WELCOME TO BARACK OBAMA

by Anthony Georgieff

A small village in southwestern Bulgaria made international headlines and caused a significant political controversy by adopting the name of Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States.

barakovo village_0.jpg

Following a protracted deed poll action, the residents of the village near Blagoevgrad managed to achieve what many of their peers in other parts of Bulgaria had wanted for years: to change the name of their village to that of an American president. The first signs directing traffic to what is now officially known as Barakovo have already been erected on the Е79. Both domestic and international passers-by have been seen pulling up next to the signs, which fully conform to the rules for transliteration adopted by the government in the 2000s, which explains the omission of the "c" before the "k," to take pictures of themselves in various funny and sometimes silly postures.

The village authorities were quick to erect CCTV cameras to watch the entrance and exit signs to the village to prevent overexcited visitors from stealing them. The theft of uncommon road signs is common from places such as Norway's Hell and, in particular, Austria's Fucking (the pun is unintended).

The elders of Barakovo have wanted to adopt the name of a major US politician ever since the citizens of Blagoevgrad, itself named after the 19th Century Bulgarian progenitor of local Communism, refused to revert to their old Gorna, or "Upper," Dzhumaya following the collapse of the East bloc in the early 1990s. Citing phonetic reasons, the Blagoevgradchani ruled by a huge majority that Blagoevgrad was good enough for them, notwithstanding its now obsolete ideological connotations.

Not for us, the people now proudly calling themselves Barakovtsi intoned. Analysts surmise that this may be the first step in the runup to full independence from Bulgaria and political, economic and cultural integration with the United States, which Barakovo is set to demand ahead of next year's general election.

Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov imposed an information blackout on the issue by offering cash payments, sometimes called bonuses, to the owners of Bulgarian TV stations not to send out reporters, possibly fearing too much publicity would prompt yet another critical statement by American Ambassador James Warlick.

Major news media such as CNN, the BBC, Al Jazeera and North Korea's state-run Dear Leader TV Channel flocked to Barakovo to seek interviews with its mayor, who had to interrupt an afternoon drink of rakiya in order to meet members of the international press. He handed out soft drinks and local lokum to anyone asking a question.

The White House refused to comment, but a Wikileaks article indicated that the State Department had been exchanging wires with the UN Security Council on the issue.

The government of Canada issued a travel advisory, calling on its citizens to leave the Blagoevgrad area immediately – or as soon as possible, whichever came first. The former leader of the Canadian Liberal Party, Michael Ignatieff, a descendent of the famous Russian Count Ignatieff (who is himself honoured with a street in Sofia), explained the advisory was a sleight-of-hand. The real issue, he said, was that some members of the Ottawa establishment were afraid that London, Ontario, might follow suit and demand annexation by London, England.

The Irish remained unmoved, as they have enough troubles of their own, but Greek truckers were seen at a nearby garage discussing how to organise a nationwide industrial action demanding the formal incorporation of the Region of Central Macedonia into the German province of Schleswig-Holstein.

Meanwhile, a village near Barakovo filed papers for another deed poll act to legally acquire the name Obamovo. Speaking in the local pub, the mayor, the doctor, the priest and a resident British expat said it was unfair to have a village named after just the first name of the American president. "We are all so privileged and thrilled to see our neighbours adopt the name of a great world figure who has done so much for our region," the Orthodox priest said through an interpreter. "We must do something ourselves. It may be a small gesture, but we want to show the bloody Europeans that we are more bloody American than the bloody Americans themselves," he said, and indicated the pun was not intended. The mayor, the doctor and the British expat were televised tweeting about it on their iPhones.

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