What Bulgaria’s EU Presidency guests will not see

Written by on January 1, 2018 in Bulgaria - Comments Off on What Bulgaria’s EU Presidency guests will not see

Sofia, January 1, 2018: The view through the window is a little more European today. The Bulgarian EU Presidency logo is visible all over the National Palace of Culture. Also, they plastered metro stations with it. This logo might not be pretty, but it stands for something big and important.

The 25,000 guests Bulgaria is expecting in the next 6 months, including many EU officials, ministers and heads of government, will see what they are supposed to see. Sofia Airport’s Terminal 2 is modern and exactly as old as Bulgaria’s EU membership. As long as the guests do not become victims of mafia taxis, which the Bulgarian authorities have still not stopped, they will be impressed.

The car trip from the airport to the city centre will give visitors a glimpse of Sofia’s Druzhba quarter with its ugly apartment blocks erected in communist times, many of which are not in a very good state. But from there all the way to the center, Sofia looks like a modern European city, with malls, two McDonald’s restaurants and gas stations along the way.

At Hilton, the Sofia Grand Hotel or Hotel Marinela, the European guests will be pampered, in a surrounding they would have found in Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels or Madrid too. These upscale hotels pretty much look the same all over the place.

In Bulgaria, progress and Europe are not for everyone. Photo by Imanuel Marcus.

At Boyana Residence and the National Palace of Culture, the VIPs and other guests will see well equipped halls and conference rooms. For lunch, they will be sent to restaurants which were thoroughly checked for hygiene, food quality and what not.

And when those visitors have an hour of spare time, they will most likely check out Vitosha Boulevard, Sofia’s Champs-Élysées, the main part of which is a European looking pedestrian zone with bars, restaurants and shops.

But there are lots of things these EU Presidency guests will not see. They will not be sitting in the modest living room of the typical Bulgarian pensioner, who has to survive on 200 euro per month, and whose diabetes medication does not suffice, since the country’s health system has “challenges”, a synonym for being terrible.

There will not be any sightseeing tours in Sofia’s Fakulteta quarter. Photo by Imanuel Marcus.

They will not be talking to this pensioner, who would have told them she has to sit on the street all month long, in order to sell some honey and make 50 euro more, which she can use to pay some of her bills. She would have said that she just can not understand how Bulgaria makes her live like this, even though she worked hard for 50 years, at a factory, a school, or maybe a ministry.

Yes, there are more places the EU officials will not see, and more people they will not meet. This includes patients in hospitals which are falling apart, including their beds. In many cases, the matresses have not been replaced in 15 years and therefore have their own eco system. Neither will Bulgaria’s guests talk to people in nursing homes, many of which look exactly the same as the hospitals mentioned. There are places of this kind which resemble dumping grounds more than anything.

While being driven through Sofia in German-made luxury vehicles, ministers, prime ministers and other guests will not see a single horse-drawn carriage, since those were banned from Sofia streets shortly before Bulgaria took over the EU Presidency. European visitors were not supposed to see that part of reality. Bulgarians of Romani origin, many of whom do not have any income, will suffer even more than they do anyway, since they can not search the trash in Sofia anymore.

The children of Fakulteta: Do they have a future in Europe? Photo by Imanuel Marcus.

Neither the VIPs, nor other guests will see certain parts of Sofia. The Fakulteta quarter accommodates the biggest Roma slum in the capital. Here, families live in Third World conditions. There are make-shift huts without heating or water, children play in the dirt, stray dogs roam the streets.

There are high(est)-ranking officials in the Bulgarian government who have called Bulgarian Roma “ferocious apes” or “brazen, feral, human-like creatures”. Some EU guests might even talk to those officials, not knowing about their background of blind hatred towards some minorities, including the Roma and the LGBT community.

What the guests will see during Bulgaria’s EU Presidency is the more modern part of Sofia. On Boulvard Vitosha, they will see members of the small Bulgarian middle class who spend money in bars and restaurants because they can, Bulgarians who don’t have to search the trash and who are not being discriminated because they are non-Roma heterosexuals.

The citizens in Fakulteta could not care less. So far, their country’s EU Presidency has given them the new horse-drawn carriage ban.

Photo at top of page by Imanuel Marcus.

Vitosha Boulevard: The Champs-Élysées of Sofia

 

 

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About the Author

Imanuel Marcus is Associate Editor of The Sofia Globe. He is German and lives in Sofia. Contact: imanuelmarcus (at) gmail.com