Issue 169

YORAM ELRON

Jews and Bulgarians have lived side by side each other for centuries. Bulgaria was among the first countries to recognise the State of Israel, in 1948. However, Cold War politics played a decisive role in the next several decades and Bulgaria broke off diplomatic relations in 1967, a situation that continued all the way to 1990.

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GERMAN GACHEVSKI: MISSION POSSIBLE

When Vagabond interviews a CEO or an owner of a successful Bulgarian or international company, we usually meet in a flashy office building in Sofia. The meeting with German Gachevski, founder and CEO of software company TSD Services, was more unorthodox. We had to drive to Troyan, a town at the foot of the Central Stara Planina mountain range.

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ISSUE OF NORTH MACEDONIA

In Bulgaria, Winston Churchill (who held southeastern Europe in contempt) is sometimes quoted as saying the Balkans have more history than they are able to stomach. The 20th century offers many examples of internecine conflicts and wars anyone, not just the Balkans, would have found too difficult to come to terms with.

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CITY OF SALT

Today's doctors urge less salt, but such an advice would have sounded at least odd to the people of yore who had to do with preindustrial food. Ever since the dawn of civilisation salt was a rare and valued product. Its extraction was difficult, trading it often entailed travel of hundreds of miles, the control of salt extraction sites generated wars. Long before gold and silver became measures of wealth salt was used as a universal currency.

A prehistoric site in northeastern Bulgaria now reveals the role salt played in founding the first urban centre in Europe.

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WHAT WE HAVE AS A TOPIC...

Tsv. Tsv., as he is sometimes popularly referred to, is the head of the Euro-Atlantic Centre for Security, a thinktank set up by himself when he was forced to resign from GERB, in 2019. Tsvetanov and "thinktank" in the same sentence? – some cynics Bulgarians have wondered. In actual fact, Tsv.

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WHAT IS 'NPP BELENE'?

Whichever Bulgarian government translator devised the incomprehensible acronym "NPP" could have had little idea that those three letters would live on in many Bulgarians' consciousness for longer than the thing they were supposed to signify. To speakers of English, NPP stands for Nuclear Power Plant, a literal translation of the Bulgarian АЕЦ.

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THE LAST CRUSADER

Hidden among the firs of a park by the busy Władysław Warneńczyk Boulevard in Varna is one of Bulgaria's strangest and most moving museums. There, inside one of two ancient Thracian burial mounds is the stone effigy of a sleeping medieval knight.

This is the symbolic grave of the Polish-Hungarian King Władysław III, who died in 1444 in a battle during what is considered to be the last Crusade in Europe.

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SOFIA'S PARTY HOUSE

"Where is the parliament?" A couple of months ago anyone asking this question in Sofia would have been pointed to a butter-yellow neoclassical building at one end of the Yellow Brick Road. Imaginatively, it resembles the Paris Opera House and has the Belgian national motto, "Unity Makes Strength," above its main façade, looking onto the statue of a 19th century Russian tsar on horseback. This was the place where Bulgarian MPs used to gather to do whatever they were supposed to do.

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BULGARIA'S FORGOTTEN BUNKERS

After a few weeks in Bulgaria expats and visitors alike who take more than a passing interest in the obvious attractions of the country are bound to have noticed the enormous number of ruins all over. In fact, Bulgarian Communist-era ruins can be so overwhelming that to make sense of them it helps to split them into a number of subcategories: industrial ruins (plants and factories that ceased to exist post-1989), farming ruins (remnants of collective farms and facilities), and urban ruins (abandoned or never-completed buildings in towns).

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POSTCARD FROM ELENA

"First we waited for the British tourists, then we waited for the Russians and now we are waiting for the Romanians." This was how, a decade ago, a guesthouse owner summed up the hopes and disappointments of small-time entrepreneurs in Elena, a town in the Stara Planina mountain range, about 40 kms from Veliko Tarnovo. Back in those days, EU-funded development of "green" initiatives and rural tourism was all the rage in Bulgaria, especially in economically struggling areas.

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RED TIDE

To defrost from a long Arctic Vortex and to draw mangroves in charcoal I flew to an artist colony near Fort Myers, Florida, on an elongated and thin island, a Key. I didn't know there were Keys on the West Coast of Florida, only south of Miami, where I had never been. It seems a Key is a glorified sandbar which has gained solidity through vegetation sinking roots and tides bringing in more sand, mostly white but with specks of black. Some of the black came from thousands of years of shark teeth, and every morning I could see people collecting the teeth. It was an art form.

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IT STARS

When talking about the Bulgarian economy in 2020, one field attracts the attention – information and communication technologies (ICT). This is rather understandable. The sector is the third most developed one in the country after trade and industry. Unlike many other fields in the Bulgarian economy, the IT sector dealt much more effectively with the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Staff redundancy and salary cuts were significantly lower in the ICT field and some companies even increased their activities and continued hiring.

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