31/08/2008 by Christopher Buxton

The English are proud of their eccentricity. It has not occurred to me till recently that we have serious rivals in the Bulgarians.
On the street that my mother-in-law now inhabits, there is a table. It is set well back from the uneven pavement so that passers by, careful of their foothold, have little reason to notice any oddity.
But a Bulgarian pavement can form a frontier between worlds beyond CS Lewis’ imagining. On the one side of an invisible line is the world of pedestrian struggle involving uneven shifting paving stones and badly parked cars. On the other side in artificial gloom is the table. It sits in a dark space behind and between two tin kiosks and against an old garden fence. From one kiosk which appears to sell little beyond lemonade and those savory sticks that make gums bleed, there is a muted cacophonous stream of modern folk music.
Like so many knights posed for a Tussauds tableau, a group of men sit from morning till night, playing cards and drinking. They are rightly protected from the world of struggle for they are acolytes at a shrine that seems to date back sixty years.
Screwed securely to the fence above their heads are huge black and white portraits of the members of the first Bulgarian politburo. And there in the middle underneath a red drawing of Georgi Dimitrov himself is the oath that every child took in 1949. Fighting back the tears caused by the great man’s unlooked for death, each child promised a life dedicated to the Party’s cause, with unswerving loyalty to its every decision, bowing of course to the ultimate wisdom of Comrade Stalin.
These men are too young to have taken this oath, yet they keep this absurd spirit alive with their rakia laden breath.