FIRE HERE, FIRE THERE, FIRE EVERYWHERE

by Stamen Manolov

The latest trend to keep the residents of Sofia awake ahead of Christmas has been a spate of seemingly haphazard car arsons. Hardly a night passes without a car, or several cars, being set on fire.

The arsonist, or arsonists, usually choose mid-range models, often third- or fourth-hand vehicles that have no insurance. They usually operate in car parks in housing estates such as Lyulin, Mladost and Druzhba. In one such case, a traffic policeman was right next to a car being set on fire. The policeman somehow failed to do anything to stop the incident, not could he identify or arrest the arsonist.

The media have picked up on the incidents of car torching and have created the usual bout of hysteria. There have also been reports of residents of housing estates organising themselves into vigilante groups to protect their cars. Some have vowed to lynch anyone they see setting fire to a vehicle.

Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov's people have done nothing useful. They have secured a few hurried arrests, widely trumpeted by Tsvetanov himself, but it is at best doubtful whether they will result in substantive prosecutions and convictions.

In a country where rumour continues to be the most authentic source of information for the public, a variety of theories have been circulating. One says some insurance companies are deliberately setting uninsured cars on fire to convince their owners of the benefits of full insurance. Another proposes that the arson is the work of political rivals to the current regime seeking to destabilise the country, by creating a climate of fear and panic. Terrorists have also come into this murky picture of night-time Sofia, although it is unclear why they would target the cars of less well-to-do citizens.

One thing that Boyko Borisov, the prime minister, should be well qualified to know about is actually fire, considering his background as a fireman. So what has he done?

He told the media not to report the car arsons, because the reports were making the work of Tsvetanov's troops more difficult.

Both he and Tsvetanov said they would bring in a law... to ban the carrying of petrol in canisters. In this way, Bulgaria's two top politicians hope to remove the means of arson.

Sounds like banning the sale of swimming trunks because whoever wears them might drown at sea.

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