BULGARIA SOCIETY

OPEN BUZLUDZHA 2024

The fourth iteration of the OPEN BUZLUDZHA festival is scheduled to kick off on 8 August and will last for three nights/four days. A plethora of local and international club scene bands will converge on the lawn beneath the controversial former Communist Party House Monument on Mount Buzludzha, informally referred to as the UFO. These include Wickeda, Hayes & Y, Kerana and the Cosmonauts, Two Cities One World, Funkilicious, Heptagram and others.

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IS RACISM IN BULGARIA ON THE RISE?

"We are fascists, we burn Arabs": the youngsters start chanting as soon as they emerge from the metro station and leave the perimeter of its security cameras. Their voices grow stronger with each step in the dark streets of the relatively central Sofia neighbourhood. Then they gradually disperse, still ecstatic after a protest provoked by an alleged attack by a group of Arab migrants on Bulgarian teens on Vitosha Boulevard.

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TRAINING BULGARIA'S YOUTH HOW TO DEBATE

Оne of the (many) notable things Marcus Tullius Cicero said over 20 centuries ago is that "to live is to think" – and if we are not ashamed of what we think we should not be ashamed to voice it. His prophetic adages have a particular relevance in a world dominated by social networks, fake news and manipulative media where one of the most important things for every individual is to make their thoughts heard, loud and clear. And it is impossible to attain that unless you are trained to debate.

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ANGRY SOFIANITES

From job opportunities to entertainment options: living in Sofia, Bulgaria's largest city, has its perks. It also has its downsides. This is why Sofianites are an angry lot, eagerly expressing their frustration at queues, while driving and especially on social media. What specifically drives these people crazy? Like in every big city traffic, infrastructure, pollution and overpopulation play their roles. But like unhappy families, each angry city is angry in its own way. Here is a long, but by no means exhaustive list of the things that force locals off their rockers.

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IN THE EYE OF THE STORM

"Dimitrina?" I have not heard from her for more than a month, which is unusual.

"Почина."

"Po-chi-na?" I type the word phonetically in an online translation tool. "What?"

"Почина. Me, Dimitrina sister. Bye."

I met Dimitrina on 19 October 2018. She had fallen asleep standing up against the wall of Second Hospital in Sofia, on the corner of Slivnitsa and Hristo Botev Boulevards. A woman with bright fuchsia sneakers the sort teenage girls wear and two blood-red scars on her nose.

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ARRIVAL CITY

As an airplane is swooping over a field beside Sofia Airport, two horses and a donkey do not look up, but keep grazing among the rubbish. Shacks made of bricks, corrugated iron and wood encroach upon the field. Heavy lorries with international logos rush by the shacks on the road from the airport and its business park.

This is an everyday scene from Hristo Botev, a neighbourhood bearing the name of the great Bulgarian 19th century poet and revolutionary.

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TRADITIONAL MUSIC AND DANCE

As you hold this book in your hands, a Bulgarian song travels in outer space. The song in question is "Izlel e Delyu Haidutin," a traditional Rhodope tune sung by Valya Balkanska. It was put on the Golden Record of Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts by Carl Sagan, in 1977, in his attempt to acquaint extraterrestrial civilisations with the Earth's culture. Bulgaria's folk music is incredibly varied and, with its compound metres and irregular times, may sound unusual to Western ears. Some of it, like Valya Balkanska's master opus, is slow and heavy.

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WHEN A ROSE IS NOT EXACTLY A ROSE

Attar-bearing roses and beautiful girls in traditional attire picking them dominate the images that Bulgaria uses to sell itself to both Bulgarian and international tourists. The rose is on this country's tourist logo, and is all over souvenirs and promotional materials, from postcards and videos to rose-scented soaps.

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VERY SUPERSTITIOUS

Once you start paying attention to Bulgarians, you will observe some inexplicable actions. Dozens of men and women wear red thread around their wrists. An old woman cuddles a baby, and then spits at it. Another woman panics at the thought of putting her bag on the floor. On TV, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov wears a red thread around his wrist, and says that he never clips his nails, shaves or lends money… on a Monday. A book of self-proclaimed Bulgarian traditional magic for health, good luck, love and so on is a bestseller.

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FOR A COUPLE OF LIONS' HIDES

Under GERB, Bulgaria's public has become accustomed to scandals of various magnitude that come and go about every second day, sometimes several times a day. Outrageous statements often generated by fake news make headlines for a few hours and electrify the public's attention only to be overshadowed by the next scandal that may be even more outrageous than the previous one.

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REMEMBERING 11/11/18

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month: 99 years ago, the moment when the Great War ended was perhaps chosen to be easy to remember. Back then, both the victors and the defeated wanted to ensure that the horrors of the conflict which had brought war on an industrial scale would never be forgotten or repeated.

History has proved these hopes to be misplaced. Thirty-one years after 1918 began a war so devastating that it stripped the previous conflict of its macabre exclusivity. What had been called the Great War became just the First World War.

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LITTLE HEROES OF PIROGOV

Being laid up in hospital is never a particularly pleasant experience. Especially for children. Especially for children in Bulgaria. The doctors and nurses in paediatric units are excellent, but the underfunding of state-run hospitals has resulted in dark, damp spaces with a depressing atmosphere.

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GOING, GOING, (ALMOST) GONE!

This would have been the perfect story for Andy Borowitz. A group of people identifying themselves as intellectuals start a war of words (involving so far just one non-verbal Molotov cocktail) over another group of people whom the intellectuals dub uncouth simpletons with fascist or Taliban tendencies over a monument no one has ever liked and everyone, including the engineers, agrees is actually dangerous not only to your sight and mind but also to your head in case you happen to be walking too close by.

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EUROPE DAY VS. DAY OF VICTORY

Combining the celebrations of St Trifon, the local patron saint of wine and winemaking, and St Valentine, the imported patron of love – both being celebrated on 14 February, pales in comparison to what happens on 9 May. Long before and long after that date, Bulgarians argue both in restaurants and on Facebook about what should be celebrated: Europe Day or the Day of Victory over Nazi Germany.

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BERSERK BELLES OF GRADUATION BALLS

Despite appearances, they are not members of some mysterious sect – they are simply celebrating their graduation from high school. Rites of passage are, of course, important, although the ways they are marked around the world vary widely: from the Quinceañera, the celebration of a girl's turning 15 years of age in Spanish-speaking America, to the Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies that commemorate Jewish children's entry into adolescence, to the sacrificial rites Australian Aborigines and New Guinean tribes perform to mark puberty.

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