Issue 164

BULGARIA, IN THE MEANTIME

Predictably, the coronavirus emergency has made all other events in what remains the EU's poorest and least free state look like insubstantial tidbits. With very few exceptions all media have focused exclusively on the alarmist press conferences of Gen Ventsislav Mutafchiyski, the military doctor who heads the emergency staff, and on the lifts Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has given to his ministers in his private jeep to inspect unfinished stretches of road.

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ANGRY SOFIANITES

From job opportunities to entertainment options: living in Sofia, Bulgaria's largest city, has its perks. It also has its downsides. This is why Sofianites are an angry lot, eagerly expressing their frustration at queues, while driving and especially on social media. What specifically drives these people crazy? Like in every big city traffic, infrastructure, pollution and overpopulation play their roles. But like unhappy families, each angry city is angry in its own way. Here is a long, but by no means exhaustive list of the things that force locals off their rockers.

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BULGARIA'S FIREWALKERS

Police checkpoints, scores of cars parked along the roadside and throngs of people crowding between stalls selling candyfloss, kepabcheta and cheap Made-in-China toys: on 3 June, the village of Balgari looks much like any Bulgarian village during a country fair.

Balgari's fair, however, is unlike any other. When darkness falls over the village square, barefoot men and women will dance on live coals.

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QUOTE-UNQUOTE

The Prime Minister told me: 'If I were a woman, I would knock it off with you'.

Epidemiologist Dr Atanas Mangarov, who has opposed the lockdown measures

Culture is a whim of luxury. When the world has stopped working, how can we be concerned with culture?

Vezhdi Rashidov, former GERB culture minister

You have the rare chance to be governed by us. Under President Radev, people would have been dying.

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19TH CENTURY RABBI HALTS MAJOR EPIDEMIC

The coronavirus outbreak has stopped the world in its tracks and made the word quarantine a part of everyday life, and vocabulary. The word describing the practice of isolation as a way to fight epidemics, of course, is much older and there is a Bulgarian town that is an example of how instrumental quarantining could be in saving lives.

In 1828, the decisive action of a single man protected Silistra, on the River Danube, from an outbreak of cholera. Astonishingly, this man was not a general or a prime minister, but a modest Jewish religious scholar.

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FLOWER OF IMMORTALITY

In myths, science and fiction, people have searched for immortality since time immemorial – pun not intended. So far, as much as we know, to no avail. However, a plant that is found exclusively in Bulgaria solved the problem millions of years ago.

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BEING HAPPY

The White Gentleman decided that the weather was too beautiful this morning to waste the day in everyday nonsense. Therefore, he put on his happy hat and flung the door open with a flourish. He took a deep breath, then stepped onto the street with his left foot. The town was still asleep.

The street was so quiet that he could hear his footsteps. He'd take three steps and then a hop, because walking in an even cadence was boring.

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IMPROVED PROTECTION IN THE DIGITAL WORLD

The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures governments took to fight it provoked us to completely redefine our lives and the things that unit recently we took for granted, from travelling to meeting friends to the psychological challenge of the lockdown.

One of the lessons we learnt has two sides.

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THE BIG GAMING

One of the ways in which the lockdown united our family, scattered over three locations around Europe, was the sudden and somewhat surprising way we all got hooked on computer games. My mother went all into playing a version of online Mahjong, my brother rediscovered a long-forgotten strategy game and became obstinate to win on chess agains the computer, and I discovered that the endless WhatsApp conversations pass more imperceptibly when I play Tetris or 1024.

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