Saturday, December 29, 2007
Ahmed Dogan is the leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms DPS, a.k.a. "the Turkish Party". I have blogged about it in one of my earliest posts on Apr. 4, 2006. On Dec. 12, I wrote about Dogan's treacherous role for Bulgarian democracy. The Black List of destroyers of Bulgarian nature defines Dogan as "godfather of the Bulgarian wood mafia responsible for most wildfires in the country (and, hence, also for several deaths of firefighters in the line of duty)" owning "over 300 hotels built semi-legally in or in close vicinity to protected areas".
Bulgaria has an ethnic Turkish minority and also a Bulgarian-speaking Muslim minority. According to Wikipedia, Muslims are now 12.2% of the Bulgarian population and 9.4% of them are ethnic Turks. (We've had until recently some Turkish-speaking Christians, but they have blended with the Bulgarian Christian majority.) Unlike Muslim minorities in other European countries, which are composed mainly of recent Mideast immigrants, Bulgarian Muslim minorities are remnants of the Ottoman era. I have blogged about their origin in my last year's post Convert to Islam, or else.
After Bulgaria was granted independence in 1878, the authorities have made various attempts to re-integrate the Muslim minorities. Most of these attempts were done in an incredibly stupid way, without any respect to the people involved, and were counter-productive in the long run. The approach to the Bulgarian Muslims was especially aggressive. Bulgarian writer Chudomir in one of his stories describes how their names were changed to Christian ones. The main character is a photographer sent to a Muslim village to help the urgent preparation of new identity documents. Unable to cope properly in the short time given to him, he chooses four typical faces - with and without moustache, with and without a beard - and multiplies them for the ID papers of all residents, rebutting their protests that the photos don't look much like them. The story itself is fiction (I hope!), but it is true that the Turkish names of Bulgarian Muslims were repeatedly changed to Bulgarian ones and then allowed to be returned back. I've read (can't cite a source) that there were 7 (!) rounds of such renaming until the Communist regime took the job seriously in the early 1970s. By this time, the early resistance against the Communists had been completely crushed and forgotten, and it seemed that their rule would have no end, so people didn't protest, no matter what the regime was doing.
Encouraged with his "success" with the Bulgarian Muslims, the dictator Todor Zhivkov in 1984 proceeded to change the names also of the ethnic Turks. In the previous years, he had pampered them with a sort of affirmative action, hoping that they would express their gratitude by exporting Communism to Turkey; but they were of course very far from such intentions. So Zhivkov decided not to tolerate The Others any longer, after they weren't serving his purposes. It is very likely that the renaming was a rehearsal for an eventual similar move in the Soviet Union, where the authorities were worried by the population growth and separatist sentiments of Muslims. At any rate, it is unthinkable that a Soviet satelite like Bulgaria would do such a serious move without first receiving a go-ahead by Moscow.
The renaming of Turks was a fiasco. Because they had stayed a little aside from the mainstream political and economic life, their spirit wasn't completely crushed by the regime. So they mounted protests, which were cruelly suppressed. Many civilians were killed (the exact number isn't known to this day). To their credit, the Turks didn't resort to violence. There was only one terrorist group which bombed railway stations and trains themselves, preferring the compartments for mothers with young children. The terrorists were eventually arrested and convicted. It is notable that of the three main group members sentenced to death, two were also members of State Security, the secret service of the Communist regime. This made my mother hypothesize that they had actually been ordered by their employer to plant the bombs, duped with false promises of immunity and then sacrificed. A far-fetched conspiracy theory? Maybe, but this explains well how the group was able to organize its activity so quickly, and also why it was the only Turkish terrorist group. This incident also illustrates how the otherwise isolated Turkish minority had its elite ensnared in the tentacles of the infamous State Security.
In 1989, new protests by ethnic Turks forced the Communist regime to allow them leave the country, which was generally not considered a right of Bulgarian citizens. It is in fact quite possible that the regime itself provoked the protests, wanting to get rid of the Turks. However, here Turkey also had its word heard. It had its Bulgarian population ethnically cleansed long ago (understandably, after these Bulgarians had served as casus belli), but wouldn't accept all Bulgarian Turks, because then it would have no occasion to mess with Bulgarian affairs. About 200 thousands of ethnic Turks emigrated to Turkey in the summer of 1989 before the door closed. The ethnic Bulgarian majority, while looking at the Turks with suspicion and using the situation for its own material benefit (e.g. by buying cheap homes from the emigrants), still didn't show much nationalistic enthusiasm and silently refused to join the dictator's game. This saved Bulgaria from the fate of neighbouring Yugoslavia and weakened the regime, helping its fall in the autumn of 1989.
Ahmed Dogan, a philosophy graduate, tried some political activism in the late 1980s on behalf of his ethnic Turkish people and was jailed. I remember signing a petition for the release of "Medi Doganov" (the Bulgarized version of Dogan's name) in late 1989, without knowing who he was. He was released before the year was over. Unfortunately, he had been recruited by State Security under the alias "Sava". This fact is beyond doubt and Dogan has actually never tried to deny it. I don't know whether the recruitment happened while he was free (and, hence, having the option to refuse) or during his imprisonment. In the latter case, no reasonable person would blame Dogan much. However, recent Bulgarian history has shown that State Security agents, no matter how excusable the circumstances of their recruitment may have been, remain agents for life, continue to serve their masters in one or another way and do immense harm to our fragile nascent democracy.
In late 1989 and early 1990, two important events shaped the emerging Bulgarian multi-party system. The first one was the foundation of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, or DPS (Bulg. dvizhenie za prava i svobodi) by Dogan and other ethnic Turks, most of them also State Security agents. The second one was the acceptance of proportional representation, rather than a majority one. Fresh from the one-party dictatorship, few Bulgarians knew the plagues of the proportional rep system. As we know now, it usually fails to produce a good majority of votes and, hence, a stable government. Instead, coalitions are made based not on common political goals and principles but solely on the wish to stay in power and the necessity to make some government. These coalitions too often depend on some small party extorting its partners and changing its political bedfellows like a whore. And if the population isn't homogenous, the proportional representation system encourages tribal vote. This was exactly what happened in Bulgaria. Although the major parties tried to lure the minority vote by making concessions to the Turks and including their members in the lists, almost 100% of ethnic Turks and a large percentage of Bulgarian Muslims keep voting for DPS no matter what.
It is difficult to explain why the ethnic Turks invariably vote for DPS even after its harmful role became evident. In my Dec. 12 post, I wrote how Dogan betrayed the first democratic government in the new Bulgarian history. Later, he gave his supports to governments dominated by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (i.e. the recent oppressor of the Turks) and heavily influenced by organized crime. A friend of mine who, unlike me, has lived among ethnic Turks, thinks that they vote for DPS so that "to show their strength to the Bulgarians". I don't think it is a very wise way to show strength; it is akin to showing strength by making a hole in the hold of a ship you are travelling in. The DPS policy has a major contribution to the chronic Bulgarian poverty and I don't see how this poverty could end unless DPS is de-fanged by introduction of majoritarian representation system.
Another reason underlying the pro-DPS vote is the tobacco industry. Our ethnic Turks and Muslims traditionally live in isolated, rather backward regions. In many of them, growing tobacco is the main means of living. The poor quality of our tobacco and the primitive methods used in its growth and processing makes the industry unable to survive without being heavily subsidized. Our authorities, instead of letting it die a natural death and supporting the Muslims integrate into mainstream economy, choose the easy path by continuing the subsidies. And DPS has a major role in it. In fact, it should be expected to stay in the way of the integration of our Turks and Muslims, because if properly integrated, they are likely to stop voting for it.
Yet another reason to vote for DPS is the hope that if not I, the actual voter, then some relation of mine will benefit from the party. While keeping the majority of ethnic Turks and Muslims in poverty and isolation, DPS serves well the minority elite by giving undue protection to ethnic Turkish business and securing positions for Turks in the administration. This of course means that companies owned by Bulgarians (and other minorities) are unfairly driven out of business, Bulgarian government employees are fired to make place for (often less competent) Turks and sinecure positions are created in government agencies especially for Turks. These processes are most evident with regard to natural disasters. Recently, a special Ministry for disaster management policy was founded and given to DPS activist Emel Etem. In English, it is called "Ministry for State Policy for Disasters and Accidents", making journalists joke that it actually works to cause and perpetuate disasters, rather to control them. And this is too true. The Ministry serves mainly to syphone taxpayers' money into Turkish-owned companies that allegedly would do work to prevent similar disasters in the future but actually just take the money and don't do the work. Next time the disaster comes, the same companies receive money again. Besides, too many government positions with key role in disaster control have been given to DPS to provide its incompetent activists with comfortable lives. Unfortunately, while during the Communist era ethnic Turks were known for their hard work and professionalism in various crafts, the DPS activity has made Turkish names synonymous with incompetence and corruption.
However, I don't want to hypothesize extensively about the thoughts and motives of Bulgarian Turks and Muslims to vote for DPS. They are generally silent; they don't speak with us, don't speak to us, don't even speak at us, except by their votes. After reading Muslim blogs for years, I know much more about the mindset of Libyans, Iranians and Egyptians than about our own Turkish compatriots. So I fear that I may write something injust that I would regret later.
Anyway, even if Turks and Muslims want to vote for other parties, it is doubtful that they will still have the opportunity. Inofficial reports say that in Muslim-majority regions, the local DPS authorities have effectively put the secrecy of vote to an end, so Muslims are just forced to vote for DPS (or leave the region). Some even report that DPS forces Bulgarian Christians to vote for it, though I don't know whether it has gone that far. Also, DPS has from the beginning used rogue Bulgarians as activists in an attempt to conceal its tribal nature. A good example is Fidel Beev (note the first name!), DPS Member of Parliament and actual feudal owner of the mountain resort town of Velingrad. He is to appear before court on Jan. 25. He is accused that in 2004 as Mayor of Velingrad ordered the municipality kindergartens to be supplied with fuel by his company Beevi Bros at a higher price in violation of the law (source: Today, in Bulgarian; you can see there a photo of Beev, left).
Besides the ethnic Turks who have remained in Bulgaria, DPS relies also on the votes of those who emigrated to Turkey in 1989 or later and have double citizenship. At election time, buses bring many thousands of these emigrants to Bulgaria to cast their votes. So they have their word on the fate of a country in which they do not live, work, bring up children or pay taxes. To their credit, many of them say that they regard Bulgaria as distant past and wouldn't mess with its politics but are pressed to vote by the Turkish authorities. With its large population and geopolitical importance, Turkey is unfortunately a regional power (translation: a bully state forcing its interests down the throats of its neighbours). And it gives whole-hearted support to Ahmed Dogan and DPS. You European fools who seriously consider letting Turkey join EU, please take notice! Details about the "election tourism" can be read e.g. here.
The moral of Ahmed Dogan is so low that you may step over it without even mentioning it. Every time when he doesn't receive what he wants, he stresses that he guarantees the peace in Bulgaria and threatens with civil war. Unfortunately, Bulgarian politicians give in, although (as I pointed above) our Muslim and Turkish people actually haven't shown any inclination to violence even in their hardest times. After 1989, surviving members of the 1984-85 terrorist group built a memorial to the three executed members. Yes, the same wonderful guys who put bombs on trains, placing them between toddler seats. Dogan resisted all attempts to bring down the monument, saying that it must stay. It was recently destroyed by Bulgarian nationalists; I don't know whether it has been reconstructed. In his personal life, Dogan first married a girl half his age and then abused her, which resulted in a scandalous divorce. This not only didn't harm his political career but he later remarried without problems.
Because of his permanent success, Dogan is often praised by journalists and other commentators as being a "great politician" and "very clever". My opinion is that, while he is indeed intelligent, he owes his success not as much to his intelligence but to occupying in time a good ecological niche. If I have a subscription to unconditional ethnic vote of 10% of the population, plus the support of a neighbouring country, I guess I could also become a great politician!
Boozed by his success and impunity, Dogan in recent years began to make more and more blunders. His advisers try to control the situation by saying after each blunder that Dogan, as a philosopher, expresses deep thoughts that cannot be properly understood by simple-minded people like us. As I blogged on Apr. 4, 2006, he e.g. openly stated that "DPS is surrounded by a ring of companies" (Bulg. obrachi ot firmi). This fact was of course known to everybody in Bulgaria, plus all serious foreign observers, but it is another thing to hear it in plain text from the horse's mouth!
After this autumn's elections, Dogan made another blunder. Defending himself and his party from the allegations of vote buying (used by DPS to supplement the voluntary ethnic vote, the forced vote in majority-minority regions and the "tourist vote" from Turkey), he described vote buying as "a European phenomenon" (Bulg. evropeysko yavlenie). This outraged some Europeans and also the US ambassador. These bad Americans are messing as always!
These elections also marked the first challenge to Ahmed Dogan's authority since 1989. Former DPS Minister of Agriculture Mehmed Dikme applied to be elected as a Mayor in the Municipality of Ardino, where he had broad popular support. However, Dogan showed his force by directing to Ardino the buses with election tourists from Turkey. This way, Dogan's nominee was elected against the wish of the locals. Dikme unsuccessfully appealed the result. Part of the story is covered in English here.
Do you understand now why I put on my rubber gloves when blogging about Ahmed Dogan? Politicians aren't too charming in general, but this person disgusts me. Former rightist Prime Minister Ivan Kostov appropriately called him "the curse of Bulgaria". And I don't see any realistic prospects to have his sinister shadow removed from the Bulgarian political life. Although the recipe is rather simple: introduction of majority rep system, re-inclusion of ethnic Turks and Muslims in the lists of mainstream parties and honest dialogue with the minorities in question. As for the local DPS rule in majority-minority regions, I see no solution other than evacuation from these regions of all Christians, plus all Muslims who pursue their well-being by hard work and competence, rather than by connections, corruption and tribal activism.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Study says foster care benefits brains
By LAURAN NEERGAARD, AP Medical Writer, Dec 20
Toddlers rescued from orphanages and placed in good foster homes score dramatically higher on IQ tests years later than children who were left behind, concludes a one-of-a-kind project in Romania that has profound implications for child welfare around the globe.
The boost meant the difference between borderline retardation and average intelligence for some youngsters.
Most important, children removed from orphanages before age 2 had the biggest improvement — key new evidence of a sensitive period for brain development, according to the U.S. team that conducted the research.
"What we're really talking about is the importance of getting kids out of bad environments and put into good environments," said Dr. Charles Nelson III of Harvard Medical School, who led the study being published Friday in the journal Science.
The younger that happens, "the less likely the child is to have major problems," he added.
The research is credited with influencing child-care changes in Romania, and UNICEF has begun using the data to push numerous countries that still depend on state-run orphanages to start shifting to foster care-like systems.
"The research provides concrete scientific evidence on the long-term impacts of the deprivation of quality care for children," UNICEF child protection specialist Aaron Greenberg said. "The interesting part about this is the one-on-one caring of a young child impacts ... cognitive and intellectual development."...
In the study, U.S. researchers randomly assigned 136 young children in Bucharest's six orphanages to either keep living there or live with foster parents who were specially trained and paid for by the study. Romania had no foster-care system in 2000 when the research began.
The team chose apparently healthy children. Researchers repeatedly tested brain development as those children grew, and tracked those who ultimately were adopted or reunited with family. For comparison, they also tested the cognitive ability of children who never were institutionalized.
By 4 1/2, youngsters in foster care were scoring almost 10 points higher on IQ tests than the children left in orphanages. Children who left the orphanages before 2 saw an almost 15-point increase.
Nelson compared the ages at which children were sent to foster care. For every extra month spent in the orphanage, up to almost age 3, it meant roughly a half-point lower score on those later IQ tests.
Children raised in their biological homes still fared best, with average test scores 10 points to 20 points higher than the foster-care kids...
Nelson tells adoptive parents, "The older the child is when they leave the institution, the more likely that child may have some developmental problems and the more difficult it may be to ameliorate those problems. ... The message to parents is simply to go into this with their eyes open, but not to give up."
For the U.S. and other countries that depend on foster care instead of orphanages, the study has implications, too, because it used high-quality foster care that is not the norm in many places, Nelson noted. Studies comparing the impact of foster care of varying quality are under way.
The Romanian government requested the study and began its own foster care program shortly thereafter. Early study results are credited with influencing Romania's recent prohibition on institutionalizing children under 2 unless they are severely disabled.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
"Dec. 13 - Bulgarian journalists, working in EU member states, have condemned the abuse of their colleagues in Bulgaria in a protest letter sent to the European Commission... "Bulgaria is the only European Union member state, where mercenaries hired by underworld bosses and the authorities are persecuting journalists," the letter reads. It comes shortly after unidentified assaulters beat up a journalist from Monitor daily Assen Yordanov in the Black Sea town of Burgas. The attack has been linked to Yordanov's investigations into illegal deals with attractive property along the Black Sea coast and the vested interests of the ruling Socialist party and its ethnic Turkish junior coalition partner in Strandzha park. It came just days after the journalist revealed his findings in TV interviews. The protest letter tracks back previous attacks on free speech in Bulgaria, including the assault against Emil Ivanov, a photo reporter with the Express newspaper in Sofia, who was hit on the head with truncheons as he tried to take pictures of Mladen Mihalev, one of the most prominent underworld figures in Bulgaria..."
The next quote is from the Dnes site. It is in Bulgarian, so I am translating:
"Dec. 12 - Eight journalists from Telegraf newspaper resigned in solidarity with their colleague from Monitor newspaper Asen Yordanov who on Dec. 10 was severely beaten in the town of Burgas by four masked men. They sent a letter to BGNES agency stating that the publisher of both newspapers, New Bulgarian Media Group, refused to back the assaulted journalist. "This will guarantee the impunity of such attacks against free speech. We know that the same can happen to each of us, therefore we leave The Telegraf," the letter says... New Bulgarian Media Group is owned by Irena Krasteva, former boss of Bulgarian Sport Totalizer. She recently bought the papers Monitor, Telegraf and Politika."
Ebonie Mitchell, 16, a friend of the victim, said the conflict with her father over wearing Islamic dress came to a head at the beginning of this school year. “She just wanted to dress like we do,” she said. “Last year, she wore like the Islamic stuff and everything, the hijab, and this year she’s all western. She just wanted to look like everyone else."
‘‘She wanted to live her life the way she wanted to, not the way her parents wanted her to. She just wanted to be herself, honestly she just wanted to show her beauty, and not be pushed around by her parents telling her what she has to be like, what she has to do. Nobody would want to do that.’’— Krista Garbhet"
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
"Has a young man looking like a terrorist come to ask for me?"
I hope your interest is aroused and you will continue to read this controversial and scandalously long post, which nonetheless is one of the most important posts ever on this blog.
University education, unlike primary and secondary education, is an elitist and ability-based system. It is not for all but only for those who, besides the wish to obtain it, have the corresponding abilities assessed by an entrance exam. Unfortunately, other people also want university diplomas for themselves or their children. So there is much pressure to place in the university young people who do not really belong there. Non-privileged candidate students and their parents are always afraid that there will be tampering with the entrance exam at the expence of their children. We always reassure them that this is next to impossible and the entrance exam is fair. And we are telling the truth. The only detail is that the privileged children do not need such tampering... because it is much easier to bypass the entrance exam altogether. Let me explain how this is done. I am afraid that this could give somebody the needed know-how to smuggle his child into the university, but on the other hand, these tricks are already well known by those able and willing to use them.
The simplest and most legitimate method to bypass the entry exam is to study in another country. All universities known to me have much tougher admission rules for local that for foreign students. As I wrote in a comment to an earlier post on this subject, a very important problem is "the double standard of our educational system, regarding the local students as the country's future elite and the foreign ones as a mere source of revenue. I guess that a lot of countries do the same and, as a result, the good-for-nothing but ambitious young people from each country go to study somewhere else and then return triumphantly with diplomas." Many foreign students have admitted to me that they have come to study in Bulgaria after, and because of, failing to meet the admission requirements of universities in their home countries. To enrol as a preparatory student in a Bulgarian university, a foreigner needs only to pay the tuition fee and supply some high school diploma (which in some cases later turns out to be forged). In the preparatory year, the foreign students are "learning Bulgarian and some secondary-school-level biology. To become full-right freshmen, they have to do a multiple choice test of biology in Bulgarian. This test is a joke; it serves just to fulfill the requirement of our law that nobody becomes a university student without an entrance exam" (the quote is from the same Sept. 20, 2006 post).
Among our foreign students, good learners are so rare that they become celebrities and are remembered for long. The general level of performance is shockingly poor. When I have expressed concern that our university is teaching people not really fit to become doctors, officials reassure me with words like, "Don't worry, they will return to practice in their countries of origin." This drives me nuts. First, nobody can guarantee where the graduate will settle, and second, isn't the country of origin also populated by human beings deserving proper medical care? A colleague jokes that we must issue diplomas "pro Orienta". Such diplomas were allegedly given by some colonial powers to professionals considered fit to practice only in the colonies but not in the mother country (can't find a Web source to check this).
Of course, allowing the presence of foreign students with very poor academic records is also a threat to national security. Any smuggler, pimp, drug trafficker or terrorist with secondary education can pose as a student for years. So I fear that our laws concerning this matter will be reconsidered only if some foreign "student" blows himself up in the Sofia subway because of e.g. unhappiness about the Bulgarian troops in Iraq. But even if this doesn't happen, the situation is troubling enough because bad doctors, although less feared than terrorists, on average have a higher human toll.
Children of mixed marriages with double citizenship are most privileged. They can apply for Bulgarian universities as Bulgarian citizens and, if admitted, can study with the corresponding low tuition fee. If they fail, they can use their foreign citizenship to enroll as foreign students. This was the case of the above mentioned "Bozhidar". After receiving a non-passing grade at the mainstream entrance exam in July, he enrolled as a Spanish citizen in September of the same year! (I don't really know if one of his parents was Spanish, but I suppose this to be the case, because I hope Spain doesn't grant instant citizenship just because some foreign kid with poor grades wants it.)
Most of our foreign students don't return to their countries before finishing their study, presumably because the universities there don't allow such transfers. However, Bulgarian students enrolled in foreign universities are typically transfered to Bulgarian universities after a year, a semester or even a month or two of study. As I wrote before in my Aug. 4, 2006 post, "Because the above mentioned candidate student exam is very difficult, some bypass it, usually by spending a semester or a whole academic year in a foreign university and then transfering to our Medical University. These students are usually children of renowned doctors, politicians or rich people. They can be recognized because, although they are Bulgarians, they have faculty numbers as if they were foreigners. I don't like this sneaking into the University through the back door, I wouldn't allow it if it depended on me."
It is a paradox that our law doesn't easily allow transfer of students between Bulgarian universities yet allows transfer of students from foreign to Bulgarian universities. So we are "supplied" with Bulgarian students with almost as poor performance as the above mentioned foreign students. Here, the comfortable thought that they will practice (and, hence, damage people) elsewhere is not valid.
Some students in this category can manage the paperwork in such marvellous way that they can be transfered from a university in another country without actually having been in that country. I remember, in particular, some pharmacy students we had years ago. There were some positions reserved for ethnic Bulgarian students from Ukraine and Moldova. Programs designed to encourage ethnic Bulgarians in other countries to "keep and develop their Bulgarian identity" always make me laugh, because at the same time thousands of productive people with unquestioned Bulgarian identity leave the country every year because of lacking perspectives. The curious thing about that particular program was that almost all of its positions were actually occupied by children of privileged Bulgarians who were "transfered" from Ukraine or Moldova without having even visited these countries. The program was later terminated as quietly as it was introduced.
Last, a track used sometimes to enter the university through the back door is disability. Our law allows not only accommodations for disability (e.g. oral instead of written entrance exam) but also lower admission grades for disabled students. This makes some sense but is a double-edged sword. First, we have had students with "disabilities" only at the time of the entrance exam, never before or after it. Second, even if the diagnosis is not forged, can a young person who isn't really qualified to study medicine become qualified by having albinism or diabetes? We have had such students as well. Anyway, the disability track is relatively unimportant, compared to those listed above. It worries me just because it may in the future make it impossible to expell even the most incapable students - after all, intellectual ability below a certain level is also a disability.
Once admitted in bypass or plain violation of the rules, the foreign and quasi-foreign students continue to violate the rules. They are often absent from mandatory classes, sometimes from more than half of the classes. Then they appear and demand from us to certify their attendance. We have to lose our precious time to do with them individually the work they have missed. The above mentioned "Bozhidar" was a good example. Bozhidar is a not too rare Bulgarian male name meaning "God's gift". The Bulgarian-Spanish student in question had another name but we nicknamed him Bozhidar because he was God's gift (irony!) to our Department. And when such students do attend classes, the teaching process is disrupted as it can be disrupted only by the presence of unteachable people in the classroom.
Somebody may ask, well, even if you admit students with very poor academic abilities, why are you so worried? They will receive non-passing grades at later exams and will leave the university. Alas, it is not so easy. These students persevere. They demand new examination dates, fail again and demand still more dates. They sometimes try to bribe or intimidate their teachers. Years ago, I witnessed an absentee female Greek student to demand certification of attendance from her visibly pregnant assistant. The student was accompanied by a boyfriend who told my colleague that she must give the signature or else "will have problems". This case indeed was extreme, but it is a rule that each of the good-for-nothing students has a small NATO behind him. In the most innocent cases, officials from our buraucracy ask the professors to let the foreign students pass the exam because otherwise "they will leave the University and we will lose their much needed tuition fees". Of course this attitude is well known among the students. A Greek absentee student once angrily told me that I must give him what he wanted because he and people like him "pay my wage". And even when an incompetent student gives up on passing our exam, there is an additional stratagem. He moves to a Medical university in another Bulgarian city, passes the problematic exam... and then returns to the Sofia Medical University because our diploma is more prestigious!
Let me now, at the end of this post, turn directly to the young people in question, in case some of them are reading. You will most likely have it your way and receive a diploma. On it, there will not be written how you have entered the university. Using the same money and connections that smuggled you into our University, you will surely be able to start a practice, replacing some more competent doctor. Will this make you happy? Some of your patients will find out too late who you are and will curse you. You will become a subject of hatred and a laughing matter. More importantly, you will know who you are and this will eat you. It will even leave a mark on your face. It is true (and it isn't racial profiling) that a surprising number of our back-door students don't look like students at all. They look like criminals and terrorists because, like criminals and terrorists, they break the rules for their own benefit. Why don't you say farewell to this fate? There is somewhere a field fitted for you, awaiting your realization. You will not starve and will have the people's respect. I don't think cheating has ever made anyone happy. The choice is yours.
UPDATE: On Apr. 6 and 7, 2008, NTV channel reported that a corruption scheme existed to grant medical specialty to medics who actually hadn't really done a residency. The story began with a doctor whom I'll designate only with her initials, L.H. Before her state final certification examination, too many important people phoned to members of the examination commission. As a person from the commission said, "The Holy Synod (of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church) was the only institution from where nobody called us to warn how important was that L.H. does her exam successfully." These too intrusive intercessors eventually made a sad work of it, because the commission members became suspicious and decided to look thoroughly at L.H.'s papers. It turned out that the papers were forged. The scheme was based on allegedly doing the residency in another city (in this case, Varna) and only finishing it in Sofia. L.H., when contacted by reporters on the phone, refused to answer the simple question whether she had done her residency in the city of Varna. In reality, she hadn't done it anywhere.
Commenting the case in NTV studio, an activist for patients' rights asked, "Do you imagine what happens when such untrained, incompetent doctors with made-up residency begin practice? They can literally kill people. Recently, a doctor's "residency" of only 6 months in Ukraine was recognized by our institutions and he was granted the specialty of Anaesthesiology. He began practice and this soon led to the death of a patient."
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
The photo shows Angela Davis in 2006 (source: Wikipedia).
I have just discovered that Bulgarian universities in some respects are superior to American ones. Do you know why? Because students in Bulgarian universities don't risk having Angela Davis as a professor, as students at the University of California do. And Web sites of Bulgarian universities don't praise Davis as this University of Utah Web page does.
The Davis subject touched me as I was browsing Bulgarian blogs and found a questionnaire to check whether you are "a dear child of socialism raised in the 1970s" (I am). One of the questions was "Have you admired Angela Davis's haircut?". An apparently younger commenter asked who Angela Davis is and the blog host gave a link to her Wikipedia page.
Angela Davis, a US black Communist extremist, was tried 35 years ago after her gun was used by other people who attacked a courtroom and killed a judge. During her trial, John Lennon, who never uttered a word in support of Gulag prisoners or other innocent victims of oppression around the world, devoted a song to her, illustrating an aphorism of Bulgarian poet Atanas Dalchev that "unfortunately, talent is often unaccompanied by either personality or intellect". She was acquitted and Vladimir Bukovsky used her case to prove that Western courts often let Communists get away with crimes that would surely send a non-Communist to prison.
As a "dear child" (i.e. survivor) of socialism, I knew all this before. What was news for me in Angela's Wikipedia page was that "She has lectured at San Francisco State University, Stanford University and other schools. She is currently the Presidential Chair and Professor with the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz and director of the Feminist Studies department." If Davis was a genius in, say, mathematics or chemistry, then allowing her to become a university teacher, though still controversial, would make some sense. But WTF "History of Consciousness" means? Thankfully, Wikipedia gives a link showing that it is "an interdisciplinary graduate program in the humanities with links to the sciences, social sciences, and arts at the University of California at Santa Cruz... Perhaps the best-known graduate of the program is Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party. Newton received his Ph.D. in 1980."
Back to Davis's page, we read, "A principal focus of her current activism is the state of prisons within the United States. She considers herself an abolitionist, not a "prison reformer," and refers to the United States prison system as the "prison-industrial complex." Her solutions include abolishing prisons and addressing the class, race, and gender factors that have led to large numbers of blacks and Latinos being incarcerated."
However, Prof. Davis's abolitionist views don't apply to prisoners in some other countries. The same source reports, "Russian dissident and Nobel Laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn criticized Davis's sympathy for the Soviet Union in a speech he delivered to the AFL-CIO on July 9, 1975 in New York City, claiming hypocrisy in her attitude toward prisoners under Communist governments. According to Solzhenitsyn, a group of Czech dissidents “addressed an appeal to her: `Comrade Davis, you were in prison. You know how unpleasant it is to sit in prison, especially when you consider yourself innocent. You have such great authority now. Could you help our Czech prisoners? Could you stand up for those people in Czechoslovakia who are being persecuted by the state?' Angela Davis answered: 'They deserve what they get. Let them remain in prison.'”
This is in contrast to the claims in the above mentioned Utah University page: "Angela Y. Davis is known internationally for her ongoing work to combat all forms of oppression in the U.S. and abroad."
The same page, below: "During her sixteen-month incarceration, a massive international "Free Angela Davis" campaign was organized, leading to her acquittal in 1972." Please mention that the source actually admits that Davis was acquitted not because she was innocent but because the jury caved in under external pressure. I would draw an analogy between the Davis and the O. J. Simpson trials.
And a last quote: "Former California Governor Ronald Reagan once vowed that Angela Davis would never again teach in the University of California system. From 1994 to 1997, she held the distinguished honor of an appointment to the University of California Presidential Chair in African American and Feminist Studies."
Amen. What implications has this for the ongoing "war on terror"? To combat terror by giving degrees and department chairs to terrorists? Because then they will be busy teaching history of consciousness, African American studies, feminist studies and other woo stuff to the unfortunate students and will have no time left for actual terror activities? Maybe it will work.
I am more outraged and disgusted that my words can express.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
As an anti-Communist and a person unwilling to rely on government for everything, I consider myself a rightist and vote right. Unfortunately, the right part of the political spectrum is in a deep crisis and has been so for years. This is one of the posts I am writing because I "must" write it, not because I enjoy writing it. I am doing it with a heavy heart because it calls grim thoughts about Bulgaria's past and future. To begin with, do you remember the finance minister Plamen Oresharski who during the teachers' strike deliberately protracted the negotiations and called them "village party"? He was at one time in 2003 nominated as a rightist candidate mayor of Sofia. Does this need a comment?
After the one-party Communist rule in Bulgaria ended in 1989, the main rightist political force in Bulgaria has been the Union of the Democratic Forces (Bulg. Sayuz na demokratichnite sili, abbreviated SDS). It did surprisingly good job, considering the fact that it was actually conceived by the Communist Party and the secret services. Most of the time of course SDS has been in opposition. At the parliamentary elections in 1991, it received a little more votes than the Bulgarian Socialist Party and formed a minority government supported by Ahmed Dogan's "Turkish Party" DPS. However, the next summer Pres. Zhelyu Zhelev, who was also from SDS, betrayed his people and called for a campaign to overthrow the government. This campaign was carried out viciously by the media, the trade unions (who organized an endless succession of strikes) and finally by Dogan, who withdrew his support from the government and gave it, as he said himself, "a DPS kick". Prime Minister Filip Dimitrov in late 1992 turned to the Natonal Assembly (the Bulgarian Parliament) for a confidence vote, didn't obtain it and resigned. The media presented it to the public as if Dimitrov had irresponsibly "surrendered the power" himself. Almost nobody broadcasted, heard or remembered Dimitrov's explanation that "you just cannot for more than two months rule a parliamentary republic against the will of the Parliament".
In early 1997, the unprecedented economic crisis created by the Videnov's Socialist government led to widespread riots and midterm elections. They brought to power the second (and so far, last) rightist government in recent Bulgarian history. It had an absolute majority of seats in Parliament to rely upon and did not depend on treacherous allies like Ahmed Dogan. This allowed it to have a full term. I remember it as a reasonably good government. However, it is important to remember that Bulgarians had elected it, as my brother said, "not because of having suddenly become intelligent or freedom-loving but merely because there had remained literally nothing to eat in the country". In other words, Bulgarians dislike good people and sound policies and will vote for them only in rare moments of national disaster. After being rescued from the world of hyperinflation, monthly salaries equivalent to $ 3-4 and bread disappearing from shops, they began to dislike the government. Not that it was perfect, but they disliked its good features and blamed it for them, or for imaginary sins.
The media demonized the government and particularly the Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, leader of SDS. It is strange how people tend to believe what they are told, rather than what they are actually experiencing. This well-known phenomenon underlies commercial advertising, placebo effect and, of course, political propaganda. Showered by every paper and TV channel with assertions how bad the government was, even intelligent people began to talk seriously about a "SDS failure" in governing, without of course explaining what this failure was. President Petar Stoyanov, who was from SDS, betrayed Prime Minister Kostov in a way similar to Pres. Zhelev' betrayal of PM Filip Dimitrov in 1992. When election time approached, voters began to look for some nasty person with quack promises in order to elect him. So in 2001 Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha came out of the blue and won a landslide victory.
Being in opposition isn't very healthy for a political party, at least in Bulgaria. There was a tradition for SDS leaders to resign after losing elections. So Ivan Kostov stepped down and the party leadership was given to Nadezhda Mihaylova, a person with mediocre abilities combined with giant craving for power. In one of my posts about the HIV trial in Libya, I wrote, "Foreign minister in Kostov's government was Nadezhda Mihailova, a lady who did much harm to the Bulgarian democracy (Bulgarian readers know that I don't mean the Libyan case alone). She not only didn't hold to any moral principles, but evidently had too little intellect for the positions she occupied and used this intellect exclusively to enrich her family. Historians will (hopefully) reveal what brought her to the top of Bulgarian politics and kept her there for so long."
As a SDS leader, Mihaylova made too many blunders to list, so I shall mention just the one I find most serious. After priest Stefan Kamberov, supporter of democracy, was beaten to death by two pro-Communist priests in 2002, she took the side of the murderers.
The 2003 local elections were a fiasco for SDS. The party failed to win even in its stronghold, the capital Sofia. According to the tradition, Mihaylova had to resign but she refused. Discontent grew among SDS members and supporters at grass-root level. Activists expelled from the party formed an "association of citizens" called Dialogue. Craftsmen signed an appeal for less government intervention in economy and lower taxes that was published in the Pro & Anti paper. All these people called to Ivan Kostov to leave SDS and to form a new party.
He had no choice but to do it. A new party, Democrats for strong Bulgaria (DSB), was founded. Unfortunately, things went wrong. Ivan Kostov was, and still is, a very strong personality. People like him tend to dominate and not to let other strong personalities around. If such a person is a party leader, he is likely to make the party a leader-type one. That is, even supporters of the party (like me in this case) have difficulties naming distinguished members of the party. Where are the Dialogue people, where are the craftsmen? They have been driven away.
What remained of SDS didn't develop better. Mihaylova clutched to the leader's chair for so long that a journalist and SDS member joked that apparently a NATO operation was needed to remove her. Finally, she resigned. Former President Petar Stoyanov (who had lost the 2001 presidential elections to Georgi Parvanov) took the leadership. And surprisingly, only several months before the local elections Stoyanov was "convinced" to resign and Plamen Yurukov was elected as SDS leader. I know nothing about Yurukov except what I read in The Guerilla's blog. I'll translate almost all of his July 30 post:
"Why SDS has no chance
'I don't remember. When you buy such a thing you immediately forget the price. Pleasure has no prime.' This was the answer of Plamen Yurukov, the new SDS leader, when Express (paper) asked him about the price of his new car Maserati Quattroporte.
In a normal country, such a purchase followed by such a statement means immediate political suicide. In Bulgaria, it means a slow political suicide. In other words, at the next elections SDS will have fewer votes than members."
A commenter wrote, "What's bad in this (answer)? The man has a successful business and has bought himself a nice car." The Guerrilla replied, "If "the man" had answered, 'I have a successful business which is... and the legal profits from it allowed me to buy this car which costs xxxxx leva, then he might have some future as a politician and SDS as a party, but he answered the way he prefered to answer..."
I have nothing to add.
And then, a month before the local elections, DSB and SDS in Sofia formed a coalition and nominated a common candidate mayor. This was good, with one "small" exception - the choice of the candidate.
In the pre-election Oct. 19 post on my Bulgarian blog, I wrote, "I don't truly like any of the candidates. In such a situation you vote for the one who seems the least evil. For Sofia, this is Martin Zaimov. Yes, I know the objections against him. I also don't like his tainted and troubled family history and (as a result) personal biography. I dislike his expensive campaign, his nervous communication style, his magician's posture ("I know everything, I can do everything, I have money for everything"), his desire to be liked by everybody and his refusal to answer unpleasant questions. But for whom (else) to vote?"
There is a rumour that Ivan Kostov was personally responsible for Zaimov's nomination. If this is true, I think Kostov must resign and leave the political landscape for good. I'll even add, as the politically incorrect Bulgarian saying goes, that he deserves a good beating for this.
Why? First, because of Martin Zaimov's origin. He is grandson of Vladimir Zaimov, a general sentenced to death and executed in 1942 for being a Soviet spy - the only Bulgarian general ever convicted of espionage. During the Communist era, Gen. Zaimov was of course regarded as a hero, had an important street and a park in Sofia and other objects named after him. His family members enjoyed privileges. Because in Bulgaria being rightist means first and foremost being anti-Communist, it was a folly to nominate Vladimir Zaimov's grandson as a rightist candidate, especially in Sofia which is an anti-Communist stronghold and where the Zaimovs have lived in front of people's eyes.
Well, you'll say, a person isn't responsible for what his grandfather did. This is a valid point and I tried to make it to my father. But his answer was also valid: "Although such an ancestor isn't your fault, he is a part of your social heritage, and a part that you cannot brush aside. If you are in this position, it is only decent to stay away from politics."
Events that followed proved my father right and me wrong. Martin Zaimov, when asked about his grandfather during the campaign, tried to convince people that the latter actually hadn't been a Soviet spy and his death sentence was a miscarriage of justice. Some "helpful" historians and rightist politicians tried to perpetuate this new version of history, which was perceived by the anti-Communist voters as an additional insult. (Gen. Zaimov's treachery is proven beyond any reasonable doubt. Immediately after his execution, a military ceremony was carried out in the Soviet Union as a tribute to him. The only detail still worth discussion is what was more important for his motivation - his leftist and pro-Russian views or the money he received.)
Martin Zaimov's opponents of course used his mistake well. They not only kept talking about his granddad but used their positions in the Sofia Municipality Council to restore the name of the Vladimir Zaimov park (which had been renamed to Oborishte after 1989). Martin Zaimov was against this change but he lacked solid arguments because he had whitewashed Vladimir Zaimov himself. After all, if the general hadn't really been a traitor, why not name a local landmark after him? Now, the park will carry the traitor's name long after the entire Martin Zaimov's campaign is forgotten!
The family problems don't end with the grandfather but continue into the next generation. Vladimir is the maternal grandfather of Martin. Martin is the son of Vladimir's daughter Klaudia. Then, why does Martin carry the Zaimov family? Maybe in some cultures it is normal to inherit the mother's family but in Bulgaria this indicates troubled family history. Klaudia Zaimova worked in Geneva and met there Martin's father, British journalist Michael Goldsmith. Little is known about this man, Martin and his campaign team avoid talking about him. Martin's Wikipedia page states that "the mother gave her son the well-known Zaimov family". Some inofficial sources, however, say that he used his father's family when this would be beneficial - in some Western and Jewish circles (Goldsmith was a Jew). This is just a rumour but I make a connection with Martin's strange reluctance to show his diplomas - it would be easy to explain if they carry the name of Martin Goldsmith.
Klaudia Zaimova was in Geneva to work for an UN institution. The family was always privileged during the Communist regime. Unfortunately, Martin Zaimov tried to deny this and in his blog said he was a nevazvrashtenets - so were called the people who had left Bulgaria for political reasons and were refusing (and not actually allowed) to return. Martin's British citizenship and family position allowed him to escape the military service mandatory for all non-disabled men of his generation.
I have noticed a long time ago that there are people who bury in secrecy the most basic facts of their life, such as their education and family status, and this is a sure sign that the person doesn't deserve to be trusted. This is quite true for Martin Zaimov, where the uncertainty begins with his name. It continues with his educational degree. He reportedly has studied technology in Sofia and economics in London but refuses to show his diplomas. After former PM Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and other politicians claimed to have degrees they actually hadn't, the Bulgarian voters are understandably reluctant to believe such claims unsupported by documents. I would also add that a person born in Geneva to a Bulgarian and a British parent has the right to enroll as a foreign student in any university in the world, so even if he has graduated, his diploma wouldn't weigh as much as that of the other graduates of the same university. Indeed, he did a good job as a head of the currency board introduced in 1997.
Possibly the most unclear aspect of Zaimov's life is his family status. You can search and compile different sources for a day and you'll still be unable to say how many children Zaimov has from how many women and whether he has ever been married to any of the mothers.
During the election campaign, Zaimov displayed nervousness and communication problems that seemed to be partly inherent to his personality and partly due to the situation - after being pampered and cushioned for all his life, now he was for the first time on his own. This was in stark contrast with the confident stance of his rival Boyko Borisov who has many sins but also the merit of a man building his success himself. Zaimov also made the mistake that Petar Stoyanov had made before him - an attempt to appeal to everybody. He even refused to state what his sexual orientation is, possibly fearing that homosexuals would dislike him if he stresses on his heterosexuality.
The results of Zaimov's nomination were inevitable and disastrous. The rightist Bulgarian voters don't like communist nomenklatura offspring, don't like privileged boys who escape the Army, don't like fathers refusing to marry their children's mothers and don't want to be ruled by people coming from abroad. I was an aide to a strongly anti-Communist disabled voter. He disliked Borisov but voted for him, saying that it was unthinkable for a person with his anti-Communist views and background to vote for Zaimov. This seems to have been the case with many. Borisov received 53% of votes, Zaimov only 18% and a friend of mine (who, like me, had voted for Zaimov) told me that she liked the result because she expected even a worse one! After losing the elections, Zaimov predictably failed to meet his defeat with dignity.
I am afraid that this post became unfair to Zaimov. Most likely he didn't push himself to be a candidate mayor but was convinced by rightist politicians such as Kostov. And if not anything else, we must acknowledge Zaimov's courage to enter and fight a lost battle. I wrote so extensively about (against) him in order to attack not him but the politicians who nominated him. A commenter wrote on my above cited post that "Martin is the greatest disgrace of the rightists". Sadly, this is true.
Indeed, the political stagnation in Bulgaria led to a severe shortage of people fit to be nominated. As Marfa wrote, "campaign teams began literally scraping the bottom of the marsh, hoping to retrieve some not quite unknown life form." And perhaps Martin Zaimov was chosen because of his expertise in finance. After all, some economic and governing expertise is necessary for the mayor of a capital city populated by 1.5 million. Unfortunately, 18 years after democracy was restored, in many fields we still lack experts with non-Communist background!
But more important than expertise is electability. Once elected, a mayor could hire some experts, while an expert disliked by the voters will never make it to the position and so will not have a chance to use his expertise. Perhaps the biggest problem of our rightist politicians is their disrespect to the voters. You cannot neglect and scorn the voters in a democracy without being severely punished by them.
How to save the vital right part of the political spectrum? I am not the only one who thinks that a new party must formed by the few decent current rightist politicians such as the SDS member of Parliament Martin Dimitrov. This party should be open to all citizens with rightist views who now stay aside, alienated and often expelled by the two current parties. Will it come to life? I am pessimistic. In Bulgarian politics, what should happen rarely happens in reality.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Thursday, December 06, 2007
The WAV and MP3 files of longer lullabies are truncated because Sound Recorder offers you only a minute to record. There must be an option to lenghten the time but I didn't find it. I am quite challenged by computer technology (in fact, to be honest, by any technology). I struggle with programs the way a pig struggles with a pumpkin.
I am afraid that by these musical files, I created too much work for my brother who is Webmaster of my site (and also pays the fees for the domain name and the hosting). But he did a great job. I like very much the way he allowed listening to the songs and downloading them. He also found for me the program MidiPiano which allows you to create instrumental MID files right on the computer, without the trouble to play on an actual instrument and record. If I knew this option, perhaps I wouldn't bother to sing and record. Especially after I am such a poor singer. (When I was in 1st grade, after singing a song in front of the class for the first time, a classmate said, "Maya, how is it possible that your parents are musicians yet you are unable to sing?" This was quite rude of course and discouraged me to develop my singing abilities. On the other hand, listening to some popular singers, I often regret that they apparently hadn't such a frank classmate in 1st grade.)
The MID files will be uploaded soon, most likely next week.
Several days ago, my father remembered the prison church. Until 1950, priests in magnificent Orthodox vestments were allowed to read sermons there. The church was beautifully decorated. Inmates serving sentences in the first half of the 20th century had painted murals on the walls. They were excellent, although the prisoners were amateur artists. My father remembers, in particular, a Christ walking on water painted by Anton Prudkin. This interesting person was naturally drawn to the sea theme because he was a sailor. He was a terrorist and Russian agent and this was why he was jailed from 1925 to 1936 and later executed in 1942. However, he was not entirely evil. In 1939, he was captain of a ship that sailed 3 times between Bulgaria and Palestine, bringing there more than 2000 Jewish refugees.
In 1950, the religious freedom in the Sofia Central Prison was put to an end. The church walls were whitewashed with lime. (The Bulgarian reader will remember the moment in Ivaylo Petrov's novel Wolfhunt where the Communists led by Stoyan Kralev burn the icons of the village church.)
What is remarkable, the prison authorities themselves were clearly reluctant to destroy the murals. The chief jailer in front of some inmates scratched the newly formed lime layer with his fingernail and said, "Oh there is no problem. It will be easily scraped away." (The Communist regime often abolished the acts of folly it had ordered itself, sometimes quite shortly after imposing them.)
However, in this case the order was not cancelled. My father was transfered to another prison and had no more first-hand information, but other former inmates later told him that the lime layer had become tight and impossible to remove. My father wasn't surprised because he knew that lime becomes more and more stable with time. As he explained to me, this happens because calcium oxide takes up carbon dioxide from the air and turns into calcium carbonate.
At one moment, the former church reportedly became room for executions.
What has been its fate in recent years? I have no idea but I think that experts in chemistry and restoration must know a way to remove even an old, tight lime cover without much damage to the underlying paintings. But more than half a century later, does the prison personnel include even one employee who knows about the murals? And would anybody care?
There is little time to restore the prison art and capture the images. The municipal authorities of Sofia have scheduled the Central Prison building for demolition.