A Few Days in Bulgaria
I dream I’ve been placed in an impossible situation in which suicide is the only appealing option. Not because of imminent physical destruction, as in the case of 9/11 when people jumped from obviously fatal heights to escape incineration, or because of incurable medical problems, but because the prospect of extreme, permanent immiseration appears in the dream as a virtual certainty. And in the dream, at least, I have no heavy emotions or hesitation about snuffing myself, and wake up in the middle of pondering the quickest, easiest way to buy the farm. I’m so surprised to find that I don’t have to kill myself that it takes several minutes for me to consider that when I did want to kill myself for real, I never did figure out the least awful way to do it—Final Exit recommended something involving helium cannisters, Nembutal, industrial strength rubber bands, and plastic dry cleaning bags, and I went as far as buying a couple helium cannisters of the type used to inflate balloons at childrens’ birthday parties. I couldn’t figure out how you would manage to get the rubber bands around your neck to keep the plastic bags tight after releasing the helium if you were supposed to pass out first from the Nembutal—I have very little mechanical aptitude, so I decided to try therapy.
I suppose it’s natural that I have this dream in Sofia, Bulgaria. Every night for 36 nights, mass demonstrations have started small at one end of the city, in the square in front of the Bulgarian Government Offices, and built to crowds of 50 to 70,000. They march down Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard, stopping in front of the National Assembly, swelling numerically in Battenberg Square, proceeding past the Bulgarian National Bank, Alexander Nevsky Place, and the National Theater, two miles or so to the midpoint of Borisova Gradina, the gigantic park where funfair rides for kids, cafes and restaurants for grown-ups, and cul-de-sacs for outdoor sodomy abound in equal profusion—an amazingly sustained protest, when you think about it, and nothing new for Bulgaria, where such demonstrations have often forced the government in power to fold its tents and hold new elections.
The current wave of “unrest“ really began in January, sparked by a huge spike in utility and commodity prices as well as (literally) the self-immolation of an unemployed father of five in the village of Radnewo, followed by the self-incineration, in front of the presidential palace in Sofia, of an unemployed blacksmith. There have since been four other self-immolations, one of which, surprisingly, caused the mayor of Varna to resign—would Bloomberg resign if someone made a bonfire of himself, along with, perhaps, a bunch of those Citibike monstrosities and a jumbo utility bill, in front of Gracie Mansion? (Oops! I forgot—the mayor doesn’t live in Gracie Mansion, he doesn’t consider it big enough for him.) The early protests brought down the center-right government, but the recently elected Socialist government is seen as equally odious, another bunch of Communist leftovers aping politicians in more stable parts of the eurozone, beholden to the organized crime syndicate TIM—the specific object of protest by Plamen Goranow, a 36-year-old activist who set himself ablaze in front of Varna City Hall in March, and has become a posthumous folk hero. (In the ambulance, Goranow told a paramedic that he hadn’t intended to kill himself, just to set himself on fire briefly. Oh, well.)
TIM is an acronym for the first initials of its three kingpins, Tihomir Ivanov Mitev, Ivo Kamenov Georgiev, and Marin Velikov Mitev: a fairly standard, oligarchical mafia of ex-communist bosses and their business sweethearts, controlling 120 companies run by exactly 12 individuals. The gang started out in gambling, prostitution, drug smuggling, car theft, and human trafficking, and has since branched into “legitimate“ enterprises with the help of high-placed government associates. It now owns Chemo-More, the widest-circulation newspaper in Varna, two national cable television stations, the nationally broadcast station Alpha Radio, as well as a chain of restaurants, movie houses, sports clubs, and Internet ventures; it also controls a large chunk of Bulgarian agriculture, grain storage facilities, poultry farms, and SUHINDOL, the country’s largest winery. It recently took over the Central Cooperative Bank and the insurance company ARMEETS. TIM isn’t the only organized crime cabal serviced by the Bulgarian government, just the biggest. It is currently developing grotesquely huge hotel and entertainment complexes on the Black Sea waterfront in Varna, having secured a ponderously big chunk of beachfront property that legally belongs to the Bulgarian national trust.
Bulgaria is the poorest country in the EU. Journalists covering the protests say that unless the government falls and real systemic changes occur, at least half the protesters under 30 will leave the country, as they have no future here. The marchers are stunningly heterogenous, young old and in between, married couples with baby carriages, hippies and punks and Mr. & Mrs. Normal, many accompanied by their dogs (in Sofia, at least, everybody seems to own a show dog), all pouring into the street until human bodies completely fill the visible landscape. None of these people looks especially poverty-stricken and everyone hastens to tell me the protests aren’t strictly about economics, but about corruption and social control. The poor don’t hang around the center of Sofia.
I wish Americans could force their own government to resign—every member of it that I can think of, except Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken. Failing that, I think, I agree with the person who said that non-violence is a tactic, not a philosophy.
There was a baby cockroach in my lemonade at lunch.
Edward Snowden is still languishing in the airport in Moscow. That horrible creep who’s Obama’s spokesman, the aptly named Jay Carney, reiterating the theme of the Administration vis-a-vis Snowden and whistleblowers generally, ADMIT NOTHING, BLAME EVERYONE, BE BITTER.
Every movie that isn’t in Bulgarian on television is dubbed by a gravel-grinding, baritone male voice talking over all the actors. I have no idea if this voice is reciting translated dialogue or, like the benshee in early Japanese silent movie houses, explaining the action onscreen. The effect is extremely unnerving, as I suspect that whatever this unpleasant voice is saying, “he“ is somehow distorting the actual plot of the film, making it “more Bulgarian,“ or, who knows, maybe “less Bulgarian,“ according to his whim, or that of the station managers.
A very unhappy-looking man, tall, thin, with a thin black beard like a heavy pencil line along his jaw, wearing an “I (heart) Paris“ t-shirt.
Stefan—please come to hotel at 6-6:30 Alabin 67 off Vitosha Blvd please do not fuck anybody else this afternoon I want you to write yr name in cum on my face w yr cock (not yr patronymic just yr first name)
Sent from my iPhone
Leaving tomorrow for Bucharest. I am trying to finish Vasily Grossman’s Everything Flows before I go so I can give the book to someone, not that it weighs that much in my suitcase. This is what one of the characters says: “There is no evolution. There is one very simple law, the law of the conservation of violence. Violence is eternal, no matter what is done to destroy it. It does not disappear or diminish; it can only change shape. It can be embodied in slavery, or in the Mongol invasion. It wanders from continent to continent. Sometimes it takes the form of class struggle, sometimes of race struggle. From the sphere of the material it slips into religiosity, as in the Middle Ages. Sometimes it is directed against colored people, sometimes against writers and artists, but, all in all, the total quantity of violence on Earth remains constant.“
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