1. Arrogance

    December 6, 2010 by Christopher Buxton

    I was recently castigated by a former student for becoming yet another foreigner to “treat Bulgarians as though they were aborigines”.

    I learn from the comments appended to an article on the early release of Michael Shields, that “the English have always treated Bulgarians as if they were aborigines.” You may remember that Michael Shields was the English football fan, who was imprisoned in Bulgaria for the grievous maiming of a Bulgarian citizen, but then was transferred to serve the remainder of his sentence in a British Gaol.

    In the right wing “patriotic” press, American Ambassador James Warlick, who has the temerity to comment on Bulgarian internal affairs, is routinely described as “regarding Bulgarians as aborigines.”

    I have been searching for some history of this most surprising of comparisons. I would like to know whether any foreign commentator has ever compared Bulgarians with Aborigines.

    Apart from the fact that both peoples have suffered from Imperial repression and a degree of cultural isolation, there are no points of similarity beyond common humanity.

    What may be true is that those Bulgarians who perceive the world as an ethnic league table would identify aborigines as occupying the lowest position. Patriotic Bulgarians would also hold as an article of faith that history or even malign world conspiracy has handed Bulgarians the outrageously unjust fate to be placed on a lower position than that enjoyed by other “advanced” nations.

    Anyone from one of these supposedly “advanced” nations, who lives in Bulgaria will, like me, be tempted to comment on the joys and challenges of everyday life. Bulgaria’s entry into NATO and the EU makes it inevitable that Bulgaria will become the object of report and even advice.

    The problem is that any critical comments will be construed as patronising and arrogant.

    In England, the failure of the World Cup Bid has led to a storm of self-righteous fury. Accusations of corruption in the British popular press, feature FIFA Third World representatives, Russian kleptocrats and oil rich Sheiks. How dare the world ignore the whiter than white combination of Prince William, David Beckham and David Cameron?

    Ha! Ha! Ha!

    I would imagine that in the rest of the world, people are quite pleased by this very public punishment of perceived English arrogance – even while admitting the fallibility of FIFA as an institution.

    Arrogance involves the assumption by the individual of some superiority. Arrogance is perceived by others – seldom by the individual. And I admit that as an English citizen I have to try to monitor myself when daring to comment on another country even though I live in that country and am affected by social and legal issues.

    Seizing on some comments I had made about attitudes to homosexuals and gypsies, my former student last year launched a diatribe against the horrors perpetrated by the English over the centuries. I could have written this part of his article for him. I could be accused of arrogance if I stated I could have written it better.

    There is a kind of arrogance which is based not on a feeling of social superiority, but on a tortured sense of persecution. This sense of persecution, however justified, will foster entrenched opinions and stereotypes. Thin skinned sensitivity and perhaps a commercial need to pander to a like-minded audience may lie behind the oft-repeated accusation that Bulgarians are being treated as if they were aborigines.

  2. Awful, awful!

    December 2, 2010 by Christopher Buxton

    In his powerful memoir, Alcohol, Kalin Terziski defines his parents generation by their hushed reaction to all life’s challenges typical in communism – “awful, awful”. Sudden deaths, arrests, cuts in water and electricity, queues outside shops, divorcing couples, ungrateful children, holes in the road, suicides of young poets and petty crime would evoke the same frightened response of “awful, awful!”

    One imagines these words ringing out more loudly round Bulgaria today as the news spreads from the town of Oryakhovo of the baby allegedly stuffed alive into a hospital freezer and the spectacular arrest of the responsible doctors. The baby’s mother was a shy Bulgarian school pupil, terrified of her violent father and the baby’s father was a gypsy. Whether the baby was indeed still alive when stuffed into the freezer will emerge from an inquiry.

    What has emerged is that in their hastily written report of the “death” they got the gender and age of the baby wrong.

    Revealing of the current environment of State Paranoia is that this story only emerged as a result of phone tapping. A conversation was overheard between the hospital chief and the local mayor about the baby. This led to spectacular scenes as anti Mafia police – normally used for arresting gangsters and corrupt politicians – rushed into the hospital and arrested doctors at gun-point.

    The Hospital chief has shared his astonishment that doctors should be treated as dangerous criminals. Leader of the Conservative Party has demanded the resignation of the Minister of Home Affairs, following the latter’s decision to quote from the tapped conversations.

    Self elected bard of moral outrage, Martin Karbovski has seized upon the freezer as a powerful metaphor for the state of modern Bulgaria. And the fact that the words for miscarriage and abortion are the same in Bulgaria has allowed him to portray the citizens of this frozen realm as “abortions.”

    Helpful though his comments may be in provoking a chorus of “awful, awful!”, they will have done little to worsen Bulgarians’ already fairly jaded view of everyday life.

    In a desperate attempt to bring a smile to the lips of his fellow citizens, Greatest Living Bulgarian, Boyko Borisov has brought out the latest episode of “Government – The Soap Opera” – in which he confesses that he and his colleagues were completely taken in by the beautiful former chief of the Agricultural Fund, Kalinna Ilieva. Not only did this young woman succeed in fooling them all with a falsified diploma, but incredibly she passed off her pregnancy as a cancer tumour.

    In another twist of the absurd, former chief of National Security, Alexei Petrov, who is threatened by investigation of years of corrupt links with the underworld, is being persuaded to run for the post of president in next year’s elections. Subject to a highly publicised police campaign, the so called Tractor and head of the Octopus has already had talks with that Dorian Grey of Bulgarian politics the outgoing president, Purvanov.

    Former Communist, Purvanov has clearly despaired of the chances that the Socialist party under the anally retentive Stanishev can challenge the super-popular Boyko Borisov. So with the aid of a few well chosen pals, Purvanov is launching his own left-leaning party in time for the next Parliamentary elections.

    Awful, awful!

  3. 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

  4. 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!

  5. 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.