For Bulgarians, running away from their abominable Bay Ganyo is like running away from their shadows
Issue 21, June 2008
by Sylvia Choleva
It is impossible to go to Bulgaria and not encounter Bay Ganyo. Born as a fictional character in a series of satirical short stories by writer Aleko Konstantinov in the 1890s, he has been living a life of his own for nearly a hundred years. During this time he has become a byword for a Bulgarian and when saying “Ganyo” in fact people often mean “Bulgar”.
Bay Ganyo is not a pleasant character. He can be described as vulgar, impudent, opportunistic, uncivilised, an unscrupulous profiteer, a skirt-chaser of the worst kind and a crook. Only afterwards you may hear more attractive characterisations, such as ingenious, energetic and pragmatic.
How can you recognise Bay Ganyo when you meet him in 21st Century Bulgaria? It is not difficult.
The first outward signs are a complete disregard for good manners and personal hygiene. As described by Aleko Konstantinov, Bay Ganyo often belches, smells of sweat, pinches women's bottoms and treats foreigners as fools who want to cheat him but whom he will cheat instead. He travels a lot, but not to discover other cultures - his aim is to peddle the goods he carries and, when back in Bulgaria, boast that he has “trodden all over Europe”.
When Bay Ganyo works, he chooses the jobs that will give him an easy life, although they involve compromising his conscience. It is not a problem for him, because he wouldn't recognise his conscience even if he fell over it. Like at the end of the 19th Century, modern Bay Ganyo publishes newspapers whose editorials are adapted to the views of those in power. He is in international trade, which oft en serves as a cover for contraband and bootleg alcohol production. Just like in the 1890s, Bay Ganyo enjoys going to cocktail parties and receptions. Th e difference is that he does not fall upon the cold buff et now and knows how to eat appetisers. He still manipulates election results, but now his methods are more sophisticated. Instead of using force to solicit votes for his candidate, he now buys kebapcheta and washing powder for the people, or simply hands out 20 leva per voter.
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