Thursday, 26 September 2013

Google v Bing - World War Three?

Is it in Syria? No, well is it in Africa somewhere? No, well where on Earth could it possibly be? Actually it is all taking place on your computer.

This is a war between Bing and Google, and despite any agreements, or even laws that might have been passed, this battle still manages to cause me a considerable amount of grief. You see, if you want to download todays most up to date version of Acrobat, Google try to stuff you with a Spanish copy of Google Chrome. And, if you want an additional browser version of Bing - translation and text enlargement - it automatically collapses your handy relationship with Google and the interaction with your email. Oh what fun! But each time this happens, it is off to the IT specialist and that is called spending money!

I am much like any computer user, and I am not technically savvy. But I live all day on my computer and I need it for practically everything I do. In a world where even telephones are rarely used, the web is where we live and how we communicate anything of any substance to one another. So why are we becoming battlefield gun fodder for these two Commercial Giants, when we are in fact supposed to be their b****y Valued Customers?

It has long been agreed that by joining the techno revolution, we would all loose at least some of our freedoms. That is the world today - on which account the global intrusion into our lives is obviously becoming more and more - but what about our freedom to choose? By becoming a victim to these two powerful organizations, loosing our basic freedom - to purchase what we need and not what they want us to have - is surely being usurped? For some reason it seems to me, that these power games are no longer just commercial, but now there is also a political aspect to it as well.

It is also quite surprising to discover how people have learnt to accept these intrusions into their lives, as being good for them - think of being frisked at airports, and stopped by thick policeman to be asked where are you going? ' I don't know, where do you suggest?'

In our increasingly homogenized world, are we going to let these geeks terrorize us and cause us problems just so one of them might possibly win the internet war, or are we going to do something about it? Step up the first internet freedom fighter!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

ALBION BALKAN CHOICE - Property Investment in Greece and Bulgaria

We are now entering a new phase in South Eastern Europe and with the financial meltdown of 2008 apparently behind us, fast approaching a new era of stability. This means that although Balkan property prices have never been cheaper in Bulgaria, Greece, or even Turkey, they will not remain that way for much longer!
Because of the current prices on offer, houses and apartments have now become far more accessible to many, and well within the scope of Europeans looking for a home abroad. Perfect for young families and retired couples alike - and those who simply want to relax in the sun – the Balkan way of life can certainly take the stress out of living. Whether only for the summer months - but occasionally forever - the Balkan region promises a recipe for a long and healthy life!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Times Remembered - The Authors Show

Times Remembered – The Authors Show

By Patrick Brigham

Where does an author’s story begin? In my case, I was simply at the cross roads.
I felt the need to reassess my life and to understand what had gone before. It was painful but rewarding and it was also emotional, but more than that, it took me on a journey through a life lived, although one that was not very well documented. Sure, there had been plenty of girls and parties, fast cars and days of unfettered hedonism, but for some reason this had become banal, repetitive and frankly, quite boring. Now it was time to remember.
As the amateur sleuth in me went from one clue to the next, I somehow ended up as a very young child, lying in a pram in the back yard of my family home in England. Tommy the cat was also there asleep at my feet. All around me the skies were clear and I could even hear a gentle breeze blowing through the trees. In the distance there was the sound of muffled voices and occasional laughter. It was coming from the old stone flagged farmhouse kitchen, where my mother and the local Woman’s Institute were busy as usual bottling their garden produce, something which was quite unavailable in England at the time. Then the phone rang.
It was now forty years on and where was I? And, what had happened to me, during the interim period between then and now? That particular moment was so revealing that I stood for a moment with tears in my eyes, because - gazing out of my apartment window onto the streets of London – I had for once remembered something important about myself. I had rediscovered one small life that had once lingered in the shadows of the Second World War and had almost been forgotten. Suddenly I was staring into the past like a shadowy ghost, watching a long forgotten event that still indelibly lingered in my middle aged DNA.
As the moment passed I realized that it was high time to consign some of these rather fading memories to paper, but was this to be for no other reason than to account for a life already spent? And in doing what? Well, observing for a start. At least I could now remember with some clarity, and as the habit of remembering overtook me, long forgotten faces started to appear from nowhere.
With body language and mannerisms intact, before I knew it my computer screen was covered in these characters. As they became animated, they all started to say different things at me, and whilst interrupting one another - vying to be noticed of course – they tried to convince me that they had always been right about, well, everything! I think it was then that I realized that I could write and when it became crystal clear, that I had the ability to consign my thoughts to paper, but only as long as I could continue to remember.
But write about what? I had long been a fan of authors such as John Le Carre and Robert Ludlum, Ruth Rendell, Colin Dexter and of course Thomas Kenealy, not to forget my early reading with Saul Bellow and J. D. Salenger. So the question was not if I could write, but which genre to write in. I was not very romantic as a person – not a cold fish or selfish – but considering my rather disreputable lifestyle to date; I could hardly be a writer of romantic fiction.
One of my interests at the time was watching the disintegration of Communism, and even before The Fall of the Berlin Wall, it was clear to me that the Soviet Union was collapsing. Perestroika in the time of Gorbachev seemed to me to be the beginning of the end of The Cold War and it was clear to me, that the hard men of Eastern Europe were not only on the way out, but also planning their immanent escape.
During the course of my travels I had met many of the First Lieutenants of Communism, and often found them charming and to be as Conservative as any British Government Minister or indeed an American Congressman. It was what was inside their heads which interested me and what motivated them, despite their civilized behavior. The Serbians say that if you scratch the face of a Russian, you will find an Asian underneath and so very early on I realized that however they might present themselves to me, I would always be The Infidel to them.  This was because most western men or women represented the end of a beautiful era of enforced mediocrity and political make believe.
My first attempts at writing murder mystery turned many of these often benign figures into monsters and made them say absurd things, which was the usual humorous drivel one had come to expect from the dialog of James Bond and that particular genre of fiction. I think it true to say that most western people hadn’t a clue about Communism although in Europe we were closer to the reality than most. Americans, who had been subjected to the insanity of McCarthyism, seemed to us Europeans to be quite innocent men and women who were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t comply, with the infantile stereotypes which many believed in at the time. My view has always has been the same, which is that only psychopaths make good spies. This is because they think that they are far cleverer than they really are, and some may also say that the title Intelligence Officer is often a contradiction in terms.
As the years passed I came to the conclusion that writing good murder mystery needed a strong political thread. Many of us are tired of ranting and raving TV police officers sitting in bars with their sergeant, going on about their rotten marriages, although in reality that happens. But I do try to put that in the background and to present thoughtful police officers, who think with their head, not with their mouth, are in control of their immediate environment and understand the world as it really is.
Finally, remembering is often a lonely place to be, because with it comes the bad as well as the good. When we have got over the trauma of recounting our own lives, authors can weave the webs which capture our reader’s attention in exploring a good murder mystery - which after all is a writer’s prerogative - but it may also be our curse.


Saturday, 21 September 2013

Let Megan Return to her Mother - the heartbreaking scandal surrounding a Bulgarian mother living in Britain!

A JUDICIAL REVIEW - The story of a Bulgarian mother

By Patrick Brigham
It is very difficult to expose just the facts with no feelings, because the following events are associated with a huge burden of pain, grief and also an element of fear. But in short, I will try to tell this true story with as many facts as possible. It all started with the visit of a Midwife to the home of a Bulgarian woman in England. They talked about life as a family, and in particular the question of how concerned the father was about the child and her motherhood. Unfortunately the answers that the Bulgarian woman gave to these probing questions, were not very positive from her side. This was because her relationship with her husband was presently fueled with an element of angst, which mainly concerned the use of the family computer. If you follow this chain of events, you will see that it is truly a case of serendipity, as each event simply compounds the next. 
To this day, she still wonders how she could have imagined sharing her life with a man who seemed more concerned about his use of a computer than his family, but then she unwisely asked the visiting Midwife what she thought about the situation. The woman's reaction was immediate and she went at once and made a statement to the police. They in turn made a recommendation to the UK Social Services, and in May 2012 they lodged a claim for the custody of Megan the daughter of the Bulgarian woman. The hearing was held at the local court during the same month, whereupon the court issued an Interim Care Order, which gave the Local Authority the right to take Megan away from her natural mother, and put her into foster care. 
An alternative option was also proposed, which was that the mother should also live together with the child at the home of the fostering family. From that moment on, she began to fear that the child would be taken away from her as she went to live with this family of strangers in a remote location and far from the home where she had presently lived.
As to the father, it was concluded that he might pose a risk to the child, and whilst the computer issue was discussed, the computer was inspected - together with any disks seized from the house where the couple lived -  for any signs of child pornography, but none were found. At this point the father still had contact with Megan twice a week, but this gradually decreased to once a week - due to the mother and daughter living in an isolated area - then once every two weeks, and finally a social worker revealed that he had finally lost contact with Megan altogether. 
Immediately after moving in with the host foster care family, UK Social Services forced the mother to sign a contract forbidding her to make any contact with the father - including using SMS or Facebook - or they would promptly take her child away altogether. But whilst living with the host family, the mother was getting messages from the child's father stating that he was going to commit suicide, because he claimed that he had now lost everything that made any sense to him, and variously he repeated these threats every day. At this point she agreed to meet with him and traveled back to their home town alone on the bus.  Here he started to threaten her and refused to hand over her personal luggage, children's furniture or any of the many things that had been bought for Megan their daughter, from the day she was born.
After that, the Social Services processes continued as did their various assessments. An independent social worker was sent from England in Bulgaria to interview her parents and to see if they were able to take care of Megan, in the event that Megan would be given for them to care, but before this trip to Bulgaria ,the social worker insisted on meeting Megan's mother and an an interview was arranged at the office of the Bulgarian woman's lawyers in England. It was here that the social worker emphatically told the mother that she should not hold out too much hope for a positive outcome. 
The British social worker in question, spent four days in Bulgaria interviewing the family - especially the child's grandmother, her mother - as well as Megan's grandfather, her father. On returning to the UK the report came back with very negative results, the recommendation being the same as the one which the UK Social Services had previously predicted  to the child's Bulgarian mother in England, and in advance of their trip to Bulgaria.
After that it was back to the original Local Authority social worker - now referred to as an expert - who then proceeded to ask further questions relating to her childhood. Called a Protective Ability Assessment, this too was returned with a negative result. In this report, the alleged expert accused the mother of all sorts of things, and things that she had never ever even considered before. In it each sentence began with the words we believe, but simultaneously offering no evidence whatsoever to support these accusations, which were all compounded by reams of missing papers and information from the original report.
On February of this year the final case before the court was heard, at which time the Judge issued two orders. The first, removed any parental rights from both of Megan's parents, and without their written consent. The second, gave full parental responsibility to the Local Authority - giving them the right to find adopting parents for Megan - even though an Appeal was due to be lodged against the courts findings.This case was due to be reviewed sometime thereafter, but because her lawyer had claimed a pressing personal commitment, it is clear that the mother appeared in court on her own behalf, without any legal council. 
She presented documents to the court concerning her change of circumstances, offering her divorce papers as evidence to the Court, but they decided that it was insufficient reason for them to change their ruling, pointing out that from then onwards the natural mother would have no right of contact with Megan until the child reached the age of majority(18). Her last encounter with Megan was on August 2013, since which time there has been no further news. 
The mothers pain and grief are difficult to describe, and during her last minutes with Megan they both wept uncontrollably and the memory of Megan holding out her arms to her mother, will remain forever.
The Bulgarian Embassy were only ever present as observers, and were quite useless, offered nothing in her defense, although her lawyers had implied that if the Bulgarian Embassy were to appear in court as some sort of mediator, then on this account alone victory would  be assured. But alas, this was not to be the case!
As far as one can see, not only have the Bulgarian mothers Human Rights been transgressed, but also her rights under European Law. This is especially so when the entire case rested on an unofficial visit to Bulgaria, by a foreign social worker who would seem to have been previously totally prejudiced against the mother - and probably Bulgaria in general - and who together with sundry British Local Authority social workers, had made detrimental prejudgments about her and the case from day one.  

Now, where have I heard that before?  Oh! And why was she not represented at Appeal by a Lawyer? Was that because she didn't matter?

The Verdict

The decree is based on two considerations. The first is the British CHILDREN ACT of 1989, which allows the Court to determine custody - not only if there is significant harm to the child - but with a likelihood of significant harm to the child in the future. The second is THE ADOPTION AND CHILDREN ACT 2002, which allows the forced (that is against the wishes of parents and children, when their views may be taken into account) adoption of children. It should be noted that the UK is the only EU country in which such an act is lawful. It violates a number of legal provisions guaranteeing due process and also the United Nations Convention on the rights of the child (ratified by the United Kingdom in 1991). Do you agree with this?


The Truth about Todor Zhivkov - the last Communist President of Bulgaria

Tato - The Man and the Myth

 By Patrick Brigham - written for the Sofia Western News in 1998

In September 1997, I concluded an interview with the last surviving East European communist dictator, ex - President Todor Zhivkov of Bulgaria. This was with the help of Ahmed Taleb, and David Mossop. Zhivkov had recently written his autobiography, which was published in paperback, for sale exclusively within Bulgaria. It was an account of a life spent in high office, and he wanted to talk about it to the SWN.

However one might have viewed Zhivkov, he seemed to be perfectly capable of hanging onto power for a very long time, despite frequent threats to his position and changes in the Russian leadership, all of whom he closely shadowed from Stalin onwards. When in 1989 his leadership came to an abrupt end, he not only left behind a web of half truths and considerable political enigma, but oddly enough a remarkable number of loyal supporters. At his ‘not so private funeral’ in Sofia on Sunday 12th August, hundreds of his mainly older friends and colleagues turned out to say goodbye to Tato. He was undoubtedly a man who was remarkable for his effortless skills at survival, and to the great age of 87. This is an account of last year’s interview, and some new observations.
Todor Zhivkov was eighty six on the 7th September, and he spent it like he did most days, under house arrest in the comfortable villa he shared with his adopted daughter Jenny. On his birth certificate his date of birth is stated as being 14th September, but this was in fact the date of his Christening. By his account, the priest who christened him was drunk.
On my very first visit to see him to discuss an interview - at his villa in the suburbs of Sofia - an old saying kept running through my mind - ‘The first trick the Devil played on the world, was to convince mankind that he did not exist,’ and it was with this thought that I first met a man who had influenced the hearts and minds of the Bulgarian people for nearly three generations. At the time he was the last living example of an Eastern European Communist Dictator, one who had ruled Bulgaria with an iron fist and ideological verve for some thirty years.
When one looks at the photographs of Todor Zhivkov, as he stands next to other old world leaders like Tito, Brezhnev, Mitterrand and even Yasser Arafat, for all their importance and international stature, they seem to be similar in height. Zhivkov was not a tall man and is surprising proof that the camera does occasionally lie, as it does with many other world leaders. But, despite the passing years he remained upright, and looked surprisingly fit at the time, despite reports of his ailments.
The press had frequently remarked that these ailments were invented, to keep him out of prison or from the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, but in reality his illness must have been true. He was quite a jolly man, liked to crack jokes in between his reminiscences and one was often regaled by a healthy grin, comprising - I suspect - his original teeth. A self confessed man of the people, in common with the workers who he still then indefatigably regarded as his own kind, he had always treated personal illness with contempt. In our interview he occasionally alluded to the misfortunes of health, but only in terms of his old age pension, and the cost of Bulgarian medicine.
By then he had spent nearly eight years under house arrest, and up until one fateful Thursday afternoon on the 18th September of last year, he was only able to leave the surroundings of his family home with government permission, such as a visit to a festival in Iundula, when many of his old supporters came to greet him. Contrary to my expectations at the time, he did not talk of any future role in a Bulgarian Government, but rather saw himself as the retired elder statesman. Surprisingly, he was nothing like some of his Old Bulgarian comrades, who have the unfortunate habit of talking rather loudly, as if to establish some kind of pecking order and he seemed genuinely pleased to have someone to talk to about the past.
As he peered through his incredibly bottle thick spectacles, I saw little of the malevolent dictator - a picture often presented by newly found democrats, those out to impress the often gullible foreigner, or indeed those who wish to disguise their past support for him - but a man who was resigned to a fate of reflection, and occasional nostalgia.
Behind his dated glasses, the eyes appeared shrewd and searching and as he spoke, and his memory seemed unimpaired by eight years in obscurity. Sitting on a verandah surrounded by a beautiful and well kept garden, he was pleased to mull through the past - his political history - and showed no concern that his words would be misused. Never the less, this was a man who had once enjoyed great power, the ear of each and every powerful communist leader since Stalin, and leaders from the West.  One sensed however, that despite the intervening years, he still possessed all his instincts and faculties. He found it easy to answer questions, which he punctuated with expansive gestures, occasionally changing his reading glasses to long distance ones; perhaps to look more deeply into the past, or perhaps just to look at another day.
I asked him about his new book, about his life, and about his reminiscences, much of which now seems inappropriate or too long to publish, so I include extracts from the interview, which cover some of the main issues of his time in power and to give the reader an idea of his personality, his politics, his delusions, and his often clever abstractions. 

Q. Do you feel the need to speak to the Bulgarian people, and the world? 

‘Yes, I do. I have been under house arrest for the past eight years. I am unaware of another head of state in the world, which has been under house arrest for eight years. I need to speak to the nation; I am a politician and a statesman. I was at the head of the Bulgarian Communist Party for thirty years. Nine years as Chairman of the Council of Ministers and twenty years as head of state in Bulgaria. I have been active in the political life of Bulgaria for the past sixty years, and I have spent all my life amongst the people, and amongst the workers. When I was young I studied as an apprentice printer and worked in the printing business. I am connected to the people and to the intelligentsia, and being held under house arrest is a real punishment.’ 

Q. Have you ever spoken to the western media? 

‘I have given lots of interviews, in France, Germany and Japan, and almost everywhere around the world, with the exception of Great Britain. My worst relations were always with Great Britain, which was not my fault.’ 

 Q. What made you enter politics? 

              'Do you want to know the truth about Todor Zhivkov? I have been in politics since my early days, from the age of 16. First of all I became a member of the Marxist groups in school and then the Communist Youth Party. I spent two years in the Comsomol and then I was accepted into the Communist Party. In the period after WW2 I spent a number of years as party secretary to various regions in Sofia, which culminated in April 1956 when I was elected to the post of General Secretary of the Communist Party, and Chairman of the Council of Ministers.’ 

Q. What or who inspired you? 

            ‘Ideals. I have met and been close with all the leaders of the socialist parties, in Europe and the USSR, because I was chairman of the council of ministers for nine years, and I had to maintain good links with Russia for reasons of wealth, and because of the natural resources which they possessed. If it was not for that, Bulgaria would never have reached the level of European development it achieved.’  

Q. What did you do for Bulgaria? 

‘Bulgaria was the second poorest country in Europe, after Albania, when I was elected to the head of the Council of Ministers. Bulgaria soon began to develop, in terms of the standard of living, cultural development and on a number of other issues. Bulgaria even overtook a number of other socialist countries. There have even been reports in the western media that the Bulgarian nation is one of the most intelligent nations in Europe. This is true, that after I was head of state, secondary education was compulsory for all and a vast number of Bulgarians now graduate from secondary schools. The annual number of university graduates and post-graduate students when I was elected to the post of Chairman of the Council of Ministers was 1,200, and when I was removed from office that number had risen to 30,000 annually. Can you imagine in a small country like Bulgaria, with such a huge number of young people educated to such a high level in various areas of science and culture.’ 

Q. In your opinion, when did socialism begin to collapse and why? 

‘It was after the appointment of Gorbachev to the post of the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR. Perestroika resulted in the complete collapse of the old order, which you have seen with your own eyes. But I was isolated and could not organise any opposition to the processes. I was abandoned by the General Secretaries of other socialist countries, to struggle against the destructive power of Gorbachev. He betrayed us. I did however, have another thesis [of reform] which was profoundly different from his. My view was to meet ‘The West’ halfway, and the west was prepared to do this. This was expressed by both Kohl and Mitterrand during the last meetings which I had with them. They were prepared for this change, but were caught unawares by the events which unfolded. They did not expect that Gorbachev would hand them all the socialist countries on a plate. Such events would have been much more peaceful and Bulgaria would still be the developed European country that it was, rather than the poorest country in Europe, which it now is.’ 

Q. Was the collapse due to external or internal factors? 

‘Both internal and external. The key was in our hands, until Gorbachev handed it to the west on a plate. He paid no attention to us -although what he did will be a matter for history to decide - because Perestroika was a subterfuge. The majority of the Russian people realised this, but there were no forces able to overthrow it. For me the socialist system had to be maintained. All the benefits which it had created for the people had to be preserved and not allowed to degenerate to the present situation in Russia and Bulgaria. We had nothing against the introduction and the use of the ‘Achievements of Human Civilisation’ from the west, in Bulgaria. However, events took their own course, and not the one I would have chosen, because this led to the total plundering of Bulgaria, and the destruction of everything.’ 

Q. When did you realise that things were changing for you personally? 

‘One or two years after the appointment of Gorbachev, I was perhaps one of the first to realise that we had taken the wrong road. I sent him a letter containing my own thesis [of reform] and my views on the problems. He paid no attention to my letter; on the contrary, he began a campaign against me. During further meetings I confronted him verbally and in writing, my final letter being a request to hold a meeting of all the General Secretaries of the Communist Party’s to discuss the matter. He promised to do so, but the meeting never took place. He deceived me during this entire period, saying that he would do something, but he did not.’ 

Q. What happened in Bulgaria, and within the Party?
‘Gorbachev had a number of his own protégés which he mobilised. He appointed one of the best trained KGB agents to the post of Ambassador to Bulgaria, the campaign against me began, and even Bulgarian delegations visiting the USSR were subjected to propaganda against me.’

Q. Bulgaria, of all the former socialist countries had the closest relationship with the USSR. What was the reason for this special relationship? 

‘This was the mainstay of the policies of my leadership. Only an idiot would not have realised, that without the natural resources of the USSR, Bulgaria could not have made any progress. I was once told by a Soviet scientist that Russia has such a wealth of natural resources, that it could support the entire planet for several centuries. All the socialist countries were designated areas for industrial production, although Bulgaria was only given fork-lift trucks. Despite that, we developed that industry and became the biggest producer in the world of fork-lift trucks and we supplied the entire socialist block. It was then that we began to develop our own electronic industry, and machine building industry, because by then Bulgaria had already developed its own agriculture.’ 

Q. How do Bulgarians think of you now? 

‘When I was let out to go to the festival in Iundula recently, a crowd of thousands came out to greet me - even after the policy of changing their Islamic names to Bulgaria ones - their religious leader came out to greet me, and for twenty minutes they would not let me go. My bodyguards had to make a corridor for me. Some people are worried now, and the press are beginning a campaign against me.’ 

Q. There was no Soviet Army in Bulgaria. Why? 

‘That was the understanding. I didn't sign the agreement, it was signed by Georgi Dimitrov and it wasn't changed, although I reduced the number of Soviet military advisors in the army and in state security.’ 

Q. What were your main successes? 

‘The main success which we had was in our relations with Western Europe - with the exception of Great Britain which pursued an active campaign against Bulgaria - which was on the basis of a balance of interests, rather than on a class principle. My first international visit, as head of state, was to France under De Gaulle, which was mutually active, and based on trust. I went to Germany later to visit Chancellor Schell which was very successful, and he then came to Bulgaria. We developed relations with Kohl and had head-to-head meetings; just the two of us with an official interpreter, and I visited all the countries of Europe with the exception of Great Britain and Sweden, and they paid return visits to Bulgaria in turn.  

Q. What about other Balkan countries? 

‘At the time, Bulgaria's relations with all the Balkan countries were good, especially with Greece and Turkey. We had certain problems with Rumania, but that was due to the character of Ceausescu.’ 

Q. What did you want from Western Europe? 

‘Bulgaria's relations with Western Europe were on the basis of a balance of interests which gave us the opportunity of discussing those matters which were of importance to the West. Bulgaria was a small country in need of raw materials, which were all guaranteed from the USSR, so there were no problems with their supply or with subsequent markets. The problem was providing Bulgaria with the ‘Achievements of Human Civilisation,’ from Western Europe. That was what we underestimated, and was the basis of my conflict with various people in Bulgaria, and also with Gorbachev. We needed to provide Bulgaria with these achievements and a market economy. This was the basis of the new thesis [of reform] which I developed, because a new historical period had begun for mankind in the west, particularly in the 1970's with the introduction of electronics, automation, information technology, and networks. This was a new stage in development, when science became a productive force. At the same time, of course, we should not underestimate the positive benefits which socialism has created for people.’ 
Q. Was there any misunderstanding between you and other countries about the Turkish question in the 1980's?
‘While I was head of state, there were no misunderstandings. If you look at the official protocols from Ankara and Sofia, there is no mention of Turks in Bulgaria. They are referred to as Bulgarian Muslims, Turkish-speaking Bulgarians, and Bulgarian-speaking Muslims. This question was developed after my removal from office. Bulgaria could not allow the expansion of Turkish place names and personal names. Only the Bulgaria which exists at the moment, could allow such a state of affairs. The Turks are now on the offensive, supported by the USA and I don't know who else. I don't even know if England isn't involved!’ 

Q. Is there still a place for communism in the world? 

‘Yes! There is no alternative to socialism. Eventually socialism will come. It will not be the sort of socialism which we have experienced till now - and I am now too old to take an active part - but there will be others after me. The conditions which exist in countries like England, France, Germany and the US will create socialism. Soon, everything will be computerised - it is happening now - and there is even talk of a reduced working week to 33 hours. This might not happen today or tomorrow, but that is socialism! Call it what you may, that is socialism! And it is no longer me who is working for socialism, but those in Western Europe who are working towards it, because they have no other option.’ 

Q. Your late daughter has a very special place in the hearts of the Bulgarian people. She achieved many things in the area of cultural development and education. Can you say a few words about her? 

‘Liudmila Zhivkova was an exceptional talent. She was a woman, who looked to the future, but there were many things which the Politburo could not accept and they reacted with silence or innuendo. But she was right and she developed Bulgarian culture, and brought it to the attention of the whole world. And now everything which is connected with her name has been destroyed. She was more developed and more mature than any of us in ‘the leadership,’ in terms of her intellect and perception, both for Bulgaria and for the world. 

Q. Tell us about your memoirs? 

‘My memoirs are not ordinary memoirs and will be the subject of interest and research. I discuss international matters in them, and they include criticism of modern Marxists, not of Marx, but the Marxists. I criticise those who interpret and develop Marx in modern conditions. No-one up till now has made this sort of criticism of modern Marxist thought.’ 

The interview concluded with the usual thanks and handshakes, but we did not go at once, and he seemed pleased about what he had said. He had not lost the touch. But, it was something that someone had once said to me, and it began to happen. They said that he was like a flower, which opened up in the sunshine, perhaps it was because he had begun to talk again. 

I have lived in Bulgaria for some years now and to some extent the reality of my day to day life, has caused a small cloud to appear in the sky - to obscure the true importance of some issues - and Zhivkov is certainly one in question. Politicians very often try to blame him for all that is wrong, to turn him into some sort of communist bogeyman, whilst presenting themselves as angels of enlightenment. In the first days of democratic reform he was accused of stealing millions of dollars of ‘The Peoples Money,’ and hiding it away in numbered bank accounts in Switzerland. Some said that he had bled the country to death, and despite scanty evidence, much of this is probably true! But, let us consider the true reality of Bulgaria since he was deposed and imprisoned? The country has been ravaged, the banks have been sucked dry by fraud, theft, and by credit millionaires - and until last year’s elections - politics and politicians were synonymous with graft corruption and incompetence. So what is so special about democracy in purely criminal terms? Good question! 

At the time of our visits, although apparently in a so called prison, Todor Zhivkov seemed to have servants and not prison warders. To the casual observer it looked as if - with a bit of luck - he could have gone to visit the local pub if he had really wanted to. So it occurred to me that his seclusion may well have been as much by his own choosing, as by court sentence, and that at the time, the question of imprisonment may well have been more about perspective than reality, or even by mutual consent. 

              On the final visit to see him in Boyana, on the morning of the 18th September, he was not in good spirits. We were shown into the patio area via the garden path at the side of the house, and he was sitting there glumly looking at the newspaper. He cheered up a bit when he saw us, but there was no denying that he had bad days as well as good. We spoke of certain aspects of the article, that it was our desire to be open and honest about the circumstances of his confinement, and he in turn pointed out that he also had personal rights too, any infringement of which could easily be presented to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, should they come into question. But, writing this now all seems rather academic. Todor Zhivkov has finally gone.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Twiddly Bits

An interview with a fictional retired British Ambassador

By Patrick Brigham  Circa1998 for the Sofia Western News magazine.

The history of diplomacy in the Balkans started more or less during the period of Bulgarian independence, since which time many ambassadors have travelled through this, part of the world. No longer an ambassador, but now living in retirement in Surbiton, we decided to interview Tony Blogs, who is now in his early seventies. Having held important diplomatic posts in many parts of the Balkans and elsewhere, the SWN asked about his experiences during a long and interesting career. 

Q. What do you remember most about your time in the Balkans? 

Tony Blogs. Mainly the social life actually, diplomatic receptions and so on. 

Who were the politicians you remember the most? 

Tony Blogs. What’s his name? I met him once at a reception given by the Swedish Ambassador. I remember we had wonderful gravlax and fresh prawns in a splendid dill and mustard sauce. I’ll never forget that. 

Q. Were you able to help to promote business during your time? 

Tony Blogs. Well I talked a bit about feasibility studies sometimes - whatever they are - very often at business seminars. But, the food was never very good. However, I remember once having terrific egg mayonnaise canapé’s; you know, with twiddly bits on top, they were excellent. 

Q. You were there prior to democracy, what can you tell us about the run up to the political changes in the Balkans? 

Tony Blogs. Well there were some very dodgy characters hanging around receptions in those days, but, there is no question about it, the food was much better. And the wine; you know, I can remember drinking 1963 Merlot and even a good 1962 Melnik on one occasion. 

Q. What were living conditions then like in the Balkans? 

Tony Blogs. Oh! Very comfortable really. Nice big house, with servants, lovely garden, and of course one could eat more familiar food - roast beef; that sort of stuff - and entertain ones friends. 

Q. You have now retired, what is your most lasting memory? 

Tony Blogs. It is very difficult to say, but as I mention in my memoirs - which are just about to be published - I think it was the egg mayonnaise which I remember most, you know, with the twiddly bits on top. Very tasty! 

Editors Note.  

Next month former Ambassador Tony Blogs will tell us about time spent:-

1. The In*** Subcontinent? -  Madras and Vindaloo Curry.

2. The Leba***? -  Stuffed lamb with raisons.

3. And finally *****? -  Baked Beans on toast.


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Nelson Mandela - his courageous poem from Roben Island

I am the master of my fate - I am the captain of my soul.

Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the full clutch of circumstance
I have not winced or cried aloud
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Uniped Dance Studio opens in the Bulgarian Capital Sofia

By Patrick Brigham - an interview

Many people complain of their droll middle aged existence in Sofia. And, other than the copious consumption of alcohol in the privacy of their own home, or the occasional outward appearance at formal functions - where well known platitudes are traditionally exchanged - there seems very little to do. It is at these traditional formal ‘gurgitations’ of enormous mounds of free food, that one can see the great and good, performing their supercilious re-enactment of the ‘I am here to be seen’ social symbiosis. One often wonders if it has any real bearing on reality, although the thought that diplomatic peace and tranquility can be calculated in direct proportion to a set number of egg mayonnaise canape - with twiddly bits on top - sends the mind racing at times. 
          This is what has made Dinsdale Astaire such an immediate attraction in Sofia. After a long career as President of the World Organisation for Brothers Bereft of Legs, etc., - the well known acronym being WOBBLE - he has chosen to open a school of dancing for one legged people here in the capital. I asked him about his experience.

Why did you come to Sofia?
          I believe that everyone should have a chance to dance and to enjoy life. As the past President of WOBBLE, I have always believed in our world wide motto which is ‘Join WOBBLE, and learn to stand on your own two feet!’ It has stood me in good stead for many years, I can tell you.

Has being a uniped been a problem for you in the past?
          Not really. Although, when I was an actor in my youth, I was very disappointed not to get the lead part in the film Tarzan of the Apes. That upset me a bit.

Why didn't you get the part?
          Well the director Darrell Ivanosovitch was quite nice about it actually. He said that although I looked good on camera, he felt that I really needed two legs for the part. He said that he didn't have anything in particular against my right leg, but that, I didn't either.

You must have missed out allot on sport?
          No way. The members of WOBBLE even had a football team at one time. We actually played Manchester United in a friendly game a few years ago, it was quite an occasion.

What was the score?
          2,000:1 to Man United, but we didn't care. It’s nice to have a little hop around before you have a drink.

Who scored your goal?
          Well the ref did actually. He went flying down the pitch blowing his whistle, and booted it into the back of their net, shouting at them and calling them a bunch of bastards.

What sort of dancing do you teach at your Sofia Academy?
          In the beginning I used to teach the Viennese waltz, and the Pasodobles, but it didn't work. Everyone used to end up in a pile on the floor, laughing, and waving their leg around. It was hopeless. So we went on to Warehouse, and Techno. I expect you have seen some of our students dancing at Lipstick or Ivolo as its known here in Sofia; mind you most of the people who go there look as though they are dancing on one leg, don’t they? And, if you stay their late at night, everyone looks completely legless anyway.

Can only unipeds join your club, or are duopeds or multipeds - as it is more politically correct to say - welcome as well?
          Only the women! But, two weeks ago I noticed an older man dancing - I think he was a British diplomat - who had two legs. I told him, I would give him seven days to have one of his legs cut off, or I would revoke his membership. Well you have to put your foot down sometimes, haven’t you?


Thousands of very often young innocent people loose limbs to Land Mines, all over the world. Not just in Africa, the Middle and Far East, South America, or Asia, but also here in the Balkans. They are the scourge of normal societies, and there are no innocent Governments either.
There are thousands of hectares of mined land between old enemy’s, and new enemies as well. In Kosovo and on both the Serbian and Albanian borders, there are thousands of land mines, and anti personnel mines planted in the ground, capable of disabling farm workers, or innocent country dwellers.
Please spare a thought for these tragic victims, and try to understand their hopeless plight. It is not just a matter of removing old and occasionally unstable mines, but often giving a new limb to a family provider. If you care about this problem, please contact the SWN, and we will put you in touch with specialist organisations that are presently helping those afflicted. Remember Diana, many do not!

This was written by me in 1997/8 for the Sofia Western News magazine. What has changed?

Something for A Quiet Time- by Patrick Brigham

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