FORUM

OFFROAD MADNESS

Spring adrenaline often needs to find an outlet, and on 20-21 April you have the perfect excuse to let it all out. For two days Hadzhidimitrovo Village, near Yambol, will host Tundzha Trail, one of craziest 4WD competitions. The event is a part of the Bulgarian championship and is organised by Yambol 4x4 Extreme Club and Tundzha Municipality. Though the championship has run for 12 years, this is the first time Hadhzidimitrovo will host it.

The competition has competitive trials, each of them has nine zones with six gates. Participants have 12 minutes to pass through each gate.

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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BULGARIA'S 'RIGHT WING'?

Twenty-nine years after the fall of Communism, Bulgaria stands more disunited than ever. Bulgarians are split not only between rich and poor; between those who can afford to pay their electricity bills and those who can't; between the people in the derelict villages and the people in Sofia and the large towns; between those who speak proper, Sofianite Bulgarian and those who don't; and between those who are favoured by GERB because they pay their dues and those who are out of favour and get their businesses destroyed.

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BULGARIA'S CAVED-IN DEMOCRACY

An Italian writer, Roberto Saviano, who has lived for years under police protection because he was "sentenced" to death by the Neapolitan Mafia, has put it plainly: "In Italy, democracy has a mafia inside. In Bulgaria, the Mafia has democracy inside." There are of course many ways to say this, one of the most popular being the local mid-1990s adage that "every state has a mafia, in Bulgaria the mafia has a state."

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MY FREEDOM VS YOUR FREEDOM

Freedom of speech suffered yet another serious blow in the EU's poorest member state when the Office of the Chief Prosecutor accused Elena Yoncheva, a TV journalist and now the floor spokesperson for the opposition BSP, of "money laundering." Yoncheva's alleged crime was that she received funding from the bankrupted KTB, or Corporate Merchant Bank, run by Tsvetan Vasilev. Her real crime, however, is that she has been critical – uncompromisingly critical – of Boyko Borisov, his GERB and their extreme nationalist allies.

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THE CASE OF VIKTORIA MARINOVA

The brutal rape and murder of an young, attractive woman has exposed this country's deep problems with government, public trust in institutions, media freedoms, racism and gender issues, and the blurred line between journalism and political activism.

What happened?

On a Sunday, while the Facebook quarrels on the quality of Central Sofia's renovation works were losing momentum, a piece of disturbing news spread over. A young woman was raped and murdered in the northern city of Ruse, in broad daylight.

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RETURN OF RADIO FREE EUROPE

About 10 years after it gained membership of the EU and nine since Boyko Borisov's GERB came to power this country has made huge progress in spending EU money. However, it has plummeted in many measurable aspects of life: from life expectancy to emigration, from the fight against corruption to the fight against organised crime, and from median incomes to media freedoms. The latter has prompted the US Congress to resume funding for a news outlet to disseminate objective, balanced and non-partisan news and analysis, and facilitate unbiased debate.

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WHAT'S IN A HORO?

In August, at approximately the same time when the Trade Register went dead and commercial transactions, including property sales, ground to a standstill for about a week, a group of folk dance enthusiasts identifying themselves as "patriots" made an attempt to enter the Guinness Book of Records. They climbed up the Rila Mountain Range and danced what they thought would go down in history as the "longest highland Horo in the world." Some of them got so excited that they stepped into one of the Seven Rila Lakes and danced in the water.

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WHAT'S IN A (TURKISH) WORD?

In many ways Bulgarians don't care about words. Fed up with partial truths, half-lies and plain nonsense for 45 years of Communism they have come to realise that words don't really mean what they are supposed to. There are many and varied examples from all areas of life to illustrate this. Often Bulgarians would see a sign announcing a shop is "open" whereas the shop is actually very closed.

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TRADITIONAL MUSIC AND DANCE

As you hold this book in your hands, a Bulgarian song travels in outer space. The song in question is "Izlel e Delyu Haidutin," a traditional Rhodope tune sung by Valya Balkanska. It was put on the Golden Record of Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts by Carl Sagan, in 1977, in his attempt to acquaint extraterrestrial civilisations with the Earth's culture. Bulgaria's folk music is incredibly varied and, with its compound metres and irregular times, may sound unusual to Western ears. Some of it, like Valya Balkanska's master opus, is slow and heavy.

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