What’s in a name? It turns out that too few people in the Bulgarian coastal town of Chernomorets care to answer that question – or at least enough to have voted in a June 15 referendum on whether to change its name back to the historic Sveti Nikola.
It may have been the talk of the town for weeks, and the subject of some media fascination on an otherwise quiet early summer Sunday, but only 786 people in Cheromorets went to one of two polling booths in the town.
The fact that 1191 votes had to be cast, a figure based on turnout in the most recent municipal election, meant that the June 15 referendum was invalid.
And if by now you are on tenterhooks to know just which name those 786 voters chose, you will have a bit longer. The officials of Chernomorets, as we must call it, are not ready with the vote count yet.
Things have not been easy in Chernomorets lately. On June 9, bones purported to be those of Sveti Nikola himself – or St Nicholas as he is known to the Western world – were stolen from a local church.
The theory was that should the Sveti Nikola camp win, the relics would have a higher ransom value.
The settlement is said to have been there, at a spot between Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Bourgas and Sozopol, for more than 1200 years. It was given the name Sveti Nikola some time in the 14th century, and local legends tie the town to a supposedly miraculous rescue of shipwrecked Greek sailors thanks to an icon of the saint.
But in 1951, during Bulgaria’s communist era, the name was changed to Chernomorets.
Mayor Dobri Dobrev told Bulgarian National Television that no one had ever decided the issue of reverting to the name of Sv Nikola, “so we went to a referendum – let the people choose”.
Opinions were, naturally, divided.
Nikolai Karakashev said that Czechs and Poles who got to know the seaside resort would remember it by the name of Chernomorets, the name by which the town had “acquired great fame”.
Fisherman Todor Stamatov insisted: “Our ancestors were born in Sveti Nikola, my father was born in Sveti Nikola, I was born in Chernomorets. What is this place? Sveti Nikola! That’s all there is to it!”
Officials said that voting had proceeded calmly, without evidence of irregularities.
Or, it seems, a decision.
(Photo of Sveti Nikola, sorry, Chernomorets: Portokal)