November, 2010

  1. Mitko Subev’s curious complaint

    November 29, 2010 by Christopher Buxton

    We derive little pleasure from multimillionaire Mitko Subev’s sudden realisation that Bulgarian institutions are susceptible to outside influence. He is currently fighting a legal battle with his Russian partners, who wish to remove him from the Management of the Petrol Corporation. He has written impassioned letters to six foreign Embassies – including the American – denouncing the way influence was brought to bear on the Bulgarian National Business Register – set up with mostly American money – to have his name prematurely removed from the list of the Company’s Directors.

    Mitko Subev once told us that above him there was only God. Now it appears that God’s chosen businessman is subject to the pesky fleabites of bureaucrats and politicians who we are to believe are subject to influence by Russian oligarchs.

    A moment of introspection might prompt the memory that he well understands the influence that considerable money may exert over institutions. Did he not wish to gain total control over a building he co-owned with my impoverished mother-in-law? Did he not prefer use of influence over troublesome negotiation? Wasn’t it his expensive glossy “expert” report that drove nearly all my mother-in-law’s tenants away and almost succeeded in getting the local council to order the demolition of a sound building?

    Many legal battles later, the demolition order has been rescinded. But my disabled mother-in-law is still threatened with penury. Mitko Subev has been far too busy building fantasy baroque hotels in Pomorie to bother himself with a little building in Burgas.

    Mitko now finds himself in that most misty of situations – Bulgarian legal limbo. We may even rub shoulders in the cold. However the influence a rich man may exert is already being felt. Bulgarian newspaper, Standart has afforded him a platform with which to rail at Bulgarian corruption.

    So that’s all right


  2. Little Volen and the big bad Serbs

    November 29, 2010 by Christopher Buxton

    Volen Siderov the far right leader of the ATAKA party, has taken time out of his busy schedule to plan a minor invasion of Serbia. Heading a small fleet of Buses, Volen was planning to drive to Bosilegrad, (population 9,000 ethnic Bulgarians to 1,000 ethnic Serbs) to take part in a demonstration against the 1919 Treaty of Neuilly sur Seine, which redrew the Bulgarian frontier following the end of the First World War.

    So to the growing list of his hates (Jews, Moslems, Turks and German Air hostesses) we must add the Serbs. Despite their Slav Orthodox credentials, they put thirty Policemen at the border crossing to stop Volen’s invasion.

    Volen (“the people love him”) returned to Sofia in high dudgeon demanding that the Bulgarian government withdraw its support for Serbia’s entry into the EU. If they do not Volen will withdraw his support for the government of Bulgaria’s greatest living Stereotype , Premier Boyko Borisov.

    Big Leek! – as they say in Bulgaria – little willy as I might add. Boyko has an absolute majority in Parliament and does not need the support of Volen’s neo fascists. In fact Volen cuts a forlorn figure these days. Having tried to line his pockets with enormous wads of cash demanded from Party Candidates in return for allowing them to stand as MPs, he lost the support of far right Burgas SKAT TV owner, Valeri Simeonov. SKAT TV cannot forgive Volen for giving his unconditional support to populist Boyko Borisov, and so a stream of anti Volen propaganda has filled the SKAT studios. In studios, angry commentators harangue TV cameras for hours on end, watched by bitter pensioners.

    Volen had to do something dramatic to boost his patriotic credentials. Why not invade Serbia and try to rewrite ninety years of history. Of course Serbia must return Bulgarian lands ceded over 90 years ago. By the way, I am planning a coach tour to Normandy from Britain’s oldest recorded town. I will put on a protest raincoat and demand the French return Normandy to us. I don’t see why I should need a passport – after all Normandy is English territory up to the moment it was stolen from us in the reign of King John. If I am stopped by French police, I will demand that France be excluded from the EU. Otherwise I will withdraw my support for Nick Clegg!


  3. Emil Andreev: A Bulgarian Writer in Interesting Times

    November 27, 2010 by Christopher Buxton


    On the 18th of November at the Bulgarian Embassy Emil Andreev gave an illuminating and positive talk in English on the Bulgarian Writer in Interesting Times. There was a reading from his latest novel, Crazy Luka by his English translator, Christopher Buxton. The event was organised by The British Bulgarian Friendship Society – and we are indebted to the Bulgarian Embassy and in particular the Cultural Attache Dessislava Naydenova for hosting the event. The mixed audience included writers, translators, academics, and young Bulgarians from Emil’s home town. The feedback was encouraging. Many expressed the hope that similar events be organised.


  4. Books read over the summer

    November 25, 2010 by Christopher Buxton

    Alcohol by Kalin Terziski is a powerful autobiographical account of the causes and effects of addiction. Terziski enlivens the daily grind of addiction with lightning flashes of anecdote and powerful emotions, recollected in the tranquillity of his present day self imposed abstinence. His hero is driven by a furious rejection of the moral compromises of his parents’ generation. In a bravura passage he lambasts lives of passive compliance, where the only rewards participation in the banal charades of communism are a monthly visit to a restaurant to eat overcooked pork chops.

    Anyone seeking to understand the generation who spent their youth in the streaked sunset of communist rule, then had to endure its replacement by a kleptocracy, ought to read this book. Terziski casts an uncompromising light on himself, his fellow writers and the grim everyday hospital reality, where he worked as a trainee surgeon and then psychiatrist. For those readers who fear that this will be a depressing read, I can only say that the truth redeems, and the truth is often very funny.

    If Terziski’s condemnation of his parents’ generation seems unfair, Mausoleum by Ruzha Lazarova redresses the balance. In a book that cannot decide whether it is family memoir or novel, Lazarova who lives in France and writes in French has written the most compelling account of life under communism that I have read. Through the experiences of the author, her mother and her grandmother we can chart the evolution of communism through terror, then enforced co-operation, then absurd ritual.

    Shortly after the Russian invasion and “spontaneous” Communist revolution, Lazarova’s grandfather, a promising jazz musician was ordered to present himself at a Ministry Building. He joined unsuspecting fellow musicians and lawyers and was never seen again. Years later Lazarova’s grandmother received official notification that he had been executed as a Bourgeois parasite and enemy of the people.

    Twenty years later Gosho the String, former society violinist, was arrested taken to a labour camp, murdered by inmates and fed to the pigs. His crime was a joke suggesting that the difference between British and Bulgarian postage stamps was that Bulgarian spat on both sides of the stamp.

    The face on Bulgarian stamps at this time was that of Bulgaria’s first Communist leader, Georgi Dimitrov, who was by now embalmed and lying in state in a grandiose concrete bunker opposite the former royal palace in Sofia. Dimitrov had orchestrated the terror from Moscow, before returning to Sofia as an alcoholic, a flaccid instrument in the hands of Stalin’s KGB.

    The mythology of the heroic “Father of the Nation” was mostly based on one event – the 1933 Reichstag Fire trial. The new Nazi government had arrested Dimitrov with two other Bulgarian Communists and had tried to frame them. Dimitrov successfully defended himself and was shipped to Russia as part of a prisoner exchange. There he became head of the Comintern – active in the liquidation of European Communist leaders.

    The Mausoleum in which his body was housed from 1949 becomes the metaphor for Bulgaria under Communist rule. Lazarova evokes the changing attitudes reflected in the experiences of terrified grandmother, frustrated mother/engineer and rebellious daughter (herself).

    The father of the nation loved children of course and so generations of children were rallied by shouting teachers and marched in all weathers into the cold formaldehyde tomb where they had to shuffle past the dead body. The Mausoleum was also the focus of all the joyful time wasting demonstrations in which workers and children celebrated their good socialist fortune by waving flowers and flags at the current politburo and their foreign guests.

    As the years pass the emptiness of these charades becomes yet more apparent. There is a hopeless frustration felt by intelligent citizens forced to agree to lunatic decisions made by incompetent apparatchiks. But even in the 1980s as the failings of a corrupt regime are clear to all fear precludes any significant reaction beyond petty resistance.

    90 year old broadcaster, journalist and informer, Petko Bocharov has published memoirs. In Pictures from Three Bulgarias he provides a series of sharply realised memories from his childhood in Tsarist Bulgaria, his education in the American College, his imprisonment in a Dimitrovgrad mine, his impressions of Communism and post-communism, and his ashamed confession to being turned into an informer for State Security.

    What if on your first day in a Communist labour camp, labelled as a political, you are shown to a narrow bed, which you have to share with a thief/murderer, you leave your stuff including a hunk of bread on the bed as you have to visit the surprisingly clean latrine and when you return you find your bed-mate has eaten your bread?

    Intellectual middle class Bocharov had taken boxing lessons. Success in the fight brought the patronage of the cock of the prison. Bocharov was honoured with a nickname and became his bed-fellow.

    They don’t teach boxing in English schools.


  5. Headaches for Nationalists. Karbovski licks his lips.

    November 19, 2010 by Christopher Buxton

    The week so far: Former Chief Procurator is accused on TV of ordering the successful murders of a judge and prominent lawyer (Procurator angrily denies this from his son’s home in Switzerland); A National Security Boss is nabbed with wads of banknotes (these are bribes paid by international fraudsters in return for inside information, keeping them ahead of police investigation); residents in the ancient city of Nessebur defy police and bulldozers to stop the demolition of their unsightly illegal commercial premises; they collect signatures for the withdrawal of their walled and churched city from the UNESCO list of outstanding historical sites so they will no longer have to suffer irksome restrictions; a group of them even burnt tires scorching the ancient town walls.

    It seems an ideal week for some Bulgarian commentators to dust off all the stereotype adjectives, similes and metaphors of self loathing and revisit the “execrable tribe” version of their peoples’ history.

    Always to be relied upon, Martin Karbovski, that doyen of overheated moral outrage, responded to the Nessebur events by declaring the Bulgarian nation to be unique in its moral turpitude. He imagines future archaeologists digging through piles of rotting chipboard to find the skeleton of a granny with one arm round a broken toilet bowl clutching the Euros extracted from former tourists in need of a pee.

    Karbovski seems to nurture a particular hatred of Grannies. Perhaps in his childhood, he was clawed, spanked and robbed by avaricious old ladies in sinister black robes. Perhaps he was enraged by TV clips of these wizened capitalists weeping over the prospect of losing their livelihoods. And for anyone except Karbovski they do deserve some sympathy. They are hardly big time gangsters. They haven’t polluted the Black Sea coast with hotels resembling railway stations or Disney castles. A chaotic state has allowed them to build tatty stalls and jerry built extensions onto historic houses to attract the tourists that turn Nessebur streets into a heaving logjam each summer. Yes of course these Grannies are after a quick buck and as they collect signatures against UNESCO’s perceived unwarranted interference, they and their grandchildren show scant respect for one of Bulgaria’s few remaining sites of outstanding beauty and historical significance. But ultimately it is the chaotic state that has allowed this situation to develop.

    Negative news seem to pose fewer problems for the extreme nationalist/patriotic press. Desant and SKAT journalists need to reassure their readership that Bulgaria is still a magical country inhabited by a heroic people. So loathing is directed at groups of people that threaten this vision. Western commentators – including the American Ambassador are easily dismissed. They should be too busy killing their children, killing their parents, indulging in homosexual orgies, digging up their dead. How dare the representatives of such decadent cultures dare to offer advice to Bulgaria.

    Politicians, Criminals, Gypsies and Turks are easily identified as enemies of pure Bulgarians. Bai Stoyo has spotted an international multi-cultural conspiracy to “gypsify” the glorious heritage of Ivan Rilski with a flood of chalga.

    What about journalists like Karbovski? Well Desant has splashed a grotesque picture of Martin’s bespectacled face addressing the torso and tits of some headless naked cutie. Readers are told Martin’s friends are homosexuals and take drugs. He rubs shoulders with “gangster” politicians. The fact that these politicians are trying to put gangsters behind bars – albeit ineffectively – is conveniently ignored. Martin Karbovski’s strictures on the actions of Bulgarians are dismissed as the pornographic rantings of a Bulgarophobe. Patriotic journalist feel no need to offer solutions. They have to live with their readership in a country which they scarcely understand.

    So that’s all right then!


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