Issue 5

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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KRISTIN DIMITROVA

You may know the name if you are interested in modern Balkan literature. You may have read her short stories or poetry in anthologies and literary journals in Britain, Ireland and the United States; Selected, a trilingual volume in Bulgarian, Greek and English; or A Visit to the Clockmaker, a book of verse published in Cork, Eire.

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THE DAY OF THE LION

On 19 February every year many Bulgarians gather in central Sofia, in the square encircled by the Serdika Hotel, the Foreign Art Gallery and the Faculty of Journalism. If you happen to be in the area you will probably be confronted by strict security as President Parvanov will be in attendance, standing before a line of elite troops and laying wreaths at a small monument in the middle of the square.

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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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A STITCH IN TIME

A cold winter morning in the village of Rosen some 25 km from Burgas. What has brought me here is a letter from a Vagabond reader who complained about the inadequacy of the Bulgarian social services (see Vagabond No. 4). Along with her Bulgarian friend Tanya and another British expat, Susanna, Catherine Almond has been looking after a Bulgarian lady who is in a difficult predicament. She is immobile and incontinent and can't do anything for herself.

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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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EXPAT ROLLERCOASTER

You know how it is. It's Monday morning. Your sleep has been shattered by the interminable bloody yapping of a street dog somewhere in the inky blackness beyond your window. Your alarm clock won't go off for another hour yet, but you know you'll never get back to sleep, so you drag your reluctant backside from between warm sheets and go make some coffee.

You think: Sigh.

Showered, dressed, and with sufficient caffeine in your system to approach the new day with a semblance of humanity, you step out onto the gritty Sofian street to walk to the taxi rank.

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BANBURY IN THE LAND OF ORPHEUS

Darren first started taking pictures at university in Bristol where he got involved in the photographic club. “I met some inspiring photographers that helped me get over my fear of approaching people with my camera,” he says. “In a way it helped me get over the shyness I had suffered from during my childhood, because to photograph people you need to get close to your subject and engage with them.”

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NO TO NATURA

In the past few years, however, the mass destruction of nature has started again. First it was the Black Sea coast, now the construction has moved to the mountains.

Soon the coast will be one endless resort all the way from Durankulak in the north to Rezovo in the south, and all the mountains will be one giant ski run. And then, oh joy, we are all going to be millionaires. There will be no trees, no beaches, no nothing - just buildings, ski runs and resorts. Exactly which tourists will be enticed by this concrete jungle is another question.

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WE'VE GOT MAIL

For example the first stanza of the original written by Tsvyatko Radoslavov in the first half of the 20th Century was:

Proud Balkan Mountains (Горда Стара планина,
Blue North by their side до ней север се синей.
Vitosha shines like gold in the sun Слънце Витоша позлатява
Istanbul is white and far away към Цариград се белей.)

But the Communist rulers decided it was not good to mention Istanbul in the anthem - Turkey was an "enemy" NATO and capitalist state at that time. So it became:

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NEW BULGARIANS

What happened to the Polish plumber?

He now stands forgotten in the EU because of the scarecrow of the new kids on the bloc, the Bulgarians and Romanians. At this delicate moment, the old EU members are receiving disturbing news. Both Bulgaria and Romania are being targeted by their non-EU neighbours in pursuit of more convenient citizenship. Applicants in Romania are mainly from Moldova, while Bulgaria is welcoming its Macedonian brethren.

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ARE EAST EUROPEANS RACIST?

I'm sorry to report that today, on the ground floor of our building, I found a fresh pile of human excrement. It took me by surprise, but it is only the last instalment in a series of unprovoked attacks on the building. So far it has featured the theft of bikes and the smashing of window panes on the entrance door. When a workman came in a white van to put in a new pane of glass, I went to chat to him and let off some steam. Turned out he had far more steam to let off. In fact, he was the human Flying Scotsman.

"What's wrong with them, why do they do this?" I asked rhetorically.

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ALL CHAOTIC ON THE EASTERN FRONT

No one has expected Bulgaria to become an exemplary EU member from the very beginning of its membership, but then no one has anticipated no change whatsoever in its immigration and labour regulations concerning EU citizens.

The Foreign Ministry told VAGABOND at the end of January that Bulgaria would open up its labour market regardless of the "transition period" protective measures imposed on Bulgarians' right to work and live in the EU by a number of EU countries, including the UK and Ireland.

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CREEPING IN QUIETLY

Those Bulgarians who reached Britain in the early days after EU accession should be sure to mention Saddam Hussein in their bedtime prayers. In his final hours, the former Iraqi dictator spoke of his execution as self-sacrifice. He perhaps hadn't pictured Bulgarian emigres as the ones who'd go free in his stead. But, as in many countries, Saddam's hanging just before New Year filled virtually every page of every newspaper in Britain for days, leaving no room for those other bogeymen the media plainly had in their sights: our new EU cousins from Romania and Bulgaria.

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BIG BUSINESS

Whether you’ve invested in a sun, ski, city, golf or spa location in Bulgaria, if you want to see a serious rental return on your investment, you need to ensure that it ticks all the boxes for holidaying visitors.

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QADHAFIADA

On New Year's Eve, hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians wore small paper national flags pinned to their coats. These were not in celebration of the country's historic accession to the EU, but an expression of solidarity with five Bulgarians sentenced to death by a Libyan court.

"You are not alone," read the message on the ribbons. And it was more or less true. A kind of national mourning has been in place in Bulgaria for almost eight years now concerning the fates of the five Bulgarian nurses in Libya who recently received death sentences for a second time.

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THIS IS NOT A DAIRY FARM!

What do William Shakespeare and Todor Zhivkov have in common?


Just likeWilliamShakespeare, who is considered responsible for the coinage over 1,700 words and phrases in the English language, including "housekeeping", "break the ice" and "the naked truth", the former number one Communist Todor Zhivkov also contributed his mite to the richness of Bulgarian. This is the only similarity between Tato, or "Dad", and the Bard, researchers claim, and give the popular idiom "This is not a dairy farm" as an example of the examateur actor's linguistic creativity.

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THIS IS NOT A DAIRY FARM!

Just likeWilliamShakespeare, who is considered responsible for the coinage over 1,700 words and phrases in the English language, including "housekeeping", "break the ice" and "the naked truth", the former number one Communist Todor Zhivkov also contributed his mite to the richness of Bulgarian. This is the only similarity between Tato, or "Dad", and the Bard, researchers claim, and give the popular idiom "This is not a dairy farm" as an example of the examateur actor's linguistic creativity.

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MAGNIFICENT HAGIA SOPHIA

To enter the naos of the church, referred to as the Great Church by citizens of Constantinople when it was first built, visitors have to pass through the narthex and one of its nine arched doors. Most people choose to enter through the middle door, the largest, above which is a mosaic depicting Emperor Constantine the Great and Emperor Justinian offering the Virgin Mary and young Jesus small-scale models of Constantinople and the church.

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