100: TOP INTERVIEWS

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Diplomats and artists, entrepreneurs and intellectuals, travellers and writers: the faces which appear in Vagabond's interviews are as diverse as Bulgaria and the people living here. Our first interviewee was Vasko Vassilev, the famed musician, and the one featured just before our 100th issue was the Italian Ambassador Marco Conticelli, giving his optimistic view on the prospects for Bulgaria. Here are the people who have spoken to Vagabond through the years.

Vasko Vassilev

© Dragomir Ushev

VASKO VASSILEV, violinist, Issue 1
"Another favourite pastime when in Bulgaria is watching Pamela (Mae, his partner and the mother of Vanessa Mae) "eat herself silly" as she enjoys the pleasures of this country's food. This takes up quite a lot of time on each of our trips as her list of favourites is rather long. Every day starts with a banitsa, then the rest of the day tends to be repeats of aubergine mash, courgette… there is no space to give the whole list!"

Artist ANDREY DANIEL, Issue 1

DAVID VAROD, producer at Nu Image, Issue 2

THEA NEDELCHEVA, curator in New York, Issue 2

GEORGI LOZANOV, intellectual, a regular guest of Vagabond. Here is a snippet from his interview in Issue 67:
Georgi Lozanov

© Anthony Georgieff

"The first thing I tell a foreigner coming to Bulgaria is that this country is a land of many temptations. Probably because we are in the Balkans, the climate here seems to be specifically designed to be enjoyed. The carnival is never ending – I am referring to the pageant which started on 10 November 1989, when a set of values was rejected but a new one was not installed. The good thing about carnivals is that you are allowed to do anything. The bad thing is that anything can happen to you.
So, the second thing I tell a foreigner is to take care because the greatest danger – and not only for foreigners but for Bulgarians as well – is the weakness of the rules."

EXPATS WITH INFLUENCE: In issues 4-6, Vagabond spoke with the foreign managers of the some of the top companies in Bulgaria, who offered advice on doing business in the country and living in it.

Painter HENRIK ENGSTROM, or "HEN", created astounding portraits of Bulgarian divas, and talked about them in an interview in Issue 6

WIM WENDERS, movie director, Issue 7

Ivan Moudov

© Dragomir Ushev

IVAN MOUDOV, contemporary artist, Issue 8

CATARINA LEAL, Portuguese photographer, Issue 9

EMANUIL PATASHEV, from the Caritas Bulgaria charity organisation, Issue 10


Ben Cross

© Dragomir Ushev

BEN CROSS, the movie star who settled in Sofia, Issue 11
"I do like the people. Of course, everybody comments on the beautiful women and it's true – they are beautiful. But when you've lived here long enough you begin to see – between that pretty girl and this pretty girl – the 10 people who're not so gorgeous and who're struggling to earn a living. For these people life can be tough. And this is a good thing to bear in mind."

KRYSIA ROZANSKA, Polish entrepreneur, Issue 12

Movie director ANDREY PAUNOV, Issue 13

KARL HABSBURG-LOTRINGEN, entrepreneur, Issue 14

ALEKSANDRA SURCHADZHIEVA, ELEN KOLEVA and VIOLETA MARKOVSKA, the young actors, talked with Vagabond about their movie, Three Seamstresses, in Issue 14.

In Issue 15/16, STEPHEN WILLIAMS, British Ambassador to Bulgaria between 2007 and 2011, remembered the Bulgaria of the 1980s, when he was first posted here:

Stephen Williams

© Dragomir Ushev

"My wife and I walked up to the top of Vitosha, and we also went for a walk around Sofia. We walked past the flat where we used to live, we went out for a meal, we had some delicious Bulgarian food, and all that brought back very happy memories from the 1980s. These things haven't changed and I'm glad they haven't. I recognise this Bulgaria. But Bulgaria as a member of the EU, a member of NATO, the Bulgaria that has such a variety of free media, that has shopping malls, and such a range of commercial activity in the city, I don't recognise that Bulgaria."

Writer ELIZABETH KOSTOVA, author of the international best-seller The Historian, founder of Elizabeth Kostova Foundation, confided in an interview for Issue 15/16:

KostovaHistorianAUTH

© Eleanor Johnson

"I like best the solo ballads and the sound of the Rhodope kaba gayda, or low-pitched bagpipes. After all these years, they still raise the hair on the back of my neck when I hear them."
and
"We need to get about a million people together to clean up the rubbish alone, and do a massive education project, with enforceable laws behind it. Bulgaria has a natural landscape that is beautiful almost beyond belief and it deserves much better treatment. The Communist environmental disaster has given way to a new threat – the lack of vision about how land will be responsibly used, or protected. The unplanned overdevelopment and destruction of the Black Sea coast at the hands of both Bulgarians and foreigners should have us all out protesting, and of course it has now spread to the Rhodope Mountains."

SYLVIA PASKALEVA, a leading doctor and health,Issue 15/16

MANEL RIERA CUNILL, a businessman, Issue 17

Architects ANNA NEVROKOPSKA and RADOSLAV MARKOV, Issue 18

VIKTORIA IVANOVA, the matriarch of Varna's Greek community, Issue 19

In Issue 21 JONATHAN BOUSFIELD, author of the Rough Guide to Bulgaria, gave one of the most funny, enlightening, informative and sincere interviews we have ever published.

Jonathan Bousfield

© Anthony Georgieff

"Maybe chalga music is the perfect metaphor for modern Bulgarian society. The recording technology is modern, the girls are scantily clad, but the underlying melodies are unashamedly a part of the Ottoman past.

'I've always been struck by the way Bulgarian museums draw maximum pathos from the nation's history by displaying often quite gruesome relics of national heroes. These are frequently passed over by foreign visitors who often don't even know to look for them. Favourites of mine include the hair of Vasil Levski in Sofia's National Military Museum, the skull of Stefan Karadzha in the Ruse Historical Museum, the pickled heart of Aleko Konstantinov in the Svishtov Museum, and the suitcases of Zahari Stoyanov (who dropped dead during a visit to Paris, hence the compelling nature of his luggage) in museums in both Medven and Ruse, and the false eyeball of revolutionary poet Geo Milev in Sofia's National History Museum."


JOHN BEYRLE, American Ambassador between 2005 and 2008, spoke to us for Issue 22, before moving to Moscow:

"Really, I love the Rhodope. Probably my favourite place is Krichim – I need to get a map out to tell you the route. As you take a road down through Batak and then down towards Devin, there is a place with a beautiful overlook of one of the dams. It's just a magical place. I'd say if I could just transport myself anywhere on a nice morning when the air has that sort of Rhodope morning smell – that's where I would stop time and just sit for a while and enjoy myself. Yeah, you are very high up and looking down on the city, the reservoir and the mountains – the very low Rhodope. At that moment you want to be a bird because you just want to go off the balcony."

Vagabond also interviewed EDWIN ALDRIN, the second man to step on the Moon, in its 22nd Issue:
"The key point I want to get across to people is that in 20-30 years' time we will have a habitable place in space, where everything has been built from scratch. Having said that, from personal experience the Moon is a sorry place to set up habitation, so that venue is out of the question. You can't ask taxpayers to support a budding bureaucracy on the surface of the Moon!"

Photographer ALEKSANDER IVANOV, Issue 22

GREG HOUSTON, security officer at the American Embassy, Isuse 22

Philanthropists ROBERT and NELLIE GIPSON, in Issue 23:
"The blessings that we have are largely attributable to free education. We would say that most of what we do both here and in the United States relates to education. Maybe we're just paying back society for the gifts that we received. The American College in Sofia is a beautiful example – if you look at how far it has come in the quality of the education and the quality of the students, it's exciting."

MATT BROWN, American charity worker, volunteer, founder of the Bulgarian Centre for Development and Training, Issue 23

BELINA KOSTADINOVA

© Suzanne Schwetz

BELINA KOSTADINOVA, Zurich-based Bulgarian pianist, Issue 24

RUDOLPH BARTSCH, Director of the Goethe Institute in Bulgaria, Issue 25

Photographer ANDREAS MULLER-POHLE, Issue 25

HRISTO HRISTOV, investigative journalist, Issue 25

KAPKA KASSABOVA, Bulgarian-born author of fiction and memoirs who lives in Scotland and has been published in English and Spanish, was interviewed in issues 25 and 81.
Kapka Kassabova"Of course Bulgaria needs a museum of Communism, and enough time has passed to start thinking about it seriously," she said in a lengthy interview in Issue 25. "My first choice venue would be the former Communist Party building which is, I believe, partly vacant. A sample of the things that should feature include all of the Kremikovtsi factory, an empty, concrete town square with a broken bench and a malfunctioning water fountain and the disintegrating monolithic monument near the NDK, built in record time in 1981 to commemorate 1,300 years of the Bulgarian State. There should be the hard chewing-gum called Ideal, translucent red lollipop sticks in the shape of roosters, the pioneers' uniform with its blood-red tie-scarf, and a queue of freezing citizens who don't know what they're queuing for ‒ plus jars of pickles, rooms full of very boring, alphabetically classified files and a room full of public signs along the lines of 'The Hero Is Always Present!' The soundtrack should be a recording of political jokes. It should be bitter-sweet, though perhaps more bitter than sweet. But I wouldn't like it to be as grim and humourless as the Budapest House of Horrors."

YOANNA BUKOVSKA, actress, Issue 26

Underwater photographer LYUBOMIR KLISUROV, Issue 26

YAVOR GARDEV

© Dragomir Ushev

Director YAVOR GARDEV, Issue 27

Actress ERNESTINA SHINOVA, Issue 28/29

SONIA ROUVE, intellectual, writer, Issue 28/29

Writer ILIYA TROYANOV, who lives in Germany and writes in German, Issue 28/29

Artist GREDDY ASSA, Issue 28/29

Former Dutch Ambassador WILLEM VAN EE, Issue 28/29

Photographer JEAN-MARC CARACCI, Issue 28/29

Alla Georgieva

© Antoan Bozhinov

Conceptual artist ALLA GEORGIEVA. Her provocative art on the cover of Issue 30 prompted a deluge of phone calls to our editorial offices from angry Bulgarians

ANGEL STANKOV MBE, violinist, Issue 31

Singer DYANA DAFOVA, Issue 32

Avantgarde sculptor PAVEL KOYCHEV, Issue 33


Nancy McEldowneyNANCY MCELDOWNEY, American Ambassador to Bulgaria in 2008-2009, Issue 34:
"The topic (about Bulgarian sentiment towards Russia) has often been put to me as an either/or equation. If Bulgarians have a sympathetic approach to Russian culture, Russian history or the Russian language, then it must mean, ipso facto, that they have a negative view towards the United States. And I don't start from that premise. My experience has been, personally, in terms of the people that I've met, and this is also brought out in terms of polling data, that Bulgarians also like America and Americans.
"When Americans come to me and ask for advice, I tell them that what they need to do is have zero tolerance for corruption. One hundred percent of the time, they and all of their employees should tell the truth, and should act in an honest and above-board fashion, because the moment anyone accepts a favour that is inappropriate, they then become a part of the process. And each of us, through everything we do, needs to take a stand and say: 'I won't be a part of that, I don't want my organisation to be a part of that'."

NIKOLAY VASSILEV, former Bulgarian government minister, elaborated in Issue 34 on his initiative to unify the transliteration of road and street signs from the Cyrillic into Latin alphabet:
NIKOLAY VASSILEV

© Anthony Georgieff

"What is your usual reaction when you see the name of a Bulgarian place misspelled or spelled in a way that is difficult to understand?"
"My initial response is to compare Bulgaria to the other countries where such problems exist. A lot of incorrect signs can still be found on roads, maps and internet sites. On the ministry's website there is a gallery with photos of 'bad examples' of incorrect signs sent in by members of the public."

LILLY DRUMEVA, Bulgarian blue grass and country singer and musician, appeared in issues 37 and 70

RANA DASGUPTA, an Indian-British writer who put Bulgaria centre-stage in his hugely popular novel, Solo, shared some insights in Issue 35/36:
"In this country so full with music, I was fascinated by the way the Communists banned so much music when they came in – stifling the centuries of Gypsy music, Turkish music and so on, that had passed through Bulgaria. It seemed a rich metaphor for contemporary life: in the moment that the nation is created, the world goes quiet.
"It went on from there. The more I read about this country, the more I identified with it – the more I felt that this was the story I wanted to tell. I have newspaper cuttings and notes about Bulgaria dating back to 1997, so it's been in my mind for a while."

EDWARD VICK, the man who established the Vick Prize, which rewarded the translation into English of Bulgarian literature, Issue 37. The award has now been discontinued

Professor RANDAL BAKER, author of the humorous book Bulgariana, Issue 38

JAMES WARLICK, American Ambassador from 2010 to 2012, appeared in issues 41/42 and 69.

JAMES WARLICK

© Anthony Georgieff

"I am concerned about media freedom," he said in Issue 69. "The foundation of any democracy is a strong, free, independent press. I am concerned that the media is falling into the hands of a small number of people. Of course, there needs to be transparency in ownership. I would like to see a vibrant press where journalists are able to do the kind of investigative reporting that they should be doing and where editors are free to publish the kind of stories that they want. Journalists should be able to question and critique. All of that has to improve in Bulgaria and I hope that it will in the future."

Artist MAGDALENA MITEVA, Issue 41/42

German photographer BRITTA MORISSE PIMENTEL, Issue 43/44


Gayatri Manchanda

© Anthony Georgieff

Indian artist GAYATRI MANCHANDA found Bulgaria to be a source of inspiration.
"My paintings are a permanent link to all my places," she said in our special feature in Issue 45/46. After living in Sofia in the late 1980s and a hiatus which continued until 2009, she noticed that "only the mountain is the same. Nobody lived in Boyana then except Todor Zhivkov and the villagers. We never got to Boyana, we only went up the hill, to Boyana Church. There was a very nice restaurant there, Vodenicharska Mehana. I don't know how I remember the name."

CHARLES DAVID GRANNINGER, Director of the American Research Center in Sofia, Issue 47/48

Belgian artist MARIE-CHANTAL BIELA, Issue 49/50

DENITSA MIHAYLOVA, the first Gypsy employed in the administration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on political correctness and the future of minorities in Bulgaria, in Issue 51/52:

Denitsa Mihaylova

© Anthony Georgieff

"Around the world, the traditional designation for our ethnicity is Gypsy, and it is incorrect to perceive the word as discriminatory. After all, will the Gypsy problem get solved if the people are called Roma? We young, educated and integrated Gypsies are the good example that will gradually uproot the prejudice that has for decades been piling up against us."

In the spring of 2011, an enthusiastic documentary seemingly made by a historian who had been born in London and had lived in Sofia for 10 years presented the capital city's ancient and modern history in an unusually catchy and sexy way, and became a hit on YouTube. Vagabond tracked down TERRY RANDALL, the man in the video, only to discover that he was actually an actor, hired by the Sofia Municipality, and was from Ellesmere Port. More in Issue 53/54:
"How did you become the presenter of Sofia – The History of Europe?
"It was most of all social networking in Irish pubs. A friend of mine was asked if he knew someone who could do that. Presenting is very different from acting. I used to think that presenters were talentless and actors were doing a harder job because they were hiding their own personality. So this documentary made me appreciate the presenter's art. There is a skill to it and I have to acknowledge that now.
Terry Randall

© Lora Zhelyazkova

"What surprised you most when you arrived in Bulgaria?
Sofia was a complete culture shock: the noise from the traffic, names I couldn't even pronounce properly. The architecture surprised me too. I'd never seen architecture like that. It's so Eastern European."

SUZANNE FARREL, ballerina, Issue 55/56

ORHAN PAMUK visited Bulgaria in the summer of 2011, and Vagabond had the pleasure of taking the Nobel Prize winner on a stroll around central Sofia, and to feature him in Issue 57/58:
"I see my novels as a sort of arena, where various independent points of view, not necessarily political, but various cultural points of view, social points of view, intermingle – and all the voices are heard. I treat the novel as an arena where everyone speaks freely."

ORHAN PAMUK

© Anthony Georgieff


Steve Keil

© Nelly Tomova

STEVE KEiL, Bulgaria-based entrepreneur and TED presenter, Issue 59/60:
"I have to say that my first impression of Bulgaria was not very good. It was one of those rainy days – back then there wasn't Brussels Boulevard from the airport ‒ it was full of dupki, or potholes, everywhere. It was a grey day, and the Druzhba neighbourhood was grey with all these panel buildings. I said: 'Gosh, this place needs a lot of paint.' But after that it was cool. I quickly got to Bansko."

SAMUEL FINZI, Bulgarian actor who is a TV drama star in Germany, Issue 61/62:

Samuel Finzi© Anthony Georgieff

"Manners in Bulgaria seemed to me to have become coarser. I thought there was no respect for the fellow man, but this summer I found the atmosphere here somehow mellower. I can't claim that's really the case. Perhaps I had this impression because Sofia was empty and the weather was fine, which tends to put the tourist in a mood to see everything as being okay."

STEFANO BENAZZO, former Italian Ambassador to Bulgaria, and an avid model-maker, Issue 63/64

JULIANA ROTH, a professor in intercultural communication in Munich, offered some precious advice on dealing with Bulgarians in Issue 65:

JULIANA ROTH

© Ivan Stoimenov

"If you use public transportation you will have to get used to people 'sitting in your lap.' The Bulgarian personal 'bubble' that surrounds the individual and indicates privacy is very small. Individuals stand very close to each other and, especially in rush hour, you might feel extremely challenged by the bodily contact, odours and breaths you will be exposed to. You will encounter this specific handling of personal space virtually everywhere – in meetings, queues, taxis and so on."

JONATHAN ALLEN, British Ambassador to Bulgaria since 2012, was the guest of Vagabond in issues 66 and 89. In the latter, he said:

Jonathan Allen

© Anthony Georgieff

"My impression is that there is a significant proportion of the Bulgarian people who feel they do not have proper political representation. I know it's difficult to set up new political parties, but the fact that a lot of people do not vote or vote for parties that fail to make it into parliament does create room for new political entities to emerge."

ISMAIL ARAMAZ, Turkish Ambassador from 2010 to 2013, in Issue 68:

ISMAIL ARAMAZ

© Anthony Georgieff

"Firstly, lay the ghost of Turkey to rest. Bulgaria has made its peace with all its neighbours and former enemies, except Turkey. I think it is time we buried the past and became very good friends. Once the Bulgarians rid themselves of their prejudice and angst, it will have a liberating effect on their perceptions. My mission here is to ensure that the Bulgarians treat Turkey like any other neighbouring country.
"Secondly, keep an open mind on Turkey. I once read that 'the human mind is like a parachute; it is only useful when it is open.' I am mystified that, while we are next-door neighbours, Bulgarians know so little about Turkey."

Gallerist DESISLAVA MONEVA, Issue 69

SHAUL KAMISA RAZ, Israeli Ambassador to Bulgaria, Issue 70

SHAUL KAMISA RAZ

© Anthony Georgieff


TOVE SKARSTEIN

© Anthony Georgieff

TOVE SKARSTEIN, Norwegian Ambassador to Bulgaria from 2006 to 2012, Issue 71/72:

"Can you name three things in Bulgaria that in your opinion have changed for the better?

"The road signs. Previously, they were only in Cyrillic ‒ and thus unreadable to a foreigner. Now when you drive you can understand whether you are on your way to Kulata or to Burgas.

"Sofia looks better kept now in terms of garbage collection. The city looks tidier.

"I came to Bulgaria when it was accepted as a member of the EU. I remember the fireworks and euphoria on 31 December 2006. Now the Bulgarians seem to have become more balanced about the advantages and disadvantages of being in the EU. I think the expectations of EU membership were somewhat unrealistic. But I do think that the majority of the Bulgarian people have a better life today."

Artist DEYAN VALKOV, Issue 71/72

KAREL VAN KESTEREN, Former Dutch Ambassador to Bulgaria and a dedicated biker, told us in Issue 73:

KAREL VAN KESTEREN

© Anthony Georgieff

"My favourite ride in Bulgaria is to Svoge and along the Iskar. Then I usually detour through the side roads and end up on the road that comes down from Montana, which enables me to see the whole city of Sofia at the foot of Vitosha, with the Rila mountains in the background. Wonderful."

YASSEN ATANASOV, poet and writer, Issue 73

Architect BOYKO KADINOV, Issue 74

MARCIE RIES, American Ambassador to Bulgaria since 2012, Issue 75/76:

MARCIE RIES

© Anthony Georgieff

"Media issues are of great importance in terms of democratic institutions. The media are known as the Fourth Estate and are really critical to a democratic society. I have already spoken with a lot of journalists and I am trying to keep an eye on what's going on in the media. There are several things that we think about when we consider media freedoms. One is, of course, that journalists should be responsible, objective and accurate. Another is that they should be free to write about whatever subject they choose. I have heard reports of intimidation of journalists that leads to self-censorship. Another important thing is investigative journalism. We should see responsible journalism based on research on topics such as corruption and so on."

MATTHIAS HOEPFNER, German Ambassador from 2009 to 2014, gave two interviews to Vagabond, in issues 77 and 90.

MATTHIAS HOEPFNER

© Anthony Georgieff

"It is very discouraging that the rating of Bulgaria in the press freedom index of Reporters Without Borders has been plummeting during the past few years," he said in one of his last interviews before leaving Bulgaria. "When I arrived, Bulgaria held 56th position, following an already steep fall from the 35th position it held when it entered the EU. Bulgaria has persistently dropped further to its current position of 100th, the lowest position any EU country has ever held in the history of this index. Free and independent media are one of the most important foundations of democracy and also an indispensable precondition for prosperity in a modern market economy.
"The current state of affairs should not be tolerated in an EU country. Urgent action is necessary."

TERRY STAMATOPOULOS, Greek Ambassador from 2012 to 2013, Issue 78

TERRY STAMATOPOULOS

© Anthony Georgieff


JOHN ROWAN

© Anthony Georgieff

JOHN ROWAN, Former Irish Ambassador, Issue 79

"I enjoy attending the diverse cultural events on offer here. From the philharmonic concerts in Bulgaria Hall to the jazz sessions at the Sofia Live club, from impromptu gigs at a friend’s café to a feast of Balkan traditional music and dance in NDK. The quality of Bulgarian folk music and choral work is astonishing and it is a tribute to the Bulgarian people that they have maintained its richness. My daughter, who lives in San Francisco and is a professional musician, was enticed to Sofia to broaden her repertoire and took the decision to do a PhD in Bulgarian musical composition at the National Academy of Music. So we have the music scene here to thank for seeing more of her in the last two years than we did in the previous 20. To accompany the music, there's always the excellent Bulgarian cuisine and wine, and at local prices, you can indulge your tastes.

"If an Irish friend came for a visit, what would you advise them not to do in Bulgaria?

"Don't drink any non-Bulgarian wine."

In Issue 80, ELIZABETH ALLEN, senior policy advisor to the British government, was the first to answer the questions of Vagabond in a series of interviews on Sofia as a potential European capital of culture in 2019:

Elizabeth Allen© Anthony Georgieff

"If I'm honest, I would say that compared to other European capital cities Sofia is not cosmopolitan – but perhaps I am making an unfair comparison with London where you see people of different backgrounds on every street."

MARTINA VRDOLJAK, a Croatian diplomat, Issue 82

KAARE JANSON, Former Danish Ambassador to Bulgaria, Issue 82

CATHERINE BARBER, Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy from 2010 to 2014, Issue 83/84:

CATHERINE BARBER

© Anthony Georgieff

"Living in Sofia, we are lucky to have so many parks. It's a really green city, and lovely to walk around. My favourite occupation at the weekend is to take a map of the city, draw myself a route including a park, and walk for several hours. The best way to become properly acquainted with a city, in my experience, is on foot. Sofia's parks contain many fascinating little monuments and statues which, if you stop to read about them, offer a window into the place and history. Apart from these green spaces in the city, I’d have to count Mount Vitosha as one of Sofia's amazing things. We are unbelievably lucky to have such a beautiful place to hike and relax, so close. I always take visitors to one of the churches in the foothills of the mountain. And lastly, though not so dramatic, one of Sofia's attractive attributes is the proliferation of small cafés, bars and restaurants. I think it would be possible to go to a different zavedenie, or establishment, every evening and never repeat a visit, as new places open so often."

ANICK VAN CALSTER, Belgian Ambassador, said in Issue 83/84:

Anick van Calster© Anthony Georgieff

"It strikes me that Bulgarians very often look to the outside to find solutions or problems. In the difficult situation now I see Bulgarians asking around; who is going to help us? I think the Bulgarians have to do it for themselves. Of course, Bulgaria has friends, being a member of the EU and NATO and so on. There can be sharing of examples, best practices, encouragement, and so on, but ultimately the Bulgarians will have to do it themselves. The Bulgarians should trust that they can do it."

DIANA ROWAN, an Irish musician with a PhD in harp from Sofia's Music Academy, Issue 85:

DIANA ROWAN

© Jose Santiago Tan

"I haven't learned more than 20 words of Bulgarian since the people are such incredible multilinguists, so right there you see the cosmopolitanism of the city. Whatever you want to find is available if you look, from Chinese medicinal herbs to tango. Everyone seems to have read Ireland’s beloved James Joyce, everyone travels, and everyone is unusually well versed with the world at large. It's so easy to enjoy world culture in Sofia that I actually wish I could find more traditional Bulgarian music and events."


MARIE VRINAT-NIKOLOV© Anthony Georgieff

MARIE VRINAT-NIKOLOV, French translator of Bulgarian literature, Issue 86:
"I think Sofia lacks human diversity. We meet mainly Caucasian people. To the consternation of many Bulgarians I would like to point out that I actually miss Blacks, Arabs and Asians. I am firmly opposed to the spread of nationalism and intolerance. Sadly, this is an European disease... where will poor old cosmopolitans find their ideal place?"

KRISTEN GHODSEE, an American anthropologist focusing on Bulgaria, Issue 87/88:

KRISTEN GHODSEE© Dennis Griggs

"Does Bulgaria have an ethnic problem?

"It depends who you ask. I lived in the city of Madan in the Rhodope for about a year back in 2005-2006. This is a predominantly Pomak region. I was deeply impressed by the spirit of tolerance and multiculturalism that permeated the community. Bulgaria has been a multiethnic and multiconfessional society for centuries. A friend in Madan once told me that societies were like flower gardens; they were more beautiful if you had lots of different types of flowers planted side by side. To the extent that Bulgaria today has any kind of ethnic 'problem,' I believe that politicians are manufacturing it in order to distract people from the real problems in society: 'weapons of mass distraction.'

"Of course, members of the Gypsy and Turkish minorities in Bulgaria are subject to discrimination. The more mono-ethnic the village or town, the more likely Bulgarians are to be hostile to Turks and Roma. In these areas, Gypsies are all perceived to be beggars, prostitutes and thieves, and the Turks apparently represent the Fifth Column of Turkish irredentism."

DEMOSTENIS STOIDIS, Greek Ambassador, Issue 91

STEPHANE MOISSET, a French entrepreneur living in Bulgaria, is one of the most outspoken interviewees we've had in our 100 issues. Here is an extract from his appearance in Issue 92:

STEPHANE MOISSET© Anthony Georgieff

"The culture shock comes also from the fact that people have absolutely no sense of community, for what belongs to everybody, such as streets, roads and so on. Bulgarians are always late and never apologise – and this is a Frenchman talking! When they drive, they are so aggressive that they would drive through your car if they could. I have seen people throwing garbage out of their windows. Excuse the metaphor, but it feels like someone urinating in their living room and then saying, 'Well I don't care, it's not my room.'"

XAVIER LAPEYRE DE CABANES became the French Ambassador to Bulgaria in 2013. He had been here before and was eager to share his impressions on what had changed and what hadn't since 1991, in Issue 93:

XAVIER LAPEYRE DE CABANES© Anthony Georgieff

"Now we live in the same world. Young Bulgarians and the young French are educated in the same mode. The people belonging to my generation in Bulgaria did not get the same education as myself, as they grew up in a system where they could not read the books they wanted, or listen to the music they liked, or watch the films they wanted to see, or travel to the countries they wanted to visit. They did not live in a free country.

"Secondly, Bulgaria is a lot more developed economically now than it was previously. At the beginning of the 21st Century Bulgaria's GDP was a third of the median EU. Now, it's half, a significant increase. Of course, I am not going to tell you there is no difference between Sofia and Paris. Yet, in Sofia you can live quite comfortably. There are no longer electricity shortages, and the transport system is efficient.

"Not all changes are for the better, however. Now, when I travel through Bulgaria, I see many villages – in fact whole regions of the country – that are in ruins. It's like a desert, really."

MARTIN ZAIMOV, banker, Issue 94:

"The economy is strong, and banks are now in a very strong position compared to 15 years ago when the economy was in actual fact bankrupt. In 1996 Bulgaria's government was on the brink of bankruptcy, while now it is one of the least indebted in Europe. The government can borrow billions at relatively low cost and thus has the capacity to cover any bank failure."

LYUBOSLAVA ROUSEVA, analyst, journalist, Issue 95/96:

"GERB managed to streamline the rallies and use them to facilitate its political comeback. Initially, what appeared like a genuine manifestation of civil society soon plunged into unenlightened buffoonery. Borisov snatched the opportunity and presented it as the voice of those morally discontent with the government – and then as an alternative to the BSP-DPS model."

SÜLEYMAN GÖKÇE, Turkish Ambassador to Bulgaria since 2013, Issue 97:

SÜLEYMAN GÖKÇE© Anthony Georgieff

"The world we are trying to build is forward-looking; creating prosperity, wealth, mutual understanding, empathy and respect. Our common heritage not only binds us together, but provides important milestones for our common future. One important thing I should mention here is that we are not only talking about the Ottoman heritage in Bulgaria, but also about the Bulgarian heritage in Turkey."

MARCO CONTICELLI, Italian Ambassador since 2012, recounted the similarities between Bulgarians and Italians in his special feature interview in Issue 98:

MARCO CONTICELLI© Anthony Georgieff

"We both 'hate and love' our countries, we spend many hours at the table enjoying food, we are relatively traditional and friendly people, strongly attached to family and community values. Our scenery is astonishing; home to a beautiful coastline gorgeous mountains and plains, and a great archaeological heritage, as well as to adventure sports. It's no surprise that more and more Italians decide to come to Bulgaria to visit, and then stay. They just feel at home!"

STANA ILIEV, a German-Bulgarian activist who has lived in Bulgaria since 2008, Issue 98.

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