by Minka Vazkresenska; photography by BTA

Twenty years ago, when Communist censors controlled all sources of information, Bulgarians mastered to perfection the skill of reading between the lines.

Journalists mastered another art. In a single line, they could put together the proclamations of the Communist Party "Socialist Bulgaria is making progress towards complete victory" and the unpleasant truth "There will be electricity shortages this winter."

We believed that this art had died out – after all, the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech – until we read the following headline on a local news site, verbatim: "There Is No Drop in Tourist Flow to Sunny Beach."

The article goes on: "Sixty percent of the accommodation capacity of Sunny Beach is full. According to information provided by the management of Sunny Beach Ltd, most tourists this year come from Germany, Britain and Scandinavia, as usual, and they are enjoying themselves mainly in the swimming pools. The areas in front of the hotels are full, while those by the sea are empty because of the high prices demanded by the concessionaires – 24 leva for a parasol and a couple of sun loungers. Swarthy young men (Editor's comment: a euphemism for Gypsies) patrol the beaches with baskets full of fruit. There is no fixed price; it is determined on the spot depending on how rich the customer looks. You may end up paying 10 leva for 200g of cherries.

"Restaurateurs have come up with a new trick to attract tourists. A sign in front of many restaurants states that a large draught beer costs 1 lev, and an English breakfast can be had for between 5 and 7 leva. These rock-bottom prices infuriate the staff of more expensive establishments. When asked why their prices are higher, they explain that the cheap beer is diluted with water, and bacon is substituted by cheap Bulgarian sausages. However, for the first time, even prices in luxury restaurants have fallen. You can order a chicken steak and salad for 5 leva. Naturally, all restaurants still have two price lists, one for Bulgarians and the other for foreign tourists. This practice is of course unlawful, but most restaurateurs claim that it doesn't make much difference.

"The bad forecasts of a drop in tourist numbers have not materialised so far. The crisis is evident mostly in fewer staff and lower salaries. The good news is that the profiteering period of Bulgarian tourism is passing away, slowly but indubitably. Food and accommodation prices have been regulated without reducing the quality of the product. Bulgarian tourists are happy because three people can have an all-inclusive stay in a hotel by the sea for only 108 leva per day."

Now, read between the lines and take a guess, is there a crisis or not?!



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