Issue 41-42

SOFIA'S TEMPLES, PART 1

They are all over Sofia; some with shining domes, some old and crumbling, and some housed in inconspicuous grey buildings. Through the many places of worship in Sofia you can trace back the history of the city for nearly two millennia, although many were only built during the last 150 years and bear the marks of wars and Communism.

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GYPSY ROSE

Most Bulgarians will proudly assert that for centuries their predecessors have peacefully lived side by side with neighbours of various nationalities such as Turks, Armenians and Greeks. "We were the ones – the only ones in Europe – to have saved the Jews from the Holocaust," they claim. "We are a nation of ethnic and religious tolerance!"

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MISS UNIVERSE*

"My hair!" Miss USA shrieks.

Miss USA and her coaches do not have enough time to get new extensions that match. Her roommate, Miss Germany, offers to cut her own locks. She's such a martyr, even though she's the perfect Aryan specimen, with a golden lion's mane and sleeping pill-blue eyes. Maybe she feels guilty. Miss Israel reminds Miss USA that it's not the end of the world.

"How would you know?" asks Miss Palestine, who can't officially compete but hopes to tapdance in the opening number.

"Really, is not so bad," says Miss Afghanistan. "Is only little hair."

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WHAT CORRUPTION? WHAT FIGHT?

An extraordinary number of Bulgarians (in excess of 90 percent, according to some polls) consider corruption, next to low wages and crime, to be the most serious woe faced by their country. Yet only a tiny number of Bulgarians actually do anything to fight corruption.

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ALL QUIET IN BRASHLYAN

Trapped in a house in the village of Sarmashik, which was still part of the Ottoman Empire back in April 1903, a small group of Bulgarians were wondering what fate would bring in the next few hours. Rebel leader Pano Angelov and his men had been preparing a revolt against the Ottomans when they were betrayed. Thus they found themselves holed up in the house in Sarmashik – now famous as Balyuvata kashta, or Balyu's House – surrounded by Turkish soldiers.

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BOYKO'S FAILED GIRL

That Rumyana Jeleva was incompetent and unfit for the senior eurocrat position of a commissioner for international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response should have been obvious to anyone with the remotest grasp of her performance as foreign minister in her own country. That her name was put forward for the post in the first place can easily be explained by this country's prime minister's insistence on promoting his own cadres, nationally and internationally, at all costs – and mainly on the basis of loyalty to himself rather than any professional excellence.

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THE WORLD OF LP

It is difficult to surprise anybody in Facebook, but photographer Antoan Bozhinov (a regular presence in Vagabond) has managed to do it. This tall, well-built man, who dwarfs the spacious rooms of our publishing office, put in his profile a picture where he is surrounded by a dozen "Little People."

Remarkably, no one looks different to anyone else in the picture.

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PRIZREN

It was a desecration. In the dead of night, somebody had placed a freshly severed pig's head at the door of the Muderis Ali Efendi mosque, one of the oldest and most visited mosques in Prizren. The Muslim Albanians decided to take their revenge on the usual suspects, the Catholic Albanians from the nearby church. Thus, between 1905 and 1908, the city experienced the notorious Three-Year Boycott of Catholic Shops.

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ANGELS OVER SOFIA

Angels and junk: it takes an unusual mind to bridge the gap. But Magdalena Miteva certainly has that. She is involved in many projects: she puts on puppet theatre for adults, a somewhat neglected art in Bulgaria, makes lamps and decorates clubs and cafeÅLs with her ideas.

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BULGARIAN EASTER

"We are Christians and we have to obey our Boss's orders," Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said in his unique style at the end of last year, while doing something that had not happened in this country for decades. He made Good Friday an official bank holiday.

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THE GARDEN OF THE PAST AND FUTURE

It is a small park, with old trees and a playground. The monument in its centre looks simple, with chipped stones and solid geometrical forms. Only when you get closer and really look at it can you see that there are names on the stones – hundreds of names.

The Doctors' Monument is dedicated to the Russian medical workers who died in the 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish war, which liberated Bulgaria from Ottoman rule. As early as 1878 the fund-raising campaign started, and the monument itself was designed by the architects Antoniy Tomishko and Luigi Farabosco and built in 1882-1884.

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HOW TO PACK SMALL AND LIGHT FOR A JOURNEY WITHOUT FORGETTING SOMETHING IMPORTANT

When I travel in a bus, I avoid reading, because it makes me ill. Only I don't feel sick when I peep over at the magazine of my neighbour sitting diagonally across the aisle or at the exceptionally stupid newspaper of the passenger next to me. If the newspaper were mine – not that I would have bought it, never ever! – but if it were mine, I wouldn't have read any of its articles. And anyway, furtively, I don't manage to read even one, and I'll never find out what happens to the woman who has married one and the same man for the fourth time, or even whether Marek FC will qualify for….

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WELCOME TO BLOWJOBBERS

Forget about Venice, Paris, Berlin, and Minsk and think of Black Tickle (to be found in Canada's Newfoundland and Labrador), Humptulips (Washington), Frog Suck (Wyoming) and Intercourse (Pennsylvania). A particularly good name, Podunk, is borne by as many as four towns – in Connecticut, Missouri, New York, and Vermont.

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QUOTE-UNQUOTE

If we have to mention the greatest steps that GERB, or Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, and especially the prime minister have taken over the past few months, these are the steps backwards.

Zhivko Georgiev, sociologist

Mrs Jeleva got herself into hot water, but I am not to blame for that.

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WE'VE GOT MAIL

All had gone well on the outward leg of the journey. On our return we made our way via taxi to the bus station in Sofia at approximately 7:15 pm, just in time to miss the 7 pm coach. Then there was a three-and-a-half-hour wait for the next departure at 10:30. Now at 10:30 there are three coaches that all leave at the same time, all to the same destination, all stopping at the same places and each a third full. What great planning, whoever arranges timetables must have a strange sense of humour.

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