Belene is the site of a former Communist concentration camp. It is also the site of a failed nuclear power plant. To Bulgarians it is known mainly for the huge amount of mosquitoes in the summertime. What would visitors do in a place like Belene?
In Belene you can see everything that we are trying to run away from in our history. You can see the remnants of the concentration camp, the huge site of the projected but cancelled nuclear power plant, now a ruin; you can see the dilapidated Communist-era housing estates – all in bits and pieces, all at the same time. Belene is like a David Hockney picture – it all happens in your head.
I would also take my friends to the northern stretches of the Black Sea coast. The area is not as popular as the southern Black Sea coast, where Post-Communism has played out its mutri and chalga culture. Sadly, the south now looks like the system itself with all its prestige indicators. Going north is like being a dissenter in Post-Communism.
And then I will take them to Plovdiv. Under Communism, the Revival Period part of Plovdiv was maintained by the state. It epitomised the great art being produced in Plovdiv by a handful of painters, all of them now dead. Of course, you should go and see, but I prefer another part of town: Kapana, or the Mousetrap. It's the closest you get in Bulgaria to a Balkan carsi. Emir Kusturica shot some of his Underground film there.
We have had many letters from readers who speak some Bulgarian and look at some of the Bulgarian media, but cannot understand what's going on. During the past several months a variety of media watchdogs have criticised Bulgaria for failing to protect free speech and independent media. The issues are many and varied: nebulous ownership of the media, including distribution; too much centralisation; monopolies; open and covert conflicts of interest; political pressures; direct and indirect censorship. In fact Bulgaria is at the bottom of the freedom-of-speech scale in the EU.
Declining freedom of speech is not something we've observed during the past few months, but during the past few years. Ironically, it started after Bulgaria was accepted in the EU. The we were 30th in the world in terms of freedom of speech, now we are sub-70.
There are three periods in the Bulgarian media post-1989. First was the Big Boom of the 1990s, when the Bulgarians thought that freedom of speech was their constitutional right. Finally, Bulgarians knew that there were many parties and ideologies to choose from. That was the the time of overeating on media communications after the long hunger of Communism.
The second period was the media's professionalisation. It started at the end of the 1990s with the entry of foreign investors in the media market: Westdeutsche Allgemaine Zeitung, or WAZ; Greek entrepreneur Minos Kiriakou; Rupert Murdoch and a few others. They brought their own software and they installed it on the local hardware. In itself, this was very valuable because the media became a lot more professional.
Now we are in the third period, which brought to light the illusions of the former two periods. Neither the law, nor the market can guarantee freedom of speech. Of course, both are prerequisites, but they are not enough. The third period started when the big investors began to leave. Kiriakou was the first to leave, then Murdoch, then WAZ. All of them sensed that the economic crisis, which was just coming to Bulgaria, would make their businesses a lot more difficult to run, and decided to sell.
Now these businesses are Bulgarianised, and we can see what significant guarantor to freedom of speech those foreign investors were, with all their faults.
At present, Bulgaria is in a deep crisis. Sadly, the first victims of the new economic realities were the more professional media and media formats. They were the first to fall. The mass circulation press as well as the reality TV shows hold out.
Yet another major problem is the lack of useful legislation in tact with the new situation. We only have the Broadcasting Act, which was created in the epoch of analogue, and which is now obsolete.
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