BULGARIA SOCIETY

LARGO OF SERDICA, ANNO 2016

In 313, a PR trick helped Constantine to become the sole ruler of the Roman Empire, whence he would go down in history as "The Great." Before a crucial battle he claimed that he had a dream in which he was advised to paint the initials of Jesus Christ, a theretofore forbidden god, on the shields of his soldiers with the promise that this would bring him victory. He did just that. He won, decriminalised Christianity, became a saint, and so on and so forth.

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'RUSSOPHILES' VERSUS 'RUSOPHOBES'?

Let us imagine that back in the 1970s I had two pupils who shared a desk – Ruska Filova and Rilka Russofobska. Ruska Filova studied Bulgarian philology at university and came to appreciate the superiority of the Slavic soul. Inflamed by her love of Russian culture, she became a teacher in a provincial town. She now endures low pay and complains that her pupils no longer behave. Rilka Russofobska studied English philology and now lives and works in the big city. They are both my friends on Facebook, and both now are engaged in a relentless war of words.

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IN THE COUNTRY OF LASTING SUSPICIONS

Anyone wanting to stay in Bulgaria for longer, either professionally or for pleasure, will sooner or later end up in a meeting with a bunch of Bulgarians and will likely be befuddled by at least some of the local ways. No, I am not talking about the fine differences between the various brands of rakiya and why it should be taken as an aperitif, preferably with a Shopska. Helping yourself to copious amounts of the local liquor and doing it exactly as the locals do is easy to learn.

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PROHIBITION RETURNS TO BG

Election rules and regulations change each time citizens are supposed to go the ballots, invariably to suit the preferences of whoever happens to be in power. "Buying" of votes – meaning giving cash to people to cast their vote for a particular political party – proliferates. Election fraud is rife. No one is brought to justice over alleged wrongdoing. To put it in another way, things go wrong oftener than they go right – which partly explains why Bulgarians typically vote with their feet: less than half of those eligible to vote actually do vote in national elections.

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BULGARIAN 'HOSPITALITY'

Rozovo, which translates as either "Village of Roses" or "Pink Village," is just a few kilometres southeast of Kazanlak. The Syrians, who had been granted refugee status in Bulgaria, had paid a property agent to find rented accommodation for them. They had spent some time in the refugee camp in Harmanli.

The villagers were "stressed," according to media reports, the moment the Syrians arrived in their village. They started rallying on the following day, and they organised a petition to get the refugees expelled. Over 500 of the village's 1,000 inhabitants signed to it.

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HAVE YOUR SAY

To celebrate the occasion, the embassy is launching a series of events to mark the strong connections between Britain and Bulgaria.

The celebrations will go on throughout 2014 and explore and further develop the trade and business opportunities between the two countries, as well as adding to the understanding of the common historical, cultural and heritage connections between the British and Bulgarian people.

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BUILDING NEW RUINS

In the 2010s, Bulgaria witnesses something it stopped seeing in the Middle Ages. Here and there, in and around cities and villages, fortresses are rising, built from scratch. High walls adorn the Trapezitsa Hill in Veliko Tarnovo, and the previously unheard-of village of Belchin near Samokov, has got its own fortress with walls and turrets, with an entire "medieval" church thrown in as a bonus.

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INTOLERANT BULGARIA

The "proverbial" tolerance of Bulgarians, which several post-Communist governments have promoted as a selling tool for the country and as a means to pump up self-confidence in its citizens, is becoming a think of the past.

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THE IMPORTANCE OF TOLERANCE

These have been perpetrated by different state regimes, leaders, nations and organisations. They have been motivated by different circumstances, but it is obvious that they were directed against us as a people.

At various times we have been targeted as scapegoats, in order to divert the attention from the errors and crisis situations produced by different regimes; or we were singled out because of envy, as often we were people with special skills, abilities and influence. But most often we were attacked simply because of the fact that we were Jewish. 


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WHAT IS CHANUKAH?

For more than two millennia the Jewish people have celebrated the holiday of Chanukah, a festival that lasts eight days. This is time for joy and family reunion during which we express our gratitude to God for the miracles the ancient Jews experienced during their revolt against the Hellenic invaders in the 2nd Century BCE. Lead by Antiochus Epiphanes, the Hellenes conquered Jerusalem and desecrated the Holy Temple.

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MORE TIME OFF IN 2014

One of the more exotic "traditions" in Bulgaria is the propensity of governments during the past 20 years to "combine" bank holidays and then declare existing holidays, typically Saturdays, working days. The official explanation is that such adjustments to the working calendar of Bulgarians will enable them to rest more "comprehensively."

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THE BIRTH OF BULGARIAN FASCISM

Apart from the "proverbial" labori­ousness of its citizens and their cleanliness, one of the cliches most often used to describe this Balkan "Land of Roses" is its tolerance. Bulgaria saved its Jews from planned deportation during the Second World War is the historical fact often quoted to support the tolerance cliche.

Like all cliches, however, the "Bulgarian tolerance" may have stemmed from some distant past no one can remember. Anyone chancing to venture into the streets of Sofia in 2013 will see a very different picture.

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WELCOME TO THE NKRSDEWOOJTYDEG

Woken by the phone’s insistent ring, he rolled to the right to swing his feet to the floor, but his knee hit the hard wall making his pictures rattle. Someone had somehow contrived to move his bed 180 degrees in the night. The phone continued its urgent shriek every four seconds. Georgi A. cursed its mother and especially the mother of whoever was hanging on relentlessly at the other end. Hadn’t he installed a gentle bluesy ring tone, a soothing coaxing musical phrase? This hectoring shriek was becoming shriller.

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OLD LOGO, NEW LOGO

Bulgaria as a tourism destination has a new brand logo that, in the opinion of the Ministry of the Economy and Tourism, which paid 1.65 million leva (about 800,000 euros for it), will help increase the number of visitors to the country by 25 percent in the next five years.

The Bulgarian ministry said it had employed 50 experts in seven countries to design the new logo.

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DEAR RALITSA

I had planned to come this week but because I need to be in Brussels for an important European Council meeting I sadly cannot come. However, in my place I have asked my colleague MEP Paul Nuttall, the deputy leader of the UK Independence Party, to go in my stead. He shall be in Bulgaria on a fact-finding mission from Wednesday to Friday this week.

I am pleased my comments have helped create a debate in Bulgaria, a proud country with many well-educated people and much to celebrate.

You are right to love your country Bulgaria, as I love mine, the United Kingdom.

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DEAR MR FARAGE

As a person who is Bulgarian, lived and studied in the UK and chose to go back to Bulgaria and build a career here instead of the UK, I wanted to take a stand on your statement regarding Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants and explain why I chose to go back to my home country.

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UNDER THE YOKE OF STEREOTYPES

One might have thought at the beginning of the 21st Century Bulgarians would have learned from past mistakes and come to appreciate all aspects of their own history in a balanced and objective manner, but the reactions prompted by Vagabond Media's latest book, The Turks of Bulgaria, seem to indicate otherwise.

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ON PATRIOTS AND 'PATRIOTS'

Dr Johnson defined patriotism succinctly and perhaps unfairly as the last refuge of scoundrels. I say unfairly, because for me there is a vast difference between patriots and people who call themselves patriots. What has never changed is the alacrity with which self-declared patriots label as unpatriotic those who care deeply about their country. Sitting smugly on their moral high ground these self-professed "patriots" feel they have done sufficient. There is no need to engage in any rational argument with those whose views they disagree with.

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NOT IN BLACK-AND-WHITE

There were two reasons for starting on The Turks of Bulgaria, the logical follow-up to A Guide to Ottoman Bulgaria (Vagabond Media, Sofia, 2012 & 2012), and both are personal.

Firstly, there was the naivety with which I, along with many Bulgarians of my generation, perceived what was going on around us in the 1970s and 1980s.

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HOLY OR TOADY?

It is sad to see an old man, two years short of becoming a centenarian, pass away. But when you consider that that man had been the head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church for over 40 years, both during and after Communism, the story gets more complicated.

Patriarch Maxim, who died in November, was born in 1911 and was associated with Bulgarian Orthodoxy from the age of 12, when he became a monk. His was an extraordinary career.

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