what you get here

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, April 22, 2012

Balkan idyll in the sun?

The latest issue of Vagabond has an interesting article on the fate of many working class Brits who were attracted a decade ago by British TV programmes to buy cheap property in the Bulgarian countryside. The piece is called British homes across rural Bulgaria lie empty. Where have all the people gone? and makes the following interesting points -
The Britons who came at this time had never had the financial assets to dabble in UK property, nor any experience of speculation. Obsessed with land ownership and investment potential, the idea of a life in the sun without a mortgage was just too big a dream to pass up. By day, they would wrestle physically on village streets and by night, sedated by the tropical chirping of crickets, cheap alcohol and impossibly attractive waitresses, they would discuss their numerous purchases and renovation plans.
It was basically so damn cheap and easy, the exchange rate was good and the Bulgarians more than willing to ship old baba off to a flat in town, vacating the decaying village home, previously considered worthless. Everything was for sale and everything was within their budget. We felt like Allan Sugar and Donald Trump all rolled into one!
But few actually thought about the implications of a life spent in a rural village. Might not self-sufficiency be difficult, when you have never looked after a plant or a pet before? It’s not actually sunny all year round. Winter can be bloody freezing and then there is the complex Bulgarian language.

The British in Britain harp on endlessly about immigrants who can't speak English. They harbour a deep resentment against anyone who would have the audacity to arrive on British soil without being absolutely fluent in English. Taking up residence here, this irony goes unnoticed as they proceed to shout louder and gesticulate more wildly, in the hope that Bulgarians will understand. Few villagers would really expect you to arrive speaking their small nation's incredibly difficult language, but they do appear a little shocked that most have no idea of Russian, French or German, all languages many "simple" rural people can actually use rather well.
Welcome to neo-colonialism on a village scale. My wealth here gives me status and power. If you want a share, speak to me in Enger-lish!
Not surprisingly the number of British residents here in Bulgaria has fallen dramatically - from a peak apparently of about 40,000 in the boom times to about 5,000 now. Even for those prepared to make an effort to integrate, there have been pitfalls to navigate -
Many have fallen foul of unscrupulous British agents and tradesmen who preyed on gullible and frightened newcomers. Naturally distrustful of the foreign and non-English speaking Bulgarians, they turned to their fellow expats for assistance, only to lose everything. Stories of thousands of pounds sent for renovations which were never started, theft s and houses sold several times over are the expat urban myths of rural Bulgaria.
Loneliness, culture shock and alcoholism have also played a significant role, as have unrealistic financial planning or the complete lack of it in some cases. These people, however, have largely returned home, tail between their legs, once again to plug back into our cosy little social security system. Maybe that's the point to all this. We are a spoilt and privileged nation, and with the numerous financial safety nets Brits have to fall back on, we have little need for research or planning prior to making these life-altering decisions. If it all goes "belly up" we can go home and start again, courtesy of the State. We will be OK. A house, an income, healthcare and education, all for free. We can take enormous risks on crazy, un-thought through dreams based on little more than sunshine, and not worry about ending up with nothing, destitute and ruined. Maybe if we had to plan more and actually think about what we could lose, we wouldn't take such insane risks with our families' futures.
But, that said, it's these very same attributes that have brought some Britons to successfully integrate in villages across Bulgaria. This new and vital human influx has given many rural communities a tiny but significant fighting chance, against the mass tide of urbanisation and the possibility of remaining on the world map for a few more decades to come.
The wood carving was one of two I have just bought from Svetlin Mitov who is a great wood sculptor who has a stall  at the corner of the SUM building near the Mosque.This original cost only 40 euros!

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