Issue 33

RIP IN BG?

"Show me your cemeteries and I will tell you what kind of people you have." Applying Benjamin Franklin's witticism to Bulgaria's most emblematic graveyard – the Central Sofia Cemetery – will make you stop and think. Instead of ending up in the welcoming country advertised by the Bulgarian State Agency for Tourism, have you landed in some frightening place better suited to a Bram Stoker novel?

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YET ANOTHER WISECRACK FROM MR P

Instead, Bulgarians should focus on the debate about reforming the EU institutions, enlargement, security – and Bulgaria's now famous identity (crisis).

Voter turnout would increase significantly if the debate ahead of the ballot went that way, according to Bulgaria's President Georgi Sedefchov Parvanov.

Of course, exactly the opposite is true. Voters all over the EU, not just in its newest and poorest members, tend to go to the polls only when the issues at stake are close to them and affect them directly.

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WHO ARE THE POMAKS?

The wind of change does not blow with equal force everywhere. When you replace your old Walkman with the latest iPod, you make a small change in your standard of living. When someone who is not Spanish or Greek begins using Mañana or σιγά σιγά when talking business, this is a change in their way of thinking. However, when you change your religion, this fundamentally alters your whole life – the new religion is a new way of viewing the world.

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PROPERTY IN TIMES OF CRISIS

The Chinese character for "crisis" means both "danger" and "opportunity". Bulgarian real estate agents are trying to make us believe that the potentially disastrous economic situation holds out great opportunities for a profitable investment – but beware.

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NOT EXACTLY EUROSCEPTICS

To what extent the EU is united in its diversity is open to question. But the video clip with which the European Commission marked the 20th anniversary of the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe added another viewpoint to the issue.

Poland's EU Ambassador Jan Tombinski wrote an official letter to Margot Wallström, the European Commissioner for Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy, to demand changes in the film. In its original form, the video downplayed the role of Pope John Paul II and the Solidarity movement and focused mainly on the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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WHICH WAY NOW?

First the voting, then the real challenges begin. Bulgaria goes to the polls, with the incumbent three-party ruling coalition led by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, or BSP, facing a resurgent opposition.

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misLEADING ADVICE No 7

Fire Dance

In many Bulgarian restaurants, visitors are entertained by so-called nestinari, barefooted men and women dancing on burning embers. This is hard work, for which they get little pay. Show your appreciation by offering them a beer, or even better, pour several pints of lager onto the burning coals before the dancers get the chance to step onto them, thus facilitating their task.

***

Cabbing

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SOLO

According to the dust-cover blurb by Salman Rushdie, Solo is a novel of "exceptional, astonishing strangeness... confirming Rana Dasgupta as the most unexpected and original Indian writer of his generation."

An Indian writer? Writing about Bulgaria?

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THANK YOU FOR SMOKING

Xanthi's architectural and ethnic wealth stems from tons of tobacco

The die of the ban on smoking in public buildings that was cast in San Luis Obispo, California in 1990 has finally rolled into Greece too. In seven months, this country where 45 percent of the adult population buy cigarettes will impose a total ban on the use of tobacco in public places. From 1 July, the government is launching a campaign to restrict smoking in cafés, restaurants and so on ahead of the ban.

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THE ROAD TO MOSSUL

The sun was slowly reaching its zenith, but the streets and the squares of Samarkand were still cool. This coolness, coming from the gardens and the vineyards, from the channels crossing the town with their emerald waters, was what the Iranians, the Turks, the Maures, the Arabs, the Armenians, the Greeks and the Jews breathed in, in order to fill with their shrill cries the Sand Place or Registan, as they called the cloth market in the ancient part of town.

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