Bulgarian achievers honoured at home and abroad

bulgarian inventor of the computer

John Atanasoff – Bulgarian inspiration, innovator and inventor

It’s been quite a week for prestigious awards being made to Bulgarians.

The Atanasoff Award (Bulgaria)

This award, to commemorate John Atanasoff, has been awarded annually since 2003 by the President of Bulgaria. Atanasoff is considered the inventor of the computer, though his name unfortunately seems hardly known outside Bulgaria.[1]

The award is made to promote the achievements of young Bulgarian researchers in the fields of information technology and ICT.

This year, on 4th. October (Atanasoff’s birthdate in 1903), President Rosen Plevneliev presented the main award to Dr. Dimitar Zhechev, a pioneer in cryptography and information security, currently a professor at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), and coordinator of one of the largest EU informatics projects.

In addition, the President conferred ‘Atanasoff Charters’ on two other young scientists.

Dr. Ivelina Stoyanova is involved in the automatic detection and tagging of modern lexical units in the Bulgarian language in order to develop systems for content management.

Dr. Ivan Dimov works in an even more arcane professional environment. His PhD thesis was entitled “Configurable and up-scalable microfluidic life science platform for cell based assays by gravity driven sequential perfusion and diffusion” . Clear?

Currently based in Chile, pursuing his latest professional interests, Dimov was born in Bulgaria, before his family eventually (and circuitously) moved to Chile. He has studied in Ireland, France and the United States, and is currently involved with UC Berkeley and Stanford University, where he is a visiting Instructor in the Stem Cell Institute.

Dimov has 7 scientific patents to his credit, 2 of which have been adopted for commercialisation. Specialist papers and publications number more than 25; he has worked on several major development projects in his field; contributed to numerous international conferences from Chile and the US to Korea; and has started up 2 innovatory companies in the past 3 years.

His specialisms have included: autonomous vehicles and mobile robots; brain research – how the human visual cortex processes signals from the eyes; and, more recently, development of a new technology to measure the expression of genes in tens of thousands of single cells.

His research and development has been intensely practical, particularly to the medical and healthcare professions. Additionally, Dimov set up a system to improve the technological processing and coordination of equipment to both improve patient diagnostics and lower costs of operation.

All this, and Dr. Dimov is 31 years old.

Declaration: Ivan is the son of one of my wife’s ‘old’ school friends, Eli, with whom we are regularly in contact. His mother (and the rest of the family) must be feeling justifiably proud of Ivan’s considerable achievements, as we are. Congratulations, Ivan!

Europe in my Region (European Union)

Simeon Mitkov and Boyan Ivanov were both announced as prize-winners in a European photo competition. They will collect their prizes on 9th. October.

The competition was in two parts: ‘My project’ (for organisations that have benefited from EU regional funding) and ‘Eyewitness’ (open to persons living in the EU who depict a project either in their own region or one observed when visiting another region).

Mitkov won in the first category with his depiction of the recently-unveiled Roman restorations in the heart of Sofia, calling them “an open-air museum, seen daily by the residents and the thousands guests of the city.”

Ivanov gained his award for his humane portrait of a group of Roma children involved in a project in the Rujincy Municipality (N.W. Bulgaria, near Belogradchik) where the Roma population – 70% of the municipality – received opportunities for education, training and desegregation.[2]

International Short Story Award (BBC, United Kingdom)

Earlier this week, Bulgarian author Miroslav Penkov won the BBC International Short Story Award for his entry ‘East of the West’.

Penkov received a £15,000 prize, in a competition that was extended this year to include international writers, in honour of the London 2012 Games.[3]

The judges  were unanimous in their selection of Penkov’s story, which is set during and after the Cold War in Bulgaria.

According to the organisers, East of the West “explores the difficulties of love, relationships and identity in a region ridden with conflict”.

“I wanted to write a story about those Bulgarians who… were severed from our country, and who inevitably will lose, if they haven’t already, their sense of being Bulgarian,” said Penkov.

“At the same time, I wanted to write a story about myself, abroad in America and in many ways alone, with a huge body of water between me and the people I love.”

Penkov will appear at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on 7th. October, alongside last year’s winner, D.W. Wilson.

Bulgarian success – abroad and at home

The successes described above contain some positive examples of Bulgarians who, for different reasons, have emigrated to further their lives and careers. In contrast, we also find two successful photographers who remain in their one country.

The continued bleeding of Bulgaria caused by emigration is a critical problem for a small country that needs such innovators and creative minds. A truly complex subject, to which I’ll return.

I was heartened to see that, of those people mentioned who have found their fulfilment abroad, for whatever reason, they can each bring joy and pride to the hearts of all Bulgarians. They are true ambassadors of this country, and great talents: an inspiration to us all.

A downside (Bulgaria)

I always remember a dear friend at Bulgarian TV who invariably made speeches that made 3 positive observations (as above), before introducing – with a suitably dramatic pause – a final, contradictory point.

Another name that also made headlines this week – for all the wrong reasons –  was that of Bulgarian rapper Misho Shamara. Unfortunately, he didn’t get an award, but the opening of legal action against him. He is accused of offending symbols of the state. The singer could face up to two years in jail if found guilty of ridiculing the Bulgarian flag.

Prosecutors confirmed that they would be opening proceedings against Shamara, following a submission by the Council of Electronic Media (SEM), the body which supervises broadcasters in Bulgaria.

According to SEM President Georgi Lozanov, Shamara had made fun of the national flag in his song ‘White, Green And Red’, associating it with drugs and using inappropriate language. [By the way, the popular reputation of SEM among media players here seems to be – NIL.]

Local social media were immediately upon arms, suspecting this was all motivated by GERB, the leading political party in Bulgaria – though this was denied by the Prime Minister, who said he’d never heard of the singer. (Too busy opening motorways, h’m?)

Critics picked out a punning reference in the rapper’s lyrics to the ruling party and the word for ‘national emblem / badge’: GERB – Latin alphabet – is the transliteration of the party’s Cyrillic acronym, and ‘gerb = герб’ is the emblem.

The (possibly) offending lyric ran: “I don’t trust GERB but I trust the state emblem.” (I’d have thought that was a compliment to the flag – but that’s just me.)

They are also comparing this move to prosecution as similar to the recent pussy Riot furore and trial in Russia; a sinister development in crushing media and artistic protest and comment in the run-up to the next Bulgarian elections in spring, 2013.

The timing is interesting, coming a shortly after a highly-publicised media debate attended by European commissioner Neelie Kroes in Sofia, where, for example, Iliyana Benovska of K2 Radio said that if Brussels did not intervene, after the vote Bulgaria would become a “totalitarian state”.

Life in Bulgaria is a continuing drama – the best and the worst, all in the same week.

[1]: John Atanasoff official site

[2]: Sofia News Agency

[3]: BBC Online

[4]: BBC Online

Image source: (Is this really apt?)

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