20th century Bulgaria

DEAD POETS SOCIETY

It has become a commonplace that a nation can be understood best by the sort of treatment it give its poets rather by its military victories or GDP levels. This notion may be a bit outdated in a world run by social media where electronic "devices" by far outnumber fountain pens, and where a "content creator" makes more than a teacher of literature. But it is still at least indicative. Bulgaria, whose writers and poets have been translated into English only sporadically, is a case in point. On the one hand, it is very proud of its literary heritage.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

WHAT WAS THE SEPTEMBER UPRISING?

Raised hands, bodies frozen in a pathos of tragic defiance: Bulgaria, especially its northwest, is littered with monuments to an event that was once glorified but is now mostly forgotten. It took place 100 years ago, yet researchers disagree on how to label it. Some call it an uprising, a word that evokes the gravity of organised and targeted efforts to achieve a clearly set goal. For others, it was an ill-fated rebellion of a handful of peasants foolish enough to believe the sweet talking of a political power outside of Bulgaria, Moscow's Communist International.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

AMERICAN DREAM UNDER WATER

The meadow opposite the church in Gumoshtnik, the village whose name is unpronounceable for either locals or foreigners, resembles churchyards in many other Bulgarian villages. Two monuments stand there, honouring soldiers killed in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 and the First World War. Again, as in most Bulgarian villages, the meadow is usually deserted. When the wars began, this particular hamlet near Troyan, in the Balkan Mountains, had eight lively neighbourhoods. Urbanisation after 1944 reduced that number to six. Now, according to the last census, about 240 people live there.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

'ALLO 'ALLO?

Today Bulgaria, reportedly, has one of the best Internet networks in the world. This may be hard to believe because the country connected to the World Wide Web rather late, in 1989, and only got its first website in 1993.

When you look back in time to see how Bulgaria adopted other means of modern communication technology, you will recognise a pattern – after a reluctant adoption, an innovation quickly becomes ubiquitous, mastered by an enthusiastic younger generation. The story of how electric telegraphy arrived in the Bulgarian lands is a case in point.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

BULGARIA DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR

What happened in Bulgaria during the Second World War? The events, the major and minor political players and their decisions, the role that bad and good luck played in this country between 1939 and 1945 are often contradictory and hard to explain to outsiders – or to Bulgarians, for that matter. The country started the war being neutral. It became an ardent Nazi ally, but refused to declare war on the USSR. Instead, it declared a "symbolic" war on Britain and the United States. It kept most of the Jews under its jurisdiction from deportation to the death camps.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

WHY DOES 'SORRY' SEEM TO BE THE HARDEST WORD?

About 30 Bulgarians of various occupations, political opinion and public standing went to the city of Kavala in northern Greece, in March, to take part in a simple yet moving ceremony to mark the demolition of the Jewish community of northern Greece, which was effected by the Kingdom of Bulgaria when it annexed Aegean Thrace, in 1943. They included Alec Oscar, the chairman of the Shalom Organisation of Bulgarian Jews; Martin Zaimov, a political activist and former deputy chairman of the Bulgarian National Bank; Krasen Stanchev, an economist; and Manol Peykov, an activist and publisher.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

BULGARIA'S LAST MONARCH

On 3 October 1918, Bulgarians felt anxious. The country had just emerged from three wars it had fought for "national unification" – meaning, in plain language, incorporating Macedonia and Aegean Thrace into the Bulgarian kingdom. It lost them all, one way or another. Thousands of men had been killed, significant chunks of land were forfeited, and an influx of refugees overwhelmed the larger cities. More was to come, as the treaties ending the Great War were yet to be signed.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

SURPRISE, SURPRISE IN... PERNIK

When you plan a trip in Bulgaria, Pernik is rarely on the list (except for one event, more on this below). An industrial behemoth of the Communist era that fell on hard times after the collapse of the planned economy post-1989, the city is known for its uninspiring urbanscape of factories in different states of dereliction. Its residents now often commute to nearby Sofia – less than 20 miles away, and have the dubious reputation of spending weekend nights in local clubs where fights are de rigueur.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

WHAT HAPPENED AT PETROVA NIVA?

Men dressed in early 20th century military uniforms, patriotic songs and speeches, lots of banners and grilled meat stalls: if you crave attending a mass event after the end of the Covid-19 travel restrictions, consider visiting Petrova Niva in the third weekend of August.

Marked with a sombre stone monument at a picturesque bend of the Veleka river, Petrova Niva is connected to a heroic and traumatic event in Bulgarian history, the St Elijah-Transfiguration Uprising.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

LOOKING AT BURGAS, DARKLY

Despite some researchers' claims that Bulgaria's largest city on the southern Black Sea coast is ancient (related in some way to... Troy), most would agree that Burgas is quite new.

The first poverty-driven settlers came here at the end of the 19th century, only to find themselves in a swampy, malaria-infested area fit for little save fishing. Burgas began as a maze of squalid streets, randomly built harbour warehouses and tumbledown buildings. It took 13 years to approve the first town plan with its 289 small neighbourhoods and seven parks.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

FINDING ANTIP KOEV OBUSHTAROV

In early 2021 veteran Kazanlak-based photographer Alexander Ivanov went to the Shipka community culture house called Svetlina, founded in 1861, to inspect "some negatives" that had been gathering the dust in cardboard boxes. The boxes were donated to the culture house in 1995. Previously, they had been stashed at the Chirpanliev House in Shipka in the course of 26 years.

What Alexander Ivanov discovered in those boxes changed his life – and the story of what little there is to 20th century Bulgarian photography.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

BIRD'S EYE VIEW OF NESEBAR

Looking for some peace and quiet on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast in summer is a natural aspiration, even in a year of pandemic and reduced international tourism like 2021. But there are places by the sea where peace and quiet in summer are not to be found. Even in a "slow" tourist summer, they are abuzz with local and foreign visitors; lively and vibrant, sometimes vulgar and often irritating.

Nesebar is one of those places.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

DO YOU SPEAK ESPERANTO?

Daenerys Targaryen de Ludo de Tronoj parolas la lingvon de la Dothraki, kiu estas artefarita lingvo, kiel Esperanto. Recognising the names, viewers of Game of Thrones can easily conclude that the previous sentence is in some of the languages spoken in the fictional universe of the TV series (authored in real life by language creator David J. Peterson).

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

ST ANASTASIA ISLAND

To the British, He gave mastership over the seas, while the Swiss received the mountains, the Russians got the great plains, and the Germans took possession of the thick forests. When God ran out of gifts, He noticed that there was a people who were still empty-handed: the humble Bulgarians, languishing at the end of the queue of nations. Baffled, God soon realised what had happened: the Devil had stolen all the best pieces of the earth. The Almighty took everything back, and gave it to the Bulgarians.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

SOZOPOL'S PRIME GHOST

She sips her white wine, which we are enjoying in the best of Sozopol's restaurants, on the rocky shore of the old town, and adds: "Being a fisherman is not something you are taught in school, it is a trade that generally runs in the family."

The place she is talking about is difficult to miss. In modern Sozopol, a resort of brash new overdevelopment and manicured traditional architecture, the deliciously ghostly ruins on St Kirik island, just by the harbour, stand out. The beauty of the original building is still visible, deteriorating under the elements.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

BALCHIK: PALACE OF MELANCHOLIC QUEEN

The official biographers kept silent about this shocking incident which led to the death of Queen Marie of Romania several months later on 18 July 1938. Before she died, the fairhaired, blue-eyed darling of Europe's high society expressed the wish to be buried in her favourite palace at Balchik in Bulgaria.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

STILL AT BLACK SEA COAST

As you travel along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast you will inevitably pass through Varna and Burgas, the two biggest Bulgarian seaside towns. As you stroll through them, you will inevitably be confronted with a couple of monstrosities that will make you wonder, who or what are those to celebrate? Do they not belong to a bygone era that few Bulgarians want to remember? Should not they be consigned to the dustbin of history, as Marx put it, which seems to be their rightful last abode?

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment