A Balkan tragedy: Of the Bulgarian village of Bolyarino, and life, and death

Somewhere in all the bald statements of the Plovdiv District Prosecutor’s Office and in the reporting by local media, there is the narrative of a tragedy struggling to emerge. At this writing, we cannot truly know the core of that tragedy, but a tragedy we may sense it to be.

As to who we may call the heroes and who the victims, and if either of these labels applies, a greater judgment awaits. Perhaps, neither.

Let us begin, because we must begin somewhere, with the dry, statute-citing, narrative of the Prosecutor’s Office.

Today, on May 13, the Plovdiv District Prosecutor’s Office, named as accused “AG” (Bulgarian officialdom does this sort of thing, operating by initials) AG, on May 11 2019, on the territory of the village of Bolyarino in the Plovdiv district, attempted to steal “two farm animals – two cows from the farm of DP, 60 years old, in agreement with AI, 28, and with PG, 30 years old”.

This, so the Prosecutor’s statement earnest tells us, is a crime “under Art. 196 para. 1 point 2 in. Art.195 para. 1 pt. 4 and 5 in art. 194 para. 1 in art. 29 para. 1 b. In art. 18 para. 1 of the Penal Code”.

The narrative continues, and here we shall strip away the verbiage and legalese. At about midnight on May 11, the two accused, along with “PG” went to the farm with the intent of stealing two cows.

“They were spotted by the owner of the farm – DP, a Cypriot citizen who chased them with his Ford Ranger. The three of them fled in different directions,” or so the Prosecutor’s statement tells it.

After a brief chase, “PG” was hit by the vehicle, driven by “DP”. “PG” died of his injuries. The other two made their escape. Later, the police found them, and took them into custody.

The Prosecutor’s statement adds that the late PG had 14 convictions for theft, including of horses from the farm of DP. The late PG had served seven years in prison for theft. The other two also had numerous convictions, and had served time in prison.

Now let us allow the local Plovdiv media to add their details. They told us that Dimitrakis Pirilis, a 60-year-old Cypriot, had run down and killed Petar Gadzhanov. Pirilis, so the media said, had “lived on a family basis with a Roma woman and her three children from another man”.

The mayor of Bolyarino, Stefka Mileva, told local media that she was surprised that Pirilis (or so it is alleged) had run down and killed someone. Mileva, so the story goes, told the media that three or four years ago, there had been a fire at his home. After that, he had moved in with the Roma people.

“According to the Prosecutor’s Office, the slain Gadhzanov had not been involved in the arson,” the local media said.

Separately, other Plovdiv media said that there was now a strong police presence in Bolyarino, though there were denials of ethnic tension. Three gendarmerie squads were protecting the Cypriot’s farm “as local Roma are threatening to burn it”.

The report added that if Pirilis were to be found guilty, he would face 10 to 20 years in prison.

A third report by local media in Plovdiv alleged that Pirilis, having run over Gadzhanov, had driven over Gadzhanov’s body several times. The same report said that Gadzhanov had “plundered” Pirilis’s farm several times.

This is what we know so far; the turgid verbiage of a Prosecutor’s statement, the urgent blatherings of the local media, of facts that may be relevant or even be alternative, in the latter terminology made notorious on the other side of Atlantic, a long way from the village of Bolyarino, Plovdiv district.

Bulgaria, at this writing, is 13 days from its European Parliament elections. For the country’s ultra-nationalist and far-right political parties, so-called “gypsy crime” is always on the agenda. Expect to see at least some ultra-nationalist political hacks seize on whatever happened, and happened before, on that farmer’s land.

Elections or no, every now and then, ethnic relations in Bulgaria come to the fore, frequently unbidden. There is hand-wringing, and talking heads on television shows, and then we move on, to the next crisis: Katunitsa in 2011, Rousse in 2018 (the murder of Viktoria Marinova) Voyvodinovo, Gabrovo. And then it fades, and the country moves on, until the next time, the speedy presence in some махала of dark-clad, torch-bearing, fiery-eyed pseudo-patriotic young men, of the kind you see thumping their hate and fear at events like the Lukov March, every February in Sofia.

Something happened, that midnight in Bolyarino, Plovdiv district. Something about the attempted theft of two cows. Something about a Cypriot man driven to distraction, or so, allegedly. Something in the line of those words we heard from Katunitsa, almost eight years ago: Няма държава; there is no state. The state does not reach to Katunitsa, or Voyvodinovo, or the darkest hours on farmland in Bolyarino, and the fate of two cows, and one alleged would-be thief, and one alleged killer.

The facts rest. Mealy-mouthed politicians, and commentators on the radio and television – this is your cue. Bulgaria expects it of you. Nothing plays like tragedy. Less than two weeks from now, there will be votes to be counted. The reality of human lives, and deaths, perhaps not so much.



Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.