FOR WHOM THE SIREN WAILS

by Minka Vazkresenska; photography by BTA

"Wooooooooo-eeeeeeeeee-wooooooooo! Wooooooooo-eeeeeeeeee-woooooooo!"

sirens in bulgaria.jpg

You probably spent the three minutes when sirens sounded all over Bulgaria at 12 noon on 2 June in a state of quiet surprise.

Despite the terrifying wail, there was no panic on the streets. Just the opposite. Pedestrians stopped walking, cars came to a standstill and everyone in their offices, homes or on the beach stood up, heads bowed. Some were peeking around, surveying the scene for apostates who kept on walking, driving or drinking coffee.

Your surprise was normal if you had never been in Bulgaria on 2 June. On this day, Bulgarians commemorate the people who died for their country with sirens and a three-minute silence.

However, this year they had a rather unconventional event in the town of Pazardzhik.

Here is what the citizens heard from the loudspeakers at 12 noon sharp: "Attention! Air Alert!" After the bloodcurdling message was repeated, the sirens began wailing.

Fortunately, nobody dashed in off the streets for fear that North Korea was testing its ultra-sophisticated intercontinental nuclear missile or that some group from the Middle East had decided to grab the headlines. People realised that the new warning system of the local Civil Protection Service, put in operation several days earlier, was probably playing up.

Indignant citizens and journalists turned their righteous anger on the director of the Civil Protection Service, Krastyo Kichov. Kichov, in turn, blamed the operator on duty and announced that the guilty party would be punished.

But the punishment is probably unnecessary. It is not entirely out of place to hear the "Air Alert!" signal on 2 June.

On this day in 1876 Bulgarian poet and revolutionary Hristo Botev died in battle with the Ottoman army on Mt Okolchitsa, in the Stara Planina. On 28 May, he and some of his insurgents boarded the Austro-Hungarian steamer General Radetzky in Giurgiu, Romania. The rebels were dressed as gardeners and were met on board by other members of the band, who had embarked at previous ports. On 29 May they removed their disguise. Botev forced the captain to change the ship's course and land the Bulgarians near Kozloduy.

Before the rebels alighted, the captain, sailors and passengers wished the Bulgarians success.

Botev's idea was to cross northern Bulgaria with his men, stirring up the Bulgarian population to revolt, thus supporting the April Uprising going on south of the Stara Planina. However, the local people were not prepared to take up arms and, moreover, the April Uprising had already been suppressed.

Botev may not have managed to topple the Ottoman Empire, but he achieved something else – the first hijacking of a passenger conveyance for political aims, as well as the first recorded instance of what would later become known as the Stockholm syndrome.

 

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