Monday, 27 February 2017

Donald Trump & Gone With the Wind – by Patrick Brigham

It always amuses me how much the US claims to have done for The Balkans, but in reality, how little it really is. The great mantra of these ex communist countries in the early 90s was ‘The Americans will save us,’ and although a few polite words were spoken about the British, in general the US was the official gold medallist.

What happened in reality, was that although many Americans appeared on the scene after the changes, they were all paid for by Uncle Sam. Very little cash emerged into the respective Balkan economies, and while a great deal of hot air was expelled, a considerable amount of US publicity was accrued into the bargain, and little else.

Many of these imported US democracy brokers were constantly being accused by the locals of being ‘spooks,’ which was laughable in most cases. The expression, intelligence officer, is often regarded as a contradiction in terms, and most of the so called consultants, according to me at least, were hardly in the Mensa stream of political consciousness. But one thing became very clear, that America’s largesse was exclusively devoted to the many US citizens living in the Balkans, and no one else.

In the end, after all the initial excitement, it was the EU, which came to the rescue, with Great Britain as the inevitable back marker. The indifference of the British Embassy at the time, was legion, and very little happened. One bright spark even renamed the British Know How Fund, as the Not Know Fund, and it was occasionally referred to, as The Got No Money Fund. But, enough of that, because things have changed dramatically over the past twenty years, and the British are now held in considerable esteem within the Balkan communities.

The US mainly likes to talk about NATO, and even though EU member countries are seen to subscribe to it, the Americans have the greater presence. They also have the greatest say, and within the past few years have even been called the aggressor, as NATO assets have been lined up close to Russia in Eastern Europe. Seen as a ‘chicken and egg,’ scenario, it matters little who made the first move, when ratcheting up the stakes in this unnecessary game of poker. Because in the end, even with detente, there can only be losers.

Trumps position is still unclear, although he has announced that he wants to be friends once more with Russia, and in particular with Mr. Putin. But the question remains of how much of this is true, or even possible, under present US internal political conditions. Nevertheless, there has been a sea change in the Balkans.

Balkan nations are now turning back to their old compatriot Russia, in many ways, because despite 25 years separation, there still remains a sneaking regard for Russia and particularly its hard man Putin. Not simply due to the complexities of history, nor the enormous wealth of Russias natural resources, it is also because of the character of the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe, and their capacity to change sides.

Europe does not need any further conflict, and despite the present EU economic disturbances, it is the only real hope for most of the member countries future development. With trade comes peace and prosperity, one hopes, but there is some real fear in the offing. Starting with Trumps contempt for the EU itself – don’t underestimate the Nigel Farage connection – and his protectionist views on American trade, it is clear he regards the EU as rubbish. How he views the political stability it brings with its fatherly embrace, is another matter, or couldn't he care less?

It would be a very myopic politician who ignores the possibilities of a negative outcome for the EU, and with an American President who intends to build a wall between the US and Mexico, he may also be intending to build a wall around the United Sates as well! In the words of Rhett Butler, from Margaret Mitchell's epic tale of the American Civil War, called Gone With the Wind –Trump might easily say - ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.’ Which makes him a very dangerous man.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Advice for Newbies in The Balkans - by Patrick Brigham

The Editor:
Living in the Balkans is a bit like falling down an unexpected hole, where- as in Alice in Wonderland – on arrival, nothing is what it seems. The official government edicts from the capital, in whichever country you are living, are often not the same as other parts of the same country. Whether this is a matter of rugged individualism, of incipient Bolshevism, is a matter for further discussion. That is why the official British Government disclaimer, has its virtues in reality, and must be taken seriously. The following is all official British Embassy advice, with my cryptic comments in italics, in-between.

British Embassy Disclaimer: Please note that this information is provided as a general guide only, and is not intended to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual, neither can it be regarded as legal advice. definitive information should be obtained from the Bulgarian/Greek authorities or by consulting a suitably qualified professional. The British Embassy bares no responsibility for the accuracy of the information provided on the external websites, quoted and cannot guarantee that it is comprehensive and up to date.


Permanent import of vehicles – Change of residence certificate
: European Union nationals, resident in another European Union state for at least two years, who decide to transfer their place of residence to Greece, are exempt from VAT, and Registration currently levied in Greece on:

Cars (owned and used privately)
Pleasure craft
Mobile caravans
Within one month from the date of importation, owners of such vehicles must appear in person at the nearest Customs Authority, to request exemption from payment of registration and VAT. The owner will then be granted special Greek registration plates. Vehicles entering Greece are also required to undergo a test at a Vehicle Technical Control Centre (KTEO). A vehicle imported under the above regulation may not be transferred, leased, pawned or lent, nor its use assigned in any other manner without prior approval of the customs authorities. In the event of transfer, lease, pawning, lending or assignment of the use of such a vehicle before the lapse of one year, the total amount of tax due shall be collected.

A full list of requirements and more detailed information is available through-

Greek Ministry of Finance:

Director of Customs
Ministry of Finance,
40 Amalias St
Athens 105 62

Tel 210 324 5552 / 210 324 5587

The Editor: Pull the other leg, it’s got bells on! The only way that provincial Greek Customs is going to wear this, is if; whilst you are driving from another EU country in your nice nearly new car, you bring a new Greek wife or husband with you! Also, the only way that you will get any kind of response from the Greek Ministry of Finance, is if you have a friend working there. Sending a registered letter is a waste of time; or especially phoning, because each time a new assortment of officials is assembled at the ministry, all the paperwork mysteriously disappears. Buy a Greek car, pleasure craft, motorcycle or mobile home, and it’s a doddle – well, most of the time – but beware hidden costs, guarantees, and the availability of spare parts. Most Greek mechanics are well trained and dependable, and many speak English and German.

Customs formalities: From 1 January 1993 EU nationals visiting Greece may freely import and re-export personal effects and are not subject to any customs controls or other formalities at points of direct entry from another EU Member State. However, for vehicles, please see the above paragraph. The Greek Embassy in London provides information on moving residence to Greece.

Property purchase:
It is important that you retain the services of a competent lawyer to assist you in any purchase and we recommend that a lawyer works independently of the other parties involved in the transaction. There is no Legal Section at the British Embassy and Consular staff are not legally trained; therefore we are not able to advise you on legal matters, interfere in private disputes over property, or other issues. However, we can provide you with a list of English-speaking lawyers. Please note the disclaimer. You may also want to approach a notary public or a Greek broker for authoritative advice in this matter.


Registering with the Bulgarian authorities:
British citizens can enter Bulgaria without a visa and stay for a period up to 3 months. If you intend to stay for longer than 3 months, you will need to apply for a long-term residence permit from the Migration Directorate of the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior.


The Editor: This can be a nightmare, and is best shared with a friendly and patient lawyer. Despite claims by the Bulgarian Authorities that they have competent linguists on board, take it with a pinch of salt! These people are masters of procrastination, and pedantic to the point, that you might believe that they really don’t want you in their country at all. A leftover from previous times, this is where the unwary will experience at first hand, how life was under Communism. The mildest glitch in your paperwork will cause you to visit on another occasion – increasing your costs and frustration- and any infringement of a time requirement, will attract a fine. Beware these smiling acolytes, who often disappear for hours at a time – allegedly on immigration work – in order to have a leisurely lunch nearby. Marie Louisa is a Sofia hellhole!

British nationals who have resided legally in Bulgaria for a period of five years on the basis of a consecutive long-term residence permit are entitled to a permanent residence permit. Step-by-step guidance in English on obtaining long-term and permanent residence permits is available on the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior’s Migration Directorate’s website. For further information and feedback, please contact your local migration office or call +359 (2) 982 4808, email:

The European Commission guide to free movement is a useful source of general information and guidance to your rights as an EU citizen. Your Europe Advice provides custom-made legal advice on your rights within the EU free of charge, within 8 calendar days and in any official EU language.

The secret of a successful long-term move to Bulgaria is to integrate with your local community as much as possible by learning the language and by learning as much as possible about the local laws, regulations and customs.

Social security rights: For information about social security rights and pensions, please read the UK leaflet designed to offer you a basic introduction to your pension, benefit and healthcare rights and responsibilities. Don’t listen to rumours. Instead, use our list of official sources to start planning ahead today.

The Editor: You may be employed quite happily in Bulgaria, and enjoy the work experience, but there is still a reluctance for you to receive any form of state benefit, pension, or even free health care if you are a foreigner. It is regarded by many as a form of robbery – from the Bulgarian state that is – because as a foreigner, you are expected to arrive in Bulgaria, with vast financial resources. Many expats do not bother to collect the small Bulgarian pension – no matter how long they have worked in Bulgaria or at least over the 15 year limit – but it is well worth the aggravation, if nothing else, than to prove that EU legislation has some bearing in fact.

Healthcare: You can find out more about how to plan for your health care if you are going to live abroad on a permanent basis on the NHS website. If you are planning to reside in Bulgaria on a long-term basis, you must register with the National Health Insurance Fund and then choose a GP and a dentist. This will entitle you to the basic public health care package available for Bulgarian nationals. There are a number of private health insurance funds which offer various healthcare plans based on an annual fee. These plans can top up the services available under the basic public health care package depending on your individual circumstances and needs.

The Editor: There is no guarantee that private clinics are any better than the Bulgarian state health service, other than having certain language abilities. In any case, these private clinics do not always have specialist consultants, and often manned by GPs, there is a tendency to ship any serious case off to the local hospital. At this point, patients are usually advised to have necessary or occasionally even unnecessary procedures, and it is a moot point whether this is not the time, to go back to one’s own country, to receive treatment, if you are permanently resident in Bulgaria.

Before you go to Bulgaria on holiday make sure you bring a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with you, and take out private travel insurance. UK state pensions: If you have retired and you live in Bulgaria/Greece, you may be able to claim your pension from the UK. For detailed information on how to claim your state pension, please check the Pension Service or the Department for Social Development.

The state pension changed in April 2010. More people now qualify for a full basic state pension. Find out about the most important changes and what they mean to you. To find out when you reach State Pension age, use the State Pension Age Calculator.

If you live but have not worked in Bulgaria, you should claim your UK state pension by contacting the International Pension Centre (IPC) in the UK by telephone: +44 (0) 191 218 7777.

If you spend time in both the UK and another EEA country or Switzerland, and are unsure about how this affects your UK pension, benefit and healthcare rights, always consult the relevant UK authority.

Moving to Bulgaria/Greece once in receipt of a state pension:
If you are moving to Bulgaria/greece from the UK, you should inform the IPC of the changes to your circumstances. This will prevent any problems with your pension payments. It will also help you to get the right access to healthcare in Bulgaria/Greece.

Life certificates for UK state pensions: If you have received a life certificate from the UK Pension Service it is important that you reply as quickly as possible, otherwise your benefit man be stopped. You’ll need to get it signed by a ‘witness’ and send it back, as instructed on the form.

Check the list of people who can witness a life certificate – this is now the same as the list of people who can countersign a passport photograph, although they don’t need to live in the UK, or have a British or Irish passport. The british Embassy in Bulgaria/Greece, no longer provides life certificates for british nations, claiming british pensions abroad.

“Spending time out of the UK, whether for a holiday or to live, doesn’t necessarily mean that your benefits will be affected. But failing to notify your local benefit office of time spent abroad is considered an offence and could lead to prosecution, imprisonment and even the confiscation of your home and possessions.”

You may still be able to claim some benefits if you travel or move abroad, or are already living abroad, and what you’re entitled to depends on where you are going and how long for.

For further information on what benefits you can and cannot claim if you live in Spain see the information on benefits if you are abroad. Information about local Bulgarian benefits and pensions is available from the National Social Security Institute.

The Editor: Generally, claiming one’s pension is a fairly painless process, and many pensioners live quite contended lives in Bulgaria, where their UK pensions seem to go a long way. However, there is the little matter of which bank you choose to collect pensions, and my advice is to stick to foreign owned banks, which have a good relationship with ATM machines nationwide.

It has not been my intention to gainsay the British Embassy, in any country within the EU, but it is often the case that their websites are either hard to navigate – especially for some oldies – who have difficulty in gathering the correct information. Having been away from England myself, for some years now, there has been little first hand information which might effect me, and so I have tended to ignore the possibility, but there will always be a little surprise somewhere, especially with driving licences and passport renewals.

Most of the official websites make it sound all too easy to live abroad, which is not always true, especially with Brexit on the horizon, and many problems will mount up, causing retirees and expats to wonder about their future.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Anna Mendrinou Greek Artist - by Patrick Brigham


Anna Mendrinou was born in Athens. In 1964 she started studying Printmaking at the Athens School of Fine Arts. At the same school she studied Typography and Book Art with a scholarship. In 1968, she graduates from the Printmaking workshop with three honorary distinctions and in 1969 she graduates from workshop of Book Art.

Anna Mendrinou

Anna Mendrinou has illustrated about 140 books, has been awarded 4 Panhellenic Prizes and has been included in the IBBY Honour List. In 1987 she was nominated for the International Anderson Award.

Since 1980 she has been working at the Goulandri Museum of Natural History. Anna Mendrinou is a member of the Greek Chamber of Fine Arts and one of the founding members of the Greek Engravers Association. She is also a member of the “Aesop” Company of Illustrators.

As a printmaker and an illustrator, Anna Mendrinou has participated in many exhibitions in Greece and abroad. In 2002 she was awarded the 1st National Award for Children’s Book Illustration for the book “Aesop’s Fables”

Property in The Balkans - by Patrick Brigham



Overall, commercial property in Greece is hardly going to set the world alight. Due to the prevailing economic climate and to austerity measures, most high streets look like a smile with teeth missing, due to the number of dead windows and empty shops. Shopping, which was once one of Greece’s greatest pleasure’s, has been reduced to necessities, rather than luxury goods. Other than Athens and Thessaloniki – where tourists are most likely to be – and unless in a primary location, it is the same story everywhere, especially with unoccupied shops and offices in the secondary areas.

What movement there is, is mainly about existing business repositioning itself, or moving from older buildings into new. Rents are also a factor, because Greek property owning companies and individuals, are now faced with heavy taxes. Most property is hard to either sell or let, and consequently rents have been virtually halved. Whilst owners have been faced with recession, and facing the fact of a declining revenue, the inevitable choices have had to be made.


Whereas, the residential market in Bulgaria is fairly well managed and defined, commercial property has revealed certain problems of ownership, especially with one particular UK deal. According to the FT-

“The problems of East Balkan Properties, a UK-based property company, underscore the risks associated with investing in a poorly regulated property market, where there are doubts about judicial independence.”

Up until February, Glorient Investment Bulgaria, a local subsidiary of East Balkan Properties – which specialises in building retail premises – was receiving regular income from 22 outlets of Technomarket, a Bulgarian electrical goods retailer, from which it bought the properties some 10 years ago.

Allegedly, NSN Investment – a company that acquired Technomarket early this year – is taking legal proceeding against Glorient, claiming its deal with the Technomart is invalid, that the properties still belong to Technomarket, and consequently rents on the retail outlets have not been paid since the dispute began.

“We’re extremely worried about this breach of property rights in an EU member state,” says Michael Uhler, East Balkan managing director, and Glorient is contesting NSN’s claims in court in Bulgaria.”

New Development Sofia

I haven’t been in the property market in Sofia for some years now, but what is certain, is that some local entrepreneurs are renowned for their non observance of EU business protocols, a cast occasionally populated by members of the Mutri, and many other unethical people besides. Mainly due to a penchant for silly games, and a track record for fraud, the Sofia ‘bloody foreigner syndrome,’ seems to remain intact, even to this day.

According to local pundits, the world of commercial property is changing, in Sofia, and retail business's are now returning to the high street. Away from the retail shopping malls - many of which are in secondary positions - popular names can now be seen once more in pedestrianized, Vitosha Street, and the many City centre offshoots. Once regarded as one of the most expensive districts in Sofia, out of town retail, has at least helped city centre rental values to achieve an acceptable level.

In the office sector, since most of the major international commercial players are now present in Sofia, there has been an an oversupply of office space, and letting offices on the outskirts of the city has always been a destination of last resort. Many western property developers have come into the Sofia marketplace since the changes in 1990, because much of the office space was badly planned and not sufficiently ergonomic


Despite the financial turmoil of the last nine years, many ex-pats who came to the Balkans early on are now well established. Consequently, there are a number of modernized and renovated residential properties for sale, mostly at reasonable prices, all available locally often with an implied British mark of quality, and this is particularly true of Bulgaria. Because labour costs have also been reduced due to unemployment, so the cost of building a house has also decreased, and there are many willing builders – throughout the Balkan area – able to work at reasonable prices.

This includes a small number of English and Irish contractors who have in the last few years, become experienced in the ways of the Balkan peoples. These ex-pat builders are not only a phone call away, but can be found on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, together with abundant evidence of their high-quality standards of construction.

In turn, many ex-pats have also moved on up the property ladder, meaning that there are additional solid and comfortable homes on the market, needing little or no alteration or renovation. Occasionally sold together with fixtures, fittings and also furniture, they represent an ideal investment – or holiday retreat – for a discerning buyer in need of quality accommodation, but, without the hassle of setting up a brand new home themselves

We are now entering a new phase in South Eastern Europe and with the financial meltdown of 2008 apparently behind us, we are 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; particularly in the rural areas.

Like most farming communities the local inhabitants are rarely under pressure, but they are governed by the seasons and of course the weather. Baking hot summers will soon cause any visitor to take a snooze in the afternoon – when the sun is so hot – that even ‘mad dogs and Englishmen,’ are frightened to venture out. But, why is it easy?


Modern Bungalow Northern Greece

Winters are generally mild, although this year was an exception, all over the Balkans, where snow tires came highly recommended. As an early member of the EU, Greece has enjoyed ongoing investment in transport and communication, and Evros, where I now live, is no exception. The roads are all generally good, although Greek drivers do tend to hug the middle of the road. They say it is because there are rocks rolling down the mountains and hills, even though there is little evidence of a mountain or hill locally, as far as one can see! Greece is also full of airports and people are often spoilt for a point of departure and also for their final destination!

The North of Greece is peaceful and safe, and populated by people who define their own existence as easy. Most experienced travellers have visited Greece at one time or another, but few know anything about the very north of Greece, Evros, or its history. Due to its prominence, Greece has about 144,000 expats living there, particularly on the islands, and – due to deflated housing prices – all over Thrace or East & West Macedonia. Only slightly more expensive than Bulgaria, property in northern Greece comes with just a tad more civilization.


Renovated House in South East Bulgaria

Bulgaria was a Communist country until 1990 and so many facets of civil life can be a little over the top. Much of the infamous bureaucracy has been diluted, as have the many laws concerning foreigners, which over time had become pointless, and out of step with the rest of Europe. These days an EU citizen can buy a house or a car, without owning a Bulgarian company, the only restriction being that you have to have an Internal Residents Permit.

When Bulgaria went from a command economy to a country generally supporting private enterprise, many Bulgarian citizens became confused, and years spent as the victims of primitive propaganda, made the average Bulgarian a trifle Xenophobic. Twenty years on and the children and grandchildren of Communism are trying to put the past well and truly behind them. The new face of Bulgaria may seem a little careworn at times, but the instinct for survival remains intact, within a country where hard work is a necessity. But, beware of indigenous builders!

Short of skilled craftsmen and women, Bulgaria has recently recognized the need for more artisans, amongst a plethora of MBA’s. What is really good, however, is the high standard of IT professionals, which is why Bulgaria enjoys a modern level of communication – subject of course to occasional power cuts!

Some 9000 ex-pat immigrants from EU countries live in Bulgaria, with many in and around Varna, Burgas, and Haskovo. This is an area of great natural beauty and depending on your needs, offers both sea views and long country walks. Elhovo in the Yambol Region is a favourite place for some Brits, who by getting together, have established quite a community. The Black Sea, Varna and Burgas, are more popular for holiday homes, with some permanent ex-pat residents also there, and surprisingly, a number of UK food shops.

New Build Small Apartments in Bansko

In the skiing areas of Bansko, Pamporovo and Vitosha, asking prices have been greatly reduced for studio and small apartments, the somewhat empty investment promises – of countless owners and estate agents – coming to nothing. Having said that, now the short stay and cheap flight option has recently emerged, Bulgarian ski resorts generally, and the short let market, might find new vigour once more.

Throw Me a Bone - by Patrick Brigham

Old Mother Hubbard

Went to the cupboard,

To give the poor dog a bone;

When she came there,

The cupboard was bare,

And so the poor dog had none.

This is not a fairy tale, but a realistic account of Donald Trumps ascent into power, and the frightening consequences which might affect us all, which are beginning to appear on the horizon. To believe that President Trump is a tough guy, is a matter for conjecture, but what is certainly true is that he is not taken very seriously by many powerful world leaders, and – at the present moment – is currently being tested on his acumen, resilience, wisdom and foresight.

Demonstrated by the launching of an intermediate missile by North Korea, during the visit of Shinzō Abe the Japanese Prime Minister to the White House, from the blatant provocation, and the intended humiliation, it was clear to see that this tough guy stance was not being taken very seriously.

The lukewarm visit of Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada did not help much – to bolster Trumps constant image building – and in fact Trudeau’s statement that Canada had no right to criticize or condone the present US immigration policy, did precisely the opposite. In a beautifully timed reply to a journalist – during question time at the press conference – Canada’s attitude to the American Presidents Islamophobia, was made very clear.

Not only that, but his misogynistic views, and ‘good old boy’ attitude towards women, has even inspired John Bercow – the commons Speaker in the UK Houses of Parliament – to put a ban on Trump addressing the commons.

So, is Donald Trump a maverick, Mystic Meg, or just a loud mouthed fool? How is it that almost everyone in his cabinet seems to have a skeleton or two in their respective cupboards, and how was it that – prior to official appointment – his new head of intelligence, did such an unintelligent thing, and chatted over an open line to the Russian ambassador to Washington?

America has its own culture, and political culture, which it attempts to export all over the world. Always with a huge money content, many US companies are rarely far behind any government foray into other peoples countries or any regime change they might seek to provoke.

What people like Trump will never understand, is that might is not always right, and what we see in Europe today, is the expensive and damaging result of the Bush/ Blair attempt at the manipulation of the Middle East. In other words, the US dropped the bombs, and now Europe is in chaos, trying to tidy up the results.

And of course, while we are at it, let us consider the 2008 financial crisis – that most of us were affected by in one way or another – wasn’t it the Wall Street bankers who flooded the world with worthless paper, and the black hole in which to tip it?

All in all, it seems to me that we have very little to thank the US for in ‘modern’ Europe, other than as being a marketplace for expensive motor cars, and luxury goods, because the modern day tradeoff does seem to be a little one sided in my view. Although, this might also go directly back to the matter of culture, but with a small ‘c.’.

Americans rarely understand other peoples cultures, and wrongly assume that everyone either wants to be like them, or actually live in America. I can think of a long list of things I like about the US, but living there is not one of them.

Many of us can still remember how much the US did in Europe during the Second World War, and afterwards with the Marshall Plan. But then is then, and now is now. Trumps problem is that he may understand America – or how else did he get elected – but tinkering with other world powers will be his downfall, because, to the likes of Putin and China’s Xi Jinping, Donald Trump is currently no more than a TV personality.

This wonderful dog

Was Dame Hubbard’s delight,

He could read, he could dance,

He could sing, he could write;

She gave him rich dainties

Whenever he fed,

And erected this monument

When he was dead.

Friday, 10 February 2017

‘Angel in The Morning’- Yanka Rupkina by Patrick Brigham

As time and tide continue the remorseless erosion of our memories, and the prattle and tittle tattle of daily news, simply serves to prove how little has changed in Bulgaria – and probably never will – it is perhaps better to dwell on the past. Because, even during darker times, the music of the ‘Trio Bulgarka’ was a beacon of hope, in an otherwise drab and remorseless life under Communism.

Bulgaria has always been about the cities versus the provinces, and whilst there was little to offer by way of consumer distractions, there was music, singing and dancing. If there was nothing else, then there were at least some authentic memories from the past, reminders of better times, and of a rich cultural Bulgarian heritage.

And one perfect voice was to disprove the mediocrity and mendacity of communism, to rise above the dumbed down and second rate. This was at a time when the sound of the Stranja Mountains found its way into the modern world of music, with the unique voice of Yanka Rupkina.

Yanka Rupkina says – “I started singing when I was a child. I took part in various singing contests at different stages in our region and this was so until I appeared at the folklore fair at Gramatikovo in 1960 and won the first prize. The jury was lined up with folklorist Boris Petrov, from the Bulgarian National Radio and Mihail Bukureshtliev who invited me to make an audition in Sofia. Among 400 singers from the whole of Bulgaria, I was selected for soloist of the ensemble for folk songs of the Bulgarian National Radio. With it, I made many recordings and I appeared on various stages. Also, apart from this group, I was touring the world with The Balgarka Trio. These were years of world recognition and triumph of the Bulgarian folk song in the world’s grandest halls.”

Radio disc jockey John Peel, was one of the first people to really appreciate Yanka’s voice , when the Trio Bulgarka – known as ‘The Three Golden Coins,’ gained Balkan prominence, through their 1975 world music album called Bulkana: The Music of Bulgaria, and more-so on their 1988 album, ‘The Forest is Crying.’

But it was Kate Bush, who really put the trio, and especially Yanka, into the limelight. When the trio was featured on the 1989 Jo Boyd album ‘Sensual World’ – which incidentally featured Prince – it seemed that the stifling communist past, had reluctantly freed Yanka Rupkina into the real world.

Kate Bush

Yanka Rupkina says – “Producer Joe Boyd had followed my singing career, listened to me at the Koprivshtitsa Folk Festival and decided to invite me for some joint projects. It was he who described the Bulgarian folk songs as a phenomenon in music. We toured the world with the Balkana Band, which included some of the best folk music instrumentalists from the BNR Folk Band. For me an unforgettable moment was our concert at the Royal Festival Hall, in London, when George Harrison arrived with friends from California. This was a most emotional encounter – one of the Beatles had come to listen to me – and to our Bulgarian folk songs.”

Sounds from The Stranja Mountains

“I’ve never worked with a woman on such an intense creative level,” Bush told the Los Angeles Times, in December 1991, “because, it was strange to feel this very strong female energy in the studio. It was interesting to see the way the men in the studio reacted too, because instead of just one female, there was a very strong female presence.”

Composer Robert de Groot

This is the point when film composer Robert Jelmer De Groot arrived on the scene. Famous for his score for the film ‘The Seven Samurai,’ he too became fascinated by the voice of Yanka Rupkina, and the melancholy sound of the Stranja Mountains. He spent some time in Sofia, from 1997 onwards, composing and recording at the National Bulgarian Recording Studios. He explained that despite the dated equipment, they produced a warm pink sound, and were very good at production, with good studio musicians and engineers. Perhaps, at times, we all forget what Bulgaria is good at, and the latent talent kept hidden away in the wings.

Video of The Seven Samurai & Karanka by Yanka Rupkina

This was also when I moved into the picture. Robert had an idea for a track which would be shared by Linda Ronstadt, Yanka Rupkina, the Dutch Symphony Orchestra and chorus. To be engineered and put together in Sofia, he needed some lyrics for Linda to sing. This was when Angel of the Morning – demon of the night – first found its way into being.

Angel of The Morning Yanka Rupkina & Linda Ronstadt

The most famous voice of the Strandja Mountain, Southeastern Bulgaria, belongs not only to Bulgaria but to the whole world. Fifty years on stage – as a solo artist, or as member of Bulgarka Trio, The Balkana Band and various folk choirs, Bulgarian folk singer Yanka Rupkina has won the love of audiences, and the respect of reviewers, with hеr enigmatic Strandja songs.

But she is also a part of my life, and through both she and Robert, I found that my world could get bigger, despite the crushing mediocrity and the bureaucratic tinkering we all suffered from in Bulgaria at the time, and the state suppression – that all artists felt – during communism. Now 78 years of age, Yanka still performs and has for many years enjoyed star status in the Balkans, and long may she keep singing!

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Apocryphal Tales & Alternative Facts - by Patrick Brigham

Who is the biggest liar?

I suppose that there are many people who have had uneventful lives, and living in obscurity often encourages some to exaggerate a bit. A kind of veneration of the vanities, which is generally ignored by relatives in the know, and regarded as a symptom of peoples declining years, and the inevitable aging process. Well, I should know, but here I am talking about aging aunts and uncles – the odd passed over Major or two – who all share the same fate, as they fade into the encircling fog, and their final goodbyes. But, snake oil salesmen? Now, that’s another matter!

On the other hand, I have led quite an eventful life. Twenty years in business in London, plus twenty five years in emerging markets – living and working in ex-communist countries – so I believe that I can spot a lie with ease, even from a great distance. As a lateral thinker – diagnosed incidentally by Dr Edward De Bono himself – I often believe that a bad lie can offer a greater truth; about some statement or incident, other than obfuscation , prevarication, or even the truth itself. All of which brings me to my point, which is, what is the point?

How to get elected.

Recently we have all experienced two important political changes in the West. Firstly, Donald Trump’s election as the US President, and Great Britain leaving the European Union. In both cases the process of election and referendum, were fraught with lies, both from the Trump team in America, and Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Michael Gove’s statements, in the UK. All of these politico’s told lies from day one, and by reducing the process of modern western democracy to a political street brawl, it seemed very similar to the collusion, corruption, and mendacity of the 1700s.

Wilkes to the left of the Rake

Reminiscent of a William Hogarth cartoon depicting ‘The Rakes Progress,’ with certain imputations about one John Wilkes, MP – the so called 18th Century cockeyed reformer – it seems to me that Donald and Boris might have somehow emerged from this less than salubrious bygone age. At a time when it was quite common to lie to the electorate, ply them with drink, threaten, cajole, and even to pay for their votes, the tactics of these stalwarts are, to the casual observer, reminiscent of their eighteenth century predecessors.

In fairness, John Wilkes is now regarded as a vociferous advocate of Parliamentary reform, but he was also a man of his time. He was expelled from the House of Commons, imprisoned, and as a result, became a popular psyche and defender of freedom against tyranny of ministers and by association, the Monarchy.

William Hogarth

But he was unquestionably a man of the streets, and often featured in Hogarth’s more disreputable prints and mezzotints of London street life. At that time, politicians seldom dealt with facts – the mob being as thick as two short planks –and were often heavily into alternative facts. Forerunners of Donald and Boris, you might say, and a true reflection of our most distant past, it seems that we are now going backwards in time.
John Wilkes MP by William Hogarth

But, Wilkes was also a major figure in the artistic community. He was a campaigner for the establishment of the National Gallery, and as treasurer to the Foundling Hospital, he knew major artists associated with it, such as Hogarth, Highmore, Hayman and others, who all somehow contributed to the rake’s progress!

His biographer Whitely writes – ‘Wilkes was fairly free from vanity, mainly because he was, notoriously, one of the ugliest men in London,’ and it was said by contemporaries too, that even Hogarth’s caricature – published in 1763 – was flattering. But, back to business.

Michael Gove MP – national ninny

The US is not my problem, but in a way Great Britain is, and like many I am appalled at the success of the Brexit, not so much by the result, but the way it was achieved, and the contempt that these three Brexiteers showed their fellow Britons. Believing it to be a Blue on Blue Debate – and sod the workers from Middle England – the gullible middle classes, then got stuck into hot discussions about EU laws, bananas, cucumbers, an invasion by Bulgarian Gypsies, Turkish tourists, and on a more rational level, about emigrant numbers, the National Health Service, housing and finally social benefits.

Johnson and Gove guaranteed that 350,000 million GBP would be saved each week, or was it per month; it said so on the side of the bus. TV discussions were turned into a game show, and quite reasonable people that I know, would open their mouths, and all this drivelous junk would simply pour out. So, welcome to the 18th Century, to alternative facts, Trumps American dream, and the UK’s bleak future!

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Oh To Be In England Now That Aprils There - by Patrick Brigham

The European Union is a club, to which Great Briton has never truly belonged. The UK has never actually seen itself as European, despite its geography, and the spirit of a unified Europe has never been fully absorbed by Little England. It is a society which has become more inward looking over the years. To view the UK as being multicultural – other than in London – is a total anathema, and to see its inhabitants as thriving and happy, is a great mistake.

It is a country where multiculturalism is clearly regarded as more of a condition than a social reality – especially by those who voted to leave the EU – and we are left with exaggerated claims that the UK celebrates peoples differences, when clearly the opposite is true. As for Scotland and Northern Ireland, well, that’s a separate matter?

The 18th Century looms large over the whole Brexit issue, the UK’s colonial past, post WW2 political changes, and the ensuing British Commonwealth’s demand for political independence. What is clear, is the current British wish to return to a more easily recognizable historical past. Neatly dressed up in economic terms, and full of attendant allaballa, it simply represents the majority of referendum voters isolated and narrow views of the EU, which is – and always has been – the only real hope for a unified and peaceful Europe.

To see Theresa May, and her crowd of misfits, trying to piece together some recognizable plan for the future of UK PLC, is like watching a film called Carry On Brexiting, or indeed an episode of Hancocks Half Hour! Maybe the European Union will be better off without blustering Great Britain, a country seen as a winging consumer nation, run by opportunists, all of whom will be forgotten by the end of the debate.

Trump talks to Michael Gove – the silliest man in England

Grabbing at straws, and consigned to the political doldrums, we recently saw the weak and characterless Michael Gove, toadying up to the mendacious and unpredictable American ‘head honcho,’ Donald Trump. Whilst trying to reclaim British political lost ground, as an alleged reporter for The Times of London, it is hard to imagine a more ridiculous advertisement for Donald Trump, Michael Gove, or even the Brexit itself. Speaking with the political understanding of a chipmunk, Trump – not only endorsed the continued existence of the silliest man in Briton – he underlined his own ignorance of history.

A President with a limited vocabulary

What do they say about Americans, that – ‘They go to war in order to understand geography a little better?’ So, who cares about Trumps views on Europe, and well done Mrs. Merkel for saying so! Trump claims to be an honest Wizkid American businessman, so, while we are at it, let me quote Balzac – ‘Behind every fortune there is always a crime.’ Tell me, who are we dealing with here, Laurel and Hardy, or the Godfather?

The Balkan News Magazine is just that, it is about the Balkans and the people who live in the region. But, expats are also from the Balkan region, a minority who mostly do not have a voice, when it comes to the mismanagement of their home country – the 15 year rule closes the voting booth for most of us – and so, we can only watch and wonder. Then the question immediately arises, of why we live outside our own countries?

In my short published BNM biography it says – ‘Patrick Brigham moved to London, and went into real estate. After the economic crash of 1989, he licked his wounds, wrote two books, and in 1993 he decided to abandon London, the UK casino economy, and moved to Sofia, Bulgaria.’

Well, that’s true, but what I forgot to mention, was that there were three previous British economic crashes that I survived, individually sufficient reason for me to abandon ship! Firstly, there’s Harold Wilson’s hiccup in 1969, closely followed by Edward Heath and the big one in 1974, and finally Margaret Thatcher mess in 1989. I come from a country that, like it or not, has a boom or bust economy, and one of which I finally got thoroughly sick of.

Others have had a similar experience, and decided to remove themselves from a high taxing, over populated, unpredictable, and the clearly unmanageable UK, in the vain hope of finding some sort of consistency in their lives. Despite its ups and downs, the EU remains a peaceful, predictable, and civilized place in which to live, and with few exceptions – especially Greece – long may this be so. But with both Putin and Trump seemingly determined to break up the EU – for various reasons which are not entirely clear – lets hope that Brexit isn’t the cause of the EU’s demise.

Todays January pronouncements by Teresa May, about Brexit, did little to calm the nerves of those awaiting a clear understanding of her government’s intentions. Most of us are tired of the getting ‘the best deal possible,’ condescending rubbish, and once again, we were still disappointed. We were told that finally, out meant out – for the umpteenth time – but this time it seems to be true. Out of the customs union, the single market, but also out to lunch.

I really do not believe that she has a clue about what to do, but nor do I believe that the future EU negotiators have any clear idea of what to do either; except perhaps, to use the same bullying tactics, which they used on poor little Greece. You might also wonder why an expat like me should have such a burning concern for the future of a country which he deserted twenty five years ago, but – despite everything – I am still an Englishman, and I do not want to see Great Briton, go down the drain, and revert once more, to a boom and bust economy, in a country which seems close to loosing its identity.

Something for A Quiet Time- by Patrick Brigham

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