Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Thursday, November 09, 2006
And as usual, my mother in-law was angry. "Why did he call them again? There are only Gypsy drivers working there; in fact, the company is named "Alfa Roma". Some time they'll drive him to some remote place and rob him."
("Roma" is the politically correct term for "Gypsy".)
As a matter of fact my husband, despite his habit to go to the airport late, has never (yet) missed a plane. Besides, I feel there is something wrong with my mother in-law's logic. After we demand the Gypsies to work, it isn't very honest to boycott them when they do. So these days, when I needed a taxi and saw a "1 Dollar" approaching, I raised my hand.
The taxi was quite good. The company may hire Gypsy drivers (and I think it is good if it does) but that particular driver was white. And while on the outside of the car was written the popular name "1 Dollar Taxi", inside there was a label with the official name of the company. It was "Alfa Romeo" with some additional letters.
I don't know why. Possibly they have some agreement with the auto producer.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Yesterday, my husband commented while watching the news, "Now, when Parvanov was re-elected, everything goes on as expected. A Russian company is appointed to build the second nuclear plant and Bogomil Raynov was decorated with a medal."
I've mentioned in my previous post the tendency of Mr. Parvanov to decorate nasty people. Bogomil Raynov is a writer who used to be very well positioned during the Commnist era, in fact he was close friend of Lyudmila Zhivkova, the daughter of dictator Todor Zhivkov. Older generations remember that when Bogomil was young, he publicly renounced his father, writer Nikolay Raynov, in order to boost his career.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
I won't discuss Siderov now; he has been honoured by me earlier (http://mayas-corner.blogspot.com/2006/04/volen-siderov.html) and, besides, now everybody leads propaganda against him. Everybody tells us how important is not to elect Siderov and how we, the people whose views put us against Parvanov, must press our noses with two fingers and go to vote for him. Oh, really? Let's see.
I'll first translate the information about Parvanov given by Mediapool at http://www.mediapool.bg/show/?storyid=121454 and most likely originating from his official CV. It is usually said that Parvanov is a historian. His CV points exactly what kind of historian he is: "He graduates history in the Sofia St. Kliment Ohridski University, after which he becomes a PhD student at the Institute of History of Bulgarian Communist Party, affiliated to the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Until 1991 he is a research assistant in the same Institute. Since 1991 he has been Head of the Center for historic and political studies affiliated to the Supreme Council of the Bulgarian Socialist party. Since December 1996 Parvanov has been Head of the Supreme Council of the Bulgarian Socialist Party..."
So you see that his "history" was not any kind of history but history of the Party. To put the matter rudely, we have no proof that Parvanov has ever in his life done any work worth 2 cents (btw this is also true for our PM Sergey Stanishev, also a Socialist).
Strangely enough, in his relatively modest career as a historian, Parvanov still managed to stain his name by tying it to the State Security - the Communist Secret Services. He was asked by the State Security people to give his expert opinion about a book devoted to Macedonian history. He wrote a text and signed it by "Gotze" (in Macedonia, men named Georgi are often informally called Gotze). This fact surfaced several months ago. Parvanov tried to vindicate himself by saying he was only giving an expert opinion, as any expert would do. However, there are at least 2 reasons not to whitewash him. First, if the State Security wanted just an expert, why didn't they summon an expert? Why did they turn to an unexperienced researcher who seems to have always been an embodiment of mediocrity? Second, more important, why didn't he sign his opinion with his real name? When in 1990 the opposition politician Peter Beron was revealed to have written reports for State Security under the pen name "Boncho", my uncle said, "Of course, nobody could refuse to testify when subpoenated by State Security. His fatal mistake was that he accepted a pen name and so entered the game. (Peter Beron was among the presidential candidates at the 1st round last Sunday. An unfortunate country, isn't it?).
According to his Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgi_Parvanov), Parvanov "is in favour of Bulgarian membership of NATO and the European Union". Yes, he is now, when the NATO membership is a fact and the EU membership is inevitable. But in the meantime, he did everything he could to prevent Bulgaria from entering these unions. Well, this was according to his views, but why is he now pretending to be more pro-Western than people like me?
But let the distant past bury its dead, while we see Parvanov's performance as President. Generally, nothing special; according to the Bulgarian constitution, the President, although elected directly by the people, has little real power. But I don't like the little things he did. He decorated with the highest-rank Bulgarian medals nasty people such as the leader of the Turkish party Ahmed Dogan, the arms dealer and former publisher of Socialist newspaper "Duma" Peter Mandjukov, Todor Zhivkov's alcoholic son in-law Ivan Slavkov (ordered out of the International Olympic Committee after BBC journalists exposed his corruption) and, most importantly, Vasil Mrachkov, who was Chief Prosecutor during Todor Zhivkov's campaign of renaming Bulgarian Turks (1984-85). Among the few important items where the President has real power is dealing with foreigners wishing to remain in Bulgaria. Parvanov uses this power to reject the right of asylum to people fleeing "friendly" dictators (I've posted about one such case at http://mayas-corner.blogspot.com/2006/05/more-about-michail-vashkevich.html); I also know about a hard-working Russian mother of two who, without claiming to be a refugee, hoped to build a new life in Bulgaria but was kicked out. Meanwhile, every time when a foreign-born gangster is shot in the street by rival gangsters, he turns out to be a naturalized Bulgarian citizen. Last, a small but telltale fact - Parvanov periodically organizes charity campaigns for children in orphanages and sick children and takes care to snach all the credit for the results, forgetting the ordinary citizens who donate small sums, literally taking them out of their mouths.
Nevertheless, now people considering themselves democrats are appealing to us to vote for Mr. Parvanov. Here comes even Hans-Gert Poettering, the Chairman of the (rightist) EPP-ED Group in the European Parliament. I haven't heard him before the first round to speak in support of the rightist candidate Nedelcho Beronov, but now he summons the rightist Bulgarian parties and their electorate to vote for a "democratic candidate, even though he is our opponent". (Remarkably, the appeal is dated Oct. 23, just a day after the 1st round, which most likely means it was prepared beforehand.)
In principle, I don't entirely reject voting for a candidate with a programme not matching my views. I have actually done this - at the 2nd round of the last municipal elections, I voted for Socialist Tatyana Doncheva in a desperate effort to prevent the dangerous populist and Neanderthalian sex symbol Boyko Borisov from becoming mayor of Sofia. However, the candidate I would vote for must be a reasonably decent person. Parvanov isn't.
The arguments of Bulgarian commentors telling us to vote for Parvanov can be summarized as follows: "If we elect Siderov, all the Europe and the world will regard us as xenophobic idiots. And besides, imagine what will happen if Siderov is elected and begins to materialize his hateful agenda!"
Well, why should we try to conceal our nature of xenophobic idiots? I am for openness. Any attempt to present ouselves as people better than we actually are can only lead to later misunderstandings. Besides, even in countries with much more powerful democratic tradition elections frequently turn into census of idiots.
As for Siderov materializing his agenda, it's impossible. You cannot set up concentration camps for Gipsies, Jews, Turks etc. in 2006. This is not Germany, 1943, this is not even Bulgaria, 1984. Moreover, as I mentioned earlier, Bulgarian President is mainly a figurehead. If somebody is to set up concentration camps, this is the Prime Minister. Check the Constitution. So Siderov is just a scarecrow.
Somebody might say, "But your call to neglect the danger to minorities is a bit dishonest, after you are not a minority member."
Here I have a counter-argument I deliberately left last, the cherry on the cake. Why do you think that Parvanov is better? Siderov offers much xenophobic talk, but as far as I know, he has never supported an actual genocide, while Parvanov openly supported the "Butcher of the Balkans" Milosevic. As late as 1999, he sent to Milosevic an encouraging letter. So we have all the reasons to believe that if creating concentration camps (or any other form of genocide) becomes practically possible and socially acceptable, Parvanov would go ahead with it.
At the 1st round of any elections, there is always if not a good candidate, then one who can be regarded as lesser evil. At the 2nd round, there often isn't. So I won't vote on Sunday and recommend the same to everybody. Let the idiots elect the idiot they prefer.
Monday, October 23, 2006
However, I postponed making this matter public till the middle of the 3rd trimester. My pregnancy-and-maternity leave began on Saturday.
Of course most of the things I intended to do before "retiring" remained unfinished. I even left some glassware soaked, prepared for washing. Sorry, but I really couldn't do anything about it. I had calculated time to wash it, but on Friday I had to go home early to comfort the running nose of my son (my elder one, as I begin to think of him). Another piece of work I really had to finish (a blueprint for a new practical) was ready, or rather declared ready, in the very last moment. I presented it to my colleagues literally an hour before I left.
A note about my e-mail: Avoid using my office address - I'll visit that computer too rarely and the mail may stay unchecked for more than a month. I've opened a Gmail box and hope it will function properly. (Thanks to Programmer Craig who gave me the idea just in time.)
Sunday, October 22, 2006
There will be a ballotage next Sunday, because fewer than 50% of voters have taken part.
As you can guess, I am not happy with the results. Parvanov being challenged by Siderov for the presidency! I'd prefer to have for President a man picked randomly from a village pub.
Why are people such idiots?
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
He is the candidate of the right-wing alliance - the best part of the Bulgarian political spectrum. As for his personal qualities, although I haven't had the opportunity to follow the campaign in detail, I have impression of him as a decent, serious, composed man. As far as I know, nobody so far has managed to dig out anything compromising from his past life (e.g. using his position to enrich himself, building his career on loyalty to the Communist regime or ties with the former State Security). Just see what his opponents and the media resort to in their efforts to say something against him: that he is too old and not known to the public!
Yes, Mr. Beronov is old. So what? He is not applying for the position of a sergeon or programmer. There is nothing in the job of a President that makes an aged person unable to do it. Despite his age, Greece's Konstantinos Karamanlis did excellent work, not to mention the great Ronald Reagan.
"But (if elected) he may die before finishing his term." This is true, but the same is possible, although less likely, for any younger person. So this statement rather points to the necessity to vote for a presidential candidate with a good candidate for Vice President. I quite like Juliana Nikolova, Beronov's candidate for Vice President. Compare her to the ridiculous figure of General Angel Marin, our current Vice President. Anybody knowing any reason for him to be made Vice President other than his love to Russia and despise to NATO (remember, he was dismissed from the Army by the previous president Stoyanov for publicly speaking against NATO while Bulgaria was applying for membership). There are jokes about him. The satirical paper Starshel once wrote, "Although I don't like President Parvanov very much, I pray every evening that no piece of his supper enters his trachea and suffocates him; because, if this happens, next morning Angel Marin will be our President." Another joke: Radio Erevan was asked whether it could name a presidential team worse than Parvanov - Marin. The answer, "Yes: the team Marin - Parvanov."
Having had low birth rate for decades and massive emigration of young people since 1989, Bulgaria now suffers from dysbalanced population structure with high percentage of aged citizens. Consequently, you'll hear in all corners of the public space how important the elderly people are and what more steps must be taken to improve their plight (of course, by adding more to the already unbearable tax burden of productive-age people). In the context of this "gerontophilia", it is even more bizarre to hear attacks against a candidate because of his age being repeated again and again by opponents and media and then parroted by retired voters.
The other argument against Mr. Beronov - that he is not known to the public, is, to my opinion, much worse. Who is in fact known to the public? I think of three groups of people: (1) those already in the political establishment; (2) those known because of the nature of their work, such as top actors, singers and athletes; (3) those made known by the media. Should we restrict our choice to members of these groups only? Can we trust the media that they will make the right people known to the public in time? No, we cannot. Let's just remember the rabid media campaigns against the two reasonably good governments we've had since 1989 (those of Filip Dimitrov and Ivan Kostov) and their permanent and equally rabid anti-Americanism. Or their nuclear lobbying. Who in fact funds these media, allowing the Skat TV channel to be broadcasted and the thick illustrated copies of Trud and 24 chasa to be sold at 0.70 leva? Isn't it ridiculous that people carefully hiding from the public are now brainwashing it not to vote for an "unknown" person?
If a candidate is little known, he will become known during the election campaign. Isn't this in fact the basic function of this campaign? If Bulgarian voters give an ear to the "argument" that an unknown person shouldn't be elected, this will have dangerous consequences exceeding far beyond the current elections. It will mean effective abolishment of our constitutional right to be elected. Yes, my Bulgarian reader, they are attacking your and my right to be elected, they impose on us, the "unknown" citizens, the role of a flock, while the right to actively participate in politics is reserved for a few "noblemen" selected by them. This must not pass.
Besides Beronov, there are only two candidates with chance to succeed - the current President Georgi Parvanov and the Ataka leader Volen Siderov. I don't want right now to engage in a "negative" campaign and to explain why neither of these men should be elected. The reasons are well known to all who live in Bulgaria and even to those who live abroad but occasionally check our political news. So, even if you don't like Beronov very much, regard him as the least evil and vote for him.
Among the other candidates, one deserves special attention: Georgi Markov (happily, no relation to me). He began his political career in the Union of the Democratic Forces (SDS) and now uses this fact to present himself as "the authentic anti-Communist candidate". He can speak damn well and will surely convince some to vote for him. But at times he betrays himself. I heard him say that his goal is "to go to the ballotage and to compete with the Socialist candidate Parvanov". So, his goal is not to win, just to displace Beronov. If you are hesitating, my reader, do you need another proof that Markov is in the campaign just to steal votes from Beronov?
Markov is widely believed to have collaborated with State Security (the former Communist secret service). It is impossible to prove, because the well-cleaned archive of the State Security now contains no document with Markov's signature, just a card with his name. So we can only speculate that his participation in these election is another task by his former masters. For those who still doubt, I suggest to have a fresh look at Markov's photo or videotape. Who could, in sobriety and sanity, trust a man with such a face?
(A photo of Markov, a small one unfortunately, is shown at http://www.bgbook.dir.bg/book.php?ID=16272.)
Monday, October 09, 2006
On Oct. 7, intrepid Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, 48, mother of two children, was assassinated in her home in Moscow.
The international community doesn't seem to care much. At http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/5416238.stm, you can read the too short and cold (to my opinion) BBC obituary. Bulgarian media covered her life and death in more detail. Below, I'm translating from the Netinfo page http://netinfo.bg/?tid=40&oid=946991. The photo is also from there; it was originally published by her newspaper "Novaya gazeta".
"Anna Politkovskaya, called "The victims' voice", is known worldwide mainly for her uncompromising publications about the war in Chechnya and North Caucasia and her criticism of President Vladimir Putin's policies... She received many death threats... Her colleagues from "Novaya gazeta" wrote that it was absolutely impossible for her to be intimidated or bribed into silence... Since 1999, she has visited many times war zones and refugee camps in Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya. She wrote the documentary book Journey to Hell: A Chechen Diary... Her fiercely critical book isn't accessible to the Russian readers... She told the British Independent newspaper that on Sept. 1, 2004 she contacted Chechen rebels and persuaded thom to allow Aslan Mashadov... to go to Beslan and convince the terrorists to free the children they had taken as hostages. Then she went to Beslan to secure a pass for Mashadov... But during the flight she had a cup of tea and so was poisoned..."
Putin and his gang prefered to let all hostages die rather than allow any opposition figure help them and so get some credit. Anna Politkovskaya, on the contrary, could never accept the murder of innocents. Neither the innocent hostages nor the innocent Chechens. Such a person in Russia apparently is not entitled to a natural death.
Saturday, September 30, 2006
The youngest member of the parliamentary group of the Ataka party is the student Dimitar Stoyanov. He is grandson of the late satirical writer Radoi Ralin, whose short poems mocking the Communist reality had made him a legend. He is also an informal stepson of Volen Siderov. (Stoyanov's mother has divorced his father, Radoi Ralin's son, and is now living with Siderov). You guess that with such relations, the young man's personal qualities were hardly decisive for his political career.
Last year, the election campaign in my district, Zaharna fabrika, was shaped by an ugly crime. A crowd of Gipsies attacked partying Bulgarians and beat to death one of them. Then, Ataka made a series of rallies in the district, gathering Bulgarian audience and supplying anti-Gipsy talk to it. Of course I didn't take part in these rallies, neither did my husband, but my mother in-law attended most of them. I know from her that Stoyanov was a regular speaker and was "talking very well". Indeed, she added, there was another student who was talking equally well, if not better, yet the party didn't include him in its parliamentary group. I commented that the other student had no famous grandfather and no mother sleeping with Volen Siderov, so his rhetorical abilities weren't enough to catapult him into the Parliament.
Later, Stoyanov was sent to the European Parliament as an observer. And here comes the present scandal. You can read a short version in English at http://www.sofiaecho.com/article/observer-from-bulgaria-causes-european-parliament-scandal/id_17938/catid_68. However, the report at http://www.dnes.bg/article.php?id=27977 (in Bulgarian, but look at it anyway to see Stoyanov's photo) is much more juicy, so I'm translating below.
"Two days after the EU decided about Bulgarian membership, Ataka MP Dimitar Stoyanov managed to create a racist scandal in the European Parliament... Invited to support the nomination of Hungarian member of Parliament of Roma origin Livia Jaroka for a human rights award, Stoyanov sent to his colleagues an e-mail to explain why he was against it.
Here is the text of the e-mail: "In my country, there are tens of thousands of Gipsy girls, much more beautiful than this respectable lady. In fact, if you are at the right place in the right time, you can even buy one (aged 12-13) to make her your loving wife. The best of them are very expensive - up to EUR 5000... Let's return to Miss Laroka's nomination. Believe me, I've seen many Gipsy women, but all of them at her age were much leaner. Doesn't she share the terrible suffering Roma people throughout Europe have to endure, the poverty, miserable conditions and unemployment?..."
...The mailbox of the Bulgarian observers was flooded by dozens of angry e-mails... In response, Siderov's stepson sent out a second e-mail presumed to be an apology. However, the scandal's author added to his apology accusation to the members of the European Parliament. Here is the text: "In the 21st century, to accuse somebody in racism is the gravest insult. According to Bulgarian law, if somebody is insulted and replies with an insult, charges against both can be dropped. I think this is what happened. Once again, I offer my sincere apology to Miss Livia Laroka... But I also feel insulted because I am not a racist, I am proud to be a Bulgarian, a member of Parliament and observer...""
No comment needed, I think.
By the way, my mother in-law first heard the story from me. Her reaction: "Unfortunately, this isn't very surprising. There are even rumours he is taking drugs."
It seems to be true that you cannot deceive people indefinitely!
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Eh well, yesterday Netinfo's Web news started with a report about Pinocchio converting to Islam in Turkey. I cannot give this link (Bulgarian Web pages for news have short life span), but it was easy to find the same information in English. It will also spare me the need to translate. Below, I'm pasting from Telegraph's report Pinocchio and friends converted to Islam (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/08/31/wpino31.xml) by Malcolm Moore. It is in fact nearly a month old.
"Pinocchio, Tom Sawyer and other characters have been converted to Islam in new versions of 100 classic stories on the Turkish school curriculum.
"Give me some bread, for Allah's sake," Pinocchio says to Geppetto, his maker, in a book stamped with the crest of the ministry of education...
In The Three Musketeers, D'Artagnan is told that he cannot visit Aramis. The reason would surprise the author, Alexandre Dumas. An old woman explains: "He is surrounded by men of religion. He converted to Islam after his illness."
Tom Sawyer may always have shirked his homework, but he is more conscientious in learning his Islamic prayers. He is given a "special treat" for learning the Arabic words."
What would you say if you open a new edition of the Arabian Nights and read how Ali Baba, while hiding from the forty thieves, prays to Jesus Christ his Savior?
I wonder, has the copyright protection of all these classics expired? And once a text is in the public domain, does it mean that every idiot can prey on it and do with it whatever he wishes? Somebody must have the mandate to do something in such a situation.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
From now on, the story may be wrong in some details because it will rely only on occasional official and unofficial Bulgarian and Libyan sources, which are not very trustworthy (esp. the official ones). Corrections are welcome. However, I believe the picture as a whole is fairly accurate.
An author of detective stories once said that the victim of a crime usually has some characheristics that have led to him/her becoming a victim. In this story, we have two groups of victims: the infected little patients of Benghazi and the accused medics. Let's consider them, the children first.
In a recent comment, I called the Iranian opposition "better and stronger" than the Libyan one, implying that the latter, apart from being weak (no wonder - Qaddafi is not the ruler to tolerate alive opposition), doesn't appeal very much to me. It is because, while Iranian opposition is generally pro-Western, opposition-minded Libyans (those who live in Libya and still make their voices heard) are Islamists. In other words, they rebel against the Q-man not because he is an incompetent ruler, liar, oppressor, terrorist and mass murderer, but because they think he isn't Islamist enough. And the center of this opposition is the city of Benghazi. Here, I expect the reader to remember that exactly this city was the center of Libyan February cartoon riots, when at least 11 people laid down their lives (at the same time, residents of Tripoli were reluctant to take part even in an official peaceful demonstration - testimony of Khadija-Teri). Hanu thought that the Benghazi protests were orchestrated by government. I would rather suppose they were provoked by government agents but the ordinary participants were quite sincere. So, the residents of Benghazi must have (on average) more courage than any other group of Libyans but, unfortunately, the same cannot be said about their intellect. The Q-man knows this, understands their way of thinking very well and although they hate him, he can most of the time manipulate them as he wishes.
In 1986, a group of Benghazi residents killed a high-ranking Libyan official. Nine were sentenced and hanged (http://www.libyanet.com/feb1987.htm; warning: graphic photos). I've read (though can't give a link) that the plot was not just secret work of a few people but had wide popular support. Some Bulgarian journalists wrote that, after crushing the rebels, Qaddafi decided to punish the entire city by sharply reducing its funds. Such measures are used in many countries by the central governments against regions expressing dissent (in dictatorships) or just voting for the other party (in semi-democracies). Of course most severely affected are the industries most dependent on subsidies, such as health care.
In the following years, as admitted by a former Libyan health care minister, hospitals throughout Libya were poorly supplied with even the most basic consumatives and medications. This was conveniently blamed on the sanctions and may indeed have been partly due to them. However, in Benghazi the situation was worse than in other places. A Bulgarian nurse who worked for some time at the El Fateh Children's hospital later said, "The senior nurse every morning distributed syringes - 5 for each nurse. No more, no matter how many patients would come."
Another Bulgarian nurse, when beginning work at the same hospital in early 1998, said, "Upon arrival, I was immediately warned by an Egyptian doctor to be very careful, because there was an ongoing AIDS epidemic in the hospital." But nobody warned the patients and the community of Benghazi. Parents continued to bring their little ones to the hospital, thinking they were doing the best for them.
Later in 1998, another Bulgarian nurse - Nasya Nenova, was assigned to work at the same hospital, at a department newly formed especially for the children with AIDS. She wrote to her family: "I am of course very afraid that I may get infected, I work with two pairs of rubber gloves... Some of the children are already in very grave condition. One died last night. At least I hadn't to watch him die, a Philippino nurse was on duty then."
In the following years, dozens more children would die.
As anger accumulated in Benghazi, the regime had to find a way out of the crisis. Of course the truth - that the epidemics was due to the punitive starvation funding of the city, plus shocking incompetence of the hospital's most responsible people - would do little to calm down the spirits. But if the virus was distributed intentionally, then the Q-man and his officials would deserve no blame. So scapegoats were needed. And because the goal was to pacify the Libyans, foreigners would make the best scapegoats.
The regime had plenty of them. Highlander once wrote, "in Libya we have thousands of foreign guest workers in the health sector for whom I am grateful as they make up the deficit." As I wrote before, I'm not sure she should be grateful. Even when they are good and caring professionals, they take positions that would otherwise be occupied by Libyans. To keep the status quo, "they enjoy an enormously better salary than the locals" (same Highlander's post). So they, together with the numerous guest workers in other industries, allow the regime to minimize the number of educated and skilled workers-citizens who are the brain and backbone of any society and in dictatorships often form dangerous opposition. Ottoman Turks made their best to keep the Libyans uneducated and unqualified, and I think Qaddafi today is following their example. Of course the guest workers themselves don't realize this (I haven't seen such a discussion in Bulgarian media, and what isn't in the media doesn't exist for the public). Nor do they realize that one of the reason they are hired is to serve as scapegoats if something goes wrong.
The first scapegoat was Ashraf al Hajuj, a doctor of Palestinian origin. I know little about him; he had lived in Libya since early childhood (probably born there) but, according to the good Arab tradition, was regarded as a Palestinian and not a naturalized Libyan. He was engaged to a Libyan girl who supported him during the following 5 years, but then left him, exhausted to be a fiance of an inmate on death row. After the arrest, al Hajuj was tortured until he was ready to confess anything that was wanted from him.
It is easy to figure out why he was taken. Much later, he said, "The interrogators were telling me that there was nobody to entreat for me because I (as a Palestinian) had no state. I am sure that, hadn't Bulgaria taken me under its protection together with the nurses, I would be now rotting in some mass grave." (I think that if Palestinians had common sense, the name and fate of al Hajuj would be known in every Palestinian house as an illustration of how much their Arab "allies" care for them. If I had such friends, I'd try to strike an immediate deal with my enemy! But of course if Palestinians had common sense, the world would be another and much better place. Mention also that he said "mass grave", not just "grave".)
However, al Hajuj alone was not enough. Non-Arab infidels would make far better villains in the eyes of Benghazeeans, so numerous guest workers were arrested - not only from Bulgaria but also from the Philippines, Poland and other countries. At this stage, there were only two Bulgarian detainees - nurses Snezhana Dimitrova and Sevda Yablanska.
I believe that Libyan authorities made these wide and apparently random arrests to probe which country was least able and willing to protect its nationals. (This protection, I think, contradicts to the very idea of justice, but unfortunately seems needed in today's imperfect world where so many countries are eager to put foreigners to cangaroo courts.) The guest worker communities of Poles and Philippinos, but NOT Bulgarians, swiftly organized and threatened that they would all abandon their contracts and leave Libya immediately if their fellow countrymen were not released. Also, the diplomatic missions of these countries made some unknown to me but apparently effective moves. The Bulgarian embassy also took measures, if you read the official Bulgarian site. However, the unofficial story is different. When a nurse informed the Embassy that two her colleagues were arrested, she obtained the answer, "Let the whores save themselves". So the Bulgarian tradition to fill the diplomatic missions with arrogant, incompetent and lazy people who care neither for the Bulgarian state nor for its nationals brought disastrous results.
There were also other reasons making Bulgaria a good target. It was a small poor coutry outside the mighty Western alliances: we were only applying for NATO, and the EU membership was behind mountains. At the same time, the Bulgarian government in 1992 had condemned Libya as a atate sponsor of terror. Significantly, this government "forgot" to inform its people about this, so Bulgarians going to Libya didn't know that Qaddafi had a reason to regard them as citizens of a hostile state. Next door in Serbia, the next Yugoslavian war was about to burst out (it would be the last one, but nobody knew it at the time). And finally, Libya had a debt to Bulgaria and Qaddafi hoped, with good reason, to get rid of that debt and even to extort additional money.
So the first group of arrested foreign nationals were released, but then 17 Bulgarians were detained. Nurse Nelia Zhdereva said, "They had come for me also, but I didn't open the door. I just stayed quiet, pretending not to be at the quarter." After this, she returned to Bulgaria within days and nobody tried to apprehend her. Those who have read Gulag Archipelago will remember quite similar cases in Stalin's Soviet Union when the security forces, unable to find immediately their intended targets, arrested other people instead. This is to be expected when a certain number of detainees is planned, but their personalities are not very important because they have actually done no crime and the police know this better than anyone else.
Most of the arrested Bulgarians were soon released (some after being tortured), but six were kept. Of the original two detainees, Snezhana Dimitrova was rearrested. Three other nurses working at the El Fateh hospital were also arrested: Valentina Siropulo, Valya Chervenyashka and the above mentioned Nasya Nenova. Another arrested nurse, Kristiana Valcheva, had never been in the hospital in question. She was working at another hospital hundreds of kilometers away from Benghazi, so she couldn't be accused of infecting kids. Her alleged crime was that she collaborated with Hajuj and obtained the virus from the CIA/Mossad agents "John the Englishman" and "Adel the Egyptian" and handed it to the other nurses to inject the children. Kristiana's husband, Dr. Zdravko Georgiev, was working away from both Benghazi and his wife's workplace. Hearing that his wife had disappeared, he tried to find out what had happened and how to help her. He was arrested also, finishing the list of the accused.
The six Bulgarians were tortured in order to confess. Some of them showed remarkable courage. Valya Chervenyashka later said, "I never considered it possible to help them, to confess the nonsense they wanted from me. I was just awaiting my death." However, she was middle-aged and with kidney and heart problems (her heart stopped twice during the interrogations), so her torturers were aware she could die if they pushed her too hard - and this was not what they wanted.
Kristiana Valcheva and Nasya Nenova were younger and healthier and were pushed harder. Kristiana confessed, but this was not found enough. The investigation brought also evidence - blood banks with HIV found in her quarter. Just don't ask why the banks were found during the 4th search of the quarter, how the virus remained detectable in dried droplets after weeks at room temperature and what methods were used to detect it.
Nasya Nenova, when threatened to be injected with HIV, said, "Well, inject me, so please don't beat me more!" (This is the same nurse who had worked with double rubber gloves to avoid HIV infection.) The worst torturer was Juma Misheri. At one point, he left the city for a couple of days; when Nasya heard he had returned, she attempted suicide. Finally, she was so broken that she confessed three times and now is in a worse situation that even Kristiana.
Juma Misheri was later accused of having used torture but of course was acquitted. He is hailed as a popular hero because he has made the "witches" confess. Oh sancta simplicitas! Don't the people of Benghazi ever ask how many of THEM have been tortured by him?
UPDATE: Today (Sept. 26) I received an e-mail from Dr. Declan Butler, a senior reporter at the top science journal Nature. He is currently trying to use the opportunities of the blogosphere to help the accused medics in Libya. Here is a citation from his Sept. 20 post "Can the blogosphere help free the Tripoli six? — innocent medics risking execution in Libya" (http://declanbutler.info/blog/?p=59):
"“Imagine that five American nurses and a British doctor have been detained and tortured in a Libyan prison since 1999, and that a Libyan prosecutor called at the end of August for their execution… on trumped-up charges of deliberately contaminating more than 400 children with HIV in 1998. Meanwhile, the international community and its leaders sit by, spectators of a farce of a trial, leaving a handful of dedicated volunteer humanitarian lawyers and scientists to try to secure their release.
Implausible? That scenario, with the medics enduring prison conditions reminiscent of the film Midnight Express, is currently playing out in a Tripoli court, except that the nationalities of the medics are different. The nurses are from Bulgaria and the doctor is Palestinian.”
These are the opening paragraphs of an unusually strongly-worded editorial — ‘Libya’s travesty‘ – published in tomorrow’s issue of Nature. It is accompanied by a news story over two pages — ‘Lawyers call for science to clear AIDS nurses in Libya‘ — explaining the case. (Both articles are on free access; to access free articles on Nature you just need to register once, and it is free.)"
At http://www.connotea.org/user/Declan/tag/tripoli%20six?num=100, Dr. Butler has listed the blog posts since on the Libya HIV affair.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Yesterday, a colleague came to me to complain. She was furious, and for a good reason.
“The headscarves have come to one of my groups,” she said. “What are they doing there? As far as I know, they failed the examination. However, one of them gave her faculty number, this means she is a student, doesn’t it? It will be a scandal if the administration has enlisted them as 1st year students anyway. I gave them student files to fill. (The files are sheets where students write their names and faculty numbers and then the teacher marks their attendance and performance – M.M.) They couldn’t write their names, asked their Bulgarian colleagues to help. I am here to teach medical students, not mentally retarded people! Our University administration is making fools of us, forcing us to teach such retards!”
I think she is right. Bulgarian language is written in a Cyrillic alphabet with 30 letters, some of which are the same as in Latin and all have a fixed way of pronunciation. I think that every adult with average IQ and familiar with the Latin alphabet needs 2 to 3 days to learn our alphabet so that to be able to write his (her) name with the Cyrillic letters. If the person’s intellect is clearly sub-average but still in the normal range, the task could take a week or two. What should we think if a young person has spent a year learning Bulgarian and still cannot write her name in Bulgarian letters? Mental retardation seems a good explanation. So Turks should be careful when their fellow countrymen come from Bulgaria with a doctor’s diploma and want to treat them, because we here teach medicine to anybody who walks through the door.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Now, pious Muslims are outraged again, this time by the Pope. Last week, he delivered a speech criticizing Islam. It contained a citation from a 14th century Byzantine emperor: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
Predictably, Muslim anger accumulated and bursted out. Protests mounted in various Muslim countries, the Web was filled with threats. A representative photo is shown by Leilouta at http://leilouta.blogspot.com/2006/09/recipe-for-muslim-anger.html. In her post, she gives a recipe for Muslim anger and adds: "This delicious dish will give the eater the strength and courage to burn flags, destroy property, and kill 70 year old women who spend their life in the service of God."
The murdered old lady was an Italian Catholic nun in Mogadishu, Somalia. She and her bodyguard were shot dead inside a children's hospital. Tell me, if the Pope and that Byzantine emperor were so wrong, why did she need in the first place a bodyguard while visiting a hospital?
Meanwhile, Benedict XVI expressed deep regrets that his words had elicited so much anger in the Muslim world and said he wanted to invite Muslims to a sincere dialogue. However, Muslim leaders don't find this regret enough, they demand a clear apology instead (http://news.netinfo.bg/?tid=40&oid=937514). I hope to be wrong, but I expect more people to be killed. As for myself, I am unhappy that the Pope expressed regret at all.
A link from Hyscience has just brought me to a blog with a delighting motto: "Civilization, in every generation, must be defended from barbarians. The barbarians outside the gate, the barbarians inside the gate, and the barbarian in the mirror." Its author Matteo gave to his post the following long title: "Are Unreasonable Bloodthirsty Savages Preparing To Rampage In Response To Pope Saying That Being An Unreasonable Bloodthirsty Savage Is Unreasonable?". Read the entire post at http://cartagodelenda.blogspot.com/2006/09/are-unreasonable-bloodthirsty-savages.html.
Iranian expatriate Winston is even sharper: "Well, idiot muslims are mad again about what Pope said about their crazy prophet. He was damn right and nailed it on point. And it is also my question: What else the crazy prophet of Islam has brought us except war, craziness, rage, torture and murder?" (http://thespiritofman.blogspot.com/2006/09/pope-nails-it.html). If you think that Winston is too insensitive to people's feelings, remember that his beloved country was brought to its current miserable state by Islam and that many of his fellow countrymen were murdered in the name of Islam.
And finally, let me quote an old Nadz's post from the time of the cartoon crisis: "Religion is fair game. It may be a sacred subject for you, but for others who don't follow your particular deity and holy man, it is a fit subject for ridicule and scrutiny. We will respect your right to follow your own religion if you respect our right to not believe and criticize it. Do these nuts fail to see the irony of their violent rampages? How dare you denounce our religion as irrational and violent? Because of this, I'll go on an irrational and violent rampage! Hand me the molotov!" (http://nadz101.blogspot.com/2006_02_01_nadz101_archive.html)
UPDATE: For more representative photos and a humorous comment on the event, see Shlemazl's post at http://shlemazl.blogspot.com/2006/09/muslims-suffer-from-pope-and-blue.html.
Big Pharaoh's post (http://www.bigpharaoh.com/2006/09/18/nope-to-the-pope/) is also worth seeing. Alas, it serves well to illustrate that even the best moderate Muslims are not to be relied as our allies, because in the decisive moment they choose to be in the same boat as the radicals. But Big Pharaoh has good audience - the comments show it.
Monday, September 11, 2006
Here is the World Trade Center, as I photographed it during my visit to the USA in 1997. I admit I didn't appreciate very much the Twin Towers while they were still standing. Now, in retrospect, the old Manhattan skyline in the golden mist of the sunset seems to me a picture of a blessed realm too beautiful to exist in this world - not for long at least. It represents a lost paradise.
September 11, 2001 became one of the most important events in my life. It changed my view on the world. Before it, I worried whether and when my country would fully join the civilization. After it, I realized that the entire civilization was at stake, brought by its prosperity to a comfortable nap, having neglected the power of barbarism for too long and now attacked by the 7th century Barbarians at its heart.
At the fifth anniversary of the tragedy, I have to say with regret that I am less optimistic than I was at Sept. 12, 2001. Then, I hoped that the Western world would awaken to defend its values with unity and resolve, while many millions of Muslims, disgusted by this mass murder, would be driven by their conscience to either reform their faith or leave it. Neither did happen.
One of the best songs of Bee Gees is New York Mining Disaster 1941. Although commemorating a much earlier event unknown to me, it is strikingly coherent with my feelings about Sept. 11. Here are the first three couplets of the lyrics (copied from http://www.absolutelyrics.com/lyrics/view/bee_gees/new_york_mining_disaster_1941/; the other couplets repeat the first two):
In the event of something happening to me,
there is something I would like you all to see.
It's just a photograph of someone that I new.
Have you seen my wife, Mr. Jones?
Do you know what it's like on the outside?
Don't go talking too loud, you'll cause a landslide, Mr. Jones.
I keep straining my ears to hear a sound.
Maybe someone is digging underground,
or have they given up and all gone home to bed,
thinking those who once existed must be dead.
In memory of the Sept. 11 victims, I translated the lyrics to Bulgarian:
Понеже нещо може да се случи с мен,
моля, всички погледнете за момент -
това е снимката на скъп за мен човек.
Да сте виждали моята жена?
Знаете ли навън какво става?
Тихо, че ще се срути от гласа ви някой пласт.
Все наострям уши да чуя звук -
дали някой за нас копае тук,
или спасителният отряд се е прибрал,
мислейки, че няма никой оцелял.
Friday, September 08, 2006
To my surprise, the trial has its own page in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AIDS_scandal_in_Libya. A chronology of the events by the Bulgarian news agency BTA can be found at http://www.bta.bg/site/libya/en/02chronology.htm. However, it reflects exclusively what official Bulgarian institutions say.
Because the text will be too long, I'll divide it into more than one post.
The core of the story are the numerous cases of HIV-infected children among those treated in the El-Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi, Libya. It is difficult to say when the infections began, given the various and often long incubation periods of the disease, the tendency of the Libyan authorities to lie even when the dates of infections are known in order to dismiss the possibility that some occured before the defendants began work in the hospital, and the wish of the same authorities to put under the common denominator all childhood HIV infections in Libya. According to two Western scientists who later became defense witnesses, the epidemic began in 1997. The official number of the infected children is 426.
However, the three-digit number of infected children made silence impossible. The story was made public by the Libyan magazine La in an article including interviews with victims' parents and linking the infection to the particular hospital. Years ago, I read an English translation of this article at the Libya Our Home site. Unfortunately, I cannot find it now. The article was published without (and as it turned out, against) the authorities' approval. For that reason, the journal was closed. I don't know what happened to the journalists; I hope they just lost their jobs and didn't suffer further consequences.
The alleged motivation of this monstrous alleged crime? I'll cite a BBC report: "At one point, the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, had accused the health workers of acting on orders from the CIA and the Israeli secret service, Mossad. Libya later rowed back on this allegation." (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3689355.stm). I know from the media (unfortunately, I cannot find a link) that currently the Libyan prosecution says the accused were performing an illegal trial of anti-HIV vaccine developed by a Western company. They allegedly injected the children first with the vaccine and then with the actual virus to see whether the vaccine works (and it evidently didn't).
Should I discuss the original charge, after it is so absurd that even its authors couldn't maintain it after the case received international publicity? It seems to me that to duscuss it, means to offend the intellectual capacity of my readers. However, I cannot skip it because, according to opinion polls and my personal observation, many Muslims either believe it or for some reason find it necessary to claim that they believe it. I won't state that Bulgarians are not so blood-thirsty and it is virtually impossible to find not one or two but six Bulgarian psychopaths to realize such a plan. This would be akin to the statements of many Arabs and Muslims that Arabs and Muslims are good people and would never crash kidnapped planes into buildings. Nobody buys such arguments, and with good reason.
However, each crime (unless done by absolutely insane people) has its motivation and purpose. Why would CIA and/or Mossad attack Libyan children? Both secret services have had enough experience with totalitarian regimes to know that a regime like Qaddafi's one cannot be harmed by terror against civilians. It is democratic governments that are vulnerable to terror. So why waste the virus? I can imagine CIA encouraging some top Libyan officials to overthrow Mr. Qaddafi, but not to supply virus for Libyan children. As for Mossad, they lack even the motivation. As far as I know, the Q-man doesn't do much harm to Israel. Well, he brainwashes his people with anti-Semitism, but who doesn't do this? If Mossad wanted to fight their Arab enemies by infecting children, wouldn't you rather expect Palestinian children to be infected?
Besides, both secret services would have enormous problems with the law and the public opinion once the operation comes to light. Remember what problems Sharon had with the Sabra and Shatila massacre, although it was done by Israel's Lebanese allies and not by Israelis themselves. As for the USA, they are still in shock because years ago the penises of suspected criminals and terrorists were photographed in Abu Ghraib.
Also, when one is considering a current event, it is often helpful (though no proof) to compare it to similar earlier events. I know of two accusations of deliberately causing epidemics in order to hurt a regime or a community: against the medieval Jews (e.g. http://scarab.msu.montana.edu/historybug/YersiniaEssays/Doherty.htm) and against Jewish doctors at the end of Stalin's rule (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctors). It is now evident that both were phony: in the first case, the Jews couldn't have the necessary knowledge of plague epidemiology needed to use it as a bio-weapon, nor could they have any means to protect themselves; in the second case, there was simply no epidemic at all. On the other hand, known iatrogenic (i.e. caused by medical procedures) AIDS epidemics have been found to be due to "incompetence, greed, bribery, denial, and conflict of interest" - but not to malicious intent (see e.g. http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/340/12/973 and for cases of children's infections, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=990CE7DE1730F932A0575BC0A963958260 and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=14534057&dopt=Abstract).
Let's now consider the current charge that the children were infected in order to perform an illegal vaccine trial. At least, this is not a thing unheard of in history: Edward Jenner did exactly this, vaccinating with cowpox and then innoculating with smallpox first his baby son and then another 8-year-old boy. However, his vaccine worked and so he is remembered as a hero, not as a villain. Of course today it is absolutely unthinkable to innoculate a pathogen in order to test a vaccine's efficiency. You have to recruit a large group of volunteers, inject half of them with the vaccine (of which you believe that it is at least safe) and the others with a placebo, then let them live their lives and check how many will catch the infection naturally. If you do the things like Jenner did, you not only risk to find yourself behind bars, but you cannot publish the results in any scientific journals and hence cannot make money from your vaccine. So why make an illegal trial, after you have to make a legal one anyway to obtain publishable results? Why do the work twice?
"But the illegal trial will show you whether the vaccine works or not, and if it doesn't work, you needn't perform a legal trial and will save money and time," somebody might say.
No, the illegal trial will show nothing. You need to recruit some idiots to do it and smuggle first the vaccine, then the actual virus. If the injected children remain healthy, this means either that the vaccine works or that the virus has lost its virulence because of the non-standard conditions of the trial (e.g. overheated during the smuggling or improperly manipulated by the idiots). If the children become infected, this means either that the vaccine doesn't work or that it has lost its activity, as was just described for the virus. At the end of the day, you know nothing. No one pharmaceutical company operating this way would survive in business for more than three days. So, I think that the vaccine trial hypothesis also doesn't hold water.
Anyway, at some time the epidemics was halted. Not immediately after the arrests, but some time after them the young patients of the El Fateh hospital stopped being infected. To my opinion, this shows that while the professional torturers were weaving fairy tales about CIA and Mossad, another team of professionals was sent to the hospital to find out what was wrong and fix it. However, these men and women remain unknown to us because any acknowledgement of their work would blow up the official conspiracy theory. So they haven't received and are unlikely ever to receive the gratitudes of the Benghazi parents whose kids would otherwise also be infected and the whole Libyan society. But, as Walter Scott once wrote, people who fulfil their duty are rarely rewarded by the world, their reward is a sense of internal satisfaction which the world could neither give nor take away.
Friday, September 01, 2006
So, if you are a defendant in Libya, you'll have in court witnesses whose testimony could prove your innocence only if there is goodwill in the prosecutor, i.e. the person who wants you either in jail with maximum term or at the gallows.
I guess, possibly some defense witnesses would still appear and speak if the defendants were their fellow Libyans. But now they think, "It may be my duty to speak, because I know these people are innocent. But I don't feel like getting into trouble for them. Unlike me, they had the luck to be free and what did they do? They came here to work for one of the nastiest dictators on Earth because he offered them higher salaries. No, I prefer not to risk my ass."
Two days later, Qaddafi, the Q-man, called in another blog "the man with 72 name spellings who has ruled for 36 years" (http://www.ordoesitexplode.com/me/2006/08/holy_st_qaddafi.html) gave a speech to mark his 37th year in power. Its most important moments are summarized at http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060831/wl_nm/libya_gaddafi_dc. Qaddafi said those who hope for political change in Libya see its people as "ignorant and immature." "Our enemies have been crushed inside Libya and you have to be ready to kill them if they emerge anew," he said. Qaddafi also advised poor Libyans how to improve their well-being: by setting up oil services companies to replace foreign firms in the country.
The same source says, "Opponents abroad had said they hoped that Gaddafi might hint at political change in Thursday's speech. His influential son Saif al-Islam recently told Libyans their country was in a political impasse and needed reforms to free it from what he called the grip of "Libyan mafia" which monopolizes power and wealth." Personally, I have never been impressed by Saif al-Islam's reformist-like talk. The game of bad cop, good cop is too transparent.
Qaddafi was briefly shown on our TV delivering his speech and I said to my husband that I cannot decide whether this man is really mad or just pretending to be mad. He replied, "Of course he is mad. Just look at his hair. Any sane person would pass a comb through it before appearing in public."
So Libyans have the task to keep watch and if their (i.e. Qaddafi's) enemies emerge anew, to kill them. The method of recognizing the enemies and the procedure of killing remain unspecified.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Recently, two Fox News journalists, while doing their work in Gaza, were kidnapped. They were released two days ago, but only after saying on video that they had converted to Islam. They later said they were forced to "convert" at gunpoint. There is talk that ransom has also been paid for their release. For details, see e.g. http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=24104.
The other thing which inspired me to write this post was Non-blogging's opinion about whether conversion to Islam, required for a non-Muslim man if he wants to marry a Muslim woman, is acceptable: "Converting because it's demanded should perhaps be between acceptable and unacceptable... Unacceptable because that would mean lying to an imam, maybe lots of genuinely believing relatives and last but not least to all honest Muslims who have said their creed believing every word of it." (http://lonehighlander.blogspot.com/2006/08/mr.html#comments). Reading this, I was amazed how a non-Muslim, pressed by Muslims to convert, still would think he does wrong to these Muslims because his conversion is not sincere! So I'll write a post about conversions to Islam in Bulgarian history and we'll see whether the sincerety of conversion mattered.
When Ottoman Turks defeated the divided Bulgarian ministates in 1393-1396 and included them in the Ottoman Empire, they didn't impose Turkish feudals everywhere. Some of the Bulgarian feudals were offered and agreed to convert to Islam. Having fulfilled this condition, they were allowed to continue to rule over their land, or at least part of it. Among them was the son of Ivan Shishman, the last pre-Ottoman Bulgarian king.
Throughout the nearly five centuries of Ottoman rule, ambitious individuals were voluntarily converting to Islam in order to make a career in the Ottoman society. However, there were many more Bulgarians who were forced to convert. The first among them were women who were made invaders' wives against their will. There is a saying that "not a single Turkish woman ever crossed from Asia to Europe". It's an exaggeration, but contains much truth. It is also consistent with the logic of the Islamic family model. In a monogamous society, any massive conquest could easily lead to demographic collapse at home, because many women would either remain without husbands or have to follow their husbands to the newly conquered land, depopulating the old territory. Poligamy solves the problem. Any Ottoman or other Muslim ruler could send as many as three quarters of his men to conquer new lands and there would still be partners for all women. The remaining quarter of men could take 4 wives each and children would continue to be born in the old territory. In the new territories, the soldiers turning into settlers could take local wives. Of course, this model can work only if the woman is kept in subhuman position, otherwise the wife coming from a hostile population could bring up children with dubious loyalty. This was the case - women were "letters without voice". Who cared whether they really believed that Mohammed was God's prophet? Turks continued to take Bulgarian wives up to the very liberation of Bulgaria in 1878 and never had any problems with pro-Bulgarian sentiments of the children of such marriages.
Another important group of converts were the Janissaries; you can read about them in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janissary, although this article seems to me rather inaccurate. Like other Christian nations of the Ottoman Empire, Bulgarians were forced to pay "blood tax" - a proportion of the boys aged around 10 (the strongest were selected) were taken from their parents, converted to Islam and brought up to be Sultan's elite soldiers. This practice changed the life of one of my great-grandparents. The Turkish authorities of his town, Bansko, once announced that landowners were hiring young boys as farm hands. Many families sent one or more of their sons to earn some money. Several adults, including that my ancestor, were sent to accompany the boys. However, when the group reached the destination, it was encircled by soldiers who said that the boys were in fact needed to be recruited as Janissaries. The adult Bulgarians were left to go home. When they arrived and brought the catastrophic news, the public turned against them with anger. The parents were of course shocked by the loss of their sons and needed to blame somebody. It was unsafe to speak against the Turks, so the returning adult companions were blamed, as if they could have done anything in this situation. My great-grandfather left the town and moved to the village of Shipka, hundreds of kilometers away.
There were also many "casual" conversions. Here I'll cite again the experience of my great-grandfather (descendant of the above mentioned man who moved from Bansko to Shipka). His closest friend once committed an offense (I've forgotten what exactly, but it was a minor one). He was caught by the authorities and threatened with death, unless he converted to Islam. So he became a Muslim. At first, the two men continued to be friends. It was logical, the convert was in fact the same person, wasn't he? What happened to him wasn't his fault and could have happened to anybody. But, as time passed, my great-grandfather severed the ties with the convert, telling to his family that his ex-friend had "begun to smell like a Turk". I can speculate that if the story had happened not to that friend but to the other, I could be a Muslim now.
All types of conversion described above were confined to individuals taken from communities which continued to be Christian. However, there were also mass conversions. They were done in strategic regions - the Rhodopa mountain (today in Southern Bulgaria) and the Dobrudja plain which formed the north-east border of the Ottoman Empire (today - the corresponding border of Bulgaria). In rare cases, the authorities awaited a suitable moment to push for a quasi-voluntary conversion. So in the Chepinsko area of the Rhodopa mountain, the population agreed to convert to Islam in exchange for food aid during famine. However, the typical scenario was as follows: Ottoman troops encircling the village, giving the residents the choice of conversion or death, then leaving an imam and several officials to spy on the converts and help them become real pious Muslims.
There was no way out. In theory, the converts could emigrate and revert to Christianity, but those villagers didn't have the resources and knowledge needed to reach an immigrant-friendly land. So they became ancestors of today's Bulgarian Muslims. They often proceeded further to become Turkish-speaking. Sources differ about whether this change was also forced by the Ottoman authorities. I tend to think that in most cases it's likely to have been voluntary. Religion was used by Bulgarians as a national identifier. The terms "Christianity" and "Islam" were rarely used; instead, people were talking about "the Bulgarian faith" and "the Turkish faith". So those who were Muslims but Bulgarian-speaking were in the inconvenient position of people belonging nowhere; for many of them, it was logical to switch to Turkish.
The Bulgarian population was never able to mount effective resistance. If only they had wanted, the Turks could easily convert (or exterminate) the entire Bulgarian nation. However, this wouldn't be good for the economy. In the Ottoman empire, agriculture, crafts and other productive activities were largely reserved for non-Muslims who paid almost all taxes. The Muslims, especially the Turks, were soldiers, administrators and judges. It is clear that excessive conversion would destabilize this host-parasite relationship, although many converts retained their old lifestyle. So the partition between trusted "citizens" and productive second-class subjects saved the national identity of Bulgarians and other subjugated Christian nations. In the same time, it prevented the Ottoman Empire from becoming a modern state.
The relationship between Christian Bulgarians and the converts were uneasy. The latter were included in the Basibozuk - irregular troops responsible for the worst atrocities after quashing Christian Bulgarian uprisings. When Bulgarian statehood was restored by the Russia's 1877-78 war, the rich and powerful Turks fled to the territories remaining in the Ottoman Empire while the Bulgarian Muslims and the poorer Turks (presumably the converts) remained where they were. I guess there were many acts of revenge against them, but my sources say little about this.
One could expect that many Bulgarian Muslims and ethnic Turks after 1878 would convert (revert) to Christianity. After all, the Muslim faith had been imposed in most cases by force. Besides, as any cynic would mention, once Christians were in a favourable position, you should expect that many Muslims would remember their Christian roots... Some Muslim individuals indeed became Christians, but they were surprisingly few. Mass conversions in Rhodopa and Dobrudja had largely ended by the beginning of the 19th century, so three or more generations separated that event from the 1878 liberation. The memory of the original Christian faith had faded. The brutal force had paid, as usually in history.
Therefore, I think that Highlander is a little irrelevant when she writes (about the Fox News journalists), "I have to stress that I strongly condemn kidnappings of this sort. I was especially appalled that they were forced to convert to Islam on TV while in captivity.Those two moves are so stupid and if the perpetrators are hoping to be garnering sympathy to the Palestinian cause - or any cause for that matter- then they are failing miserably and further disfiguring the image of Islam." (http://lonehighlander.blogspot.com/2006/08/unreachable-just-cause-i-had-one-of.html) I don't think that the Islamist captors were so stupid. Islam has always been promoted this way and so it has not only survived but become No. 2 (now possibly No. 1) religion in the world.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Last Saturday we went to my mother in-law's summer house in the village of Rasnik. There was no supply of running water and we were not surprised, because water in Rasnik is often stopped, especially during summer weekends. My husband's aunt, who had been there since the middle of the week, said, "They had let the water (run), but many people watered their gardens, so the water was stopped again."
"Oh, don't buy this explanation," I replied. "Are people expected NOT to water their gardens? After all, they pay for the water they use! This is a village, people grow vegetables and depend on them. Remember how during socialism everything was in short supply and the authorities kept telling that commodities don't suffice because we are consuming them!"
Because water was not expected to return before Monday, we depended on several liters we had brought from Sofia, plus a public fountain several hundred meters away. I took no part in the water-supplying expeditions because my doctor had forbidden me to lift weights and to walk under the sun. However, on Sunday I had to go there once. My little boy, who is only beginning his toilet training, had a bowel movement in his pants. So I cleaned him with wet wipes as I could and went to the fountain to wash his clothes. I was a bit ashamed of the "perfume" cloud spreading around me. Happily, I saw nobody - everyone was hiding from the sun; it was the hottest time of the day forecasted to be the hottest for 2006.
The man maintaining the water pipes in Rasnik receives orders from the water company to stop the supply every time when there is some problem. As you can guess, the company needn't seek additional water sources or minimize transit losses. Why care that plenty of water leaks into the earth through the old porous pipes? If this makes the pressure fall, the company can always stop the water and so will have no problem - all problems are for the consumers.
And because nobody controls whether that man lets the water run again when he must, he can leave his fellow villagers without water for much longer than due. I'm sure he feels almighty, he is happy that a simple movement of his hand can keep hundreds withouth running water. He prefers to stop the water on weekends, because then many people from the cities of Sofia and Pernik come to Rasnik. To cap it all, he is an alcoholic and often gets so drunk that he forgets to release the water. For this reason, the village sometimes stays dry for a week or longer.
The villagers are old and poor. They cannot wage protests and legal battles. They even don't think of beating up the alcoholic (which I think would be quite acceptable in the situation). Instead, they have invested in wells in their yards so that to have some independence from the water company. The fact that everybody can dig a well and obtain water directly from his backyard shows that there is no real problem with the water availability in the region, all problems come from the water monopolist's impunity and the people's helplessness.
A number of cities and many towns and villages in Bulgaria suffer such regular stopping of water for hours and days. This is called rezhim na vodata (water regime); I don't know whether the word regime has such a meaning in English, because I have never read about a similar phenomenon in another country! I don't know how many Bulgarians live under water regime - tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions? My city Sofia is spared from it, except in early 1995. At that time, some empowered people wanted to fill their pockets by a project to capture the water of the small river Skakavitsa. But they first needed to prove that the city was short of water. For that purpose, they first let masses of water flow out of the main water supply for Sofia - the Iskar dam lake, in the summer of 1994. Then the dam lake was declared empty, water regime was endorced on Sofia and the Skakavitsa project was approved. Residents of the little town of Sapareva Banya protested, because they obtained their water from Skakavitsa. Anti-terrorist police was sent to "occupy" the town and beat the protesting grandmothers. In Sofia, the deaths of two babies from intestinal infections were attributed to the water regime. I don't know whether the Skakavitsa pipeline is still maintained and in use; it has served its function.
In earlier years, Bulgaria had also electricity regime - planned periodic blackouts. It was usually for several hours a day, but the most severe case followed the scheme "3 hours with electricity - 3 hours without it". That was in the 1984-85 winter when the Communists forcibly renamed the Bulgarian Turks. The electricity regime seems to have had no technological or economic reason and its aim is believed to have been political - to distract attention from the renaming. (Of course those who were losing their names cared little about the elecricity, but the Communist government apparently feared solidarity protests by other citizens.)
In later years, we occasionally suffered electricity regime. It was meant either to distract attention from different government failures or to convince the public that we need more nuclear power generators. There was never true shortage of electricity - actually, all the time Bulgaria was selling it to neighbouring countries, usually at lower prices than those we were paying for it. When in 1990 or 1991 my brother had his appendix removed, he didn't return from the hospital straight home. Instead, my mother took him to a cafe and they spent an hour, waiting for the electricity to return (my mother's apartment is at the 7th floor - too high to climb if the lift doesn't work and you have had recent surgery).
And at some later time things changed. Once I was attending an opposition rally (the party I had voted for was in opposition, as usual). The speaker was talking about the government's attempts to distract attention from its failures. I said to those nearest to me, "They can't fool me even in they impose electricity regime again."
"There will never again be electricity regime in Bulgaria," a young man replied.
"Why do you think so?" I asked, surprised.
"Because we already have a powerful banking system. The banks will never allow their computers to be subjected to arbitrary blackouts and power surges."
I remembered his words. He was right - planned blackouts never happened again. Both water and electricity regimes existed without objective reason, just because they were tolerated. Banks stopped tolerating electricity regime and it was abandoned. But citizens continue to tolerate water regime and it remains at many places. When Bulgarians criticize their own national psyche, one of the charges heard most often is that they have "sheep mentality" (ovchedushie). Alas, there is much truth in this statement.
Water (and electricity) regime is an example of misery. I want to differentiate misery from poverty, although they are interconnected and highly correlated. Poverty simply means having little resources. Misery is mainly about being helpless, at the hands of some Big Brother who feels free to take decisions about your life. It would be poverty if the water prices were too high for the people's incomes. You are not quite helpless in this situation - you can try to manage your daily life with less water consumption. In the misery of the water regime, it doesn't matter how economically you are using the water on Friday - your tap will anyway be dry on Saturday. Also, the individual at least in theory can make his way out of poverty by hard work, ingenuity or luck. Misery is always nation-scale, although it is felt in some places harder than in others. You can escape it only by emigration and even this usually doesn't help: by the time you decide to emigrate, misery has penetrated and engulfed your mind and you bring it with yourself wherever you go.
Misery was deliberately introduced in Bulgaria with socialism. A well-known instruction of the Stalin's governments to the Soviet occupation authorities in Bulgaria in the late 1940s includes, among many other things, orders to centralize electric and water supply and to destroy local water sources and power generations. Also, the Socialist idea of housing were ugly multi-storey apartment blocks. Have you mentioned how every totalitarian government tries its best to accommodate its subjects inside such blocks? A friend of mine calls them "hen-houses"; she hates them very much because as a child she lived in a real house, then it was demolished to build a block on the spot and her family was "compensated" with an apartment. In an individual house with a yard, you always retain some control over your life. You need no lift, you can install solar batteries or a small power generator, you can try and dig a well or at least a water-independent toilet of the type people have used for millenia (a hole in the ground with a wooden shelter over it; we have such one in Rasnik). In an apartment, you are completely helpless.
And because these days I seem unable to write a text without any mention of you-know-what conflict, let me finally connect the Bulgarian to the Palestinian experience. When Israel was pulling out of Gaza, I wasn't at all surprised to read that the Palestinian Authority intended to demolish the pretty houses left by the Jewish settlers and build instead multy-storey apartment blocks. Isn't it logical? If you want to prevent your subjects from growing into thinking, independent, freedom-loving human beings, lock them in hen-houses and keep repeating that you have "built homes" for them. You can rest assured that the misery surrounding them will reside in their souls.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Falling asleep, I was still thinking about the tests and the "conversation" with Highlander. The combination "blood testing - Libya" produced one of these dreams which, while far from the logic of the awakened state, have a logic and insight of their own. I dreamed I was already in the medical center, sitting on a chair and preparing to give a blood sample. I was looking what the nurse was doing. In reality, I never do this - I prefer to look in another direction while people are drawing my blood, because I don't endure the sight very well. But that was not reality.
The nurse was holding a syringe and reached out to take a needle. But the needles were not in the neat individual sterile packages they had to be. Instead, there was a transparent plastic box of the type ice-cream is sold in. Bulgarian housewives often wash and reuse these boxes. This one was full of needles. They didn't even look very clean. The upper ones had attached pieces of what looked like fruit cake. The bottom of the box was covered by a thin layer of syrup. (I know needles are expected to be contaminated with blood. Don't ask me why it was syrup.)
I said, "But you must use disposable sterile needles! These here have been used and then haven't been sterilized, they haven't even been washed!"
The nurse opened a drawer, took out two needles in sterile packages and showed them to me.
"See, this is all we have," she said. "And we keep them, in case a foreigner or another important patient comes."
I opened my mouth to ask why I was considered unimportant, but at this point my brain decided enough was enough and I awakened.
One needn't be Freud to interpret this dream. It was derived from the event everybody thinks about when Bulgaria and Libya are mentioned together: the infection of more than 400 Libyan children with HIV, thought to be a result of reusing syringes, needles and other blood-handling equipment without sterilization. (Except in Libya, where the Q-man convinced most people that the infection was deliberately induced by six Bulgarian medics and a Palestinian doctor - it's amazing how Libyans still trust him.)
If you ask whether the nightmare had any prognostic value - no, it hadn't. When I actually went to the medical center, there were no dirty needles in ice-cream boxes.
Friday, August 18, 2006
Although nothing can bring back the lost lives, I would feel a bit better if I could see the towers again at their place. I still feel pain in the heart when their image appears in some old movie.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
The war between Hezbollah/Lebanon and Israel I wrote about on July 29 was aborted. The enemy claims they won and Israel lost. In a sense, they are right: without finding the kidnapped soldiers, Israel agreed to a cease-fire and so used the simplest and most reliable way to lose - left the battlefield. Has Israel caught from old Europe the virus of unwillingness to survive?
However, it would be wrong to blame Israeli leadership alone. I cannot imagine the war led logically, i.e. spreading to Hezbollah sponsors Iran and maybe Syria, without the help of the USA. And instead of helping, the Americans were pressing Israel to step back. Somebody rightly described Bush as "all talk, no walk".
Of course it was just a stage in the ongoing global war and, as such, it produced some benefits: revealed the arsenal and capabilities of Hezbollah, the attitudes of key world players and the so-called world opinion (about the latter and how much it costs, read a good essay at http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=23635). However, this knowledge will be useful only if somebody really intends to resume the fight.
As for the Lebanese, it seems that what sympathy I had for them was largely undeserved and the support for Hezbollah actually is much stronger than I thought. I'm translating information by Netinfo: "The (Lebanese) government hasn't even considered disarming Hezbollah, which is one of the basic requirements in the UN Security Council cease-fire resolution... The pro-Syrian president Emil Lahud said it would be a shame to insist for disarming the national resistance (Hezbollah), the only force in the Arab world that stood against Israel..." (http://news.netinfo.bg/?tid=40&oid=923890).
Hezbollah ringleader Hassan Nasrallah became a hero of the Muslim world because of his successes in kidnapping soldiers and shelling Israeli cities and villages. These same Muslims who hail a thug for deliberate killings of civilians are angry when we say they are bad people... I recently commented on Highlander's blog, "Can the Muslim world reach a deeper point in moral degradation? I cannot imagine, but let's wait and see, every time when I think this is impossible they manage to make another step downward. If the Devil exists and makes list of the souls who belong to him, I pity the poor fellow, he must already have arthritis from the too-intensive writing or typing."
Or possibly I'm too pessimistic. Perhaps, when things become much worse, the civilized world will awaken from its lethargy and take care of itself. And at least our media will stop working as enemy PR. Last night, I watched the TV show "Neudobnite (The Inconvenient)". It's broadcasted by cable TV Channel 3 and its host is one of the best known Bulgarian journalists, Margarita Mihneva. She had invited two Lebanese who offered plenty of anti-Israel talk and put photos of killed Lebanese children under our noses (as if the Israeli children killed on Friday are expected, like Jesus Christ, to be alive again on Sunday).
I liked just one of the questions asked by Mihneva: what the ordinary Lebanese think about Hezbollah. The Lebanese guests said that the lack of support of Lebanese to Hezbollah is US media disinformation, in fact all Hezbollah fighters are Lebanese and the population supports them. Unfortunately, Mihneva offered no comment and no further questions to clarify this important issue.
All the time Mihneva was saying that she will present the Jewish viewpoint as well. Only during the last minutes we heard a Bulgarian Jewish intellectual, Jacob Dzherasi. However, he was not in the studio, his voice was taped. And he was not discussing the current conflict but something completely unrelated - the architecture and history of a particular house at Oborishte street in Sofia! She used him just to wash her hands. So much about the honest representation of opposite viewpoints.
Finally, let me quote a different Arab voice, like a beam of light in a realm of darkness: Libyan reformist writer Dr. Muhammad Al-Huni and his article "The lexicon of resistance", presented by MEMRI (http://www.memri.org/bin/opener_latest.cgi?ID=SD125306#_edn1):
"The word 'resistance' has come to be constantly used in the killing fields known as the Middle East... When Shi'ites kill Sunnis and Sunnis kill Shi'ites in Iraq merely for their [sectarian] identity, it is called 'resistance.' When Janjaweed gangs murder unarmed civilians in Darfour, it is called 'resistance.' When year after year, Hamas and Islamic Jihad extinguish any spark of peace which can end the suffering of the Palestinian people, it is called 'resistance.' When Hizbullah takes an entire people hostage and refuses to obey the elected [authorities], dragging Lebanon into destruction, it is called 'resistance.' The war which is being waged by the new global terrorism under the command of bin Laden, Al-Zawahiri and Al-Zarqawi is called 'resistance'... What is common to these types of resistance is that they all present themselves as 'Islamic'... The project of these resistance [groups] has had its day in the Arab world. It made the most noise and the most bloodshed, and therefore its dreadful collapse is highly imminent. They betted on a wild horse, and have left not a single seed that can sprout, nor a single bud that can open. They are the murderers of the future, and therefore they have no future."
Read the whole text, it's worth it. I hope Highlander will see it, too, because it's by her fellow countryman not very likely to be published in Jamahiriya or any other Libyan newspaper. I hope his prognosis will come true.