Almost unfailingly, whichever political party is in power, Bulgaria’s government votes a “bonus” for pensioners in the lowest pay bracket, at the Orthodox Easter and Christmas.
The year 2019 has been no exception. It may be unkind to suggest that the current government is aware that this is an election year – for the European Parliament and for mayors and municipal councillors – and that while Bulgaria’s pensioners struggle to make ends meet, they are able to vote.
For Easter 2019, pensioners in the lowest bracket, up to 348 leva (just less than 178 euro) a month, will get the “supplement” of 40 leva (20.45 euro). The sum is the same as at Easter 2018, though since then, the number of pensioners has gone up. While the Easter 2018 bonus cost 50 million leva, this year it is 53 million leva, to cover about 1.3 million pensioners.
No one should have any illusion that 40 leva is a lot of money. At average prices of unleaded fuel in Bulgaria as at March 21, it would get a motorist a little less than 20 litres. But that is hardly likely to be a consideration for Bulgarian pensioners hovering around or below the poverty line, unlikely to be rushing to the fuel pumps, perhaps for lack of a car to get there.
The thinking of years appears to be that Bulgaria’s poorest pensioners should have the chance of putting out something of a traditional Easter table, in a country where the majority declare themselves to be adherents of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
Much like other majority Orthodox Christian countries, Bulgaria’s Easter cuisine involves roast lamb, an “Easter salad”, eggs, red wine and a sweet cake called kozunak.
With five weeks to go to the Orthodox Easter (this year on April 27), The Sofia Globe checked prices at three supermarkets and online to try to assess just what pensioners’ precious two 20 leva notes would get them, should they decide to try to enjoy an Easter meal.
No brand names, no pack drill. In all cases, the prices stated are for the cheaper, Bulgarian products, although recent years in some cases have seen imports of some goods that have lower prices – as well as reports that the prices of some low-cost imports are hiked to match better quality Bulgarian ones.
The biggest-ticket item would be lamb. As noted, the Orthodox Easter is five weeks away, so hiking of prices has not yet begun. Prices vary significantly, including depending on the cut, and can range from six to seven leva, to 12 to 13 leva, a kilogram.
Like lamb, the price of eggs also goes up at Easter. Currently, a pack of 10 costs about 2.60 leva, and 10 would be the barest minimum for a Bulgarian table, perhaps even for a pensioner living alone. Tradition requires not only painted boiled eggs, but also eggs in the Easter salad, which otherwise usually contains green salad, onion, garlic, radishes, spring onion…recipes vary. As to the painted eggs, soon in the shops there will be the little packets of dye. Those cost a few leva.
As at March 21, green salad (zelena salata, зелена салата) costs about 75 stotinki, spring onions between 70 stotinki and 1.80 leva, garlic 3.50 leva a kg (improbable as it is that more than a clove would be bought), radishes 60 stotinki for a bunch. Anyone adding cucumber to a salad would be paying an additional 3.50 leva.
Bulgarian Easter roast lamb recipes vary too, but it is a fair assumption that potatoes (1.70 leva a kg) would be involved, as would rice (2.30 to 2.50 leva a kg).
Then there are those other essentials in a Bulgarian kitchen, at any time of year. Assuming that there is none in the house, cooking oil may range in price from 2.20 leva to 3.40 leva, bread a bit less than a lev, milk from just less than two leva to just less than three, butter (Bulgarian brand) about 2.70 leva for 125kg and salt from about 70 to 95 stotinki a kilogram.
Kozunak is not on sale yet, and last year ranged in price considerably, going by accounts on the internet, at about three to five leva for a 400g one. A Bulgarian may want to bake her own; at very least, that means an extra purchase of sugar, at an average 1.50 leva a kilogram.
Red wine is traditional for the Orthodox Easter, and no doubt the pensioner may want to raise a glass in a (possibly ironic) toast to the government for its beneficence. Looking only at Bulgarian wines, prices vary wildly – as does quality. If the red wine is being bought only for the sake of having some, and mindful that 40 leva really does not go that far, stuff – a word used advisedly – is available at 4.95 leva. More or less acceptable reds are available in the eight to 10 leva range, while more serious and reputable vino would not deign to leave the shelf unless it gets at least one of those 20 leva notes for itself. The pensioner may not be so enthusiastic about her 40 leva bounty to spend half of it on wine, though.
Let us head for the till, hoping that we have not forgotten anything. We have a kilogram of lamb, all the veggies for the salad, 20 eggs, rice, cooking oil, butter, salt, sugar…before we came to the shop, our cupboard was bare. In all cases, we have chosen the cheapest we can find, except we scorned the cheapest wine and decided to take a whole kilogram of lamb.
The bill, with this complete shopping list, is over 40 leva. The cheapest wine, then, and please cut that kilogram of lamb in half. And back go a pack of 10 eggs.
Cautionary note: These prices are true for today in central Sofia. In some towns and villages in Bulgaria, and particularly in their local markets, prices of some of the items may be cheaper. Some pensioners may be able to buy home-made, domashna, wine, and may – as noted – be baking their own kozunak, not buying it.
On up to 348 leva a month, they might also not be blowing their 40 leva all on a single meal. There are the days to come too, and whatever it is you live on if that’s your sole income.