Wednesday, August 29, 2007

It still isn't too late to save Kamchia

Kamchia is a river in Eastern Bulgaria. The area where it empties into the Black Sea used to be a protected territory. However, last year a holiday resort investor eager to build there successfully appealed Kamchia's protected status in court (mentioned in my July 9 post). When the same assault was attempted against Strandja mountain, protests by environmental activists prevented it, at least for the moment. But Kamchia remained in the dark. As I wrote in my Aug. 16 post, "This law (protecting Strandja) is an emergency measure and isn't a perfect piece of legislature. Worse, it cannot protect the Kamchia river which had already been removed from the list of protected territories. If the National Assembly decides to do something about Kamchia, it must be by a separate act. It can be voted no sooner than September (the Assembly is now in summer vacation) and surely much will be already built around the river by this time."
Now, I have a little more hope about Kamchia. My cautious optimism is based on reliable, although indirect, evidence.
Our best man Stoyan (not his real name) is an example of those too orderly and organized people who can never have real fun, no matter how hard they try. There is always something coming in the way. Several days ago, my husband came home and said,
"I have met Stoyan. He has had a sea vacation with his family at Kamchia."
"It was a protected territory until last year," I mentioned sadly.
"It still is," my husband laughed. "They are very disappointed. A sort of a miserable hotel far from the beach and some miserable restaurant far from both. No services. Quite undeveloped place. They had to travel around the wilderness all the time to obtain the most basic things they needed."
So, dear environmental activists and lawmakers, it seems that it isn't too late to save Kamchia! Any rescue efforts are welcome, their object is still alive!

Friday, August 24, 2007

A rant about the buildings of our Medical University

Recently, as I was listening to TV news, I heard my workplace (the Medical University of Sofia) mentioned. On Aug. 11, the roof over the Department of Forensic Medicine was set ablaze by a lightning. Happily, there were very few people in the building (it was Saturday afternoon) and nobody was hurt. However, much of the roof and some equipment was destroyed. The above photo is copied from a Netinfo report ( Our Department of Biology is located in another part of the same building.
I don't understand how such a thing can happen. As far as I know, technology protecting buildings from thunderbolts is simple, cheap and centuries old. In the 21st century, I wish to think I am safe at my workplace even if there is a thunderstorm outside.
One of my earliest blog posts was devoted to a fire which devastated our Department of Pathophysiology ( After this Department lost its home, the teachers were distributed to other departments to obtain temporary workplaces. Right from the beginning, there were rumours that the temporary situation would become permanent. There was a precedent: the Department of Physiology, which lost its territory decades ago (I don't know the exact circumstances) and is currently located in rooms scattered across all 4 storeys of our building. Now, the rumours are confirmed: the same fate awaits the pathophysiologists. Their beautiful building will never be rebuilt, it will be destroyed instead and their Department will indefinitely exist scattered in rooms taken from other departments. Our Department of Biology is ordered to give 2 rooms.
This development is not that surprising for anyone who knows the Medical University of Sofia from inside. Teaching and treatment facilities are left to deteriorate and new buildings aren't finalized. There are three quite large constructions in the Medical University campus that are "frozen" with zero probability to be ever finished. Sometimes they are referred to as "the Bermuda Triangle". As far as I know, the Department of Physiology had to be located somewhere in the Triangle. The constructions that ARE successfully finished are those housing administration staff. Our clerks keep multiplying exactly as predicted by Parkinson's law - and also becoming ever more powerful. They always think that the students and teachers of the University have too much funds, computer equipment, research equipment, working space etc. and rarely miss an opportunity to take these resources away.
For the moment, I have no problem with the lost rooms because I am still on maternity leave. But when I return, we'll have to walk on each other's heads. The only realistic solution is somebody else going into maternity leave. So, if any of my younger female colleagues is reading this - come on, girls, get to work on the matter, this country needs a younger generation :) !
Otherwise, it will be better for me if fewer Medical University employees read this post. It may put me in trouble.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Gypsy teenager murdered by Bulgarian teenagers

On Aug. 21 in the town of Samokov, two groups of teenagers met, one consisting of Bulgarians and the other of Gypsies. They started a brawl. One of the Gypsies, 17-year-old Asparuh (family name given by different sources Iliev or Atanasov) was beaten to death. The crime scene was in the range of security cameras and suspects were identified quickly. Four were arrested, of whom two turned 18 this year and the other two are juveniles. The authorities, again, are eager to dismiss any notion that the crime was motivated by hate (
I remember a similar murder which took place in 1998 in Sofia. A homeless Gypsy boy was killed by skinheads, all aged 15-16. Then, a human rights activist said, "I cannot think of a crime more scary than murder of a child by children." I agree.
I never knew whether anybody was punished for the 1998 murder, but it is said that in Samokov alone, this week's murder has been the 4th murder of a Gypsy in 7 years and nobody has yet been convicted ( On July 27, 2007 Bulgaria was sanctioned by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for failure to bring to justice the perpetrators of another racist killing. The victim, a Gypsy man (28), was murdered in 1996 in the town of Shumen by seven Bulgarian teenagers, all but one of whom were juveniles. Although the case was fairly clear, investigation was protracted until the statute of limitation expired and nobody was convicted (sources, in Bulgarian, in English).
I have been several times in Samokov, which serves as a gate to the Rila mountain. I remember it as a quiet town, I'd even say boring and sleepy. But it isn't quiet anymore.
When I heard of Asparuh's death, my first impulse was to pay a tribute to him by modifying or even deleting my Aug. 17 post, which is directed against his people. But then I thought over and decided to leave the post exactly as it was. Yes, it feeds stereotypes. But hate crimes aren't caused by stereotypes. They are caused by the idea that if The Other creates problems for us, we may solve the problems by getting rid of him.
People campaigning for minority rights often say, "We must fight prejudice, we must shake stereotypes." I don't find this a very good idea. Most stereotypes are firmly rooted in facts. Hence, "shaking stereotypes" means denial of reality and immersion in wishful thinking. Nobody needs a rosy picture portraying The Others as perfect people who they aren't. What is needed is acceptance. It doesn't mean that we may not want The Others to change and may not demand things from them. Rather, it means that no matter how problematic they are for us, we may never wish them away.
As for Asparuh, I hope that unlike the earlier cases mentioned above, this time justice will step in and perpetrators will be punished. Let me repeat what I added as a comment to the same Aug. 17 post: "To manage law and order... is the state's basic function and therefore the state is never allowed to abdicate of it."
UPDATE (Aug. 28): While police continue to deny that the murder in Samokov and the earlier riots in Sofia are motivated by ethnic tensions, psychologist Hristo Monov reported why the Bulgarian teenagers attacked: they thought that Gypsies mustn't be let into the central part of Samokov (source: Mediapool). Other sources said that the Gypsy youths went to the town center to buy ice-cream.

Political jokes in Communist Bulgaria

On Highlander's blog, commenter Adam asked, "I know that mocking of the leadership (in closed circles) was prevalent in countries such as these three (Czechoslovakia, Hungary and East Germany), but how was it in Bulgaria during the dark years (of Socialism)?"
I began to answer, but it turned out too long for a comment, so I decided to make it a post.
Mocking socialism and the current dictator (for the most of this period, Todor Zhivkov) was very widespread in Bulgaria, although political jokes were criminalized. Even people without pro-capitalist views enjoyed such jokes. Often, the subject was dictator Zhivkov's life expectancy and eventual death. In the absence of term limitations and free elections, nobody could predict that Zhivkov would be removed from power alive.
Here is one joke that is better told than written (because it includes body language):

In a crowded bus, a man is reading a newspaper. Some other people see on 1st page large black letters (VIP obituary?) and a photo of a semi-bald man with smooth hair remnants and a large nose. They get very excited. However, the paper owner isn't very helpful to his fellow travellers and holds the paper in a way not allowing others to read. Finally, a tall man manages to cast a look. He turns to the others, nods and makes a "tsk" sound meaning "no", then says a single word: "Pompidou".
(French President Georges Pompidou died in 1974.)

Another joke from the 1980s: Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev and Todor Zhivkov are invited to visit God, who promises to answer one question from each guest.
Reagan asks, "When will US astronauts set feet on Mars?" God answers, "In 2023". Reagan begins to weep and says, "What a pity that I won't be alive to see this."
Gorbachev asks, "When will Russian economy catch up with US?" God answers, "By 2060". Gorbachev also begins to weep and says he is weeping because he won't be alive by this time.
Zhivkov asks, "When shall I die?" God, instead of answering, begins to weep. (I.e., even He won't be alive by this time.)

Violin player Alexander Nikolov, better known by his nickname Sasho Sladura, liked telling political jokes. Somebody reported him to the authorities. They sent him to the Lovech labour camp where in 1961 he was beaten to death, the usual method of murdering inmates in this particular camp. The above photo, copied from, shows Sladura bottom left.
Later in the 1960s, civil engineer Boris Chinkov was sentenced to prison for telling jokes. He was released before serving his full term, allegedly after French President de Gaulle entreated for him during a meeting with Zhivkov. The court papers from Chinkov's case listed the jokes constituting his crime. One of them was "the joke about the best Michurinist mother". Here it is:

Who is the best selectionist among followers of Michurin? - Todor Zhivkov's mother, who successfully crossed a pumpkin with a loudspeaker and obtained a fully viable hybrid.
("The Pumpkin" was one of Zhivkov's nicknames. As usual for dictators, he was fond of delivering long speeches. Michurin (1855 - 1935), whose Wikipedia page is a bit too sympathetic to him, was a Russian practitioner selectionist. He definitely had a gift and produced practical achievements, but his lack of education made him stick to theories disproved decades and centuries earlier, such as that species aren't real, can cross with each other and transform into each other. Michurin was made an icon during Stalin's repressions against geneticists, but he shouldn't be blamed for this turn which happened after his death.)

In fact, only a very small percentage of jokers were punished. The regime, especially in its later decades, realized that people need some harmless vent for their discontent and, besides, it is impossible to imprison the entire population. However, the modest attempts for free speech were closely monitored. Tens of thousands of professional State Security (secret service) agents and many more cooperating agents had the task to eavesdrop, report and record jokes.
After 1989, many of these agents found good postions in politics and business. When the State Security past of any of them is revealed, he first denies, then says that his activity as agent was directed only against true enemies of Bulgaria and never harmed innocent people. It sucks that nearly 20 years after the regime's collapse, the country is still in the grip of State Security.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The village of storks

The above photo is copied from a July 16 Pointless Spring blog post of the same title. It said, "At a less than 50 kilometers distance from Sofia, hidden in the lower parts of Plana mountain you will find the village of storks - Popovyane. Every second house in the village shelters a stork nest."

A week ago, we went to Popovyane. I wanted to show my elder son storks and had to find them elsewhere after the Rasnik pair had taken flight. Indeed, the village was full of stork nests. Most of the birds were away. Their young have grown up and there is no reason for them to cling by the nest all day just to enjoy eventual visitors. However, after hanging around for a while, we saw about ten storks in flight and one in his nest. Thanks to Pointless Spring for sharing the information!

The village is located south of Sofia. The road passes through Bistritsa, Zheleznitsa, Kovachevtsi and then comes Popovyane. It is a beautiful mountain road. As soon as you leave Sofia, you find yourself in another world, green and serene. However, for the same reason, these less than 50 kilometers seem longer. This is definitely not a road for fast driving.

If you haven't the convenience of a car - there must be regular public transportation, we saw many buses. Possibly some bus goes to Samokov using this road and can get you there without change.

If you are in Sofia, reading this post soon after its publication and considering whether to visit Popovyane, make up your mind quickly or you'll go there just to discover that the storks have migrated!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Bulgarian police: Our safety first!

The above image is from yesterday Netinfo report about events that took place several kilometers from where I live ( Here is a quote from the text:
"On Tuesday night, there were Roma riots in the (Sofia) district of Krasna Polyana. Several cars were destroyed. Nobody was injured. Police presence was reinforced. The day before, four men were hurt after being beaten in a cafe... They were attacked by about 150 Roma who mistook them for skinheads. Property at the cafe was also damaged."
For those who don't know, "Roma" is the politically correct term for Gypsy.
Now, the million dollar question: If mobs of Gypsies armed with rods, spades and knives goes on a rampage through the city, damaging property and beating innocent people, who is to blame?
The answer of Volen Siderov's fans: The nasty Gypsies, with whom one should deal as Hitler did.
The answer of some politically correct people living at a safe distance from the Gypsies: The racist Bulgarian majority which, by discrimination and abuse, has driven the poor Gypsies to such acts of despair.
The answer obvious to anyone of the meanest understanding: The police, whose job is to deal exactly with behaviours like these.
However, our police have a different idea about their job. I am translating a little more from the same Netinfo report:
"Kamen Penkov, Deputy Minister of the Internal Affairs, spoke for the Darik Radio. In response to critics saying that policemen were standing by, idly looking at the armed men, he said that the police acted adequately in the very unruly night of Tuesday. "In this situation, against this group of people who cannot be compared to environmental activists, protesting Suhodol residents or retired citizens, I think that the tactic chosen by us was absolutely right," Penkov said."
The environmental activists Penkov was referring to are obviously the protesters campaigning to save Strandja (see my July 9 post). Suhodol is a Sofia suburb where the garbage of the entire city is stockpiled; the garbage was to be dumped there for a fixed period of time but the city authorities continued transporting it to Suhodol after the deadline and this triggered protests by residents. I am not sure which retired people Penkov meant, but police have recently mounted a campaign against old women who try to make ends meet by "unauthorized" sale of flowers and berries in the streets (Simion Pateev eye-witnessed one case and described it at, in Bulgarian).
In all these cases, the police acted brutally against people unwilling and often unable to defend themselves by force. I haven't blogged about this, as I didn't initially intend to blog about this week's riots. I am not going to let either the Gypsy problems or our rogue police dominate my blog. But Penkov's statement was too juicy to omit. Let me translate its essence to plain understandable language.
"We, the police, are prepared and willing to use force against offenders such as peaceful protesters and old women selling flowers. Don't demand us to confront numerous armed and aggressive men. We were quite right not to intervene in this situation, because it was unsafe."
This is indeed exactly the attitude and mode of action of Bulgarian police, as I have observed it for years. However, it was surprising for me that Penkov said it in plain text.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Strandja seems to be safe, for now

(This post is about old news, as often happens in blogs that are updated not when it is due but when the author has the opportunity to write.)
Strandja mountain which was about to be stripped of its protected status by an investor eager to build ( seems to be out of immediate danger, at least for now. After continuing protests, the National Assembly (Bulgarian Parliament) hastily changed the law, so that acts establishing protected territories now cannot be appealed in court.
This law is an emergency measure and isn't a perfect piece of legislature. Worse, it cannot protect the Kamchia river which had already been removed from the list of protected territories. If the National Assembly decides to do something about Kamchia, it must be by a separate act. It can be voted no sooner than September (the Assembly is now in summer vacation) and surely much will be already built around the river by this time.
Still, things around Strandja developed better than I expected.
The Strandja protests allowed me to find a number of interesting Bulgarian blogs. I have put links to the ones I like most (unfortunately for the non-Bulgarian reader, they are all in Bulgarian, excluding the short English version of the Optimiced blog). I started blogging after the Danish cartoon story last year, inspired by other blogs covering the events. So it was natural for my blogroll to contain mostly Arab blogs. Every time when something important was happening in the Bulgarian political life (e.g. elections), I was searching for good Bulgarian blogs. Now at last I have found some. I am glad that many of them are conservationist - a favourite old cause of mine.
Now, let me translate parts of Michel Bozgounov's July 21 post( to satisfy my incurably pessimistic nature. Michel is the blogger who was "cautioned" by police for supporting the Strandja protests (

Feeling Tired
I haven't blogged for quite a while.
The reason is: feeling tired. I've even lost some weight. I feel strained. I don't sleep well.
The events of the last few days confronted me suddenly so I couldn't even say "Oh!". I haven't yet even read everything posted in the Web about the recent incident with me...
A rally was held to defend not only Bulgarian nature but also freedom of speech. It was said to have been attended by many people. True, I saw photos :). But I was hiding home. I somewhat didn't feel like it. Perhaps due to exhaustion. I haven't slept normally for - I don't know, possibly 5 or 6 days...
I've learned from Capital newspaper that my case isn't at the police anymore but at the Sofia District Prosecution. So, we are waiting now. I have no wish to write about it...
I understand the law and still, when I saw the prints of my blog posts at the police department, I felt wronged. Now, a week later, I am feeling just tired...
I heard that Strandja will remain a protected territory, after all. This is good, isn't it. So we won and our efforts as citizens were not in vain? :-) Then, why am I feeling so down-hearted now... I don't know.
A little sleep would be good for me. Or at least it's worth trying.
Yours sincerely, Michel

I understand Michel very well. In my already not too short life, I have had many causes, all noble (at least I've thought so), most lost. And even in the few cases when things turned out as I wanted, it was after so much efforts that at the end I was unable even to celebrate. I just sat quietly in some corner and asked myself whether the result was worth the efforts, whether anything in life was worth... anything.