FORUM

A NEW COLD WAR?

There are ingenious crimes in terms of scale or the perfect concealment of their perpetrators. Recently, we have witnessed a crime that is ingenious as a scheme.

Every day following the murder of Alexander Litvinenko brings new details to the symbolic message that the evil genius behind this plot is sending.

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THE COST OF LIVING

How much would you pay for a room with a view in Sofia? How much for a pint? If you thought it was impossible these days to get a decent fl at for under 1,500,000 pounds, or to get a round in and still have change from a tenner, think again. It may be time to give Bulgaria a try.

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THE POLITICS OF SPITE

Is Volen Siderov a Bulgarian version of Haider or Zhirinovsky? Does his good showing in the first round of the residential election parallel the rise of Le Pen in France? Are all the 600,000 Bulgarians who voted for him racists and xenophobes?

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THE HEAT IS ON

Only yesterday, in a rare moment of revelation, did I discover the secret of the central heating system in Sofia: if you want to stay warm in winter, you don't switch it off. Ever. Forget about the hefty bills and crank it up!

Just as in the good old days, before the advance of heating meters and evil companies who read them, heating had one mode, and it was "ON". All winter, no matter how cold or warm it was, the heating was ON - and it was affordable.

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MASTER AND SLAVE

The Russian company AtomStroyExport has won the tender to design, construct and commission Bulgaria's Belene Nuclear Power Plant. A month away from being a member of the EU, and only days after the release of the new European Green Book for Energy that calls for the diversification and security of supply, Bulgaria is increasing its energy dependence on Russia - a very delicate issue for the EU.

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KEEP MIGRANT WORKERS OUT

"You need a 64p stamp to Bulgaria," said the clerk at my local Indian-run postoffice. "It's not in the EU."

"Yet," I added.

"Ah yes," he smiled. "I read in the paper. They're afraid Bulgarians and Romanians will take their jobs."

"We just bought a house in Bulgaria," a woman in the queue said. "Frankly, I don't think they'll come in their hundreds of thousands. Why would they, there's so much going on there."

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WHOSE ARE THESE ILLUSIONS, ANYWAY?

Hackscomplainthat little is happening in Bulgarian literature these days, but they are wrong. In October, a book by a young woman made headlines in the tabloids, some of which took the unusual course of kindly publishing both sympathetic interviews with the author and large excerpts from her oeuvre. Some Bulgarians old enough to remember Communism and its collapse at the end of 1989 were infuriated, but others hailed the book as a "literary phenomenon".

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CULTURE ШOCK

OK, you've been to Greece, Turkey, and possibly southern Italy. You've kind of got used to manic drivers, street dogs, piles of litter, and Roma women approaching you with offers to read your palm. You had a dodgy tummy in Athens; you developed aches, pains and allergies in Istanbul; and your purse got nicked in Naples. You think you've seen it all? Bulgaria can still surprise you.

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BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME

Driving innocently along a Bulgarian road when you're flagged down by a cop who wants 20 leva not to write you a ticket? Want to open a guest house, but an official won't give you an all-important certificate unless you give him a kickback? A customs officer at the border won't let you bring in your laptop because he says you're going to sell it in Bulgaria? All these situations, and many more, are all too real. But you needn't despair. With some sound advice, and a lot of common sense, you, and not some dishonest official, will be bringing it all back home

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THE ROAD AHEAD

On the day Bulgaria was told it could join the EU in 2007 (probably the most ardently awaited report in history since the press releases for the Treaty of Neuilly), I got a call from a friend who was stuck in a mid-afternoon traffic jam. Nothing particularly noteworthy, I thought, traffic jams are hardly anything to write home about these days, unless you are driving to the Mediterranean and end up spending half your holiday on some Italian motorway.

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