Back-to-front news

August, 2010

  1. Back-to-front news

    August 27, 2010 by Christopher Buxton

    Any journalism course worth its salt will tell you that most people read the headline and perhaps the first paragraph of any news story. It should be an ethical imperative therefore to give an accurate summary of any story in the first lines. The rest is detail.

    Let us look at the Standart report on Roma Bulgarian citizens returning to their homeland after their expulsion from France. The headline reads TAXI DRIVER ACCUSES ROMA OF ROBBERY. The subhead reads This is why I don’t want to live in Bulgaria complains Sevdalina.
    The first paragraph reads:

    Bulgarian Roma who are always on the front pages of French newspapers, were on the verge of making the Criminal columns immediately on their return to Bulgaria. “They’ve robbed me! They’ve nicked my wallet with 300 Euro and 150 leva,” screamed a Varna Taxi Driver just before lunch today.”

    What is left for the Bulgarian reader but to murmur “Awful, awful,” and turn to the sports pages where at least Levski Spartak has done its bit to restore national pride in Europe.

    The small minority who continue with the story will discover that the Taxi Driver was at best mistaken and at worst a willing tool in the continuing black propaganda surrounding gypsies. Luckily before Sevdalina was put in handcuffs for the benefit of hungry journalists, the wallet was found. The screaming Varna taxi driver had forgotten it at the car wash. He was forced to mutter a grudging public apology to Sevdalina and her family.

    So the headline should have read:

    Sevdelina was well dressed and articulate. She became the spokesperson for the group who fell foul of immigration regulations and became the target of a desperate campaign to boost the popularity of French President Sarkozy. But Standart was not interested in what she had to say.

    Sevdelina, accompanied by her two boys, stated on TV that she had neither begged nor broken the law in France. She had worked legally in France for three years, her children had gone to school. She was only returning because a member of her family was ill. No-one has challenged this. The problem for the Bulgarian press was that Sevdalina proved to be the reverse of the stereotype they had expected. It is to BTV’s credit that they at least did interview her. Monitor did too – but right at the end of a back-to-front report headlined:

    Immediately after the “Frenchies” Landed in Varna

    Quite obviously the Bulgarian Media were frustrated. Here were the first Roma “to be deported” from France. The reporters crowded the Arrival Hall. What did they hope to see – Gypsies leading horses and donkeys off the French plane? At the very least an underage mother clutching a baby? They were disappointed. A group of well dressed but dark skinned Bulgarian citizens passed through Customs and faced a barrage of questions. How many Euro had they they scammed from the French. How much had they sold their daughters for in The Pigalle Slave Market? Not surprisingly they were unwilling to speak. That changed when a taxi driver accused them of stealing his wallet.

    Most reports on Bulgarian TV on Roma at home or abroad routinely start with naked children playing on rubbish dumps in front of vandalized blocks or broken shacks made from cardboard and plastic sheeting. A typical close up will feature a boy with obvious mental problems stabbing a tyre with a screwdriver. The stereotypical images reinforce a Bulgarian sense of hopelessness. The news seldom shows the increasing numbers of Roma who are in gainful employment.

    On a recent visit to Malko Turnovo where the gypsy population is close to outnumbering ethnic Bulgarians, I noticed the number of well dressed quiet Roma women sitting eating sandwiches on the central square. The only person disturbing the peace was a drunken Bulgarian. I mentioned this to my Bulgarian friend who has a positive attitude to gypsies. “Oh yes,” he said. “There’s a lot of money in forestry. Gypsies are prepared to work in forest areas where Bulgarians will not go. They’re very valued.”

    In a thoughtful article Martin Karbovski puts the French “Roma problem” in its context. He points to the Europe-wide problem of a shiftless sub-class – who are not Roma – living off benefits. He points to new efforts across Europe to engage with ill educated impoverished unemployed populations living in ghettos, supplementing state handouts with jobs in the black economy. Sadly though, in Bulgaria’s back to front world, he cannot resist opening his article with a recital of the worst Roma stereotypes.

  2. Bad human Material or in need of a good seeing to

    August 22, 2010 by Christopher Buxton

    The Politics of bad manners

    Tell the Bulgarians that they are “bad human material” and you go on to win a landslide election. Boyko Borisov can only conclude that blunt brutality combined with as many photo opportunities as possible guarantees entry into the history books as Bulgaria’s Most Popular Politician. (BMPP)

    The problem for BMPP is that he has to find ministers capable of filling the corners of Government that with his busy press schedule he is unable to reach. Once we get past the mournful Minister of the Interior and the keen bespectacled Minister of Finances, his team looks pretty thin. But one of his most extraordinary decisions was to turn a History Professor into a Minister in his government.

    Anyone who’s been to university knows what History Professors are like. They sit in their book-lined offices and pontificate about the past. They are waspish and they brook no dissent. They are jealous of their colleagues and know that their reputations depend as much on outrageous eccentricity as academic output.

    Bozhidar – the name means Gift of God – Dimitrov – a name he shares with Bulgaria’s first Communist leader – fits this stereotype. With his careerist background in the Communist party, BMPP’s decision to make him a minister had many Bulgarians gasping in astonishment and a few rubbing their hands in anticipation of many embarrassments to come.

    For Bozhidar Dimitrov was to be a Minister without Portfolio – a delightfully mysterious position – rather like a libero in an Italian football team, allowed to play his own game. Liberos though are not meant to score own goals, but it took the peppery minister a matter of days before he managed to upset the Macedonians, the Turks, Bulgarian Moslems and the extreme nationalists in his own constituency of Burgas. Still with enemies like these, you can get to be quite popular.

    Sensing a rival, BMPP moved quickly to clip his wings and define his responsibilities. Dimitrov was to become God’s Gift to the millions of Bulgarian emigrants living outside Bulgaria. These Bulgarians, who regularly send large sums back to the motherland, would now be able to turn to the Professor for help with notoriously unsupportive embassies. The problem of passport renewal gave the Minister the opportunity to share the frustration of his emigrant countrymen. However complaints about embassies merely drove him into a rage. Bulgarians in Argentina, USA and Australia should stop whingeing, take unpaid time off and get their sorry arses back to Bulgaria, if they wanted to renew their passports.

    Upsetting the diaspora is unlikely to be noticed by the locals, who face their own problems with renewal of passports. But as the Professor proved a week ago he can go the extra mile when it comes to abuse.

    Perhaps the irascible minister was trying to imitate BMPP’s calling-a-spade-a-spade approach when he called his fellow Bulgarians “This fucking nation” and went on to compare Bulgarian women with Russian prostitutes.

    It should have been so different. In his capacity of Greatest Living Historian he had come to view the casket discovered in Sozopol, and back the claim that it contained the remains of St John the Baptist. The cause of his intemperate outburst was the persistent questioning of a TV reporter daring to quote archaeological experts who had cast doubt on the greatest discovery of the 21st Century. In the ensuing rant he implied that it was typical of the fucking nation that instead of universal rejoicing at the discovery of Christ’s precursor, knives were being sharpened by fucking jealous colleagues.

    The minister’s bad mood was not improved by the sight of nubile Bulgarian women pressing into the Sozopol church, eager for a sight of the reliquary casket. It was a hot day in the seaside resort and our Minister without Modesty was quick to notice women’s nipples poking through scanty off shoulder tops in church. Out came the hurtful comparison. Russian women – even “the greatest whores” – cover up their breasts with a shawl when they enter a church.

    This lack of tact has led to a predictable outpouring of fury from the “uniquely long suffering” Bulgarian nation and an immediate appearance in the Burgas main street of grim faced young men from the Young Socialist League calling on all true Bulgarians to sign a petition demanding Dimitrov’s resignation. Spokeswomen are never hard to find and so a representative of Bulgarian womanhood has demanded a groveling apology from the minister. Bulgarian women didn’t go through five hundred years of Turkish misery to be compared to Russian harlots.

    For some, the speed to take offense exceeds that of an overtaking driver swinging out against oncoming traffic and flashing his desperate lights at death. Who would dare to deny Bulgarians the right to be angry? They have been fucked by successive regimes for the last hundred years. That’s even before we get to the previous five hundred.

    At the same time comments added to newspaper web pages show an equal number of Bulgarians eager to offer their support to the embattled Minister. What’s the fuss? He’s telling the truth! These are the self flagellating cries of the execrable tribe school of critics who are forever lamenting the shortcomings of their nation.
    Meanwhile Bozhidar Dimitrov has now been renamed Shibidar Shibinov or Fuckhead Son of Fuck. His lack of portfolio now seems irrelevant. He is just Minister without any self control or manners.

    Under attack he has fallen back on my Grandmother’s classic defense when her sharp tongue caused a massive family row. They’ve taken me up all wrong! First, he wasn’t talking about the whole nation – just the tribe of archaeologists. Second, it’s all a case of semantics.

    The Professor explains. He had used the word shiban. My Bulgarian- English dictionary gives the English equivalent as fucking – or even fucked as it is a passive form. Bozhidar states the word was not meant to be taken as pejorative. He is after all a Professor and in any unfucked nation, Professors demand respect. According to him shiban comes from the verb shibam which means to beat with a cane – nothing at all obscene!

    Well that’s all right then. Nothing wrong with a bit of Corporal Punishment. The Bulgarian nation is bent over ready for the cane, and who better to wield it than BMPP!

  3. On being invited to be a VIP book seller in Helikon Burgas

    August 19, 2010 by Christopher Buxton

    What bookshops mean to me

    I had a largely solitary childhood. My family moved too often for me to form many friendships and so I quickly gained a reputation as a voracious reader. From the age of seven, my mother would take me on her weekly shopping run to the city centre and leave me in a friendly bookshop. There I would pick a book, find some unobtrusive corner and read for the hour or two it took my mother to buy the weekly groceries. The bookseller was wise enough to recognize an addict in the making. He knew that I would save my pocket money to buy whatever took my fancy.

    So my bedroom filled with books. Christmas and Birthdays, I expected book tokens.

    As a child, I would often feed fears. Lying in bed at night, I would imagine a fire breaking out in the house. Panicky parents would be shouting to evacuate. Forget clothes and slippers! How many books could I take with me in my bare foot dash to the garden? I would imagine myself outside shivering in my pyjamas, holding desperately to my bundle of favourites, not letting them drop into the wet grass and looking up as the house burnt down, taking with it all the books that I had cruelly abandoned.

    In my teenage years I discovered second hand bookshops – the kind housed in old sixteenth century buildings with a bell on the door frame, many rooms and rickety staircases. Through the light of tiny windows I would sit on the wooden floorboards and read and read books that had long been forgotten by mainstream readers. I developed eclectic eccentric tastes.

    I love bookshops that incorporate darker corners and shelves filled with books where only the spine is visible. If a sales assistant asks me what I am looking for, I shrug happily and say I don’t know. The thrill is in finding something quite unexpected. Of course I understand that every bookshop must display its best sellers in full frontal display, but there should always be spaces for explorers like me.

    I love the new design of Helikon in Burgas and Plovdiv. Past the display tables, the packed shelves and intimate spaces offer the thrill of a treasure hunt.

  4. Student song

    August 16, 2010 by Christopher Buxton

    Buy me a great big gun
    Mummy Mummy
    Buy me a great big gun
    Mummy Mummy
    Buy me a great big gun
    I’ll go and shoot Elena down
    She had to go and cheat on me.

    Buy me a second gun
    Mummy mummy
    Buy me a second gun
    Mummy mummy
    Buy me a second gun
    I’ll go and shoot fat Georgi down
    He had to steal my girl from me.

    Buy me a third big gun
    Mummy mummy
    Buy me a third big gun
    Mummy Mummy
    Buy me a third big gun
    I’ll go and shoot myself because
    I let Elena slip from me.

    I won’t buy a great big gun
    Never never
    I won’t buy a great big gun
    Never never
    I won’t buy a great big gun
    ‘Cos we all believe in peace
    And a world that’s weapon free.

  5. Frequently asked questions

    August 16, 2010 by Christopher Buxton

    (following an article in Desant denouncing firewalking as a Satanist activity)

    Is it a sin to eat kiofteta and kebabcheta?

    Father Dimcho writes:

    Of course! The very names of these dishes should rightly arouse Christian suspicions that they belong to a hostile culture and religion. Not only is the eating of kebabcheta an insult to the memory of generations of noble Bulgarians butanyone who has completed seventh class knows the Satanic origins of kiofteta.

    Learned Professors from SKAT TV have linked kiofteta with Thracian Dyonisian orgies. The large meatballs, charred on the outside and red raw in the middle are clearly meant to resemble the coals of Hell. Patriotic readers will remember I have already written about the evil origins of fire dancing. See June’s copy of Desant.

    A few unwitting Devil worshipers in the Stranzha region dance on hot embers. Little do they realize that this rite originates in the black magician Orpheus’ s journey to the underworld in the sacrilegious desire to bring the dead back to life. But how many thousands more of our deluded countrymen dare to chew the coals of Hell without a thought for their immortal souls?

    As for the Kebabche – it is nothing less than the Ottoman secret weapon, designed to accustom free souls to slavery. From the moment lubricious houris in diaphanous shalvari, moulded the first kebabcheta between their agile fingers, Christians had to steel their hearts and block their noses. The insidious inclusion of ground Cumin was designed to weaken Bulgarian resolve. These turd shaped savoury delicacies were the reason that so many of our rich compatriots failed to respond to Botev’s call

    I shouldn’t need to remind my readers of the evil of Coffee – another Turkish abomination – which has encouraged the heretical belief that Bulgarians can read their future in the coffee grounds.

    Jesus Christ says we should love our enemies – Does this include the Turks?

    Father Dimcho writes:

    Of course not! Jesus only had Europeans in mind and everyone who has finished third class knows that Turkey is not part of Europe.

    I urge all my readers to sign the petition to have the whole Turkish peninsula moved to the Pacific Ocean. Too long has this engorged penis stuck its head into the sacred womb of the Black Sea.

    SKAT anthropologists have now proved that this sacred womb has given birth to all that is good in European Civilization. We owe a great debt of gratitude to our Bulgarian ancestor, Khan Noah, who populated the great proto Bulgarian lands from the Black Sea to the Aegean and Adriatic. His descendants include Alexander the Macedonian (shouldn’t that be Bulgarian? – ed.), The Pharos, Julius Caesar and Boyko Borisov.

    I say don’t let this alien member become coupled forever with Europe. Cut it off! Move it closer to its friend, America!

    Moving Turkey to the Pacific will put a stop to all that is evil including kofteta, Kebabcheta, shkembe chorba and especially the corruption of our Bulgarian women by high quality Soap Operas. Women who once would have thrown themselves into the sea rather than suffer the advances of a Pasha, now submit willingly to the imagined embraces of virile Turkish men from wealthy backgrounds. They even begin to imagine that Turks are just like them – only richer.

    Anathema! Anathema!