A likely Story

December, 2008

  1. A likely Story

    December 2, 2008 by Christopher Buxton

    Sofia Airport closed by anti government protestors
    Middle Classes in People Power Revolt
    President Purvanov’s flight re-routed to Dupnetsa

    Dressed in blue pinstripe shirts and Manchester United scarves, the men turned us back from their makeshift Audi barricade at the entrance to Sofia Airport. Despite lines of waiting police, their confidence seemed high. News had reached them that middle ranking Army and Police Officers had sent their support.

    Four days into the airport occupation and the signs are that the coalition populist government has been paralysed by this unexpected explosion of middle class wrath. The present location of Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev is uncertain, following the occupation of his residence. There are rumours that he is hiding out in the mountains close to the film set where Stefan Danailov is shooting the heavily subsidized Turkish Partizan.

    Meanwhile leaders of CRAP (Civil Restoration Anti-Mafia Party) have demanded the instant resignation of the government and the dissolution of all existing political parties. The government, which draws its support from peasants and ethnic minorities, has been accused of buying votes with rakia. Politicians from all parties have been mired in corruption scandals.

    Beneath portraits of Dimitur Berbatov, Bulgaria’s only living hero, CRAP leaders speak every day to cheering thousands of protestors occupying the Arrivals and Departures Hall. Leading light and frustrated golf entrepreneur MV pinpointed the reasons for middle class fury. “Corruption! Corruption! Corruption! We are the pariah of Europe – an execrable tribe! Our politicians buy votes so they can grab what’s best and give juicy contracts to their friends. Only Berbatov can save us!”

    The emergence of the Manchester United striker as a possible saviour has surprised many opposition leaders who now find themselves rejected by CRAP. Even on the first day of the protests Sofia Mayor Boyko Borisov turned up with a posse of Media reporters and a spade to help in the building of the first women’s barricade only to be told to fuck himself. For the Tom Jones of Bulgarian politics this was extremely hurtful.

    Back in the airport a handful of Brits sit surrounded by their luggage. Nearby a hundred strong delegation of American evangelists read their bibles. Because of the non stop noise from CRAP protestors they have not managed a hymn in four days. On Stage ageless Lily Ivanova leads choruses of Yes We Can.

    The Frustrated Brits’ counter-chorus of No we can’t seems churlish under the circumstances. They do admit that protestors have treated them well but complain that the promised cups of speciality Maika Tea never seem to arrive.

    Meanwhile there are signs that the occupation is affecting important trade links. With frontier posts also occupied, vital elements of the Bulgarian economy are under threat. Customs officials are complaining of lost revenues and legitimate businesses in cigarette, narcotics and human resources are having to lay off their fat-neck workers. Unemployment has reached dizzying heights.

    Yesterday government spokesmen were thin on the ground. In a campaign of voluntary self inflicted euthanasia, several ministers have managed to use their left feet to blow their brains out with multiple bullets. Attempts on the life of Ahmed Dogan are suspected.

    Bulgaria watchers are unable to predict the outcome of this extraordinary upheaval. In the villages government supporters are promising resistance at every kilometre provided they can retrieve the metal road signs previously sold for scrap. Mr King – otherwise known as Saxewhatsisnamovski has donated one of his mountain tops to pro government radio stations.

    Foreign Office advice to Brits planning to travel to Bulgaria is as always ambiguous. The only spokesman we could find was overcome with emotion following a briefing with Gordon Brown. We are monitoring the position closely. He said before staggering against the No 10 doorpost. Beer in Romania is not as good. I usually holiday with Spas Roussev in Montecarlo but we must not forget the needs of the poor – I mean disadvantaged – British holiday maker. The Home Office predicts an increase in alcohol fuelled crime this summer on Britain’s streets if Bulgaria continues to be closed.

  2. Response to Kapka Kassabova and Dylan Jones

    December 1, 2008 by Christopher Buxton

    It all depends on where you are sitting

    In the last few days three articles have appeared in the UK press that reflect on contrasts between culture and experience in Bulgaria and the UK.

    In ‘Britain is scarier than Bulgaria’ appearing in the Sunday Times on November 23rd, the Bulgarian born writer and poet Kapka Kassabova draws an uncomplimentary comparison between the lawless streets of weekend Edinburgh and the quiet boulevards of Sofia where the only night-time disturbance comes from stray dogs and pensioners scavenging through rubbish bins.

    The stimulus for this article may in part have originated in a question raised by a reader at the Sozopol Literary Festival presentation of Kapka’s Kassabova’s latest book Street without Name. Upset by “Chalga blaring out from every restaurant” and horrified by the indignity of being served by a “dark faced gypsy in a local café” the reader wanted to know how Kapka reacted to the “awfulness of everyday life in Bulgaria”. Instead of the expected dose of Bulgarian O Tempora O Mores, Kapka treated the woman with the lightning sketch of life in a UK city which she has since worked up into her article. Key features are drunken youths, urine soaked streets, smashed cars and the threat of a bottle in the face of any resident brave enough to come out and remonstrate.

    This picture of life in the UK will come as no surprise to any British reader, who from the comfort of his breakfast table is treated to apocalyptic stories of national decline in the Daily Mail every day. In Britain as in Bulgaria petty crime is actually falling, but the impression fuelled by dramatic headlines is different. The real target audience for this article I suspect is the Bulgarian reader who believes that Bulgaria is uniquely miserable and does not want to hear even from compatriots that life anywhere else could be worse. The UK is civilized. They live like white men there.

    Editor of GQ, friend of David Cameron and Jeremy Clarkson, author of Mr Jones’ Rules for the Modern Man, Dylan Jones is undoubtedly a white man in every Bulgarian sense of the word. In December 1st’s Spectator article: ‘How I became Bulgaria’s etiquette guru’, Jones celebrates his welcome to Sofia where his opinions were sought on every topic including the competence of the British Prime Minister. Jones goes on to describe his wonder at finding himself a hero in a land that “looks like Birmingham” but contains sufficient Berbatov look-alikes to benefit from his sartorial advice. To the Bulgarian media – hungry for his every word – he is comfortably patronizing. Not everyone looks like Borat.

    Jones has read Misha Glenny and knows about Bulgaria’s corruption problems. Bulgarians know as much about corruption as Daily Mail readers know about drunken crime. On the other hand as Jones has discovered Bulgarians are also impressed by dazzling success. Media and telecommunications mogul Spas Roussev appears in Jones’ article as a glittering socialite and more importantly publisher of Jones’ book. The fact that Roussev represents with all his extravagant wealth the aspirations of Bulgaria’s nouveau riche is good enough for the editor of GQ magazine. Therefore he is described as obviously a great man. .

    Bulgarians probably know a lot more about Spas Roussev than does Jones. In 2002 Roussev hosted a cards party on his yacht in Monaco. Players included the then Minister of Finances Milen Vulchev and the now assassinated gangster known as the Doctor. The card game became emblematic of Bulgaria’s mafia problems.

    But then the lesson from these two articles is that particular point of view is everything – whether you are flying into Sofia on a ten-seater NetJet Falcon or you are negotiating streams of urine in Edinburgh. Living in corrupt but cheap and relatively petty crime free countries has been fine for countless British ex-pats. They can sun themselves, drink cheap beer and complain about the natives while thanking their stars that they have escaped rat-hole Britain. Only a few will wake up one morning and find they have been conned out of their money and property and that there is no recourse to a legal system because they are dealing with powerful locals who are better connected.

    This is precisely the experience described in a 25th November Guardian article with the headline: A ski resort, a lost investment, and a Bulgarian murder. British Nicola West has lost her money and all hope of a dream home in the ski resort of Bansko. On top of that she has been assaulted by a mad property agent. The Bulgarian lawyer in the case shrugs her shoulders and says “C’est la vie.”