coronavirus

TO VOTE OR NOT TO VOTE?

One of the topics debated in what was an exceptionally tepid election campaign was how Bulgarians abroad should be enabled to vote. Bulgarians, like the French and the Italians but unlike the Danes and the Irish, can vote in general elections regardless of their permanent place of abode.

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DESPITE GAME OF MUSICAL CHAIRS...

Some media try to represent the upcoming election as a titanic battle of a major anti-Communist, pro-democracy and pro-Western establishment (Boyko Borisov's GERB) and a renegade leftist party (BSP, or Bulgarian Socialist Party) that stems from the erstwhile Bulgarian Communist Party, the one that ruled Communist Bulgaria with an iron fist in 1944-1989. In fact, if opinion polls are anything to go by, GERB and BSP are almost equal in size, with the GERB sometimes emerging ahead by a few percentage points, and vice versa. Significantly, neither GERB nor the BSP are particularly large.

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BULGARIAN POLITICS OF HEALTH BELIE HEALTH OF POLITICS IN BULGARIA

Professor Kosta Kostov is one of Bulgaria's leading pulmonologists. He has specialised in Germany, Switzerland and the UK, and has taught for many years at the Medical Faculty of St Kliment of Ohrid University in Sofia. Earlier in 2020 he was the chairman of the Expert Medical Council under the Bulgarian Council of Ministers, a short-lived agency designed to provide the government with professional advice how to tackle the Covid-19 crisis. Dr Kostov has been in all Best Doctors lists in Bulgaria.

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NO SAUERKRAUT IN BG AMBULANCES

The overwhelming majority of Bulgarians wait in earnest for the sauerkraut, or kiselo zele, to ferment, or vtasa. Given the right preparation (in a plastic container called bidonche, stored in a basement, daily circulation of brine, or pretakane) and favourable weather conditions (neither too warm, nor too cold) the year's yield of sauerkraut should be in just ahead of Christmas.

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MATTER OF NUMBERS

Six months after the Covid-19 pandemic forced the world into lockdowns and uncertainties, a fuller picture of its effect on the world economy is beginning to emerge. Bulgaria fared not too bad, according to recent statistical data.

According to Eurostat, in the second quarter of 2020 Bulgaria's GDP fell 9.8 percent in comparison to the same period of 2019. The result is better than in most of the EU, where average GDP fell by 14.4 percent and France experienced a decrease of 19 percent.

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NESEBAR

There is a silver lining to the sharp decline in international tourism in Bulgaria in 2020. You can now see Nesebar, one of this nation's most impressive towns, without hordes of Brits and Scandinavians still hungover from the previous-evening's pub crawl at Sunny Beach resort.

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BULGARIA, IN THE MEANTIME

Predictably, the coronavirus emergency has made all other events in what remains the EU's poorest and least free state look like insubstantial tidbits. With very few exceptions all media have focused exclusively on the alarmist press conferences of Gen Ventsislav Mutafchiyski, the military doctor who heads the emergency staff, and on the lifts Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has given to his ministers in his private jeep to inspect unfinished stretches of road.

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NANCY SCHILLER: PHILANTHROPY IN ACTION

Since her arrival four years ago Nancy Schiller has become a well-known personality through Bulgaria. Seen in tiny villages in northern Bulgaria and at major archaeological sites like the Bishop's Basilica of Philippopolis, from her offices in central Sofia to locations with difficult-to-pronounce names that aspire to have US-style marching bands Nancy Schiller has skilfully managed one of the largest and most important non-governmental organisations in this country.

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BULGARIA'S RESPONSE TO COVID-19

Since 13 March 2020 Bulgaria has been run by three generals and a sheriff. First and foremost comes General Ventsislav Mutafchiyski. A surgeon installed to manage the Military Medical Academy in Sofia, Mutafchiyski rose to prominence when he was appointed the head of the emergency National Operative Headquarters. Neither a virologist, nor a psychologist he is seen at daily news briefings where he utilises his military schooling to give out what is in essence increasingly restrictive commands to ban citizens from moving about and gathering together.

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SAFECHARGE: WELCOME TO THE FUTURE

As in any crisis, there is a silver lining in the Covid-19 outbreak. The unexpected situation forced individuals and businesses to quickly adapt to the new environment of balancing between protecting public health and staying active. Wider adoption of cashless payment is one of these adaptations. In mere days both customers and sellers realized the power of e-commerce not only to make selling and buying faster, but also able to save lives with replacing a potential contamination agent with a more secure one.

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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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CORONA TIMES

In the age of the Internet, verbal jokes are no longer in fashion, however. Memes rule supreme.

Here is a quick selection done during a couple of days prior to this journal going to press. The main "hero" in them is, predictably, Gen Ventsislav Mutafchiyski, an army doctor and chief of the Military Medical Academy in Sofia, who was appointed to head the state of emergency headquarters.

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BALANCING OUT IN CORONAVIRUS CRISIS

Political science students all over the world are being taught in the early stages of their studies that the best way for an authoritarian government – any authoritarian government – to enhance its own powers is to use a crisis – any crisis – as a justification. The bigger the crisis, the bigger the opportunity. At a time of a huge crisis it becomes easier to take away citizens freedoms and rights not only with a couple of decrees, but also with the general public applauding from the sidelines.

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COMMUNIST BULGARIA GOES TO HUNGARY

Through vivid and at times poignant images Communist Bulgaria shows what has remained of this country's Communist material heritage. Included are some would famous sites such as the Communist Party Memorial House on Mount Buzludzha, popularly referred to as The Flying Saucer of Communism, downtown Sofia with its Stalinist architecture, and many monuments of Second World War resistance fighters. Thirty years after the collapse of the Iron Curtain most have been abandoned and are in various stages of decay, exuding eerie, even otherworldly vibes.

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