Every year Gypsies gather at Mogila village to trade horses and girls
Issue 66, March 2012
by Minka Vazkresenska; photography by Anthony Georgieff
From a politically correct standpoint, the whole idea of having to sell and buy girls and women is of course completely unacceptable. However, the Brides' Fair at Mogila rarely results in an actual "deal" of this sort. It is nevertheless very colourful, a lot of fun and a must-see for visitors and residents of southern Bulgaria.
Every Todorovden, or St Todor's Day, Gypsies from the Kalaydzhii clan gather on the muddy football pitch of the village of Mogila, near Stara Zagora. Extended families arrive from far and wide in ramshackle vehicles ranging from horse-drawn carts to old Mercedes to vans.
Most of them come to meet friends and relatives. The Kalaydzhii are itinerant craftsmen who live in small, crowded communities in the villages around Pazardzhik, Plovdiv, Stara Zagora and Karnobat, and spend the warm months travelling around the country looking for trade. They hold two main gatherings a year – on 15 August, the feast of the Assumption, near Bachkovo Monastery, and at the Brides' Fair on Todorovden, a moveable feast on the first Saturday of Lent.
Moustached and dressed in their traditional three-piece suits, bowler hats or cloth caps on their heads, the old men sit at tables beside the glowing barbecues where sweaty vendors grill kebapcheta, talking with friends and drinking beer. Their wives munch sunflower seeds and gossip with relatives, while the kids run to and fro with cheeks pink from candyfloss and fingers sticky from toffee apples.
The Brides' Fair, however, is much more than just a community get-together. The Kalaydzhii, like most Gypsy clans in Bulgaria, prefer marriages to take place between members of the group. Their vagabond (no pun intended) lives, however, make it difficult for young people to meet a partner, hence the fair – a huge, colourful, crowded meeting of "available" girls and young men.
Expectations are high. The boys' families have come to find a young, beautiful, hard-working, obedient and preferably virgin bride. The girls' families have arrived to display in front of the whole community how young, beautiful, hard-working, obedient and – of course! – virtuous their daughters and grand-daughters are, and to find for them a decent lad, preferably with a business of his own.
Young men in new jeans and hoodies or in their best track suits, which are all the rage now in the country regardless of the ethnicity of their wearers, stroll around the pitch in small packs. They scan the girls, exchange comments on their appearance and do their best to look cool, strutting like roosters ready for a fight and spitting sunflower seeds with hauteur, as if they owned the world.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers