Thursday, January 27, 2011


My district is called Zaharna Fabrika, which means Sugar Factory. It was named after the first sugar factory in Bulgaria, built in 1898 by the Belgian Solvay company. At that time, it was located at a railway crossing 4 km away from the city of Sofia. The city grew and eventually reached the factory. In the early 1940s, the district was built as accommodation complex for the factory workers.
The sugar factory itself stopped work decades ago. I have never seen it working, but have always liked the simple beauty of its buildings. It had the status of a cultural landmark. Unfortunately, Bulgarian government after 1989 abdicated from its duty to protect cultural and historical landmarks. Officials perceived democracy as an opportunity not to spend time and efforts on performing standard government functions, the functions that justify the very existence of government. Law and order deteriorated, education deteriorated, landmarks were sold away to private individuals and companies. In theory, the law required any owner of a landmark object to care for its maintenance. However, there was nobody to execute the law. Predator "investors" started buying landmarks and deliberately letting them to deteriorate by all means short of openly calling a wreckage crew. After some time, the landmark in question reliably turned into ruin, its disappearance was documented and the owner was free to do whatever he wished on his cleared land.
On Jan. 7, the Trud daily reported on its 2nd page:
"Greeks are appealing a fine for the Sugar Factory
The owners of the former Sugar Factory in Sofia are appealing in court the fine of 100,000 lv. (about EUR 50,000 - M.M.). It was imposed on them by the Municipality of Sofia because the building was dangerous. In December 2009, collapse of a concrete plate in the factory killed two Roma (Gypsies - M.M.). The Greek company TAB Real Estate, which owns the building, says that the fine is too high..."
I remember that day in 2009 (it was actually November, not December). My mother in-law came back from shopping and said, "I have passed by the Gypsy ghetto, people had gathered there, women were crying. Something has happened. Let's watch the TV news to find out." The same evening, TV channels reported that three young Gypsy men, two brothers and their brother in-law, had gone into the sugar factory building to collect iron pieces to sell them for scrap (many unemployed Gypsies try to feed themselves and their families in this way). However, the iron rail they took turned out to be a supporting part, so the building collapsed over them. The brother in-law managed to escape, but the two brothers were buried under the ruins and later found dead by the rescue team. gives their names as Dimitar and Stefan and their ages as 31 and around 40.
It was immediately reported that the owner was a Greek entrepreneur who not only failed to take the measures prescribed by the municipality to strenghten and guard the building but actually encouraged the local Gypsies to remove metal parts from it in order to accelerate its deterioration. The quotes below are from a Nov. 19, 2009 report by the BNT TV channel:
"Two brothers die in Sugar Factory building collapse
...Minko Gerdzhikov, Deputy Mayor of Sofia, said, "Owner of the building is TBA Real Estate (most other sources give it as TAB - M.M.). This is a Greek company, the owner's name is Kafalis. At present, he is hiding from us, does not want to speak. He is clearly aware that he is guilty of negligence. On the other hand, he apparently wanted this property not as a sugar factory but as a piece of land to be used by him for other purposes. I was informed by police sources that the owners even encouraged those living in the vicinity to demolish the building."
The locals quickly found whom to blame. The victims' sister said, "My brothers came to earn 5 leva, to buy food for themselves and their children, because they are unemployed. The owner came himself here in front of us and told us to demolish the building and told the police not to harass us, but policemen gather and only want money from us. They stop our horse carts and take 20, 30, 50 leva and this is why my brothers died here."

In October 2009, just a month before the tragedy, BTV channel reported that the cultural landmark could collapse any moment.
I would not lay any blame on the poor Gypsy men who struggled to support their families. You cannot realistically demand respect to cultural heritage from people who are hungry. And after the owner himself told them it was OK to demolish, how could they realize they were doing something wrong? I am sorry for them and their families, and I think the owner is guilty, and also our authorities.
I wanted to have the Greek nationality of the owner confirmed before writing this post, so I waited for quite a lont time. You see, it is dangerous even to report the truth in these matters, because it spawns xenophobia, let alone trust on rumous and unconfirmed hearsay evidence. Still I would not put "Greek" in the title as Trud did. One could assume that all Greeks have invaded Bulgaria en masse to destroy our heritage.
I wonder, what would happen to Mr. Kafalis (or whatever his name is) if he had tried the same business plan in his native Greece? Greek authorities would push him down a mouse burrow, as we say. And I think any government must deal with its nationals destroying heritage, whatever country they choose for their evil deed. Cultiral and historical heritage belongs to all of the world. And there is no hope to preserve it without international cooperation, exactly as it is impossible to defeat corruption without ensuring international transparency.
I made the first photo shortly after the tragedy, in January 2010. You see the collapsing builsing, and also the open unguarded gates. Anybody could enter there, any poor Gypsy scrap collector or bum seeking refuge or playing child could become the next victim. The next three photos are from July 2010. I made them to preserve the image of the Sugar Factory which I like so much, because it continues to deteriorate. It is already in a worse state that shown in the photos, and I guess it will be levelled to the ground in a few years. The last photo, like the first one, shows the crime scene. At least, the so-called owner has made it inaccessible. There is a fence and the gate is locked. Some minor buildings of the Sugar Factory complex have not been bought by TAB Real Estate and have remained outside the fence. They are illegally occupied by Gypsy families who maintain them as they can, and they are the only parts of the cultural landmark likely to survive.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Quacks of the world, keep your dirty paws off autism!

The text below is a translation (omitting some minor parts) of what I posted on my Bulgarian blog on Jan. 11 as a reaction to the dangerous export of autism quackery to Bulgaria.

The problem of children with autism is that they look quite like the others. When there is inborn malformation, chromosomal disease, sensory disability or another quite obvious problem, parents and society eventually accept the fact that this child is different and will remain so. But the inpredictable time course of autism, its still mysterious nature and the normal appearence of autistics mislead parents to hope that they will somehow be able to bring their child to norm. In fact, today the diagnosis of autism is handed around like candy, often by people who are not competent to diagnose but know well how to "cure" the incurable condition of autism (you ask how? - by relieving parents of their too abundant money). Many of the alleged autistic children actually have only speech delay and eventually catch up spontaneously. But pronounced autism is another thing. In the framework of an unaccepting society, it is perceived by parents not as a part of their child's personality but as an enemy to be faught. And then the quacks wishing to separate them from their money lure them easily and catch them on a hook without even a bait.
The last "achievement" of this sort belongs to Tokuda Hospital in (the city of) Sofia... They organized a conference on autism on Jan. 8-9. A special guest who presented a lecture on this conference was Dr. Arthur Krigsman, (advertised as) "a world-renowned gastroenterologist" from the USA...
A minute's Google check shows that he is indeed world-renowned. Have you a page in Wikipedia? Has your child's doctor or the hospital's director such a page? No? Eh well, Dr. Krigsman has one. You can read in it that he is known for his controversial and widely-criticized research in which he attempted to prove that the MMR vaccine caused autism. I love this little English word "controversial". It is used e.g. for Jeremiah Wright - the US president's favourite minister known for his statement that the USA deserved the Sept. 11 attacks. When a doctor is called "controversial" by a restrained source like Wikipedia, you can be sure that he is a top quack already fired from everywhere and awaiting only the prosecutor's subpoena, if not having received it already. I guess the coming of such a high guest to Bulgaria must be a reaction to some call "Quacks of the world, unite!".
From the conference at Tokuda Hospital Dr. Krigsman went to the At a cup of coffee TV show aired on the Nova TV Channel, so that the entire Bulgarian nation could enjoy his blessings. I owe thanks to my mother in-law who heroically watched the program and then retold it to me (I could not see it personally). To sum up, Dr. Krigsman explained for an hour how the neurological disability known as autism is due either to the digestive system or to the immune system or to heavy metal poisoning, how vaccines are to blame, how autistic children must be subjected to colonoscopy and biopsy (an invasive and not quite safe procedure) and how his method provides a cure for autism, described in all medical textbooks as incurable. And at the end of this hour, the gentleman said, "We are not curing autism, we are curing gastrointestinal diseases!" Ha-ha-ha. Western quacks always include such a disclaimer in order to avoid the heavy grip of law. Dr. Krigsman was unaware that in our part of the world, rule of law is a bit sickly and everybody can lie as he wishes without any disclaimers at all.
Unfortunately, (TV show host) Gala - this pride of Bulgarian journalism, really succeeded in advertising the US quack doctor. You can see the discussion in BG-Mamma (the major Web forum of Bulgarian mothers). I could endure only a brief glance on the first page. It looks to me like a chorus from the circles of Hell where gullibility is reinforced by positive feedback as it is handed from one desperate soul to another. But those who are really in the circles of Hell are the children (and adults) with autism. Not because of the autism itself but because of our attitude.
What do I mean? Imagine that you have a disability - let's say, you are blind or your legs are paralyzed. Imagine that society does not wish to accommodate to your disability, refuses to give you Braille books or a wheelchair and instead wants you to start seeing or walking. It suggests to you that if you fail to achieve this, you have no value, you are not a complete human, it is not clear whether you are human at all. Now imagine that your family members, on whom you have to rely because of your disability and your tender age, are not interested in your real needs but instead wonder how to cure you. They put you on a diet without bread, dairy products and everything you like, and they swear that, thanks to this diet, you already distinguish light from darkness or have slightly moved your left toe. (I am referring to the notorious gluten-free casein-free diet that not only does not lessen autism traits a bit except for the placebo effect, but deprives children of calcium and so makes their bones thinner.) Moreover, your relations bring you to some quack to poison you allegedly to detoxicate you from heavy metals, endangering your life. They also bring you to another quack to puncture your intestines, again endangering your life. They subject you to all sorts of experiments that are not even included in a legal experimental medicine study. They repent for the vaccines that have allegedly contributed to your condition, and swear not to vaccinate your little sister - which you take as a message that they'd prefer her to die of measles than be like you.
Unfortunately, right now I have no time to write a serious text about autism, which seems to be necessary. For those who can read English, I recommend the sincere tale of Dr. James Laidler how he himself got involved in quackery because of his desperation after his two children were diagnosed with autism, and then the blog of "Prometheus" - a molecular biologist and father of an autistic child. Meanwhile, to all who care for children or adults with autism, I wish high spirit, health, physical and emotional strength - and act cleverly!
(In an update, I added that Gala's guest was not only Dr. Krigsman but also his pal Dr. Anju Usman, who has direct responsibility for the death of 5-yr-old Abubakar Nadama by referring him to Dr. Kerry to be "treated" with the poison EDTA that killed him.)

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Drive carefully on Bulgarian killer roads

The translation below is from an Aug. 22, 2010 DarikNews report:

"Boy dies after car crash near Burgas
A 16-yr-old boy from Sofia died after a heavy car crash on the road Sofia - Burgas (Bourgas). His mother, 14-yr-old sister and the driver are hospitalized...
The crash happened 300 m east of the village of Venets, near the town of Karnobat... The driver, a 46-yr-old Cuban citizen living in France, attempted overtaking, although it was banned by traffic sign and road marking. She lost control over the vehicle and crashed frontally into a tree.
A 16-yr-old boy from Sofia travelling at the back seat died at the spot. His 14-yr-old sister is severely injured and her life is in danger..."

Readers have left the following comments:
"Oh, oh, this road between Karnobat and Venets - the stretch of death."
"Come on, overtake where overtaking is banned, like savages!"
"I knew the girl - may her rest in peace, and her brother also. I do know know what happened to the mother, may God keep her strong if she is alive..."
"I knew the boy, his name was Kaloyan. We attended the same school. He was always merry and was making merry all of us. He was an excellent friend and will remain forever in my heart, and in the hearts of all who knew him! I hope he and his sister are at a better place now! My condolescence to the parents..."

The victims are my neighbours' grandchildren. I vaguely remember the handsome boy with whom we exchanged greetings at the staircase of our apartment block. He often stayed with his grandparents because his school was in our district. Now, the obituaries of the two children with their smiling photos and attached flowers are facing us at the block's front door.
There are some inaccuracies in the DarikNews report. The boy was seating not at the back seat but at the front right seat, and this is why he died immediately when the right half of the car crashed into the tree. His sister was behind him. She died at the hospital 8 days later. The two adult women - the children's mother and her friend who was driving, were only slightly injured because they were sitting at the left side. The driver, presented in reports as Frenchwoman of Cuban origin, was in fact a Bulgarian living in France. Despite her long driving experience, she made the fatal mistake to drive on Bulgarian roads with a speed appropriate for a French highway, and to violate the overtaking ban.
Bulgaria has always been behind with its road infrastructure, but the situation became grotesque after 1989. As the emerging capitalism burdened our roads with unprecedented traffic, the domestic and EU money allocated for their construction and maintenance kept being stolen. I am not talking about "standard" corruption diverting 10-15% of funds yet allowing the road to be built. I am talking about Bulgarian corruption diverting 90-100% of funds. Millions have disappeared and we still have no roads. EU member Bulgaria does not yet possess a single finished highway - not one! With pain and peril, drivers navigate narrow roads full of turns, suitable for donkey cart travel between villages.
Through the years, every time when EU officials discovered that EU funds allocated for infrastructure had been stolen, they used a standard approach - to stop future transfers until appropriate anti-corruption measures are taken. I have very mixed feelings to this starvation policy. I admit that it is not too justified to enrich Bulgarian corrupt politicians with the money of European taxpayers. However, stopping the transfers deprived Bulgaria even of the small fraction that was used on purpose. What, exactly, are you hoping to achieve by depriving poor people of money? Possibly you are hoping that Bulgarians will behave as proper citizens and will keep their corrupt rulers responsible? But Bulgarians are not able to behave as proper citizens and to keep their rulers responsible, despite the superficially perfect multy-party representative democracy. This is actually the reason why Bulgarians, and also many other nations, are poor and stay poor. I would prefer EU to send Western companies with their equipment and workers to do the job, without any capital coming to Bulgaria in a convertible form.
Now, when beginning new constructions and opening road stretches finished with 15-20-yr delay, our rulers half-heartedly admit that the obsolete and poorly maintained roads take lives ("our goal is to diminish the number of car crash victims," said Prime Minister Borisov in 2009). It is good that they are talking like this, because talking about a problem is the first necessary step to solving it. However, it is not a sufficient step, and I don't yet see much deeds to back the words. No measures are taken even for places known to cause heavy crashes regularly, such as the Karnobat - Venets "stretch of death" which is narrow and has many turns.
Meanwhile, if you are a visitor to Bulgaria, your well-being and that of your fellow travellers depends on your successful navigations of Bulgarian killer roads. Be careful, do not speed and remember that there is no such thing as urgent business.
Keep your eyes open for potholes that "mine" Bulgarian roads. And for dangerous turns that are found at every kilometer. Because we are still using the old roads that connected towns and villages, you will pass through every single settlement on your way - speed down when you enter it. However, pedestrians and farm animals may appear on the road even when you are far from any settlement.
And please overtake as rarely as possible. All Bulgarian roads, if not 2-lane in their entire length, have long 2-lane stretches. You will soon find yourself behind some too-slow vehicle, and you will get nervous. Try to relax, rather than attempting a risky overtaking that may end in a frontal crash. And if overtaking is banned by signs, abide them even if you wonder why they are put there. Sometimes, such a sign marks a place where someone has died in attempted overtaking. So the sign may be an anonymous memorial to a previous victim, and it is not wise to neglect its warning.
Keep in mind also that Bulgaria is a poor country and if you are injured in a crash here, you may not receive state-of-the-art medical treatment. (This is not to imply that the Burgas doctors who tried to save the life of my neighbours' granddaughter have any responsibility for her death. She was injured very severely - I guess, beyond salvation.)
If you are travelling in winter, remember the risk of ice. Too little is done to make the roads usable after a snowfall, so you have to rely on yourself again. Personally, I always feel relieved when a winter car jouney comes to an uneventful end. It is January now and the most dangerous weeks for drivers are coming, as snow covers the roads where half a year ago two children were returning from their last sea vacation.