October, 2010

  1. How to create your UNESCO status of great albeit largely unread world-class writer and thrive in the heart of the Communist State

    October 25, 2010 by Christopher Buxton

    Historical fiction – a great hiding place for Emilian Stanev

    What would you do? You’re an ambitious erudite writer, you’ve got progressive ideas. You have a quick sympathetic imagination. Just as your short stories are beginning to make an impact, the Communists take over your country.

    You’re not a party member, but someone likes your work. You are not dispatched to break rocks like Dimitur Talev. You’re invited to join the Party. You’re given a dream job managing a hunting estate for privileged comrades who enjoy shooting animals. You like hunting. Why not? It must beat your previous job working for the Sofia Town Hall.

    Your short story The Peach Thief is turned into a film designed to boost Bulgaria’s reputation. It wins enthusiastic plaudits throughout international film festivals. It’s comfortably historical. It is set at the time of the First World War. It is the moving story of a love affair between a Serbian Prisoner of War and the repressed Bulgarian wife of the camp commandant – it establishes your broad internationalist humanist principles. It carries appropriate messages about the evils of imperialist war and the hierarchical sexist class system. The Bulgarian government is keen to bask in your success and you are rewarded. You are made a hero of Socialist Labour.

    You become a Representative in the Communist parliament. It’s expected of you. You represent Dimitrovgrad – ironically the birthplace of the suicidal alcoholic Communist poet, Penyo Penev. You try to take the job seriously, but complain privately of its absurdity, joining in unanimous vote after unanimous vote as required by the Party hierarchy. Anyway you’ve now written Ivan Kondarev – a novel about the 1923 uprising of Peasants against the right wing Tsar’s government. You’ve paid your dues, re-representing recent history to order. You get the Georgi Dimitrov award.

    You’re now over sixty. It’s me-time – time to express all your insights; time to write the great Bulgarian novel. You could be the Bulgaria’s first Nobel laureate. Hell, in neighbouring Greece, Kazantsakis showed you the way. You’ve read Nietzsche too. You’ve got something to say about living in a Godless Universe. But can you get it past the Bulgarian censor?

    Talev has given you the answer. Go deep – back into Bulgarian history. Set your novel in the Middle Ages. Pick a period! The fall of Bulgaria under “the Ottoman Yoke” is a promisingly tragic context for your startling novel about the human condition in extremity. You can get in lots of references to “brave suffering folk”, “duplicitous Boyars” and “dirty barbaric unbelievers”. Your novel’s called “Antichrist”. It sounds reassuringly atheist. That should make the Censor happy.

    But you’ve got to consider your international audience too. So you create a screwed up persona – an anguished monk, caught between God and Devil, celestial light and sexual darkness.

    The Bulgarian alphabet marks the intense episodes in our handsome humourless hero’s journey. It starts with an improbable childhood romance with our hero writing poetry to his school desk-mate, a Turnovo Princess. Inevitably disappointed, he enters a monastery and tries to ignore the attentions of Sodomites. Here he encounters the future Patriarch Evtimi. As a test of his faith he is told to serve a troublesome old monk who does much to heighten our hero’s angst. Even hesychism affords him no solace. He closes his eyes and mouth and finds celestial light. It’s all too easy. It is an irresponsible escape from the real world. Frustrated he joins a community of Bogomils. They’ve got the right idea. The world in all its beauty is Satan’s creation. The hierarchy of Church and State is evil. He settles to a life of earthly pleasures with a woman whose beauty is fatal – he kills two men because of it. Arrested in a purge of heretics and Jews, he witnesses tongues and ears being torn out and is himself flogged and branded and cast out into the wider world. In a somewhat rushed conclusion he finds his purpose in life in a kind of anachronistic patriotism. He kills Turks and treacherous Boyars.

    So that’s all right then. The Censor scratches his hairy stomach and sighs. He has had to wade through a lot of archaic language, misogyny, theological controversy and existential angst to get to the progressive patriotic bit. It’s not an easy read – but that’s what you have to expect from great writers. OK there’s a lot of references to God, the Devil and Jesus – but it is a historical novel. He supposes that most people will buy it, put it on their shelves and then not read it.

    And Communists identify with Bogomils. Communists like their attack on social hierarchy. They don’t realise that in Bogomil eyes, they would appear as much as Pharisees and hypocrites as the Kings, Boyars and Patriarchs of the Middle Ages. The harsh treatment meted out by the powerful mirrors the show trials, executions and labour camps of Communist Bulgaria.

    Well done Emilian! A closer look at your novel reveals an acute critique of life under Communism – especially your account of Monastic life where in a silent world everyone is spying on his brother.

    You didn’t get the Nobel Prize though. Then neither did Kazantzakis. He got pipped to the post by another purveyor of Existential angst – Camus.


  2. ‘Nuff police serials says the President

    October 15, 2010 by Christopher Buxton

    President Purvanov – that Dorian Grey of world statesmen – has delivered a veiled rebuke to his arch rival, every Bulgarian’s fantasy-drinking-companion, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.

    In an address to a local government conference in Albena, Purvanov has said that ordinary Bulgarians have no need of “police serials”. They need calm and reassuring government.

    What he means is that Boyko Borisov and his morose looking Home Secretary should draw back from their sensational highly publicised but so far ineffective campaigns against organised crime and concentrate on the task of making Bulgarians feel better about themselves. Why should ordinary Bulgarians be concerned by extortion in high places when health and education systems seem to be going to hell. As many of the Mayors in his audience may have been feeling the heat of criminal investigation, I’m sure the applause was hearty.

    Some might say this is rich coming from the svelte sophisticated President who has not escaped accusations of corrupt business links over his long reign. Now nearing the end of a second mandate he has worked alongside three improbable Prime Ministers – the barely articulate ex-Tsar Simeon Saxekoburgotsky, the anally retentive pursed lipped Socialist Sergei Stanishev, and now the absurdly populist Boyko Borisov.

    In the first months of Boyko Borisov’s government, not a day passed without headlines reporting arrests of significant criminal gangs along with corrupt high ranking civil servants, magistrates, police and customs officers. The most trumpeted arrests were those of the chief of the National Security Agency and of a band of kidnappers known as “the Blackguards”. Meanwhile highly publicised trials of colourfully named gangsters were roared on from the sidelines.

    A year on and as Boyko takes time out to be filmed lumbering around the football field with his role model, former football star and greatest living Bulgarian, Hristo Stoichkov, it is left to his the sad-faced balding Home Secretary to comment on the fact that hardly any of the previous year’s spectacular arrests have led to satisfactory prosecutions and sentences.

    Lumbering police investigations, incompetent prosecutors, compromised evidence, shaky witnesses and sharp defense lawyers have been key factors in court’s decisions to release suspects on bail pending limitless delays of legal process. Home Secretary Tsvetanov accuses the courts of being in league with organized crime. The Judges in turn fault Tsvetanov’s lack of manners. The vulgar Bulgar has not understood the necessary constitutional separation of Administration and Judiciary. They parrot the textbook constitutional rights of any advanced civil society – just because the whole nation fervently believes the accused are guilty, these wealthy powerful men and women should still have the right to obfuscate and delay, to plead illness and enjoy the comforts of home, in the hopes of eventually establishing their innocence – or at the least the state’s inability to prove their guilt.

    Purvanov’s judgement that the Bulgarian people have no need of such “police serials” is yet another attempt by the fastidious aristocratic Socialist to gain the moral high ground over the right wing bull in a china shop/man of the people.

    Police serials take two forms. They either reassure a trusting public that however dastardly the criminal, the forces of law and order will always win and so justice will prevail. Or (like the successful American series The Wire)they flatter a skeptical audience by demonstrating the complex Dickensian links between criminal gangs and powerful social structures. In either event, police serials are entertaining and satisfying fictions that bear some relation to real life.

    The problem for the Bulgarian public and its self elected spokesmen, is that Borisov’s police series are far from satisfying. In a recent article, Martin Karbovski describes the thin layer of mire that sticks to all aspects of Bulgarian life. Ageing Bulgarians are encouraged to believe that this mire is not so bad. Bulgaria is not Greece or Sicily. But according to Karbovski, the inability of government and judiciary to deal with this mire promotes a feeling of hopelessness in the young and accounts for their mass migration to the west.

    Meanwhile Boyko Borisov picks up a tennis racquet. His press people are showing that he is at least trying to bring criminals to justice. Is that superstar Pironkova around? Fetch up the cameras! Anyone for tennis?


  3. Standartnews photos

    October 6, 2010 by Christopher Buxton

    I have long been fascinated by the pictures chosen to accompany stories in Standart.

    We all know how expensive it must be to employ photographers. Standart’s usual practice where primary resources are lacking is to accompany generic stories – robbery, prostitution, gypsies, narcotics with pictures lifted straight out of Google images. Thus any story about burglary is usually illustrated with a scary photo of a man in a balaclava pointing a shotgun straight at the viewer.Any story involving prostitutes shows a leggy woman leaning over to talk to a car driver and so on.

    Some choices are just bizarre – as in the example above. The story is about a village in England which is successfully using human waste to power their electricity.

    So our intrepid editor picks up the first picture he can find on the internet – a headless cutie sitting on the toilet. But hang on a minute. What are those men’s feet doing dangling in the front of the picture? And why is there another toilet so close to the first without a barrier in between.

    My first thought is that the man is jumping for joy at the prospect of toilet intimacy – but the picture is too crisp. His feet look stationary. Has this headless cutie managed to hang her husband, so she can enjoy the sight of his protruding tongue while she takes a pee?

    Unfortunately as this picture features non-Bulgarians and Standart obviously lacks the funds for an international murder investigation, we will never know the answer.


  4. Happy Wedding Day

    October 1, 2010 by Christopher Buxton

    On Saturday Malinna and Richard got married.

    Meteorological felicity, Olympian logistics, adventurous guests from across the world, atmospheric venues, sartorial surprises (especially Vlad’s suit) exhilarating music and Dionysian dancing all combined to celebrate the union of this beautiful couple.

    So thank you, Julie and her mum and all her family for sharing Richard with us. Thank you Tony Glew for driving us to London and back. Thank you love-bus driver for ferrying us through such narrow traffic jammed streets. Thank you Galen and your musicians for getting to both venues in time to get our feet moving with your bagpipes. Thank you all you wonderful guests and your readiness to jump into a horo. Thank you Vlad for being so unflappably and caringly organized.Thank you Tom for the witty speech on art appreciation. Thank you Jeanette for your generous warmth and thank you baby girl in the bus for being such a receptive audience for my songs. Thank you Travel Lodge for honouring our bookings. Thank you God and the forces of nature for averting all catastrophes. Above all, thank you Richard and Malinna!


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