The Balkan Blog: The Gordons come to Bulgaria

People generally take a lot for granted, especially concerning ex-communist countries. They often think that by reading a particular rag or subscribing to a certain political party, that they are fully knowledgeable about all worldly things, but this is not so. Being a Eurosceptic has become a popular definition of one’s political views, usually backed up with a lot of badly-thought-out twaddle, picked up during a debate at the local pub or in a till queue inside Lidl or a Sainsbury’s supermarket.

But being in the EU is not simply about losing jobs or of federalism, because in their badly-thought-out speeches, most UK political windbags lose sight of the fact that immigration – which for those of you who don’t quite understand EU law, is perfectly legal – is a two-way highway for EU citizens, and not a one way street – as some would have you believe – to some English home counties Valhalla! One case in point was the arrival in Southern Bulgaria three years ago, of the Gordon family.

Having got a little fed up with the London rat race and being of a spiritual disposition, Narral Gordon, his wife and three children, moved to the little hamlet of Kustur, close to the town of Svilengrad in Bulgaria and to the Turkish and Greek borders. It is here that they have begun a new life, not only in order to escape their previous unpredictable existence, but to build a whole new way of living within the flagging semi-derelict Bulgarian village of Kostur, and to put some life back into the community. And, what better way was there to do this, but to reopen the local village shop!

gordons-1 gordons-3

The previous shop owners were the victims of one of those horrifying Bulgarian road accidents. The indigenous drivers all over the Balkans are not famous for their driving skills and the mortality rate for road deaths all over South Eastern Europe, is frightening. When this couple died, the social centre of the village also died. It left the old and infirm, the children and the local workers, without a meeting place or a place for gossip. For an isolated Balkan village, this also left nowhere for the local population to get help in emergencies either.

Narral Gordon and his entire family have immersed themselves in Bulgarian society which includes a perfect understanding of the language and even the local dialect. It also means that they are very unusual. Most Brits who come to live in this part of the world – me included – have a very sketchy knowledge of languages, despite grand claims. Consequently, it isolates us from the locals and encourages Brits to socialise within their own groups. Although there are many such groups in southern Bulgaria – especially by the Black Sea – very few Brits have actually integrated with the Bulgarian population. Partly due to the fact that many Bulgarians speak English and are becoming more educated and absorbed within the European Union itself, in these very provincial areas, few speak other languages, nor can they even read or write.

I can remember a time when Bulgarians would frequently say: ‘everyone hates the Bulgarians, and we hate everyone else!’ It is easy to forget that Bulgaria was a very inward-looking, politically closed country – up until the changes, and unfortunately even beyond – and in these country districts, the peoples minds are still set in the past.

So hats off – all you semi-inebriated elitists hanging around the girls, and the four ale bars of Sofia – because a new breed of immigrant has defied the prevailing trends, got away from the over repeated racialist claptrap – that we have been forced to listen to of late and – like the Gordon family, defy the signs and warnings of the European ‘one way street system,’ in order to help a country which is still struggling with its Communist past, and to start a new life, here in the Balkans!

Photographs and background story received with thanks from Hristo Rusev and Milena Mihova.

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Patrick Brigham

Born in Berkshire, England to an old Reading family, having attended English Public School and a stint at college, author Patrick Brigham moved to London, and went into real estate. After the economic crash of 1989, he licked his wounds, wrote two books, and in 1993 he decided to abandon London, the UK casino economy, and moved to Sofia, Bulgaria. As the editor-in-chief of the Sofia Western News, the first English news magazine in Bulgaria  – between 1995 and 2000 – and as a journalist, he witnessed the political changes in this once hard-core communist country. There, he personally knew most of the political players, including the old communist Dictator, Todor Zhivkov, and his successors, Presidents Jhelev and Stoyanov. He is the author of Herodotus: The Gnome of Sofia, Judas Goat: The Kennet Narrow Boat Mystery, Abduction: An Angel over Rimini, and finally, The Dance of Dimitrios. He has also recently published a play called Judicial Review. Patrick's website: