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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Liberation and Loss in Bulgaria

I knew something was special when I saw the Bulgarian flag stuck out of a neighbour’s window yesterday morning; small national flags for sale in pedestrianised Vitosha Bvd; and a small crowd watching the changing of the guard at the Presidency. Young people told us it was Liberty Day – from which I thought it was Independence Day – but that in fact is September 22 and marks the declaration of Bulgaria as a sovereign nation. March 3 is in fact a more bitter-sweet date for the Bulgarians since it marks the day in 1878 when Russia and the Ottoman Empire signed the San Stefano Treaty which gave the country autonomous status within the Ottoman Empire after 500 years of Ottoman domination. It was also awarded a large landmass (indeed access to the Aegean Sea) but lost a significant part of this new territory later the same year at the Berlin Congress (the Macedonian and Greek parts in the left and bottom of the map). According to Wikipedia
The Treaty was in fact a preliminary one but, almost immediately, became the central point of Bulgarian foreign policy, lasting until 1944 and led to the disastrous Second Balkan War and Bulgaria's even more disastrous participation in World War I. The enlarged Bulgaria envisioned by the treaty alarmed neighboring states as well as France and Great Britain. As a result, it was never implemented, being superseded by the Treaty of Berlin following the Congress of the same name.
On the square round the corner from the President’s Palace, we found about 30 buses parked – with signs from Bulgaria’s main towns. A Russian and Yiddish German speaking Bulgarian photographer with whom I tried to elicit more info in Russian could cast no light on where the bus passengers were - or for what purpose. As we approached the imposing Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, we could hear martial music. I thought this was part of the national celebrations but it quickly turned out to be part of the neo-fascist Ataka party’s takeover of the celebrations. I’m not religious myself but I found highly offensive the scaffolding they had constructed over the entrance to the Cathedral and the the military music which pored from it. Presumably the church authorities were in on this? The banner which topped the scaffolding demanded freedom from foreign control.
As I turned away in disgust (from the agression and context rather than message), I was hit with even more loud and aggressive rock music being played by louts on an open-lorry which led an Ataka demonstration of about 4,000 just as it was turning into the square. Acording to the news report
the march had started from the National Palace of Culture all the way through downtown Sofia to the "Nevsky" square, with several stops, such as the buildings of the Finance and Economy Ministries. There, Ataka leader, Volen Siderov, demanded the resignation of their respective ministers for betraying national interests and working for colonizers and for the impoverishment of Bulgarians. Siderov delivered a 50-minute-long speech, asking for decent jobs for all Bulgarians, European wages (current rates are about 15% of the EU average), eliminating monopolies and transferring all business back to Bulgarian hands. He accused European leaders of trying to cut Bulgaria to pieces, as all Great Forces have done, not caring about Bulgarian people and their well-being, and labeled the EU the "new Soviet Union." The nationalist leader further slammed Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, and his cabinet of not doing anything to improve the situation for fellow countrymen and women. At the end of the speech, Siderov, appealed to all, who are banging him and want his post, to have the courage to look him in the eye and tell him what they want and let people be the judge. "Any action against Ataka only serves Turkish and Gipsy interests, and all enemies of Bulgaria," he said.
A lot of old people from all over over Bulgaria had come to take part in the march and register their disgust with how the world has treated them in the past 20 years. In that sense, it was not quite what you expect to see in a demonstration by an aggressive neo-fascist group.
It was a very subdued and sad group of people who shuffled past us.
After the march had passed, we tried to engage an elderly man in conversation, but he insisted very proudly that he spoke only Bulgarian.

Bulgarian labour costs per hour were 3 euros in 2010 compared with an EU average of 25 euros – but the 20% plus rate which has been registered in the past years has caused a warning to be issued recently by the EC
The Bulgarian Finance Ministry doesn’t see it that way. It notes that lately the country’s current account deficit has declined – from 23.1 percent of GDP in 2008 to 8.9 percent for 2009 to just 1.3 percent for 2010, tracking closely with the advance of the financial crisis. What’s more, the ministry says, the current account for 2011 will show a surplus, amounting to 1.8 percent of GDP. While the Finance Ministry argued about numbers, some Bulgarian commentators went straight to outrage. “Some … in Brussels forget that besides the relative numbers, there are also absolute ones,” wrote Svetoslav Terziev in the Sega (Now) newspaper. “The average monthly salary in Bulgaria is 350 euros and Oli Rehn’s is 22,122.”
Very fair point! Cost of living is cheaper here but  not one eighth cheaper - which it would need to be for those on lower incomes to survive. More like 60% of costs in any other European capital than the 12% required by labout costs!
I'm happy to accept the going rate for consultants here - which is half what I would get for work in Central Asia and at least a quarter of what I might normally expect in the UK ( although I suspect the public sector redundancies there have driven the rate). My fee, however, is still ten times that of the average daily wage here!!
Ataka (and Bulgarian commentators) are quite right to target the EC bureaucrats whose behaviour, typically, is calculated to destroy the whole European edifice.

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