FORUM

EUROPE'S LAGGARD

Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who has ruled Bulgaria almost uninterruptedly since 2009, may appear sprightly when he holds the hands of Angela Merkel or endearing when he tries to speak French with Emanuel Macron, but under his GERB-manship Bulgaria has collapsed to the rock bottom of almost every possible area that can be measured statistically.

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WHEN A ROSE IS NOT EXACTLY A ROSE

Attar-bearing roses and beautiful girls in traditional attire picking them dominate the images that Bulgaria uses to sell itself to both Bulgarian and international tourists. The rose is on this country's tourist logo, and is all over souvenirs and promotional materials, from postcards and videos to rose-scented soaps.

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WAS JULIA KRISTEVA A COMMUNIST 'AGENT'?

Bulgaria has had an uneasy transition from Communism to democracy as a result of which it continues to experience painful pangs related to its recent past. Unlike other nations in the former Warsaw Pact  Bulgaria never made a proper de-Communisation effort. Top Communist-era officials and thousands of apparatchiks continued, and some still continue, to hold public offices.

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VERY SUPERSTITIOUS

Once you start paying attention to Bulgarians, you will observe some inexplicable actions. Dozens of men and women wear red thread around their wrists. An old woman cuddles a baby, and then spits at it. Another woman panics at the thought of putting her bag on the floor. On TV, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov wears a red thread around his wrist, and says that he never clips his nails, shaves or lends money… on a Monday. A book of self-proclaimed Bulgarian traditional magic for health, good luck, love and so on is a bestseller.

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IS BOYKO A RELIABLE ALLY?

One of the things that has clearly distinguished Bulgaria's Prime Minister of about 10 years, Boyko Borisov, from his obvious authoritarian ilk – Hungary's Orban and Poland's Kaczynski – is the fact that sometimes, usually at the right time (in the presence of Western leaders), he asserts that he is pro-Western.

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REBIRTH OF BULGARIAN FASCISM

Who was Gen Lukov? A First World War hero, he was war minister in the 1930s but fell out with the king and retired just prior to the beginning of the Second World War. In 1942 he became the leader of the Bulgarian National Legions Union. He was assassinated by a hit squad of Communists the following year. Under Communism, Hristo Lukov was a non-person. His name was rarely mentioned in the history books because the Communists feared he might be glorified as a symbol of anti-Communism.

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EMBASSY RECIPES

Emma Hopkins OBE was appointed Her Majesty's Ambassador to Bulgaria in May 2015. Since then, she has been exploring Bulgaria, its people, culture, landmarks and, last but not least, its cuisine. She openly professes her love for Bulgarian food and adds with a smile: "I prefer Bulgarian vegetables, because they are more delicious than UK ones."

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FOR A COUPLE OF LIONS' HIDES

Under GERB, Bulgaria's public has become accustomed to scandals of various magnitude that come and go about every second day, sometimes several times a day. Outrageous statements often generated by fake news make headlines for a few hours and electrify the public's attention only to be overshadowed by the next scandal that may be even more outrageous than the previous one.

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WITH BULGARIA AT THE HELM

The government in Sofia takes this very seriously. On 1 January 2018 Bulgaria will become the rotating president of the EU for the first time since it was accepted as a member in 2007. Boyko Borisov appointed a special minister for the EU presidency, creating a government post foredoomed to be rather short-lived. Millions of leva were spent on a variety of infrastructure projects, Borisov's favourite, ranging from renovations of the Communist-era NDK, where most of the EU meetings and events will be held, to making Sofia's central roads narrower in order to make way for bicycle paths.

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