carry news about Bulgaria. If you did that, you have two options. One is to go mad within a couple of hours. The other? You will discover that the sort of Bulgaria "described" by the media is very different from the Bulgaria you see on Bulgarian National Television – or out in the street.

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FREEWHEELING BULGARIA

There are two ways to interpret Bulgaria's Boyko Borisov's out-of-the-blue announcements that he was terminating a series of public contracts because he had heard rumours that the contracts, concluded under the Public Works and Contracts Act, had not been sufficiently transparent. One is to believe the prime minister that he is serious about fighting corruption and the sort of nefarious practices Bulgaria has gained notoriety for in the EU.

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IN GERB'S STRANGLEHOLD

When in a society everyone wants to have full power, it indicates that its members are ready for either tyranny or anarchy, the two opposites of freedom, said Professor Lyubomir Miletich, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Miletich, who was born in Stip, in what is now the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia in 1863 and died in Sofia in 1937, did not live long enough to see what his compatriots, many decades on, would be doing with tyranny, anarchy and freedom.

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'RUSSOPHILES' VERSUS 'RUSOPHOBES'?

Let us imagine that back in the 1970s I had two pupils who shared a desk – Ruska Filova and Rilka Russofobska. Ruska Filova studied Bulgarian philology at university and came to appreciate the superiority of the Slavic soul. Inflamed by her love of Russian culture, she became a teacher in a provincial town. She now endures low pay and complains that her pupils no longer behave. Rilka Russofobska studied English philology and now lives and works in the big city. They are both my friends on Facebook, and both now are engaged in a relentless war of words.

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BULGARIAN ORTHODOXY'S RESPONSE

The Bulgarian Holy Synod, the most senior body of the Orthodox Church, issued an official statement urging the government not to accept refugees who did not belong to the Christian, preferably the Orthodox, faith because, it said, refuges jeopardised, among other things, Bulgaria's very statehood. In this way Bulgaria's top priests put themselves at sharp variance with most other Christian churches in the world, including The Vatican, the Church of England, most Protestant denominations, and even other Orthodox churches including the Greek and the Romanian.

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