Wed, 11/01/2006 - 14:34

Do not walk on the grass because it is yours!

communist aparatchiks.jpg
One Georgi Dimotrov and two Lenins

First-time visitors to Bulgaria are bound to spot them at some stage: little metal plates hung at street corners, in parks, in Communist-era office corridors, perhaps in a ramshackle old factory or two (if you happen to wander round any of those).

The plates are neatly written in indecipherable Cyrillic. Who devised them, you may ask yourself? If you happen to come from one of those countries where signs are actually supposed to mean something useful to the public, like "Mind the gap", or "Push the bell only once", you may well wonder what they are meant to convey.

Food is given against coupons to 1 or 2 persons at most

Food is given against coupons to 1 or 2 persons at most

Like so many things under Communism, when Bulgarians had to take part in elections when just one party was standing, they do not mean anything at all.

So, you would be justified in asking who invested all the time and effort, not to mention the money, into actually manufacturing these meaningless signs. To answer this question, let's take a little look at the background.

One of the most irrational aspects of the Communist system was its claim to omniscience. As the sole leader of the industrial, peasant and cultural establishment, the Communist Party had a penchant for issuing directives on virtually anything, from farming to May Day parades and sports. During this period, Bulgarians were subject to whimsical orders concerning nearly all aspects of their lives, while toiling through five-year plans and "counter plans". If you were told you had to make five metal sticks a day, the correct reply was "No, no, no, I shall make seven metal sticks a day!". This was a "counter plan". In this way, the Communist Party tried not only to control every facet of the planned economy, but by incessantly ramming home the advantages of cleanliness or of crossing the street in the right place, of citizens' private lives too.

Pupils! Keep the traffic rules! Be examples!

Pupils! Keep the traffic rules! Be examples!

As the senior establishment was preoccupied with far more important things, such as organising its own congresses, than producing the metal plates to enforce these messages, this task was left to the Party secretaries in the provinces. In fact, an entire mini-industry developed around them. Party secretaries employed painters to paint slogans and, more importantly, thinkers to think them up. Although there was a Party Academy where cadres were taught how to manage Party affairs, the sign inventors were evidently not major intellectuals, which accounts for the proliferation of typos, bad grammar and haziness of ideas promulgated in their products.

Many signs focused on the need to "preserve" cleanliness, otherwise extolled as a "traditional" Bulgarian virtue. A particularly instructive example of this is a notice that announces: "It is allowed to shake underwear and blankets over the non-front facade balconies Mornings from 7 to 9 o'clock (On Sundays from 8.30 to 9 o'clock) Afternoons from 17 to 19 o'clock".

Others, such as "Do not spill the water without reason", remain somewhat more enigmatic.

Always work with tucked-in work clothes and hair!

Always work with tucked-in work clothes and hair!

While it is clear that the establishment ordered the production of these signs in order to assert its control over every aspect of life, social psychologists have yet to examine what inspired them to come up with such messages. Perhaps they earnestly believed that Bulgaria would be a better place in a classless future if its citizens were reasonable water spillers and law abiding underwear shakers?

While you seek your own answers to the mysteries of centralized thinking, enjoy our collection, and please bear in mind that many of these signs were written in such unconventional or just plain bizarre language, that translation really does them a disservice.

Do not spill oil on the work site!

Do not spill oil on the work site!

Every child - a depositor at the state savings banks

Every child - a depositor at the state savings banks

Citizens! Regularly sweep the sidewalks in front of the buildings inhabited by yourselves

Citizens! Regularly sweep the sidewalks in front of the buildings inhabited by yourselves

Issue 2

Commenting on

Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on


Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

king boris meets people
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.

Bay Ganyo in translation
In Vagabond we sometimes write about people whose activities or inactivity have shaped Bulgaria's past and present. Most of these are politicians or revolutionaries.

vanga monument
The future does not look bright according to Vanga, the notorious blind clairvoyant who died in 1996 but is still being a darling of tabloids internationally, especially in Russia.

The 23rd infantry battalion of Shipka positioned north of Bitola, Macedonia, during the Great War
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.

soviet army monument sofia ukraine
One of the attractions of the Bulgarian capital, the 1950s monument to the Red Army, may fascinate visitors wanting to take in a remnant of the Cold War, but many locals consider it contentious.

panelki neighbourhood bulgaria
With the mountains for a backdrop and amid large green spaces, uniform apartment blocks line up like Legos. Along the dual carriageway, 7km from the centre of Sofia, the underground comes above ground: Mladost Station.

boyan the magus
What do you do when the events of the day overwhelm you? When you feel that you have lost control of your own life? You might overeat, rant on social media or buy stuff you do not need. You might call your shrink.

Monument to Hristo Botev in his native Kalofer
Every 2 June, at exactly noon, the civil defence systems all over Bulgaria are switched on. The sirens wail for a minute. A minute when many people stop whatever they are doing and stand still.

st george day bulgaria
Bulgarians celebrate St George's Day, or Gergyovden, with enormous enthusiasm, both officially and in private.

Shopska salad is the ultimate rakiya companion
The easiest way for a foreigner to raise a Bulgarian brow concerns a sacrosanct pillar of national identity: rakiya, the spirit that Bulgarians drink at weddings, funerals, for lunch, at protracted dinners; because they are sad or joyful, and somet

"Where is the parliament?" A couple of months ago anyone asking this question in Sofia would have been pointed to a butter-yellow neoclassical building at one end of the Yellow Brick Road.

Boyko Borisov_0.jpg
Bulgaria's courts have been given the chance to write legal history as former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov is suing Yordan Tsonev, the MP for the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, over Tsonev's referral to him as a mutra.