Friday 28 October 2016

The Invisible President – by Patrick Brigham

Mr. Harold Throdes

Recently listening to an interesting podcast discussion, by Clive Leviev Sawyer and Lance Nelson - concerning the forthcoming Bulgarian presidential election - I chanced upon a newspaper interview in the Daily Sleaze, a Bulgarian underground yellow press weekly. It was with a jobbing actor, who had recently arrived in the capital, called Harold Throdes.

A well known impersonator, Mr. Thodes has recently appeared in the Wrexham Players version of The Invisable Man, and in the past featured in the Hollywood film Ghoastbusters. Originally appearing in a documentary, filmed in Sofia in 1998, called The Invisible Bank Manager, Mr. Throdes – a talented actor – specializes in parts involving people who aren’t there.

The 2016 Bulgarian Presidential election has 21 candidates to date, many of whom have never been heard of before, most of which will never be heard of again, and some of whom are so old, that they have forgotten why anyone is voting for them in the first place. Most candidates qualify for the well known maxim that: ‘Politics is Hollywood for ugly people,’ which is something that makes Harold Throdes an ideal candidate. This is because, you cannot see him at all!

It all came about when the Bulgarian Parliament chose to make it illegal, for its citizens not to vote in presidential elections. It has also become rather confusing for political statisticians, because it befuddles the matter of electoral numbers, if people don’t vote. But, nevertheless, the law was passed.

This then caused more anxiety, when the political pundits had to design a voting slip for the Bulgarian election, because, what if people didn’t want to vote for any of the candidates? So finally, and in desperation, it was agreed to have a special box to tick on the voting form called, “I don’t support anyone.”

‘That’s when I got the phone call,’ Throdes was reported as saying in The Irish Pub, ‘it suddenly dawned on the voting commission, that if the “I don’t support anyone” voters won, there would be no one to take the top job.’

Asked if he was politically motivated in any way, he replied, ‘Nah, most politicians are a bunch of plonkers, aren’t they? They are all the same to me, I only came here for the money!’

Asked what he would do, if he was elected, ‘Well, nothing really; nobody else does, do they? I might open a few supermarkets and petrol stations, and I am quite good at dancing and singing, as long as my bandages don’t drop off. If that happens, everyone usually runs away.’

Asked about the advantage of being invisible, Harold Throdes had to think for a moment. ‘Well, I suppose the best thing is not having to pay for buses, and of course, being able to drink as much beer as I like. I usually find a nice crowded pub, and go around emptying every bodies glasses. Nobody seems to notice!


Saturday 22 October 2016

Hillary and Donald's ‘Punch & Judy Show by Patrick Brigham

Some comedian recently asked on British TV; apropos the loutish and androgynous Donald Trump – ‘Why would American voters want to replace a perfectly good black president, with an orange one?’

Rather rude, but that is exactly what he looks like. Is it stage make-up which has gone wrong, has he got some sort of malignant skin condition, or does he come – as I strongly suspect - from the planet Zog? These are questions which may enter one's thoughts each day as – we the innocent citizens of Europe – are regaled on the box, and via the news media, by Trumps antics, and his animosity towards his favourite victim, the redoubtable Hillary Clinton.

Mind you, there are those who believe that these two are as bad as each other, as they perform ritual character assassinations on one another, which brings me back to tranquil summer holidays, as a boy, in Rye or was it Margate? Because, through the mists of time, I can still remember summers spent on the south coast of England, and the delight of a traditional English Punch and Judy show, as they knocked the living daylights out of one another.

‘He’s behind you,’ we would all shout, and Mrs. Punch would reply - ‘Oh no he isn’t,’ and we would all shout – ‘Oh yes he is!’
So, do you now recognize who I am talking about?

The unmistakable orange Donald Trump.

I for one have lost so much respect for the Americans, during this absurd US election, which has been reduced to a ridiculous puppet show. Call it a media event if you wish, but the debate has been totally turned on its head, and is now simply light entertainment – at its best - if not a rather bad situation comedy.

The behaviour of these two has shown the USA to be a shallow and trivial place – judging by their supporters and spokespeople - which makes a mockery of their frequent; if now unconvincing announcement, that they are the largest democracy and the world, and the only superpower.

Can you imagine how Putin is rubbing his hands in glee, as he sees the largest *** in the world, daily making a total ass of itself. Could anybody in Europe honestly say that either of these two contenders for the top US job, should be taken seriously? Do you believe the world would be a safer place, with Trump or Clinton's finger on the nuclear button?

I think that the way these two have turned on their old rival Russia, by accusing Putin of practically any misdemeanor imaginable, demonstrates the total incapacity of either of these two stalwarts, to maintain a US position within global politics. If you watch the Russian Television Channel, many there are laughing their socks off at the US, wondering when America will finally implode, and many of us also wonder how Putin has the gall, to send a rather battered and smoky Russian aircraft carrier, up the English Channel?


Monday 10 October 2016

Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of Greece by Patrick Brigham

Alex Tsipras was born in Athens in 1974. He joined the Communist Youth of Greece in the late 1980s and in the 1990s was politically active in student protests against education reform plans, becoming the movement's spokesperson. He studied civil engineering at the National Technical University of Athens, graduating in 2000, and later undertook post-graduate studies in urban and regional planning. He claims he has worked as a civil engineer in the construction industry, based primarily in Athens.

From 1999 to 2003, Tsipras served as the secretary of Synaspismos Youth, was elected as a member of the Central Committee of Synapismos in 2004, and later he entered the Political Secretariat. In the 2006 local election, he ran as Syriza’s candidate for Mayor of Athens, winning a reasonable 10.5% of the votes cast. In 2008, he was elected as leader of Syriza, succeeding Alekos Alavanos, and was first elected to the Greek Parliament, representing Athens A, in the 2009 election. He was re-elected in May, and in June 2012, he became leader of the opposition, appointing his own shadow cabinet.

In January 2015, Tsipras led Syriza to victory in a snap election, winning 149 out of 300 seats in the Greek Parliament, and formed a coalition with the Independent Greeks. On the 20th August 2015, seven months into his term as Prime Minister, he lost his majority, and after various defections, Tsipras announced his resignation, but called for a snap election to take place the following month. In the election that followed, Tsipras led Syriza to another victory; winning 145 out of 300 seats, and re-formed the coalition with the Independent Greeks. As Prime Minister, he has overseen negotiations regarding the famous debt crisis, initiated the bailout and has largely managed to control the Middle East migrant crisis. In 2015 he was voted by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. So, who is he?

Tsipras is a political animal, and has always been so. As a university student, he joined the ranks of the renascent left-wing movement, particularly the Enceladus group, and as a member, he was elected to the executive board of the students' union, at the Civil Engineering School he attended. He also served as student representative on the University Senate, and from 1995 to 1997, he was an elected member of the Central Council of the National Students Union of Greece.

I don’t suppose for one moment he has been much of a Civil Engineer, other than in a fall back position, if all his political ambitions fail. But in common with many other politicians from all parties and in all countries, he has started his political career, well heeled and well fed.

According to Katerinna Prifti from the Huffington Post, ‘Some in politics would say Tsipras is a “sprinter,” since he managed to accomplish - in a short period of time - what others have worked for their entire lives. While the economic crisis and the indignation of the Greek people have been an important factor in Tsipras’ rise, and with the success of Syriza, the Greek Parliament’s youngest party leader has distinguished himself on the political scene early on. Even today, his political opponents belligerently bring up his political actions as a “kid.”’

Tsipras is not married. His registered partner is Peristera "Betty" Batziana, an electrical and computer engineer. They met in 1987, at the age of 13, at the Ampelokipoi Branch High School, and both eventually became members of the Communist Youth of Greece. They live together in Athens, with their two sons, their youngest son's middle name being Ernesto; in tribute to Che Geuvara. He is an avid football fan and, having grown up near the stadium, he supports Panathinaikps, attending every home game when possible.

Tsipras is a self-confessed atheist, making him - at the time of his swearing-in -among the three publicly recognized atheist within the heads of government in the EU. When you boil all this down, it makes Alex Tsipras seems almost an enigma, within an enigma, to most, and not – as far as the European Union is concerned – a dream, within a dream.

His relationship with Jean-Claude Junker, for me at least, is the most telling one, certainly judging by their personal chemistry. In an interview with Der Spiegel reporter, Peter Muller, Junker announced quite clearly, that he didn’t understand Tsipras, making their early romance perhaps a little confusing. In his interview, Junker obviously found the rebuttal of his offer of friendship, with the Greek Premier, a little disquieting.

As William Shakespeare once so eloquently said: ‘"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned," But jean-Claude Junker was very clear in his reaction -

“There are two types of friendship. The first is rooted in goodwill, of the kind I feel for Mr. Tsipras. The second -- true friendship -- is much rarer, because it must first overcome obstacles and grow. No, my relationship with Mr. Tsipras is, for the time being, a friendship in accordance with the word's first definition. Only later will it become clear if a real friendship will grow out of that. I will, however, acknowledge that the trust I placed in him is not always returned in equal measure.

“One should never take personally the relationships between representatives and institutions. We are here, to work for the people. On the other hand, politics cannot function without reliable personal relationships. With all due respect to the new Greek government, one has to point out that some of its representatives came into office without being adequately prepared for the tasks awaiting them.

“European politics is not a card game where there is a winner and a loser at the end. On the contrary: Either everyone wins, or everyone loses. That is why it is absolutely essential that the Greek government move as quickly as it can.

“Had I said at the beginning of the negotiations that a Grexit was an option, it would have unleashed a wave of speculation on the financial markets. Apparently, there are some in the Greek government who have misunderstood and believe that there is someone in Europe who can pull a rabbit out of the hat in the end. But that is not the case.

“I have warned Mr. Tsipras many times he shouldn't depend on me being able to prevent a failure of the talks if that isn't desired by the other side. We should do everything we can to prevent a Grexit, but to do so, both sides must exert themselves. In the end, I would prefer the rabbit to bear the Greek national colours.

“It bothers me that the Tsipras government acts as though we in the European Commission are austerity fanatics who are crushing the dignity of the Greek people underfoot. I am upset that the Greek government acts as though the Commission is seeking a higher sales tax on electricity, to mention one example. I have told Mr. Tsipras many times that I am open to other suggestions if they result in the same revenues. Instead of complaining about the Commission, Mr. Tsipras could one day tell Greeks that I have offered a €35 billion investment program for the years 2015 to 2020 to stimulate growth in his country. I haven't heard anything about that.”

Well, from friendship to despair, austerity is now up most in the minds of those who live, these days, here in Little Greece; despite Mr. Junkers pronouncements and bluster. Hopefully his persona will change, when he meets across a table with certain Brexiteers, but I rather doubt that, don’t you? I think that revenge is on the table.


Saturday 8 October 2016

Sing A Song of Sixpence- by Patrick Brigham

‘Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Wasn't that a dainty dish,
To set before the king?’

This is the story of a king who would be crowned, not as the Tsar of Bulgaria, but as Prime Minister of a floundering ex-Communist State.

Simeon Borisov Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was born 16 June 1937. During his reign as Simeon II,Tsar of Bulgaria , from 1943 to 1946 he was a minor, and royal authority was exercised over the kingdom on his behalf by a regency. In 1946 the monarchy was abolished - as a consequence of a referendum - and Simeon was forced into exile.

He returned to his home country in 1996 and formed a political party called The The National Movement for Stability and Progress and became prime minister of the Republic of Bulgaria from July 2001 until August 2005. In the next elections, as the leader of NDSV, he took part in a coalition government with the ex-communist party BSP, but in 2008, after NDSV failed to win any seats in the Parliament, he left politics.

He became tsar on 28 August 1943 on the death of his father, who had just returned to Bulgaria from a meeting with Adolf Hitler. Since Tsar Simeon was only six years old, when he ascended the throne, his uncle, Prince Kyril, Prime Minister Bogdan Filov, and Lt. General Nikola Mikov, of the Bulgarian Army were appointed regents

They joined the Axis powers during World War Two, and on 5 September 1944 the Soviet Union declared war on Bulgaria. Three days later the Red Army entered the country without encountering resistance. On the next day, 9 September 1944, Prince Kyril and the other regents were deposed by a Soviet-backed coup and arrested. The three regents, all members of the last three governments, Parliament deputies, heads of the army and eminent journalists were executed by the Communists in February 1945.

In 1990, a few months after the fall of communism, Simeon was issued a new Bulgarian passport. In 1996 - 50 years after the abolition of the monarchy - Simeon returned to Bulgaria and was met in many places by cheering crowds, although at that point, he did not make any political announcements or moves. However, these sentiments gradually dissipated after his premiership, and specifically during his coalition, as a leader of NDSV, with the ex-communist party.

Various estates in Bulgaria that had been nationalized during the Communist era were returned to Simeon and his family, and in 2001 Simeon - who had by this time taken the name Simeon Borisov Saxecoburg Gotha - announced he would return to Bulgaria to form a new political party, called The National Movement Simeon II. Dedicated to "reforms and political integrity."Simeon promised that in 800 days the Bulgarian people would feel tangible positive effects of his government, and would enjoy significantly higher standards of living.

NMSII won a large victory in the parliamentary elections, held on the 17th June 2001, capturing 120 of the 240 seats, and defeating the two main pre-existing political parties. Simeon gave an oath as Prime Minister on 24 July, forming a coalition with the ethnic Turkish party Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF). He gave ministerial positions in his government ; mainly to technocrats and Western-educated economic specialists. In 2002, his efforts were recognized by his receiving the 2002 Path to Peace Award from the Path to Peace Foundation. During his time in power, Bulgaria joined the EC and NATO.

In the 2005 elections, Simeon's party ranked second and participated in the grand coalition government led by The Bulgarian Socialist Party, and including the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. Simeon was given the unofficial ceremonial post of Chairman of the Coalition Council. The party got just 3.01% of the votes and no seats at all in the elections of 2009 of 2009, and shortly thereafter, on 6 July 2009, Simeon resigned as NMSII leader.

Mixing with other Royals

British prime minister Harold Wilson once famously remarked, that a week was a long time in politics, and King Simeon in his special way, was out to scotch that theory. But, although he did not use rhetoric, bluster, or offer an unsustainable five year economic program, he did make a promise; that within 800 days of his appointment, the citizens of Bulgaria would be better off. It is hard to say if this came true or not – peoples expectations being as they were at the time - but Simeon had a genuine ‘feel good factor’ about him, a quality which no previous Bulgarian politician had offered to the confused, and often disappointed peoples of Bulgaria.

Bulgarians have a habit of resenting those who seem better off than themselves, and of course – at the time - the hot air was unending, about restituted royal palaces and land. It was as if they believed he had only come to Bulgaria, to get his hands on some dosh, in order to do a runner, at some later date. Silly people make such observations, because the costs of running and restoring buildings of this sort, probably far outweigh their intrinsic value; not to mention the time and effort required to manage such projects. But that didn’t matter to the ‘yellow press,’ whose poison not only infected the reading public, but parliament itself.

I remember Simeon’s first stuttering speeches, where he had to get his tongue around a language he had hardly used for fifty years. But he was nobodies fool, and nor was he taken in by the fawning acolytes, who - in typical Bulgarian fashion - we're relying on sycophancy and flattery, to take his eye off the ball. After all, weren’t most foreigners gullible and easily misled, so why should he be the exception? Surely, it was a well known fact!

This was a time when most of the recent bunch of glib politicians, and ‘First Lieutenant’s of Communism,’ were scouring the country for old enterprises to buy for a $1, and then looking for foreign fools to sell it too for $50 million. Pathetic by todays standards, but then the ‘stupid foreigner’ syndrome, was still in ascendance. So, one might imagine the frustration of Simeon having to deal with these idiots, without loosing his cool, whilst appearing to be running a stable and progressive country. If the average foreign businessman saw Bulgaria as a place for R&R - there were plenty of attractions in the four ale bars of Sofia- although, at that time, there was very little confidence in the economy. Simeon, with his magic touch, and his occasional appearances on foreign TV at Royal weddings, put paid to a lot of investor misgivings, and during his time in politics, the global economy started to take little Bulgaria, just a tad more seriously.

At age 79, Simeon is by now looking back on many things in his life; no doubt far beyond his days in Bulgaria, and particularly his life spent mainly in Spain. But he still is, and ever was a modest man who – over the years - willingly took the time to receive Bulgarian visitors, from the then soviet satellite state of Bulgaria, who - despite their political differences and prejudices - were treated with respect and kindness.

In my book, Herodotus: The Gnome of Sofia, there is a passage at the end of Chapter Five, which - for me anyway - defines that time in Bulgaria. It is when the fictitious King Gregory III is in the Sobranie, chatting to a newly retired President Stenchev, during the inauguration of the newly elected president. It is the story of King Gregory and his place in Bulgaria, but it may also be about Simeon.

“ The first lieutenants of communism often came to see him in various guises, and sometimes just to practice their lying. He knew they were trying to deceive him, to discover some kind of weakness in his character and to understand who and what he knew. But he said nothing. He was polite, he was calm and sometimes even generous, but he always studied them very closely. When they laughed at life’s great ironies, he had held out his hand in friendship, whoever they were and whatever their motives. But Stanchev was different, because he was actually a good man. “

“Outside the heavens opened up, and a great sheet of rain almost drowned the citizens of the capital. Those brave or determined enough to stand outside the Sobranie that morning, simultaneously ran for cover into the caf├ęs and the shops in or around the Narodnie Square. The taxi drivers, who had been waving posters of Gregory, jumped into their cabs and started to sound their car horns. The Hussars in their white plumed uniforms stood patiently in the rain. The police disappeared under the nearest tree, smoked their strong Balkan cigarettes, told each other that nothing would change, and laughed at their misfortune to have been born in such a hopeless place.”

‘When will you tell us who will be the Prime Minister? Who will be in the cabinet?’

“It wasn’t just the local media who were interested, but it seemed the whole world had its attention on Bulgaria, and for the first time ever.
Gregory simply said, ‘When the time is right, I will tell you.’He was not a man to be rushed.”


Something for A Quiet Time- by Patrick Brigham

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