Britons in rural Bulgaria rarely look a gift horse in the mouth
Issue 67, April 2012
by Cursty Mitchell
Britons buying in rural Bulgaria came here to acquire property and land at rock bottom prices. Considering the language and cultural differences, the time constraints and the plentiful enterprises established primarily to separate them from their money, the vast majority seem to have ended up with more or less exactly what they had hoped for. Whether they were aware of it at the time of purchase or not, they were also committing financially, emotionally and physically to their new, declining rural communities.
Bulgarian villagers know each house in the community intimately. They know the depth of the well, the strength of the walls and the fertility of the soil. They were there when it was constructed and were often actually involved in the process. However, this vital knowledge is not available to the newly arrived Briton, who has neither the language ability nor the opportunity to chat with the locals as they are rushed from property to property by an agent determined to make a sale. Usually, this information only becomes apparent years later, after they have learnt some Bulgarian and spent time with their neighbours, but by then, of course, it is too late.
There is, however, another aspect to this. Many people do not actually want to know the unvarnished truth: they don't want to "look a gift horse in the mouth" in case the spell is broken. They don't want to know that something hideous is lurking behind the walls or that the structure is entirely devoid of foundations. They fall in love with their idea of it, and in their mind's eye they already see it beautified and envisage their future life within. Few who commit to buying seem prepared to give up the dream of owning outright a property in the sun.
At the back of most people's minds there was a voice whispering, "At this price, how can I go wrong?" To hesitate would be to miss out on your own personalised Bulgarian vision. This feeling spurred on the buyers, and many agents I've met certainly did nothing to dispel the dream. In the mid 2000's, the rural Bulgarian property market seemed to be entirely driven by panic. Panic that prices would rise, panic that someone would get in before you, and the panic that you wouldn't find anything during your two-week trip.
Most people are not stupid; they didn't just turn up and buy on the spot. The majority did a good deal of research via the Internet which, even today, remains the primary driving force behind the Bulgarian property boom. Britons trawled Bulgarian forums with the help of new virtual friends, and spent weeks pouring over vast caches of photos. The images of small, damp, spartan rooms crammed with the simple essentials for a lifetime of self sufficiency flooded into suburban homes up and down the UK, but the reality of village life didn't seem to register. All we asked was: "Is that a traditional door/wooden ceiling/open fireplace behind that old baba?" There were endless images of gardens, snapped in a cold, bleak January or a June jungle, but once again, we only wanted to know if we could fit a pony in there or whether there was a water supply for a swimming pool. The deprivation and hardships endured by so many in rural Bulgaria were evident in each image, and yet we completely overlooked them in our haste to fulfil our shortlist based on aesthetics and trivia.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers