Issue 37

CRACKING THE DOGAN CODE

"The ethnic card is being played on a very dangerous scale and I'd ask NATO and EU observers to monitor this very carefully." When Ahmed Dogan, leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, or DPS, said this at a news conference the night after the general election, the waiter in the Sozopol restaurant where I was sitting paused and smiled broadly: "They can't do without him! There is no other politician like Dogan! He's the greatest!" The waiter comes from Haskovo, a region with a large population of ethnic Turks, the most faithful backers of the DPS.

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BRITS GONE HOME

At first, they stopped buying. Then it got worse - they started selling. Yes, it seems the British have deserted the Bulgarian property market and the Bulgarians are taking it very personally. The situation is grim all over the country, even in top spots and villages regarded as "British" for years.

DID WE SEE IT COMING?

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ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE

The entrance is a bit of a disappointment. When you are heading for the famous shrine of Hades, where people from throughout the ancient world flocked to talk to their dead, you expect something more dramatic. At any rate, Odysseus, Orpheus, Heracles and Theseus, who all entered the Kingdom of the Dead, did not pass through a common steel-barred door. The modest notice "The Nekromanteion of Hades" does not befit the dark glory of the site either.

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FOR A FEW BOOKS MORE

Can you name a famous Bulgarian writer? Don’t be misled by the two obvious choices. Elias Canetti, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981, was born in Bulgaria’s Ruse on the Danube, but left the country when he was six and wrote in German. The best-selling Elizabeth Kostova is not a Bulgarian at all – she is Bulgarianmarried. As for reading a Bulgarian book in English? No?

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THE CRISIS IN WET PAINT

It is not London or Berlin, nor even Athens – even when talking about such an eloquent expression of subculture as street art. Explore Sofia's streets and you will discover that even in the outer suburbs the images are more notable for their size and colours than for their ideas. As an expression of art – as well as of everything else – during the 20 years that have elapsed since the fall of Communism, Bulgarian street artists preferred visually attractive paintings to those that might be provocative.

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misLEADING ADVICE No 10

Bread and Salt

At official ceremonies in Bulgaria guests are often greeted by an offering of bread and salt. In accordance with tradition, the guest must tear off a piece of bread, dip it in the salt and swallow it. Afterwards he must produce a ripe tomato from his pocket, take a bite and offer it to the host as a gesture of friendship. Never attend ceremonial occasions unprepared – that is, without a tomato in your pocket.

***

Queues

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LILLY DRUMEVA

Often compared to Alison Krauss, Lilly Drumeva, who is one of the few bluegrass singers in this part of the world, discovered American music as a student in Vienna in 1996. A year later, in Bulgaria, she started Lilly of the West, the only bluegrass band in this country. They recorded three albums, toured Europe and won the award at the European World of Bluegrass (EWOB) Festival in the Netherlands in 1998.

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DOWN THE ROAD TO HELL - AND THE FIRST CROSSING ON THE LEFT

From morning until evening he was walking up and down between the tables with some old rubber galoshes that he had from his village, he was cursing reedily and he was always finding something about which to argue with Elvis Presley. However Elvis Presley did not pay any attention to him, at every brickbat he replied: "That ain'ta word!" and most of the time he was playing backgammon with a guy from Yambol. The man also cursed, but in another manner.

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WIN-WIN IN BULGARIA'S LOTTERY

It is not about the Bulgarian National Lottery, called "Toto," since the days of Communism, in order to differentiate it from the "capitalist" Lotto. It is about how the Bulgarian media, including Bulgarian National Television, or BNT, supposedly this country's equivalent of the BBC, does its reporting*.

We are not a translation magazine, so we will not be delivering any more BNT (or Rupert Murdoch) news to you any time in the future.

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WIN-WIN IN BULGARIA'S LOTTERY

But just imagine how these folks report on politics! Oh, by the way, the erstwhile general manager of the Toto, Irena Krasteva, is now a media mogul (with a number of TV stations, newspapers and so on under her belt), allegedly with the blessing of the (still) current head of the DPS (see p22 for more).

Inspection of the Toto Because of Identical Draws in the 6 of 42 Game

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QUOTE-UNQUOTE

The issue is not only that this country has been despoiled, but that this country has been debased by practices initiated by politicians at the highest level.

Dr Konstantin Trenchev, president of the Podkrepa Labour Confederation

There are MPs who feel so self-important that they don't find it necessary to inform me if they are absent.

Tsetska Tsacheva, Speaker of the Bulgarian Parliament

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HAS BULGARIA CHANGED FOR THE BETTER SINCE 1999?

Sitting with friends in a slick Ego pizzeria, it suddenly occurred to me that it was almost 10 years to the day since a Balkan Airlines plane made up of different coloured bits of metal first deposited me on the melting tarmac of Sofia airport to the wild applause of the passengers. In celebrating the sight of Bulgaria’s once-crumbling infrastructure, I am of course perfectly aware that this kind of "shittiness chic" so beloved of my generation of Western European travellers annoys many Bulgarians. Would I have noticed the colour of the wing metal on a British Airways flight? Probably not.

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