Thursday, April 27, 2006

Volen Siderov

Today Volen Siderov will lead a rally in Sofia to protest the planned creation of US military bases in Bulgaria. So it is a good day to write a post about this unpleasant man.
I have no information about the pre-1989 biography of Volen Siderov, except what the paper Starshel wrote - that he was a photographer working for the militia (i.e. the communist police) in the town of Vratza. So nobody seems to know why after 1989 Siderov was appointed as an editor of the anticommunist newspaper Demokratsia ("Democracy") and later became Editor-in-chief.
Later Siderov was fired from the paper (which, by the way, exists no more) and stopped pretending to be a democrat. He started a show called Ataka ("Attack") on the cable channel Scat TV. I have had an occasional glance of his show. It is based on primitive hate of The Others - the Jews, the Gypsies, the Turks, the Americans and so on - blaming all Bulgaria's problems on them. Of course there is plenty of nationalistic talk, waiving the Bulgarian flag etc. (Unlike some other countries, e.g. USA, in Bulgaria good people don't have the habit to waive the national flag and show their patriotic feelings in public.)
During last year's election campaign, Siderov suddenly formed a political party naming it Ataka after his show. Its program followed the same pseudo-patriotic and hate-mongering pattern. In his public appearances, Siderov showed much similarity to Hitler, most likely due to careful watching of Hitler's videotapes and deliberate imitation. He used very efficiently the murder of a Bulgarian professor by Gypsies (mentioned in my previous post). His party organized rallies in the district where the murder occurred and elsewhere and promised law and order to the Bulgarians.
Days before the elections, my friend traveled in a taxi. The driver said he would vote for Ataka because he was fed up with the Gypsies. My friend asked, "If Ataka wins, do you imagine they will make the Gypsies disappear?" After some thinking, the driver replied, "You are right." But few were asking questions, and Ataka emerged after the elections as the No. 4 political force, performing better than any of the anticommunist parties. Some commentators, trying to exonerate the pro-Ataka voters, said this was a legitimate protest vote. But Starshel again offered the best comment. It was titled The headless voter (reminiscent to Mayne Reid's novel The Headless Horseman) and said that voters deserve much blame when they voluntarily choose to be headless people instead of citizens.
In the Parliament, Ataka continued with the hate talk and nothing else. However, several weeks ago an incident made headlines. I'll copy some text from the blog An Englishman in Bulgaria (
"It all started when the glorious fuhrer, Volen Siderov, was involved in a minor car crash. He was quick to make the most of it, claiming that it was a failed assassination attempt. However, after some police investigation a more plausible story emerged. Pavel Chernev, the Ataka deputy leader, was travelling with Siderov when their car hit another. Chernev got out of the vehicle and proceeded to beat up the driver of the other vehicle. This was the story until Chernev changed it - claiming that Siderov persuaded him to take the blame when it was really Siderov's driver that carried out the assault. Siderov apparently wanted to protect the driver, who was already on probation for other crimes. Chernev was allegedly paid to be the fall guy, according to nationalist MP Mitko Dimitrov. "Chernev had no money at the end of last week, but now he seems to be quite rich," he told reporters. I don't know why Chernev changed his story, but Volen Siderov is still sticking to his claim that it is all a vast conspiracy to discredit him and his party. Personally, I think he is doing a good job of this himself. "
I wish to add that the driver of the other car was a student taking his 84-year old sick grandfather to the hospital. Siderov's companion not only beat the student and reportedly the old man too, but perforated the tires of their car to prevent their eventual "escape". The boy was studying in Britain and, being out of touch with Bulgarian political life, was quite shocked. He thought he was in the hands of bandits or possibly roque cops, who in Bulgaria are sometimes difficult to distinguish from bandits.
Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that we become what we pretend to be and therefore we must be careful what we pretend to be. Siderov imitated the madman Hitler so keenly that started to behave like a madman himself. I hope this story will bring about his political demise, but one should not be too optimistic about the Bulgarian reality - here almost everything is possible.

Goodbye to Folia Biologica

The journal of cellular and molecular biology Folia Biologica (Praha) will not be published anymore. The last issue has appeared in January.
I am sorry for this. I liked the journal. And its Editors were fair to us, unlike some Western editors who fall in the mood to reject a paper as soon as they see the stamp from a place like Bulgaria. I have two articles published in the Folia, my colleagues have also published there.
I wonder why the Prague Institute of Molecular Genetics has terminated its journal. No more money, I suppose.

My niece

I have become an aunt. My beautiful little niece was born on Saturday.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Gypsies in Rasnik

Yesterday we went to Rasnik again. At the garden gate, there was un unpleasent surprise: the padlock was damaged, apparently by manipulation, and couldn't be unlocked.
"Somebody has attempted to unlock it and enter," my husband said.
"I wonder whether they have succeeded," my mother-in-law said. "We must check whether everything inside is in place. This could be expected. There used to be no Gypsies in Rasnik, but last year a family came to live here."
My husband called neighbor Vassil to ask for some instrument to cut the padlock. And we immediately learned how it had happened.
Vassil has keys of the house and has accepted the duty to keep un eye on it when we are not there. We had left some very old clothes outside to dry properly, so that to use them as rags. Vassil saw the clothes and thought we had forgotten them. So he unlocked the garden gate, collected them, but when he attempted to lock again, the padlock didn't behave normally and a small part fell out of it. (You can guess that our padlock was not top technology.)
I would not write about this minor incident if Gypsies were not mentioned. Like other Bulgarians and other Bulgarian minorities, I am not a fan of Gypsies. We have prejudice against them, and like almost all prejudice, it is firmly based on facts. Last year, about 100 meters from our home, a Gypsy was insulted and allegedly hit by Bulgarians at a cafe. He brought back a crowd of maddened Gypsies who attacked all Bulgarians at that cafe, killing a professor. (You see, I mention his degree, because if he were un unemployed man with 8 grades of educaton, somebody could say he must have been to blame.) About a week ago and a kilometer away from our home, a 22-year-old Gypsy man quarreled with several Bulgarian teenagers, took out a gun and shot at them. Three schoolboys were injured, a 14-year-old seriously.
Still, you see that when we rush to blame The Others for all our troubles, we are leaving the path to Truth and stepping onto the path to Hell.
By the way, several years ago the house in Rasnik was robbed by some young men who were not Gypsies. Two years ago, such young non-Gypsy men also wanted to rob it, but left when they saw that it was occupied. (My mother-in-law was there with her granddaughter.) Because of this incident, my mother-in-law supplied the windows with bars. I regretted it, because now the house has some similarity to a prison, and it will be harder to leave in emergency.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Department of Pathophysiology

Several weeks ago our Department of Pathophysiology was burned out. The fire started when some idiot, at a time when he was not presumed to be in the building at all, dropped a towel over an unsafe heating device. The firefighters came in time to rescue the idiot and several fellow idiots from the roof, but too late to save the building. The second floor and the roof were destroyed by the fire. Their remnants crashed onto the first floor, destroying it as well. Now, the usual story: no money to rebuild.
The Department of Pathophysiology was one of the oldest buildings in the Medical University campus. They are all beautiful, unlike the new ugly blocks of concrete, aluminium and glass, which seem to have been built by evil invaders. It would be better if one of these new buildings had been torched.
I am sorry that I have no digital camera, so I have to describe by words. The Department of Pathophysiology is in the middle of a green lawn. The grass has large spots of wild violets, you can smell their scent as you pass by. Behind, the walls of the Department stand alone. They are yellow, with gentle white ornaments, still beautiful. Most of the red tiled roof has collapsed. Through the broken windows, you can see the wreckage inside. Your heart just aches.
Update: I have added two photos (one of them in fact is two images overlaid).

Monday, April 10, 2006

A narrow escape

Yesterday we went to the village of Rasnik, where my mother-in-law has a summer house. (Rasnik is between Pernik and Breznik.)
In the afternoon I went walking with my son and my husband's niece. We were on the right side of the road to the village center. It is a street without sidewalks (one of the few similarities between rural Bulgarian and American reality). There is a small river, and the road follows a bridge over it.
We had just passed the bridge when we heard a car coming from the center. The noise indicated a very high speed. I looked and, to my horror, saw that the car was in the wrong lane. It had to drive in the right lane and, as it was coming towards us, there would be a whole lane between it and us. But now we were in great danger. We rushed to the side of the road, but had time only for a stride or two, and I had to carry my son who was not understanding the danger.
The car was driving with about 100 kph, at any rate the speed was for a highway, not for a village street. They finally spotted us and understood they could hit us. The driver tried to move to the right lane (where he ought to have been all the time), but lost control on the vehicle. It hit the right fence of the bridge, turned leftwards, hit the left fence and finally stopped.
Nobody seemed hurt, but the car had lost its shape entirely. There was broken glass everywhere, the front registration label was on the ground. The bridge fence was also damaged. The driver and the passengers, all young boys, looked at the devastation and then tried to move the car again, to no avail. I was afraid that they would accuse me, but they paid no attention to us at all. So we left the scene.
When I told the story, my mother-in-law said, "Now, they'll say that you have suddenly crossed the street and you are to blame."
But Vassil, our neighbor across the street, had no doubts that the driver was wholly responsible.
"They must thank God that they didn't fall off the bridge," he said. "People here drive as if they're mad. There is no traffic police in Rasnik, so they are not afraid of anything. Especially the young people. They drive even if they don't have a license, and even when they are drunk. Don't think it's too early in the day to be drunk - they can be at any hour. Last year, two boys on a motorcycle failed to take the turn just before the central square. They had to undergo heavy surgery, their intestines were shortened, and they still use supports to walk."
So, beware the village traffic!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Headscarves in the lecture room

During the spring holidays we traditionally make a lecture course for candidate students. It is not the type of work I like most, but it is our duty and we have nowhere to escape.
This year it was particarly awful. There were about 120 candidate students in a lecture room without loudspeakers. We literally shouted, yet our voices could not be heard past the first 3 rows of seats, provided listeners were not talking. But they resumed talking every 10 minutes, and the noise resembled that at an airport.
At the beginning, many parents were in the room escorting their children, and some girls were wearing headscarves. In an hour or two, both the parents and the headscarves disappeared. Several headscarves could be seen later only occasionally during a break, but not in the lecture room. Should this be hailed as a quick integration success?
We have never before seen candidate students with headscarves. In fact, I have repeatedly travelled to Muslim regions (e.g. last year to Dospat) and I have never seen even there a young woman with a headscarf.
So I think these ensheathed young heads are a worrying sign.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Bansko and the modernization of Bulgaria

Last week I spent 3 days in Bansko, a mountain resort in Southern Bulgaria. I had been there 10 years ago and remembered a beautiful small quiet town with intelligent hard-working people. Now I liked it again, but had some mixed feelings. It was different.
First, it was possibly twice bigger than before. And the building of new hotels continues, the whole town is a big construction site. It is not quiet anymore, the traffic is similar to that in Sofia. It is good that the hotels are not ugly, so Bansko remains a beautiful place. It just is not quite my kind of place. It has specialized for skiing, there are shops for ski equipment everywhere, but you actually cannot have a good walk in the town.
British tourists like Bansko and some British even buy property there. I just wonder how they find it - we twice took the wrong direction because of lack of labels, and the existing labels are only in Bulgarian. Perhaps somebody takes the British from the airport and drives them right there.
What's wrong with me? I wanted this town to develop, so why do I have mixed feelings now it does? Am I against modernization, a fan of backwardness? Or, as I am getting old, I am resisting any change? The truth is that I had preparing for Bansko as I remembered it, but it is said long ago that one cannot enter the same river twice. So, dear British, go skiing there - I'll look for some place where time stands still.
UPDATE Oct. 15, 2007 - I know now that my impression from Bansko was too benigh. Check the post Browsing the Black List to see why.

The DPS conference

The conference of DPS, i.e. the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (a.k.a. "the Turkish party") has ended. Of course its leader Ahmed Dogan was re-elected with an overwhelming majority more typical for North Korea. He was very angry at the media for spreading his statement that DPS is surrounded by a ring of companies, and declined to talk to journalists. But I think he has only himself to blame. He said that about the ring in front of the cameras. But when somebody's power and position are unchallenged for 15 years, no matter how insolent he is, he gradually loses self-control.
DPS is harmful to Bulgarian economy and civil society and dangerous to its national security. But there is no hope that its voters will turn their backs to it. I think that the only way to prevent DPS from doing harm is by switching from proportional to majoritarian voting system, as in Britain and the USA. Then it is likely that every time one of the major parties will have enough seats in Parliament to form a government without making a coalition with DPS and so DPS will lose its power at national level.
Anybody wanting to join my Movement for Majoritarian System?

Saturday, April 01, 2006