FORUM

WELCOME TO SCHENGENLANDIA?

"Under Communism we stopped people from sneaking out of Bulgaria, now we stop them from sneaking in,” the border guard explained as he unlocked the padlock at one of the checkpoints in the border zone near Malko Tarnovo. Between Bulgaria and Turkey lies a strip of barren land surrounded by barbed wire. Before he let us through, the officer alerted his colleagues by telephone – an old bakelite receiver tucked under a sheet metal awning that looked like a throwback to the Korean War.

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AHMED DOGAN, LORD OF THE CIRCLES

When a rumour trickled out two years ago that an attempt had been made on the life of Ahmed Dogan, leader of the Turk-dominated Movement for Rights and Freedoms party (DPS), the media responded calmly. The Novinar daily reported that the incident had been corroborated by MPs from the parliamentary Internal Order and Security Commission. According to the sparse reports at the time, it appears that shortly after New Year's Eve, an unidentified person shot at Dogan's car as he was leaving Sofia's trendy Boyana suburb.

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PASS THE REMOTE

Clearly though, while the rehydration process is still underway, a bit of daytime telly is in order.

An uncharacteristic mood of cultural sensitivity seizes you, and you decide that this afternoon you will eschew the usual fare of BBC World, Cartoon Network, and Discovery Channel (dubbed into Russian). Today, you decide to watch some Bulgarian telly. Yeah! Connecting through culture, celebrating diversity and all that stuff. Get comfy with another cup of instant coffee.

Remote control in hand, become receptive...

Click.

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BULGARIA NOT RECYCLED

With its diverse landscape which offers visitors and investors alike a blend of ski, lake-side and coastal areas, Bulgaria is understandably gaining popularity as both a holiday and investment destination, a trend that is likely to accelerate with EU accession. But while many foreigners are looking forward to spending more time in this culturally and environmentally rich Balkan country, most remain unaware of the damage its popularity is said to be causing the environment.

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HARD SNOW FALLING IN BANSKO

"Don't come to Bansko" - this advice, or warning, was posted on a Russian website by Bulgarians, shortly after the "bomb situation" at one of Bulgaria's top ski resorts last month.

"Don't come to the sea in the summer... Once Bulgaria had nice countryside, until the barbaric construction started a few years ago," it continued, expressing a growing concern over the damage to the environment that construction at Bulgaria's coast and mountain resorts is causing.

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NATURE VENTURE

When foreigners consider buying a holiday home in Bulgaria, usually their main concerns are price, location and possible investment return. Very few of them are aware that purchasing a property of high quality for a reasonable price and with a good property management contract still does not mean they have made a sound investment. Not knowing much about Bulgaria, buyers often rely on the facts and promises contained in promotional materials and invest in properties which are sometimes illegally built in protected areas.

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I WON’T SEE YOU IN COURT

Bulgaria's troubled judicial system and its courts are among the institutions most harshly criticised by the general public, the politicians left, right and centre, and the EU. Viewed with a combination of fear and reticence, it has been accused of being sluggish, cumbersome, ineffective and very corrupt. Reform in this area was one of the EU's key requirements in the process of entry negotiation.

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GOING REGIONAL

History repeats itself. In the past Bulgaria was a Soviet satellite country, member of the Warsaw Pact and a part of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON)*. After a turbulent period of transition from command to market economy, Bulgaria consecutively became a member of NATO and the EU, of which it is now into its second month of membership.

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AN ISSUE OF ASSURANCE

There were hopes at the end of last year that Bulgaria's EU entry would mean motorists could tear up their "Green Card" certificates and freely drive their Bulgaria-registered vehicles abroad without the need for one. These expectations lingered until the very end of 2006, but now it looks as though there is still a while to wait before Bulgaria-registered cars abroad are exempted from requiring a green card.

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MANAGING MORTGAGES

Bulgarian mortgage loans are no different to those elsewhere in the world - you can get one only if you can prove you do not need the money. If you are a foreigner, however, you will have to work very hard to get a loan, even if you have all the evidence that you are eligible to apply for and receive one. Despite your best efforts at convincing a Bulgarian bank to give you a mortgage, it is likely that you will be refused.

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