Issue 123-124

A FEW MORE WEEKS OF BOYKO

Like so many other things in Bulgaria since 2009, it all started with the inimitable mixture of populism and demagoguery of this country's outgoing prime minister, Boyko Borisov. The current political crisis has its roots in Borisov's threat to resign in case his handpicked nominee for president, Tsetska Tsacheva, failed to win. Which she did in the November ballot, by an unprecedented margin in Bulgaria's presidential elections since the fall of Communism.

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BULGARIA'S TOP CAVES

So far, more than 4,500 have been discovered and mapped. The number is so high because 22 percent of the country is covered with karst, a topography created when water soaks, dissolves and carves sedimentary rocks, mainly limestone, dolomite, and marble. Over millennia, the water shapes the karst into a variety of forms both on the ground and deep below. Caves are some of the most spectacular results of this activity.

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HELL IS NO JOKE

The architecture? The silver-haloed icons of the Virgin Mary? The elaborate carvings of the icon doors? These may all be astonishing, but have you noticed the river of fire, on the outside western wall of most of the churches, flowing towards the gaping mouth of a dragon-like monster? Have you bent to see in detail the devils in the flames? Have you wondered what were the crimes of the sinners they torture?

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 A PICTURE SAYS 1,000,000 WORDS...

The man in the middle is Bulgaria's former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. The location is Hitrino, a village in northeastern Bulgaria. The occasion is a major train accident at the village station that resulted in a huge explosion leaving eight people dead and devastating many people's homes.

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BANSKO

The compacted ice on the pavements. The impassable streets. The grey, yellow and black hues the snow assumes from the dirty city air. Not. Enjoyable. At. All.

In Bansko, however, one can easily love snow from the appearance of the first snowflake in December to the thaw in April. Snow here is 100 percent for fun.

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AUGUSTA TRAIANA

It is the result of a tragedy and a necessity. In the 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish War, Stara Zagora was razed to the ground after a vicious battle. Rebuilding began in 1878 according to a plan by an Austro-Hungarian architect.

But no one was aware then that beneath the debris of houses, churches and mosques lay the remains of an ancient city with meticulous straight-street planning.

It was the Roman city of Augusta Traiana.

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SOZOPOL'S PRIME GHOST

She sips her white wine, which we are enjoying in the best of Sozopol's restaurants, on the rocky shore of the old town, and adds: "Being a fisherman is not something you are taught in school, it is a trade that generally runs in the family."

The place she is talking about is difficult to miss. In modern Sozopol, a resort of brash new overdevelopment and manicured traditional architecture, the deliciously ghostly ruins on St Kirik island, just by the harbour, stand out. The beauty of the original building is still visible, deteriorating under the elements.

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QUOTE-UNQUOTE

The migrants' pressure on the Bulgarian borders seriously weakens our nation's reproductive capabilities.

Miho Mihov, former Army General Chief of Staff

Who can you elect for parliament? The patriots, who are not patriots; the party of rednecks; or the left wing, who are actually rightwing?

Professor Velislav Minekov

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SARAJEVO

Shoppers walk by, perusing the oranges, potatoes and home-made Rakiya, oblivious to the looming memorial to the victims of the 5 February 1994 shelling, which took the lives of 68 people just like them, people who were trying to do some shopping in besieged Sarajevo.

How the people of Sarajevo cope with the wounds of the Bosnian War of 1992-1995, the bloodiest of the conflicts that put an end to Yugoslavia in the 1990s, is a question any visitor to the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina struggles to answer.

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YEAR OF WOMEN, An excerpt from a novel

There's a minibus going everywhere, I swear. Even in the shittiest little towns, six to eight people get dropped off every two hours. I couldn't imagine what anyone else wanted in Stefan Voda, unless they somehow had jobs and still wanted to live there.

It was picturesque, like Grigorievca, with tin-cutout wells and weathered gingerbread on the houses and gates. Some fluffy yellow dogs with curly tails were scuffling around by someone's fence. I remembered how no young people stayed in the village and wondered if they all – the girls, anyway – ended up like Cristina.

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THE BULGARIA PLEASURE

A growing number of people choose Bulgaria as a tourist destination. It is visible not only from the official statistics and the buzz in the large cities and the popular resorts, but also in the fact that it is no longer a rarity to meet foreign tourists even in the most remote corners of the country.

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WITH A HELP FROM A FRIEND

Confusion. No matter how great your business ideas are, how bright are your company's perspectives on a foreign market or how tempting look the opportunities for European funding. If you lack significant experience in the field, the clash with administration can become a source of frustration and even of losses for your business, if this discourages you from applying or entering a new market.

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TIME FOR RAKIYA

Historians disagree when exactly it appeared, and Balkan and other nations disagree on who makes it best. But in spite of its ability to ignite disputes, Rakiya remains one of the things that unite Bulgarians. There is hardly anyone able to imagine the beginning of a Bulgarian dinner without the cult – and rhetorical – question: "Will you have one small Rakiya?".

However, in Bulgaria the question is not only about a single small Rakiya. In this country, Rakiya is institution.

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THE BLESSED YEAR

Good, bad or unremarkable was 2016 for you? Whatever the answer is, the hopes and dreams for a marvellous 2017 are with us in the first days of the year, when the enthusiasm from counting from ten to zero and the memory for champagne bubbles on our palates are still fresh.

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