Why do parts of the country look as if they emerge from war?
by Bozhidara Georgieva; photography by Anthony Georgieff
One of the major things that will impress first-time visitors to Bulgaria, especially if they stray off the beaten track or undertake a trip through the countryside on their own, is the huge number of abandoned and dilapidated buildings that no one cares about and that look as if they have just emerged from a major armed conflict. Only that, notwithstanding some sporadic Allied bombing in 1943-1944, Bulgaria hasn't had a "proper" war on its territory since at least 1878 when it gained independence of the erstwhile Ottoman Empire.
If that first-time visitor then asks the question why is the Bulgaria of the Flickr spa-and-wellness resorts, of the cheap-beer Sunny Beach and of the amazing archaeological finds dotted with so many empty shells of abandoned houses, factories, schools and military bases, he will arrive at some logical answers. First of all, the overwhelming majority of these ruins are in fact new, dating back to at most 25 years in time. Second, what accounts for them is not some vicious Ottoman who'd come to take revenge on his former slaves, nor is it nasty NATO, Bulgaria's archenemy in the period 1949-1989, bombing buildings and Warsaw Pact troops out of existence. It is none of that. Why Bulgaria in this respects compares unfavourably to war-ravaged Bosnia is the Bulgarians' own fault. Communist-era urbanisation, collectivisation, nationalisation and then post-Communist privatisation are to be held accountable. The simile may be trite, but it is correct: "This is the product of Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship."
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