Instead of Europe, Bulgaria increasingly finds itself in Latin America
by Anthony Georgieff
I know this will sound like a bad joke ‒ or "rant" some might say, but I guarantee that every word of this is true. And I want to apologise to all Mexicans for drawing any comparisons between their country and Bulgaria.
Recently I had some visitors from Mexico City. Widely travelled throughout the world, well educated and with a prosperous business in Mexico, my friends wanted to visit what, in their opinion, was the least heard-of land in Europe. Bulgaria was a country that they nevertheless felt a strong emotional attachment to, as one of their predecessors had been born here, from whence he emigrated to Mexico as far back as 1929. They did not speak a word of Bulgarian and their knowledge of the country was limited to the few things their relative had lovingly told them about: the blossoming vishna, or sour cherry tree, in the yard; the taste of burekas, or banitsa, in the morning; and the smell of the turshiya, or home pickled vegetables, wafting from the basement year-round.
The trip started on a good note. As soon as my friends landed at Sofia Airport (plane on time, no lost luggage) and we got into the car on our way to town, my friends asked, "Is Sofia a safe city to walk around?"
"Most Bulgarians constantly whine about crime," I said. "But in fact, Sofia is very safe, compared to anywhere in Europe except perhaps Helsinki."
"Good," my friends replied. "In Mexico City you need a bullet-proof vest."
The differences between our way of life and theirs started and ended with the crime levels.
On the following morning we went for a walk in Central Sofia. When we got off the beaten track (a few metres away from the National Assembly and the Aleksandr Nevskiy Cathedral), I saw my friends beginning to stumble on the uneven pavements, so I warned them, apologetically, to watch out for metal and concrete objects sticking out of the paths for no obvious reason.
"Oh, don't worry," they said. "This is exactly the same in Mexico."
We walked on to the area around the Council of Ministers. On the steps behind the British Embassy, leading to Dondukov Boulevard, there sat a one-legged man who had taken off his prosthesis, considerately exposing the stump of his leg for all to see. "Give me some money," the man demanded gruffly.
My friends scurried down the stairs. The man was a Gypsy, but I refrained from describing him as such.
"Is he a Gypsy?" my friends asked. "No, we don't have Gypsies in Mexico, but we do have beggars all over the place. They are organised, aren't they? There is a man lurking around the corner or perhaps sitting in an office who collects a cut of their alms, isn't there? Sometimes the women drug their babies to make them look worse than they are, don't they?" my friends said.
We proceeded on to the Women's Market, carefully avoiding the packs of stray dogs barking at passers-by alongside the Council of Ministers building.
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