FORUM

GUARD YOUR CARD

Debit and credit card use is on the up in Bulgaria and ATMs, the cash-point machines first introduced some 20 years ago, are everywhere these days. This is exactly what some criminals are banking on. To avoid getting ripped off, you should not only take the conventional precautions associated with withdrawing money from a machine, but also be aware of the popular and often rather sophisticated scams that are operating.

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THE BODYGUARD

The American Congressional Quarterly is not among the best-known foreign magazines in Bulgaria, but when it published Jeff Stein's article "Bush's Bulgarian Partner in the Terror War Has Mob History, Investigators Say," the reaction in this country was instantaneous - mostly because the person whom the article accused of having a shady past is Bulgaria's man of the moment: Boyko Borisov.

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FREEDOM OF THE PRESS OR FOR THE RABBLE?

Freedom of speech and the press in Bulgaria is guaranteed by the Constitution, but sometimes journalists find it hard to exercise this right. Especially when a radical political leader bursts into the editorial offices with a hundred supporters, demanding to speak to the editor-in-chief and the author of an article critical of himself. Shouts like “We'll rip out your liver, we know where you live!” coming from a crowd of surly men do little to contribute to a calm, rational conversation.

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ODD BULGARIAN OUT

The caller to Sky News was increasingly belligerent. You felt a new political party was about to be formed, the Bulgar-Bashing Brigade. “They're the most vicious people in Europe; the KGB used them as assassins. We're going to be importing a nation of hit men! At least the Poles were on our side during the war.” The presenter berated the caller for “crude national stereotyping” and ended the exchange.

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TURN RIGHT AT THE PARLIAMENT

“The European family is now back together,” said then European Parliament president Josep Borrel, welcoming the new legislators from Bulgaria and Romania, in the first legislative session of the year.

It was a moment of mixed feelings for the right-wingers in the European Parliament, strict opponents of enlargement, immigration and the integration of Eastern countries. Traditionally, Bulgarian and Romanian deputies would not have been welcomed by their fellow parliamentarians from the right, but, on that day, champagne was in the ice bucket.

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BOOM OR BUST

A Norwegian who has spent most of the past 40 years in Spain, but has nevertheless been appointed a knight by the King of Norway, Per Svensson is the secretary of the national association of foreigners in Spain, Ciudádanos Europeos, or European Citizens. The association was formed in 1992 following decisions in the Maastricht agreement to foment European Citizenship and works on a non-profit basis to protect the interests of European citizens in Spain.

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SPRING CLEAN

As investors' pockets around the world start thawing out, we leave behind a very mild Bulgarian winter. Spring, being the time to get your house in order, is celebrated traditionally with an annual spring clean. Likewise, it is perhaps time to have a spring clean of your property portfolio and consider the future of the Bulgarian real estate market and general investment climate.

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MIND YOUR LANGUAGE

"In Paris they simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language." American author Mark Twain's tongue-in-cheek assessment of his somewhat dubious linguistic skills in The Innocents Abroad serves to remind us even today that learning to speak a new language presents a cultural, as well as a guttural, learning curve.

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PIRATES ONLINE

We are a nation of criminals - internet pirates downloading free music and films. We should all be arrested and put in jail. At least, that was the message behind the government's latest measures in the fight against organised crime.

Since all of Bulgaria's big time criminals like smugglers, murderers, drug dealers, mafia bosses, pimps and thieves are already safely behind bars, it seemed it was high time that the State did something about the millions of teenagers and otherwise respectable people stealing from Bill Gates, the members of the BSA, the MPAA and the RIAA.

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THE PITFALLS OF ONLINE SHOPPING IN BULGARIA

Last week I ordered a spare tyre for my car online and had it delivered to the office the next day, leaving my colleagues speechless. Most of them would never have believed such a thing possible. It turned out that few of them had ever ordered anything online besides concert tickets. In fact, only about five percent of all Bulgarians have ever indulged in any form of distance shopping.

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