Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

Season’s greetings to you all!

Bozhentsi, Bulgaria

Heritage village of Bozhentsi, Bulgaria.

Putting to one side all those daft doom-laden prophecies, idiotic political leaders, gun-toting Americans, the tragedy of the Middle East, and so much more that troubles us; philinsofia wishes to thank all you readers, wherever you are, whatever you believe in (or not), and to wish you




Thanks for registering your ‘Likes’, and for going to the effort of submitting comments on various posts published throughout the year.

I’m happy to report almost 6,000 views during 2012, despite the glitch earlier in the year.

So, philinsofia raises a small glass of rakia to you all!

Image: personal archive.



Bulgarian folk song

Click on the image to view the performance.

… while I’m having a bit of a snigger (I sincerely hope) at unconfirmed USA Cold War pretensions and showmanship, my wife (seated opposite me) has been listening to some Bulgarian folk music.

This is what she was playing: The Great Voices of Bulgaria – “Lale li si”. Relax! Decide what you are![1]

[1]: YouTube

What’s in a name? Celebration!

name day apostle philip

Nice grapes!

On 14th. November, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church celebrates the day of the Apostle Philip.

So I got myself a Name Day!

One of the delightful traditions here is that, whether one is religious or not, one celebrates friend and family Name Days (Имен ден).

It’s a day for the recipient to receive good wishes for health, happiness, wealth, good fortune, and so on. A lovely social occasion.

So, my profound thanks to all those, friends and family, who sent me messages today – on Facebook, email, SMS, by phone. Most heart-warming, thank you.

I checked out some basic information about Philip the Apostle. It’s a Greek name – Φίλιππος, Philippos – meaning ‘lover of horses’ – well, OK, fine by me.

Philip was the fifth disciple recruited by Jesus, according to the Bible. Unlike some of the other disciples, he was not a fisherman, but a bit of a scholar who was on the search for an unidentified “Messiah”.

Following the Crucifixion, he preached across Asia Minor – Galilee, Greece, Syria, into Ethiopia. On his travels, he was reputed to have performed miracles, including bringing people back from the dead.

He met his end as a martyr, in Hierapolis, a Greco-Roman city near present-day Parmukkale, in Turkey’s Anatolia. He was, according to different sources, either beheaded or crucified upside-down.

Interesting that the Cross of St. Philip, or Petrine Cross, an official Christian symbol, is therefore an inverted Latin cross.

Anyway, a lovely day – and thanks, once again, to everyone who communicated. I look forward, ironically, to my other Bulgarian name day. I say “ironically”, because my Bulgarian wife has such an unusual (though traditional) name, that she doesn’t even get her own Name Day, at all!

PS: I hope there’s a huge party going on tonight in the city of Plovdiv, former name Philippopolis, named after Philip II of Macedon – father of Alexander the Great. (NO, my name doesn’t make me a Macedonian!)

Image: Holy-Icons

Bulgarian contraband: think big, smoke more


More than enough for a lifetime…

An astonishing announcement by Vanyo Tanov, the head of Bulgaria’s National Customs Agency (NCA).

He has stated, according to an online report, that “around 25,000,000 smuggled cigarettes have been discovered…  the excise duty of the smuggled cigarettes amounts to BGN 3.5 million and the cigarettes amount to not less than BGN 2-3 million.”[1]

No mention of when, or where, or (understandably, how) this little stash was uncovered. Plus, I hope the source of this story has inserted the correct number of zeros (a common problem, not confined to this agency).[1]

The only reason I bother to mention this report is because of the huge scale of the alleged operation. Almost every day, some idiots get done over for illicit smuggling, sometimes on an appreciable and daring scale – but this is a “good one”.

Now comes the maths

As a smoker, I’ve done some calculations, based on the figures quoted above.

25 mn ciggies means 125,000 cartons of 10 packets, i.e., 1,250,000 single packets. If I smoked 40 cigarettes per day, it would take me (forgetting leap years, neither here nor there), a total of 1,712 years to consume them all. (I don’t suppose I’d live that long, anyway.)

The figures quoted correlate quite well. If I were to estimate a BGN 3 mn total price for my own fags, at BGN 4.60 per pack (taxes included), at  40 per day, I’d need 1,785 years of consumption.

So, I assume the contraband was of superior, whether Bulgarian or foreign, cigarettes.

Note also that the duties and excises exceed the quoted cost of the merchandise (doh!). Maybe I should re-calculate the figures, taking the aggregate cost of 3.5+(2.5/3.0) mn. Never mind, life’s too short… pass the matches, please.

The contraband was discovered, the report mentions, in a disused warehouse belonging to drugs company Sopharma; stored in broccoli boxes and (appropriately, given the alleged scale of the operation) – coffins.

It’s possible that this is not the kind of private enterprise we need to encourage in Bulgaria. So, congratulations, Mr. Tanov and colleagues!

[1]: Focus Information Agency

Image: TypicallySpanish

Sofia Sunday snippets: finding grace

Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarch Maxim

Patriarch Maxim.

Bulgaria’s day of mourning

Bulgaria observed an official day of mourning on 9th. November, as Orthodox Patriarch Maxim was buried at Troyan monastery.

His body had lain in state in Sofia following his death three days earlier, at the age of 98.

On Friday, following a liturgy at Alexander Nevsky cathedral, the cortege travelled to Troyan, near to Maxim’s birthplace of Orashek, and where the young man had entered the priesthood.

Maxim (real name Marin Naidenov Minkov) had ruled the Bulgarian Orthodox Church for 41 years. He was possibly the last senior cleric to have lived through three successive Bulgarian political regimes: monarchy, communism, and republican democracy. He was the spiritual ruler of the more than 80% of the population who declare themselves as Bulgarian Orthodox.

Now is not the occasion to delve into alleged, negative events that may have casts shadows on Maxim’s long life at the heart of the church and the nation.

His successor will have to be nominated and appointed within the next 4 months. Meanwhile, the faithful mourn his passing…

… as millions around the world observe Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day, to honour the members of their armed forces who died in the line of duty.

The dismal daily headline

One of my regular English-language news sources, Focus Information Agency, invariably carries a depressing headline. This is Sunday’s version:

31 injured in road accidents in Bulgaria in past 24 hours

For once, no deaths.

Saturday’s lugubrious version read:

4 die, 25 injured in road accidents in Bulgaria in past 24 hours

And Friday? “Only” 2 deaths.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to work to an approximate annual death and injury toll by noting a week’s worth of such information.

The good news is that the final annual statistics for 2011 showed a continuing downward trend  in road fatalities in Bulgaria. That year, there were 657 fatalities and 8,300 injuries. Casualties have dropped by 11% over the past three years (to end 2011). However, looking at statistics on a different basis – fatalities per 100,000 of population, Bulgaria still registers about 8.7 persons, compared with the UK’s 3.0.

Sofia police are currently engaged in a safety blitz. I haven’t yet seen this happening but, apparently based on a Dutch police method, our Best in Blue are carrying out multiple safety checks on vehicles, even while cars are stationary at traffic lights on busy intersections.

“Multiple” means up to 10 instant checks, including driver documents, windscreen wipers, tyres, and lights.

While welcoming this intensive initiative, I reckon as a driver I’d be terrified to be swarmed over by a police posse while patiently waiting for the lights to turn green!


Rezovo, Bulgaria-Turkey border town

Rezovo: the border between rumour and fact.

Rumbling rumours

The past 18 months have seen a number of Bulgarian media reports, even while the business of Belene and the forthcoming referendum sparked and raged, that Turkey is going to build a nuclear plant near the Black Sea coast, 5 kms south of the Bulgarian border.

The rumoured site, Igneada, is a town of about 2,000 inhabitants, and would have been Turkey’s third NPP – the first two projects are underway.

However, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu assured a Bulgarian MEP last week that there would be no nuclear plant built at Igneada, and an official government note to the same effect has been sent to Bulgaria and Brussels.

Local Bulgarian communities had voiced environmental concerns, predicting adverse effects on the property market, and a negative impact on tourism and the fishing industries.

The governor of Burgas, the coastal resort situated only 75 kms to the north of the border, also stated that, whereas there would be no Turkish NPP, they were planning on “only” a thermal power plant.

If that’s true, then all our needless worries evaporate, don’t they?

Wind and weather

Almost the middle of November, and the autumn is beautiful – and kind. True, the days are noticeably shorter, and we suffered several days of severe winds; but today, for example, we’ve enjoyed blue skies and sunshine once again.

Yes, it’s nippy at night, but not bad at all, even though Vitosha had a sprinkling of overnight snow.

Our neighbour has just mowed his lawn this afternoon, probably its final cut of the year. We are also gardening, clearing up before winter sets in. We are certainly being spoilt, this year – so far!


Thracian gold horse Sveshtari Bulgaria

The gold of the Getae.

Bulgaria strikes gold – yet again

Over the past several weeks, there have been a few astonishing archaeological finds in various regions of Bulgaria. Last week, there was yet another.

A team led by Prof. Diana Gergova, one of the country’s foremost experts on Thracian archaeology, discovered fragments of a wooden box containing charred bones and ashes, along with 4 spiral bracelets, numerous decorations, 100 buttons, and a beautiful component of a harness or bit – a miniature sculpture of a horse’s head on a base decorated with a lion’s head.

All these are solid gold, and are dated to the end of the fourth, or beginning of the third century BCE, and were crafted by Thracians, who inhabited a wide area of present-day Bulgaria and part of what is now Romania.

The site of these latest finds, one of a complex of 150 tombs near the village of Sveshtari, some 400 kms north-east of Sofia, is particularly associated with the Getae (or Getes) tribe.

“These are amazing findings from the apogee of the rule of the Getae,” said Gergova, with considerable understatement.

The Sveshtari burial complex was discovered in 1982, in what UNESCO describes as “one of the most spectacular archaeological events of the 20th century. The tomb itself is a unique artistic achievement with its half-human, half-vegetable caryatids enclosed in chitons in the shape of inverted palmettes.”[1]

Unsurprisingly, the unique burial complex is already one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites.


predicted spending 2012 US presidential election

Unlimited budgets, limited policy debate

We can never escape them, can we…

Politicians, I mean.

Somehow, at long last, we are now free of an extremely prolonged, acrimonious, non-constructive US presidential election. To the relief of most senior European politicians, Obama won. The prospect of having to endure Romney, with his foreign gaffes and his downright ignorance of geography (see cartoon below), must have caused our political élites some sleepless nights. After spending an amount estimated to be in excess of $6 bn on this 2-horse race (including the hugely ignored Congressional elections, to be fair), it’s status quo for Europe.

Romney foreign gaffe Iran

Romney all at sea (again).

So, all sympathy for Israel’s PM Netanyahu, who’s had a rocky year with Obama, and apparently favoured Romney for his (declared) aggressive Middle East “policy”. It seems Benjamin backed the wrong horse this time; now, to mix my metaphors, he’s got some transatlantic fences to mend, especially if he hopes to win the next election.


Sergei Stanishev, Bulgarian Socialist Party leader

Stanishev getting personal.

Back to domestic politics

Speaking of which, next year Bulgarians will vote in their own parliamentary election. The war of words (and deeds) is already warming up.

Sergei Stanishev, leader of the opposition Socialist Party (BSP), addressed the Bulgarian Social Democrats on Saturday, and launched a virulent attack on the present Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov.

“Today, constitutionally Bulgaria is a democracy, but in practice it is ruled by a one-person authoritarian regime that on a daily basis deprives citizens of their political rights, crushes democracy, and treats the state as its own property.”

Strong words! But, objectively speaking, even non-socialists (apart from one BB) would heartily agree with this withering assessment. Roll on, spring 2013!

[1]: UNESCO Thracian tomb of Sveshtari


Patriarch Maxim

Rezovo, Bulgaria-Turkey border 

Thracian gold

US election spending 

Romney: Facebook


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