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Minister of Foreign Affairs



French Ambassador in Bulgaria:



The Pleasure in Orlin Vladikov’s Work

The Mayor of Smolyan


The Sensational Archaeological Finds EXPEDITION SUMMER 2008


A cultural monument of world importance, founded in the 10th century.

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Minister Ivaylo Kalfin on the Diplomacy of Balance

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Joana Levieva-Sawyer

Maria Neznakomova

Invest Bulgaria Agency

Our Special Guest His Excellency Mr. Etienne de Poncins

page 17 Invest Bulgaria Stoyan Stalev – Executive Director of the page 18 page 23

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page 36 page 42

Montupet Is Now in Bulgaria A Montupet team Orlin Vladikov’s Work and... Far-Away Travels Bilyana Vassileva

Ms. Dora Yankova, Mayor of Smolyan, on the Mountain of Hospitality Emanuil Manolov

The Stories of Milkana Yordanova from Smilyan Hristo Nikolov

The Longest Eco-Route Boyana Yordanova

Maria Vassileva – a Bulgarian in a Viennese Bank Katerina Nikolova

page 47 Archaeology – Summer 2008 page 57 The Great Artist Nedko Solakov’s ‘Things’ page 64 Underground Reports page 67 A Keen Friend of Bulgaria


Veliana Hristova

Daniela Radeva

Bilyana Vassileva

Jason Allegrante

A Magazine about Life in Bulgaria Issue 1/ 2008 Distributed free of charge Editorial Council: Joana Levieva-Sawyer Lili Ignatova Maria Gyurova Tatyana Pandurska Editor in Chief: Emanuil Manolov

Editor: Bilyana Vassileva Graphic Design: Alexander Georgiev Asen Baramov Translation: Pavel Constantinov Photography: Yuli Danchev Asen Baramov

This issue uses photos by Nikolay Genov (Seven Civilisations in One Summer) and the Regional Tourist Association Rhodopes – Smolyan (A Journey Through the Longest Eco-Route)

Design and pre-press: A ONE studio graphic design GLYPH graphic design

Print: Valdex OOD Distribution: Courier Parcels: BSP Ltd. +359 2 9175760

Publisher: A ONE Ltd.

120 Tzar Simeon Str., 1202 Sofia, Bulgaria phone: +359 2 8317110 e-mail:

The magazine staff would like to thank Mr. Ivaylo Kalfin, Vice Premier and Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria, and the Invest Bulgaria Agency for their cooperation. We would also like to express our particular appreciation for H.E. Mr. Etienne de Poncins, Ambassador of the French Republic, for his confidence in the Beacon to Bulgaria project. All rights of the BEACON TO BULGARIA magazine reserved. Copying, re-printing, or reproduction of any content, in whole or in part, is completely forbidden without the prior written consent of the publisher. The publisher bears no liability for the content of the published advertisements.

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen! Dear Reader!

It is my pleasure to introduce to you the BEACON TO BULGARIA project with the obligatory opening words. I shall begin by highlighting that for us, BEACON TO BULGARIA is a most special and a particularly responsible publishing project. The reason for the “particularity” and “responsibility” is that we wish to make you our regular readers.


The idea of this magazine coincided in time with the EU’s unpleasant evaluation of Bulgaria. However, this is just a haphazard coincidence, because the project would have been realised even without that fact, which induced our journalistic reaction. The reason is that, as a new member of the EU, we would like the others to know more about us, about the little known Bulgaria and about the many pleasant thrills, which foreign people could experience in our country. For this purpose, we will seek various topics from Bulgarian reality. We will try to turn this project into a retelling of the diaries of contemporary Bulgarians and the people, who have touched ground with Bulgaria. As in every diary, here we will find many personal experiences, emotions, and passions. What makes our diary different is that unpleasant news have been archived in our large historical memory, and that we shall only select texts, based on their importance for life in Bulgaria. This will be the magazine for good news, news that happen every day, but often go unnoticed. BEACON TO BULGARIA will be dedicated to the contemporary Bulgarian face that we see around us; not a borrowed face, but our own. Recognisable from a cultural and historical point of view, yet bearing its natural changes, the scars of what we have experienced and how we have developed in the recent years. We will strive to bring to you people, who make our country more successful and more attractive, as well as their careers and personal emotions. This is the reason why we, in absolutely good faith, “take advantage” of the personal judgments of politicians, diplomats, mayors, and successful businessmen, and for that, we offer them our appreciation. Emanuil Manolov – Editor in Chief


which we would like to achieve in 2011, and entering the Eurozone. Then we will be able to say that our country is completely integrated within the EU. We also have a number of national priorities for developing European policies. Specifically in the area of foreign policy, they are related to our adjacent regions - the Western Balkans, the Black Sea and the Caucasus, which have recently become quite important for the entire EU. We also take a very active part in the dialogue for the common energy policy and creating a higher capacity of Europe as a factor in international politics.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivaylo Kalfin in an exclusive interview for Beacon to Bulgaria JOANA LEVIEVA-SAWYER a journalist on the matters of foreign policy and European integration for the Bulgarian National Television


“The EU’s higher criteria make us prepare ourselves better”

Vice-Premier and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivaylo Kalfin has been involved with politics ever since 1995. He was a MP in three Parliaments and a Secretary on Economic Matters to the President of Bulgaria. He has mastered the languages of both economics and diplomacy, as he has master’s degrees in International Banking and International Economic Relations from British and Bulgarian universities. He was an observer for the elections in Kosovo as part of OSCE’s missions, and since 2004 he has been a member of the Consultative Council of the Bulgarian National Bank. He describes himself as a French speaker, but he is also fluent in English, Russian, and Spanish. He was born in Sofia on May 30, 1964. He is married and has one daughter.

What are Bulgaria’s priorities in the EU and how does the country stand up for them? First and foremost, Bulgaria needs to achieve complete integration within the EU. This means getting rid of the necessity for a control mechanism about organised crime and corruption and, of course, creating a system for normal, transparent and efficient utilisation of the European funds. Other specific steps ahead of us are entering the Schengen zone,

Bulgaria is a moderate and predictable partner in the EU, was this choice deliberate? Bulgaria and Romania entered the EU in a difficult time, when the fatigue from the expansion was already visible. The joy of accepting the first 10 countries in 2004 started to fade. Problems with the European Constitution arose, as well as with the economies of European countries, and later – with the Treaty of Lisbon. All of this really intensified the public’s awareness of the expansion. The criteria became significantly higher. That is why special mechanisms have been working on our two countries and it is very important that we prove to be an efficient member. This no longer happens automatically, like it did for the 10 countries before us – instead, Bulgaria is under a much more detailed and critical scrutiny. However, higher criteria make us prepare ourselves better. What progress is there with regard to the government’s measures for better utilisation of the Eurofunds and the recovery of revoked licenses of the agencies that allocate them? What has happened with these two agencies can also be pointed out as an example of the particular attention on events in Bulgaria. After duly noting these flaws, the government introduced significant


“We have worked for more than a year to develop a unified, coherent policy towards Bulgarian citizens abroad”

changes, including institutional ones with the creation of the new post of Vice-Premier in charge of the European funds. Mrs. Plugchieva is now doing her job with exclusive vigour. A number of laws were altered and the questions, related to conflict of interest, transparency, participation and participants in procedures for receiving European funds, were clarified. Changes take place on a daily basis and the dialogue

with the European Commission has improved greatly. The funds in the EU are subject to strict rules, because they are the money of the European taxpayers and, as such, they need to be spent with maximum efficiency and transparency. This is the reason why what is currently happening in Bulgaria is not a punishment, but a clear sign that the mechanisms in the EU are indeed working. If Bulgaria would like

to fit in with them, she has to work according to the rules. I think that we have made significant progress and funds granted will be the tangible touchstone for that progress. A lot has been said about Bulgaria’s problems with fulfilling the EU’s requirements, but our country has also made achievements. Which of them would you highlight?

“Bulgaria has very good knowledge and a very good understanding of the processes, taking place in Russia”

I would split this question in two. One part would be, ‘What has Bulgaria gained from her membership in the EU?’, and the achievements there have been exceptionally great. Investments and investors’ confidence in Bulgaria have increased, which has led to a decrease of unemployment and large economic growth. But in no way would I want to assess our membership in the EU with financial measures only. Most of all, it means being a part of a family. We only have access to the European funds, so that we can get to the same level as the others. It is more than clear that we will not be receiving these funds forever. So, our other great achievement are the clearly set criteria about where our country should get to be.


Of course, we can also boast achievements in the formation of European policies. For instance, the Black Sea Synergy was, to a large extent, developed by Bulgaria. We also take a very active part in developing the common energy policy. We shouldn’t forget the use of a third alphabet in the EU as well – the Cyrillic one. Last, but not least, the EU’s decisions with regard to Georgia, sending a European representative there, and actively using Black Sea politics – these were all Bulgarian propositions that received support and became a part of the EU’s policy. Of course, I am mostly speaking about matters in the field of foreign policy, but we’ve had achievements in other areas as well. Bulgaria is a bridge between the old East and the old West; will this role of hers develop now, in the context of the crisis in Georgia and the EU’s tense relations with Russia? I oppose the thesis that we should assign Bulgaria a unique role and almost tout her as the only bridge between Europe and Russia. This is neither possible, nor normal. It is a fact, though, that Bulgaria has very good knowledge and a very good understanding of the processes, taking place in Russia. This knowledge can be very beneficial in the formation of a European policy, and our propositions with relation to Georgia prove this point. Europe’s interest to sustain close business and strategic relations with Russia is very enduring. Europe’s striving to occupy a more prominent place in international relations is also understandable, but the boundaries of these interactions should be drawn out – what is admissible and what

is not. It is obvious that the relations between the EU and Russia are out of balance now, after what happened in the Caucasus. It is very important what both sides will do to preserve the equilibrium, required for efficient co-operation. Bulgaria could be very useful in that regard. What is your forecast for the development of these relations, especially for the duration of the next presidency? So far, France has shown us how effective a vigorous and strong presidency can be, when it is ready

to take risks and able to generate the support of the whole EU. If the community has a unified position – and there has been significant progress in this area, though still a lot can be expected – then the relations with Russia will be set much easier. Russia also needs to get used to the fact that she is now speaking to a single partner, and not 27 separate countries. Bulgaria has worked as a mediator in the international community’s efforts to solve the issues in Kosovo. How will that role continue? Things over there are just getting started... Some things end and others begin. It is just that Kosovo has entered a new phase. Bulgaria is actively involved with the issues, related to Kosovo, out of necessity, I’d say. Kosovo is too close to us, Serbia is our neighbour. However, our involvement can only be on a principal basis, the principles being related to eliminating all risks of emerging armed conflicts and torrid ethnic contradictions. Those could be really dangerous on the Balkans and it is necessary to have regional collaboration, involving all countries in the

American behalf, accepted by the Congress, which are either beyond our control, or need more time. One of them is related to the maximum amount of USA visas denied, and the other – to the issuing of passports with biometric data in Bulgaria. The first condition depends, most of all, on the demeanour of the individual citizens, and we’re actively working on the second one. We need to have biometric passports in order to be included in the program.

Elections are coming up in the USA. No matter what their outcome is, there will be a new administration in Washington. To what developments in our two countries’ relations will that lead, and will the visas for Bulgarians be waived?

suing process been actualised and is our country ready to enter the Schengen zone?

Speaking of visas, Bulgaria is becoming a popular destination and the amount of issued Bulgarian visas has increased significantly. Has the visa is-


Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivaylo Kalfin

“We can boast achievements in the formation of European policies”

region. Too often the discussions about Kosovo boil down to its status. That decision was difficult, but in the current situation, I doubt there might have been a better option. From now on, the greater responsibility is to create a functional democracy in Kosovo, following in the way of European values. The things of key importance would be the attitude of the Kosovo authorities and Serbia’s willingness-- but not her willingness to accept Kosovo. It is absolutely clear to me what we could request of Serbia and what we could not, but she should still have partnership with the EU as her top priority.

Our relations with the USA will not be affected neither by a change of administration in America, nor by a change of government in Bulgaria. They are close, allied, and friendly relations, resulting from shared values and from the fact that both countries are aware of their interests. Resolving the issue with visas is a priority of ours. I do not know what the attitude of the next administration would be, but the current one has an exceptionally positive bias towards including USA’s partners from Central and Eastern Europe in the Visa Waiver Program. We have endeavoured to do everything we could, including in Congress. We have signed a roadmap for inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program, we have also signed an agreement for information exchange. There are, however, some requirements on

Our system is being actively upgraded and in the next two years, considerable funds will be invested into it. Additional computer equipment will be purchased, which will make our visa system a part of the Schengen system, at least from an IT perspective. What we are already doing meets the highest standards of the EU, and when we are finished, Bulgaria will be the country with the most modern visa centres, visa system and consular offices in all of Europe. We already have 13 consular offices that can work under the new requirements – taking biometric data and photographs of the visa candidates and entering those in the information system. Our goal is to have all our visa offices work like this by the date of our entry in the Schengen zone. Our most active work now is in our busiest consular offices – in Belgrade, Skopje, Moscow, Tbilisi... We are going from the busiest consular offices to the ones that have less work. This process takes time, and in the middle of next year we will start verifying its efficiency and seeking ways to

improve it. Our deadline is the beginning of 2011 – which is quite a tight deadline and demands considerable efforts and investments. Yet, I am certain we will make it.

“We have worked for more than a year to develop a unified, coherent policy towards Bulgarian citizens abroad”

“To a large extent, the relations between countries are influenced by personal relations”

The Bulgarian employment market is becoming more and more attractive to workers from different countries, what is the state’s policy in this area? There are many common aspects of the European policy with regard to the employment market. This includes directives of the EU for the so-called “blue card”, which opens the European employment market to specialists in particular areas, who are currently in demand. As of now, Bulgaria has a strict and even ungainly system for issuing work visas, which can easily be attributed to the high unemployment rate we had until recently. The current unemployment rate is less than 6 per cent – quite below the EU’s average. Our in-country abilities to find work force are draining out, especially in fast-developing sectors like construction, infrastructure, power engineering. The companies exert strong pressure for opening the market up to third parties and are even willing to offer much higher wages. We now have a procedure for accepting workers from third countries, which has been optimised for large investors and large projects in Bulgaria. The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy also has suggestions in that regard – setting up employment offices in the countries with significant Bulgarian populations and facilitating new economic emigration, which would introduce our fellow countrymen to the opportunities for coming back to Bulgaria.


How did the world financial crisis influence the priorities of Bulgarian foreign policy? The countries in the Far East – Japan, Korea, have remained relatively unaffected. Will Bulgaria strive to strengthen her commercial and economic relations with them? The financial crisis is evidently of such scale that no country will remain unaffected, including Bulgaria. All measures are being taken to dampen the negative effect as much as possible. Still, the collapse of financial institutions and the decrease in investors’ willingness to take risks will undoubtedly affect the levels of investments in Bulgaria. It will also affect the economic growth, the prices of credit. It is now crucial to have an active state policy on export and to seek new partners, interested in Bulgarian goods, and create long-term collaboration with them. The financial crisis poses problems, but it also brings about new opportunities. We are trying to make use of our advantages, and they are mostly related to power engineering, transportation, infrastructure. Connecting the Asian and Far Eastern markets to Europe through Bulgaria, utilising the Black Sea and the Danube, cheap transport connections to thes-

countries – all of these are advantages that Bulgaria can use. We shouldn’t leave out the production and distribution of power by our country. However, it is very important that we change the profile of Bulgarian economics. It still consumes a lot of power and has relatively low innovation capabilities. The more funds we invest in developing the companies and decreasing the power, required for production, the more competitive Bulgarian manufacturers will become. In private conversations, what questions do other foreign policy Ministers ask about Bulgaria? At a recent dinner event, the foreign Minister of Cyprus asked me out of the blue why membership in NATO was so important to Bulgaria. I realised I was giving him a lengthy and explanatory answer. One should always have concise answers for questions like this. To a large extent, the relations between countries are influenced by personal relations. Conversations with fellow Ministers are friendly, without, of course, sharing too delicate details. One should feel a part of a group, a friend circle, in order for state relations to prosper. If conversation becomes too formal, a barrier falls between the speakers and problems can’t be solved. l


Architectural reserve, part of the Strandja Natural Park


Architectural reserve, part of the Strandja Natural Park


ETIENNE DE PONCINS, French Ambassador in Bulgaria:

The EU Presidency always has two aspects. On one hand, we have what was provided in advance, the predetermined priorities. In this case, the priorities are four, namely: energy and climate, progress in the European defence area, agriculture and immigration. In addition to that, every EU Presidency must also provide for the unexpected. From this perspective, quite a few things have already happened during France’s Presidency – the Caucasian crisis in August, then the financial crisis since September. We shall continue working on our priorities, because Europe’s progress does not halt, and, of course, we shall also seek the European response to the crises – the one in Georgia, as well as the financial one.

Tourism is the goose that lays you golden eggs. Do not kill it!


MARIA NEZNAKOMOVA journalist at 24 Chasa

The French ambassador in Bulgaria Mr. Etienne de Poncins was born on March 6, 1964. He is married and has three children. He graduated Political Studies and History in Paris. He is an alumnus of the Ecole nationale d’administration (ENA), in the class named Jean Monnet. He has been head of the French diplomatic mission in Bulgaria since the summer of 2007. Before that, he was director of the cabinet of the European Affairs Minister. In 2003-2005, he was the speaker of the French Delegation in the EU. It is widely acknowledged that he is one of the greatest specialists on Euro-integration issues. That fact predestined his work in the Secretariat of the European Convention, which had to draft the treaty for the new European constitution. In the Convention, Mr. de Poncins was the right hand of Chairman Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, former President of France. Etienne de Poncins has authored several books on the topic of the European constitution, as well as the Lisbon Treaty. The last one has been translated into Bulgarian ("The Lisbon Treaty in twenty-seven words”). He is fluent in English and Polish.

IT BECAME EVIDENT THAT WHEN THINGS BOIL DOWN TO PEOPLE’S PURSES, AS IS THE CASE WITH THE FINANCIAL CRISIS, CONCERNS CAN GROW LARGE. HOW DO YOU THINK THE LIFE OF EUROPEAN CITIZENS WILL CHANGE, AS IT SEEMS THAT THE PROBLEMS WILL BE AT HAND FOR A LONG TIME? It is too early for drawing conclusions, since we are still in the stage of taking measures. The economic situation is very grave and the fire has to be put out. From this perspective, the October European Council of the heads of state and government was essential, as it dealt almost exclusively with this issue, since a unanimous European reaction is necessary. It is very important that these issues be reviewed on a pan-European level. Then we shall draw our lessons from the crises; actually, this is already being done, regarding credit rating agencies and bank control. We should not allow the fire to rekindle once we have put it out, i.e., we should take long-term measures to protect ourselves from similar situations in the future. However, the financial world will not be the same after this crisis. I think that in the future we will acknowledge profound changes in the system.

THE FRENCH PRESIDENT MR. NICOLAS SARKOZY HAS ALREADY SPOKEN ABOUT A CHANGE IN CAPITALISM AND THE INTRODUCTION OF A MORE REGULATED VERSION OF FINANCIAL CAPITALISM. DOESN’T THIS IDEA SEEM LIKE A BIT OF A UTOPIA? At the same time, it is our duty, because things cannot stay this way. A lot of very dangerous financial instruments were introduced that only a few people understand. These instruments are now bursting, and then, their creators turn to the state and ask it to repair the damage. That is why measures need to be taken, so that the system does not collapse again in a few months or a few years. It is necessary to move on to stronger regulations, because it is clear that the complete lack of regulations leads economic players to taking far too great, almost unreasonable risks in the short term, which makes their wages enormous and, in fact – completely unjustified. When you earn a lot of money, it means you have taken great risks, but when you take great risks, that means things could slip away in the wrong direction – just like they did. That is when the victims turn to the state and call for help, which is unacceptable.



Actually, both crises that happened during the French Presidency – the one in Georgia and the financial one – showed just how much we need the Lisbon Treaty. The EU Presidency reacted really fast in Georgia. The general opinion is that if the EU was not presided by such a large country, things would not have taken the same course – President Medvedev and Prime-Minister Putin would not have given the EU as much heed. The financial crisis also shows that Europe needs an economic government and that when things go awry, everybody turns to the EU, and the EU should be prepared to meet their expectations. That is why the Union should have opportunities to take action. Maybe today the general public is a little less interested in the Lisbon Treaty, but all actors taking part in the two grave crises are certain that the Treaty is needed more than ever. I hope that this will promote its ratification among the countries – at present, they are three – which still have not completed the process.

they need to declare what they want and what they should do. This Treaty is necessary, the countries and their peoples are expecting it. Expansion will be impossible without it. If we want to continue to expand, even if that only means growing from 27 to 28, or admitting Croatia, then the Lisbon Treaty should be in effect. That is why a choice needs to be made – either we stay 27 and keep the Nice Treaty, which is an imperfect system, or we continue accepting new countries and must have the Lisbon Treaty into force.

LET US TALK ABOUT BULGARIA. HAVE YOU SEEN ANY POSITIVE CHANGE IN THE COUNTRY SINCE THE LATEST AND EXCEPTIONALLY NEGATIVE REPORT BY THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION? HAS SOFIA LEARNED AT LEAST A PART OF THE LESSON THAT THE REPORT GAVE HER? We have never spoken about a lesson, but rather for encouragement. There are certain signs that show a will to move forward, important laws are being discussed in Parliament regarding the conflict of interest and the financing of political parties, but there are still no concrete results. Goodwill is at hand, but it still has not produced facts. You have to wait more.

HAVE THE SCANDALS WITH THE EURO-FUNDS EXACERBATED EUROPE’S PERCEPTION OF OUR COUNTRY? No, I do not think so. The events that came out in the open were known before, at least by the specialists. Work has been done on these issues for a long time. Now progress needs to be made. Certain practices need to be discontinued, there should be arrests and people should be brought in court, and all trials that have already been started should be brought to an end. These actions are not only expected by the European partners, but they are also necessary for the good of the Bulgarian people themselves – because the ones who suffer the most in this case, are the Bulgarian people. European funds are intended to aid in the country’s development and if there are no guarantees for their good use, this money will not go to Bulgaria, and Bulgarians will not have a chance to make use of it. And in particular, the highways that the whole population has been waiting for, which would allow for fast transportation to the seacoast or to the Turkish border, will not be completed.



It is too early to tell, but there is goodwill for an answer on behalf of the Irish. We are now completely open, we have heard what they had to tell us, now

I think that the civil society has to play a very important role. Citizens have to take destiny in their own hands. For example, I am disappointed with the very


poor election participation in Bulgaria. Certainly, there are reasons for that, but if the citizens really want to change things in their country, it is their duty to participate in elections, that is what democracy is all about. I hope that participation in next year’s elections for Parliament will be higher.

YOU HAVE BEEN HERE FOR LESS THAN A YEAR. WHAT IS THE MOST UNEXPECTED THING THAT YOU HAVE LEARNED ABOUT BULGARIA AND THE BULGARIAN PEOPLE? The most unexpected thing for me was the low birth rate. This is a strong indication of lack of faith in the

future. It is odd that a country, which has been a democracy for 20 years now, which is a member of the EU and which should be optimistic about its future – and I am optimistic about Bulgaria’s future – indicates a lack of faith with such a low birth rate. The country does indeed have problems, but it also has many great advantages – in the aspects of economy, tourism, geopolitics. Unfortunately, I can sense discouraging myself sometimes, not only because of the low participation in elections and the low birth rate, but also because of lack of success in the fight against corruption and organised crime. These three negative symptoms surprised me. This country should be the tiger of the Balkans, or at least it does have the potential for that.



COULD WE SAY THAT FRANCE’S ECONOMIC PRESENCE HERE IS REACHING THE LEVEL OF OUR POLITICAL RELATIONS? Catching up has started, but it will need more time. In the upcoming, Carrefour will set foot in Bulgaria, which will give great visibility to French investments in the country.

At first people do come over, but then they go and they never come back, because the landscape was ruined. That is why Bulgaria should learn from the mistakes of other countries such as Spain, for example, where tourist infrastructures are now being destroyed, because the whole thing got way out of hand. Do not kill the goose that lays your golden eggs.

ECONOMICALLY, BULGARIA IS HIGHLY DEPENDENT ON RUSSIA. DOES THIS CAUSE CONCERN AMONG ITS EUROPEAN PARTNERS? Frankly, from a political perspective, it is valuable for the EU to have a partner that is close to Russia. Europe is rich with its variety of 27 countries and it is very good that there is now a country within the EU, which shares a sincere and long-lasting historical and cultural friendship with Russia. From an economical perspective, though, we should be careful. It is obvious that it is never good to have a single provider

in any given area. In France, for example, we seek deliveries of gas from many places – Norway, Algeria, Russia, etc., so that we can have balance. The same applies to energy sources – except for gas, there should also be nuclear energy, renewable sources, etc.



I am not a specialist in this field, but I do think that you should progressively move on to high-quality tourism in order to avoid a concentration of tourists solely on the Black Sea coast and in a couple of skiing resorts. The country offers many other opportunities, too. Great care should also be taken with the socalled “concreting”, especially in some resorts such as Bansko and the seacoast. This is bad judgment.

Both. There has been an affinity for France in this country for a long time. Perhaps some events from the last year have also contributed – the liberation of the Bulgarian nurses from Libya, President Sarkozy’s visit in Sofia and Prime-Minister Stanishev’s visit in Paris, the signing of an agreement for strategic partnership. In addition, the quality of French music, for instance, is now highly appreciated on the global

scene, with many new authors, and contemporary French cinema is very creative and innovative. The special standing of French cinema in Bulgaria is also due to our embassy’s active support for the visiting of French actors, scriptwriters and producers: Luc Besson – for the premiere of the film about the Minimoys, director Patrice Leconte, and of course, Jean-Claude Carrière – for the film festival in Sofia last May. French cinema conquers market segments in Bulgaria and I am glad to see that. So, there is a supply, as well as a demand. A demand on behalf of the Bulgarian people, and a supply of higher-quality cultural products from France.


der to do that, the country needs to solve its problem with crime and corruption.

YOU AND YOUR FAMILY PROBABLY DISCUSS BULGARIA’S ISSUES. HOW DO YOUR CHILDREN, THE YOUNGER FRENCH GENERATION, PERCEIVE OUR COUNTRY? The younger generation considers the fact that Bulgaria is a part of Europe completely natural. It is very difficult for them to imagine that Europe was divided as recently as 20 years ago. Thus, they do not have the same attitude as we do. For the young generation, it is normal to have Euros in their pockets and so on. They are surprised that Bulgaria has lived under a totalitarian system for 50 years. They are also surprised by the flashy display of riches, which have obviously not been acquired through particularly honest ways. They are also surprised by the delay in realising the problems of the environment, like the fact that there is a lot of garbage around the roads, the ecological culture of younger generations in France is not present here. In addition, they are surprised by the issue of road safety here, which seems to concern people much less than in other European countries.


However, I would not want you to remain with the false impression that my children have a negative assessment of Bulgaria; on the contrary. My family often travels incognito throughout the country. Just recently, we visited Vratza. We are always pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the landscape and the towns we visit, as well as by the warmth and sympathy that we are received with. The hospitability, the joy of life, and the Francophilia of Bulgarians are not just empty phrases, and we see proof for that every single day. l

Bulgaria’s specific role is its stabilising role in the Balkans, because the country has shown that it can set an example for harmonic life of the minorities, as well as for its relations with its neighbours, as well as with the countries from the Black Sea region. In the EU, Bulgaria simply takes its natural place, it had been separated for a long time due to the Communist regime, and it is only natural that the country takes its place now. It does not have to play any specific role. It just has to take its place in the European family. Bulgaria has this right, as long as it completes the reforms that are expected of it, so that it can move forward in its struggle with corruption and organised crime, and so that it can finally take advantage of European solidarity. Bulgaria is one of the poorest countries in the EU, and in the Union, we show solidarity with each other, so Bulgaria needs to take advantage of this solidarity. To take advantage of about ten billion Euro in the upcoming years. In or-


in Bulgaria, where favorable business environment and reliable partners are easy to find.

INVEST IN BULGARIA NOW Stoyan Stalev CEO of the Invest Bulgaria Agency


Invest in Bulgaria – your business partner in New Europe!

Bulgaria is one of the oldest European countries, with a history of twenty centuries and long-lasting traditions. Modern Bulgaria is perceived as a stable and rapidly advancing Eastern European country. It is strategically located at the crossroads of four European transport corridors, connecting Western and Northern Europe with the Eastern and Southern part of the continent. Bulgaria is also famous for its picturesque nature and rich cultural heritage. More and more foreign businessmen and investors are targeting Bulgaria as a very attractive destination. Our country is among the youngest members of the European Union having joined in January 2007. EU membership has enhanced the overall perception of the country, has facilitated trade relations and, moreover, has paved the road for potential investors

Bulgaria’s geographic location, EU membership, macroeconomic and financial stability and predictable business environment, together with state support for investment projects − these are the advantages that make Bulgaria a preferred place for investment. The Bulgarian economy has strong development potential. Macroeconomic and political stability are already in place. The legislation has been harmonized with EU’s. The fiscal policy is one of the most attractive in the Union. Corporate income tax rate is at 10% – the lowest in the EU, together with Cyprus. 10% flat personal income tax rate was introduced in the beginning of 2008. The Bulgarian currency is pegged to the Euro (EUR 1 : BGN 1.95583) and businesses face no currency risk. General measures for encouragement of entrepreneurs apply to all class “A” starting from 12 mil. and class “B” starting from 7 mil. investments, certified under the new Investment Encouragement Law. These general incentives comprise faster administrative servicing, preferential treatment for obtaining ownership or limited property rights over real estate – private state or private municipal property, as well as financial support for vocational training of employees up to 29 years of age for the needs of the investment project. Class “A” investment projects enjoy personalized administrative servicing and financial support for infrastructure to the borders of the investment project site. In addition, investors may use EU Structural Funds to further support their investment projects in Bulgaria. InvestBulgaria Agency is a government agency, whose mission is to attract investments and to assist companies with the successful execution of their investment projects resulting in new job creation, increased exports of goods and services as well as inflow of know-how, ultimately aiming at boosting Bulgaria’s economy. Explore the possibilities of doing business in Bulgaria at: l

The Montupet Group is listed at the Paris Stock Exchange and its annual turnover is EUR 500 million. The company employs 3,500 specialists. For 26 years already Montupet has been headed by Stéphane Magnan. The French company has 9 factories - in France, Spain, Canada, Northern Ireland, Mexico, and Bulgaria. It is a partner of General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, Audi, Peugeot-Citroën, Renault-Nissan, Dacia, etc.


A Montupet Team Montupet SA is among Europe’s leading manufacturers of aluminum alloy products for the automotive industry. The company was founded in 1894 and specialises in the production of cylinder heads, rims, structural parts and components for automotive braking systems.

Automotive tendencies have imposed the production of more compact and more efficient engines. Montupet-developed technologies give the company a leading place among automotive component manufacturers. Batch production utilises techniques such as gravity casting, low pressure casting, hybrid casting through low pressure in metal or sand moulds. The company can offer the most appropriate process for every type of cast, depending on its construction and the expected level of efficiency. Professional development and production of moulds, the increasing automatisation of processes, statistical data control are all important factors for Montupet’s quality and productivity. The company’s Bulgarian plant was built in Rousse’s Industrial Park. This decision was taken after in-depth research of countries in the region. The company’s choice was determined by several factors: Bulgaria’s accession to the EU, the stability of Bulgarian currency, the price of labour. The company is not worried by the fact that Bulgaria has no traditions in the automotive industry. Industrial traditions in the town, the availability of many vocational schools and a technical university presume the availability of high-quality workforce. The swift action of state and local authorities, working together with the investor, determined Montupet’s final pick. The beneficial co-operation with the Invest Bulgaria Agency, the French-Bulgarian Business Club and the Municipality of Rousse led to the project’s opening ceremony on 24 September 2008.


The Bulgarian plant will be the most modern of all company facilities. All of the plant’s production will be exported. It amounts to about 1 million engine cylinder heads per year and half a million automotive chassis carrying elements. Deliveries will go to the largest automotive companies in the world – Audi, BMW, Ford, Renault, etc. The perspective is that in three years the plant’s annual turnover should reach 70 million Euro.

The plant is located on an area of 140,000 square metres in Rousse’s Industrial Park. The production facility has an area of 20,000 square metres, and the administrative facilities – 2,000 square metres. Infrastructure and equipment take up approximately two-thirds of this area. 40 million Euro were invested in the project, and the investor plans to put 53 million Euro more in the Rousse plant. Eco-investments have been about 3 million Euro. In 2007 Montupet received the award Investor of the Year in the Automotive Industry by the Invest Bulgaria Agency.

In the beginning of 2007, the company started the processes of personnel selection and now it has 150 employees, some of which have undergone vocational training in France, while the rest were trained in Bulgaria. Increasing the plant’s capacities will create new job openings, so that their total number will reach 500. The goal is for the new production base to become the company’s primary production facility in Europe, working for clients in Turkey, Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia, as well as for renowned automotive marques like Audi, Ford, Peugeot-Citroën, Renault, and Dacia. In 2008 Montupet started a project for the construction of a new plant in China, which should commence production in 2010. l

Invest in Bulgaria now

31 Aksakov Street, 1000 Sofia, BULGARIA • Tel: +359 2 9855500 • Fax: +359 2 9801320 e-mail: •


Architectural reserve, Gotse Delchev municipality


Nessebar municipality


One of Orlin Vladikov’s pastimes is sports skiing and tennis. His latest passion is a 12-metre motorboat. “It is not just a sport, it is a challenge!” He had a lot to say about the yacht – how on one hand it is a place for seclusion, and how on the other hand it is a great site for adventuring with his friends. He also got a chance to study in new fields such as navigation, for example. He thinks that what’s most important is that you get to provoke your own self. “While in every day life we have to fight bureaucracy, in sailing you need to face the elements of nature, and that is how you put yourself to the test. That was an old dream of mine”, he shared. It is hard to portray a like Orlin Vladikov, who is developed in so many different areas. When we talk about personal life, he always relates that to his work. When we move on to his professional achievements, he speaks less about his own business and more about Bulgaria, the Bulgarian people, the civil society, the developments...

Orlin Vladikov



Graduated Law in “Kliment OhridskI” Sofia University. By 1986, he had worked at TECHNOEXPORT, the Ministry of Foreign Commerce, the Ministry of Exterior. From 1986 to 1991 he was Bulgarian Consul at the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland with residence in London. After returning to Bulgaria, in the period 1992–2005 he founded the companies ORVITEX, ORVITEX INDUSTRIES, KOLOBAR, as well as the Lake Investors investment company. In 2002–2007 he was chairman of the National Real Property Association NGO. He specialised in Real Estate, Building Management and Real Estate Management in the USA, the Czech Republic, England, and Russia. He has two sons.

“The real businessmen in Bulgaria are patriots. If they didn’t love their country, Bulgarian entrepreneurs would have directed their investments somewhere else a long time ago.” That is what Mr. Vladikov shared in a straightforward manner, but even if he had not, this fact was underlying our entire conversation. It is not a secret that it’s very difficult to run a company in a country with no traditions in private business. “We realise that we are sometimes pioneers, but the general public often considers us to be quixotic knights...”, Orlin Vladikov admits. However, it seems that it’s easier to see the changes in our country, when watching from abroad. There are irreversible processes of political and economic stability in Bulgaria, and there is a tax policy, similar



I have never been a traitor. I have never betrayed a friend or a cause.

to the policies of off-shore zones. “It turns out that a lot of large foreign companies, seeking international presence, are not familiar with Bulgaria’s legislation and the advantages that make it an attractive area for investments. Our country needs to work more on its international propaganda. We emphasise our rich cultural heritage and our unique nature, but we also

need to highlight the economic conditions, which make Bulgaria an excellent investment centre. It is not right for us to hide under the rug and then expect to be noticed”, says the former diplomat. On November 10, 1989, Orlin Vladikov witnessed the fall of the socialist regime in Bulgaria from

THE CLICHES THAT I DO NOT AGREE WITH: I do not agree that “a businessman” means “a fraud”. I do not agree that Bulgaria is split up into “Our people” and “Your people”. I do not agree that blondes are dumb.

a distance. At that time, he was employed as Bulgarian Consul in the United Kingdom and he lived in London. “It looked like a royal coup d’etat. We welcomed change with a lot of optimistic faith that we would finally break free of the capsule, which kept personal enterprise in check. “ That was when Orlin Vladikov decided to leave the field of diplomacy. Yes, it is a highly prestigious profession, but it made him feel like he was bounded. Before moving into private business, he had second thoughts about whether he really possessed the personal abilities, required for such an endeavour. In spite of all hesitation, in 1992 he founded the company Orvitex, which is prosperous yet today. For Vladikov that was a good surprise, considering that most private enterprises could not overcome the severe political and economic crisis in Bulgaria in the second half of the 1990’s. He does not have a specific recipe for “surviving” in such crises. On one hand he states that it is most important to be optimistic, but on the other hand he emphasises the realistic view upon the situation and one’s personal abilities. Nevertheless, he is absolutely certain that if one wants to achieve in business, as well as in personal life, one needs to look far ahead.

THE CIVIL SOCIETY Orlin Vladikov mentions that concept often, perhaps unconsciously. “A couple of years ago, the public experts in Bulgaria were people from the TV shows. Thankfully, institutions are now giving more and more heed to the opinion of non-government organisations. Media ask for the position of people who create – intellectuals, industrialists, cultural and sports figures. These are the people who should be intellectual leaders of the civil society”, Orlin Vladikov keenly explained. We get to discuss different social and public problems. Friends of his have advised him to get involved with politics, but he believes that there are other ways of contributing to the country’s development. Once again, he speaks of the civil society and the non-government organisations. He has facilitated business conditions

Another analogy between Orlin Vladikov’s character and his professional realisation can be done with regard to new technologies. As a person, he is innovative and creative. As a leader of his company, he encourages its employers to keep upgrading their qualifications, and he is also a strong proponent of innovations, which constitute a permanent part of Orvitex’s activities.


For Vladikov, implementing new technologies is directly related to environmental protection. For him this is not a financial benefit, neither is it a modern tendency, nor is it just forced compliance with normative regulations.

Ecologically friendly activities are his personal philosophy, as well as his company’s mission. The Bulgarian businessman has received awards for producing energy-preserving paints and construction materials out of waste matter. The production process in no way harms the environment. Orlin Vladikov is strictly against overconstruction in our coastal and mountain resorts and he says that Orvitex does not mediate deals that would lead to damage to our natural resources. However, he does regretfully note that his company is too small in the whole process and can not exert a notable influence. While some state officials and investors are willing to sacrifice unique natural landmarks for the sake of their own benefit, the civil society should be the regulator, instead of just one or two individual companies.

in Bulgaria as a member of the board of managers of the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and as a chairman of the National Real Property Association for two mandates. The struggle with the legislative and executive power is hard, but the satisfaction afterwards makes it worthwhile. I ask him, “What is the most unpleasant part of everyday work?” “All of it. My working day is only full of stress and problems.” “Then why do you work as a private entrepreneur in Bulgaria?” “Because of the satisfaction you feel, when you look back... The moral satisfaction, not the material one.” Orlin Vladikov says his life is not only work; he

EVERY DAY... Every day I try to show the people I work with that I am one of them.


Every day I plan the day out. The plan often changes a couple of times by the evening.

also likes to take time to rest and travel. His friends, however, joke that he needs to take his secretary to the beach, too, because he can’t deal with all his work using his phone and notebook alone... Travelling is indeed his passion. He told me all about a Mediterranean cruise with his friends. Since he does not have enough time for far away travels, he often has to make do with day-to-day driving. Driving his car makes him relax. He has never had a chauffeur, and he does not want one. When driving, he is calm, he concentrates and has time to think about problems. He even took one of the most important decisions in his business and personal life behind the wheel. Here we are, talking business again. The very same business that leaves him with too little time to read – and he loves reading: Bulgarian classics, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Erich Maria Remarque. Of course, he also reads

professional literature. He is glad that publishing houses have recently started to pay more attention to contemporary Bulgarian writers. He has helped print business and history books himself. He even found enough time to participate in writing some professional literature in the field of real estate. As I am leaving Mr. Vladikov’s office, I glance at the bookshelf. The title with the largest font is Georgi Gospodinov’s Inventory Book of Socialism. Indeed it is essential for people to look back at mistakes with a sense of humour, while still being able to analyse them. It certainly helps in business, too. l


(for better or for worse)

I was born only once. For better or for worse. (This is the first and only time in the conversation when he laughs.)

MALYOVITSA PEAK (2729 m) Samokov municipality

THE MOUNTAIN OF HOSPITALITY In the territory of the Smolyan Municipality you can visit:

Our first guest in this rubric is a municipality with an ancient history, a romantic present, and a perspective future. This is Smolyan, the region of the mythical Orpheus, of the world-famous Kaba-Gaida bagpipe, home of marvelous nature and a place that we will keep going back to because of its never-boring variety of tourist attractions. That is why we are interviewing Ms. Dora Yankova - Mayor of the town of Smolyan.

300 hectares of natural reserves 401 hectares of protected territories 118 hectares of natural landmarks 421 cultural monuments



Dora Yankova She graduated Geography in the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, and later - Law in the Varna Technical University. She received her post-graduate qualification in the University for National and World Economy, in “FinancialAccounting and Legal Activity of Companies” and “Public Administration”. From 1991 to 1997, she was the mayor of Momchilovtzi village in the Smolyan Municipality. From 1997 to 2001, she was a Member of the 38th National Assembly. From 2001 to 2003,she was an Expert in the 39th National Assembly and executive director of the Centre for Sustained Development of the Mountain - Smolyan. Since 2003, she has been the mayor of Smolyan Municipality, as well as Chairperson of the Association of Rhodope Municipalities, a Member of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE), Chairperson of the Managing Board of the National Alliance of Municipalities of the Republic of Bulgaria. Member of the Executive Board of the High Council of the Bulgarian Socialist Party; Chairperson of the Council for Local SelfGovernment and Regional Policies; Member of the Council for European Integration; Member of the Council for Ethnic Matters, InterEthnical Relations, and BSP’s Activity in Regions with Mixed Populations

Ms. Yankova, what are the news from Smolyan Municipality after our accession in the European Union? We already have good experience from the preaccession period, with the PHARE and ISPA funds, which were, essentially, a financial tool. The investments were mostly in infrastructure objects. We built roads in regions with a potential for developing tourism. 22.4 million Euro were invested in the integrated water cycle of the municipal centre, Smolyan. Water-supplies and sewers were constructed in the resort core Raykovski Livadi, near the Pamporovo resort. Now we have projects in several operative programs. The first one is for municipal roads, and is worth 3 million Euro. The next package we have applied for is for insulation, power efficiency and modernisation of municipal schools and kindergartens. It is also worth 3 million Euro.

Especially important to us is the project for social homes – homes for the elderly and for the children, which mean a lot to the municipality. We have applied for two projects in the “Environment” operative program; they are related to technical assistance for designing a water cycle in the villages Smilyan and Momchilovtzi. These projects


The investments were mostly in infrastructure objects.

are worth 1.5 million Euros in total. We’ll use these funds to design a complete cycle of water supplies and sewers in large villages, which will provide logistics in tourism. This project, as well as the project for municipal roads, are especially important for the development of the tourist business. We are currently preparing a large project for water supplies

to Smolyan Lakes and the Ezerovo neighbourhood in the municipal centre. Our participation in these projects is a great challenge for us, as well as for the other Bulgarian municipalities. We aspire to receive those additional European funds, which can help us modernise our

This problem must be solved through seeking modern financial and management tools for stimulating young people to stay here. They need to be able to see their future in this region. Like Bulgaria as a whole, Smolyan has a serious demographical problem. First and most important to us are human resources. We already have the conditions for tourism. We should carefully describe and place natural resources in an exciting tourist product. Of course, the culture of service is also essential. We shouldn’t consider what we have as just reserves, nostalgia, old people, attractions and nature; we should bring life into it, as well as dynamics. We can get that from the people, who are offering the tourist services. That is why we need to select them, and they need to become our partners. It is impossible to leave everything to the country and the municipalities. I mean, the people, who would like to develop tourist business, should realise themselves as players on the market, as consumers of the new quality of life that we are striving for. That is why we need to provoke and guide an interest, and they need to act as our active partners. Also, the Tourism Agency and the government should be really clear about their requirements. In order to start work in this field, you need to have 5-6 people that are fluent in foreign languages. They need to have received the respective education and qualifications.


towns and villages and provide a different quality of living. This issue is crucial to us, as we are a municipal centre with a population of more than 30,000, and this excludes us from the program for rural development. Now we are concentrating our efforts only on the “Regional Development” operative program. One of the municipality’s priorities is tourism development. Would the current condition of the roads allow for the increased number of tourists? This issue is a special policy of the region. The roads network is especially important for our development, because the Rhodope Mountains can only be traveled on wheels. Especially important, in my opinion, is the road Plovdiv - Smolyan. This is the funnel that all other roads come down to. Currently, even though not at a rapid rate, Smolyan is advancing with the increasing business and tourism flow. This makes the roads too narrow. Our explicit demand is to have a four-lane connection between Plovdiv and Smolyan. During the last year, tourism business in Bulgaria endured serious losses due to its bad service and the not-so-good conditions, offered to tourists. How are you going to handle this problem?

Businesses should start investing in the education and qualification of its employees, and that is when the fluctuation of human resources will cease. This is a great issue in tourism, and that is why the government should put its departments in order. I think the business itself demands this already, because if something is required from the business, it will start meeting the requirements.


In the municipality’s development plan by 2013 you expect to have achieved about 10% of the region’s potential for tourist business. How are you going to make use of the large reserve that you have? We are actively working in this direction. Six new tourist routes have been created and marked under the project “Bio-diversity in the Rhodopes – Life Underground and in the Light of Day”. These routes also have the necessary infrastructure – arbours, panoramic observation sites, bridges that present the rich bio-diversity of the region and of the non-facilitated caves. People who are into botany will be delighted by the route from the area “Uzunov Kamak” above Gorna Arda village to the protected area “Livadite” near Savino village, where they can find the endemic Rhodope lily (Lilium Rhodopaeum). The project provided funds for the creation of an Information Centre for Ecological Education in Smilyan village. A definite attraction there is Bulgaria’s first re-constructed skeleton of a prehistoric cave bear. What are the other types of alternative tourism? The project “Momchil’s Fortress – Myth and Reality” was brought to reality with the help of funds from

the PHARE program “Cross-border Co-operation”. The tower-gate was restored and conserved, as well as sections of the north walls. We also created a convenient tourist approach to the fortress, with many panoramic observation sites and a tourist shelter. The project catalysed the patriotism of the young people in the municipality. Now we have investment interest in lands near the fortress and the first private initiatives, related to offering tourist services. You are one of the pioneers of “rural tourism” in the Rhodopes. What steps are being undertaken to the aim of refreshing this type of tourist service? There are several concepts from the lingo of tourism that are being used quite easily. “Rural tourism” and “eco-tourism” are among them. With regard to rural tourism, that is exactly the way it is. When this service gained publicity and some kind of a model of being implemented as a type of tourism, people in villages and towns were seeking an opportunity to generate additional income. That was in the beginning of the 1990’s. That was this tourist product’s initiation in the Rhodopes, or more precisely – in the village of Momchilovtsi. Our goal was to offer tourists relaxation, experiences in

The adventure can have a psychological aspect, as well as a physical one. With regard to this, the conditions we offer could be related to modern forms and could be applied in the modern style of company management. I am alluding to the opportunity of organising team-building trips. We have added a new element to an already existing product for adventure tourism – a via ferrata, or an iron road in the rocks, 145 metres long. In addition, we offer adventure-seekers entering a cave with boats via an underground stream, rappelling, descended an alpine trolley and a flight above Arda River’s valley with an “alpine pendulum” from the arch of a cave’s pass near Koshnitsa village. How would you define the new opportunities for tourism on municipal territory? The motto and idea have been long proclaimed by the Rhodope Tourist Association – “The mountain of hospitality in all four seasons”. We are working and we are on the right track, but it takes time, because the whole process is related to psychology, attitude, product, movement, people to use it... l


nature, and opportunities for active sports, as well as an introduction to traditions. An example for a more integrated approach for developing rural tourism is Arda’s upper course. Traditional rural accommodation houses, opportunities for active resting – hiking or thematic tours, caves, bio-diversity – they are all just elements of the product there. Their objective is to let the tourist learn things about the local culture and local everyday life. The diverse natural resources also create opportunities for extreme tourism. What is the municipality’s opinion on that? The term “extreme tourism” is highly exaggerated in our circumstances. I would opt to call it “adventure tourism”. The product that is offered in this segment gives the people who use it an experience of exploring. In our region, that is related to the abundance of caves, which are included in the “Adventure in the Rhodopes” program. It deals with entering non-facilitated caves. The use of this product does not alter the natural environment of the site. This preserved environment induces the feeling of pioneering in tourists. They feel like they are the first people to ever go in there. It is an incredible feeling.


Southern Black Sea coast



The village of Smilyan is one of the most ancient settlements in the Rhodopes, at an altitude of 800 metres. It is 250 km away from Sofia, 25 km away from Pamporovo, and 12 km away from Smolyan. Its international popularity is mainly due to the patented “Smilyan beans”. Population: ~1,800

THE CREAMERY This one of Milkana Yordanova’s stories starts in 1994. That’s when the Rhodopa Milk co-operation was founded. A little bit before this date of regional importance, she had already finished researching the project “module creamery” and concluded it was absolutely feasible in the region of Smolyan. Upland animal farming needs fast collection and processing of milk, and the herds that were raised in this part of the mountain, could justify investing in such a

project. This background of the little creamery never received a green light, though. The state had already picked a different policy for the future of Bulgarian agriculture. Co-operative herds were liquidated and small-scale farmers took their place. This changed the initial idea and the project became “stationary”. There was enough milk, and enough consumption, therefore there was a necessity for processing milk. That’s what Milkana thought when she boldly started her journey in this new direction. Her qualification as an economist was complemented by technology specialist Veneta Peteva, and the two of them formed the team’s core. That is when Rhodopa Milk applied in a Swiss governmental project for supporting small structures in the processing industry in Eastern Europe, and thus the creamery got its chance. During the preliminary research stage, Milkana became familiar with the characteristics of Rhodope milk and she knew that its high butter content allowed it to be used in the production of types of yellow cheese, which were not traditional for Bulgarian cuisine. The courage for entering the segment of “Western” cheeses came from the exclusive qualities of upland milk. The natural grass composition of lawns in the Rhodopes, mixed with the variety of herbs, gave it a unique aroma.

For those of you, who can already taste the classical combination of red wine and Rhodope cheese, call:

+359 88 8759102 Ms. Milkana Yordanova

We can discuss this topic with Milkana for hours without exhausting it. I broach the subject of the trendy Dr. Pierre Dukan in an attempt to reach a critical appraisal of the characteristics of Rhodope cuisine. Of course, Milkana gives me irrefutable arguments in defense of traditional food. Their irrefutability stems from the fact that scientifically proven Rhodope longevity is largely due to the food. For Rhodope people, and there are almost none of them with abnormal cholesterol levels, this food is bee honey, yogurt, and beans. ‘When we started our business, stores only offered imported yellow cheeses,’ she recalls. ‘One of the most important conditions in our agreement with the Swiss government was that we should produce high-quality products solely for the Bulgarian market.’ This way the production list of the small Bulgarian creamery, aside from traditional Bulgarian kashkaval, included familiar foreign types: gouda, parmesan, tilsit, gruyere, kefaloriti... Don’t be amazed by the rich assortment, though – all cheeses are only produced in boutique quantities. After all, the small creamery is served by 18 employees, and milk processing reaches 2-2.5 tonnes per day, depending on the season.


Milkana is quite worried about the creamery’s future, and mostly, the future of Rhodope milk. To a large extent, her worries depend on whether small farms – those with less than 5 cows ¬– will receive the right of future subsidies, like large farms. The restrictive rules of Bulgarian legislation for having at least 5 cows in a herd prevent many small upland farms from providing food for so many animals. This way, the unique flavour of Rhodope milk will become only a memory.

THE HOTEL The story has a sequel. The creamery was going well and it either had to expand, or to diversify its activities. The diversification, as Milkana termed the next move in the language of economists, continued in 2000 in the “Mlechen dom” (Milk Home) hotel. This hotel became popular not only with the romantic Rhodope panorama, but also with being the only hotel in Bulgaria with a private creamery. Milk Home is a small family hotel with 18 beds. Seven double rooms, a suite, a dining hall with a fireplace (what else would anybody need?) can turn a company of people’s most ordinary weekend into a holiday. The spot quickly gains popularity with its exceptionally delicious cuisine and its authentic setting. Milk Home is the perfect place for fans of calm

relaxation and for those who love eco-tourism. The reservation should be done in advance, so that you are sure to try the traditional Rhodope cuisine – both in recipes and style of cooking. This is the direction, in which most efforts of the regional eco-tourism association go, and Milkana gives her contribution. They are trying to implement the municipality’s programme for development of alternative forms of tourism. One of the first steps is the advertising of biological products – not their certification, but the popularisation of their excellent qualities. That is why we can soon meet together at the bazaar of ecological Rhodope foods. l




Our first base is

HVOYNA VILLAGE Hvoyna is an old Rhodope settlement, located about 55 kilometres south of Plovdiv. It is surrounded by ancient spruce and pine forests and spacious meadows. The visitor can settle in one of many guest houses and enjoy the exotic of rural tourism. Close to Hvoyna one can find the tourists sites Assenova Krepost (Assen’s Fortress) and the Bachkovski Manastir (Bachkovski Monastery), the mystic grounds of Krаstova Gora (Krаstova Forest) and the balneological healing centre of Narechenski Bani (Narechenski Baths)

There are hundreds of eco-tracks in the Rhodope Mountains. Still, in the end of October, the longest ecoroute not only in this mountain, but in all of Bulgaria, was revealed. It stretches for more than 130 kilometres, takes more than 2 weeks, starts in the Bulgarian part of the Rhodopes and ends under the mountain’s southern slopes in Greece. The variety of sights throughout the marked track is great – natural phenomena, as well as architectural, archaeological and historical monuments, wild animals and extreme experiences. Here are some of the exciting sites on the route:

The eco-route is suited for visits throughout the whole year. No special preparation is required from the visitors. There are paths through the more difficult sections, providing for easier access and safety, as well as stairs and railings on the higher sites, so that people with different degrees of preparation can travel. The route is divided in sections with three separate difficulty ratings.

The next goal on the route is climbing



Mount Persenk’s altitude is 2,074 metres and overcoming the steep path takes about 3 hours. Under this peak wounds the most picturesque and best preserved Roman road in Bulgaria. It was built in the 1st century BC and is intensively used even today.

After that, we descend to one of the Rhodopes’ symbols -


The two marble archs lay on an area of 40 hectares. The larger bridge is 96 metres long and 70 metres tall. Its arch looms 45 metres above the clear river. The marble block it is made of is 12 to 15 metres wide. A road passes through this bridge. There are two inter-connected caves in its walls, as well as a lot of Karst cavities, where many birds and bats find haven. About 200 metres below is the 60 metres long Second Bridge, which looks like a long tunnel. Its total height is 50 metres, and its arch alone is 30

metres tall. The bridge starts with a relatively wide opening, which gradually narrows down and ends as a crack. Near the bridge’s lower end, the river suddenly disappears and reappears on the surface 1.5 kilometres later. Near the Second Bridge we can find the entrance to the Ice Cave, which holds ice even late in the summer. This phenomenon is interesting not only because of its impressive appearance, but also because of the story of its origin. A long time ago, a cave hollowed by the waters of the Dаlbok Dol River collapsed, probably during an earthquake. The current washed away the debris and thus created two peerlessly beautiful natural rock bridges. Adrenaline junkies can enjoy one of the lougest rope “trolleys” in Bulgaria, built near the Bridges. The Wonderful Bridges were proclaimed to be one of the 100 Tourist Sites of Bulgaria.

The second site from this list on our route is


It is 1,926 metres high and is located on the territory of the Pamporovo Resort. The most southern mountain resort in Europe offers snow sport enthusiasts more than 20 kilometres of tracks and excellent weather conditions. Winter is long, with heavy snowfalls, but also mild due to warn atmospheric masses, coming in from the Aegean Sea. The average monthly temperature in the month of March is from 7°C to -2°C. The snow cover on the northern slopes of Snejanka Peak lasts by the end of May. Compared to the other mountains in Bulgaria, this is where the days of strong winds and fogs are the least. Of course, Snezhanka Peak is attractive throughout the whole year. One of the country’s oldest TV towers was built on the peak. Visitors can ride an elevator to a height of 100 metres and enjoy a view beyond description. To the west they can see the peaks of Rila and Pirin, to the north the eyes meet Stara Planina, and in clear weather the south reveals a panorama to the waters of the Aegean Sea. However, even when there is no visibility as far as the sea, the southern slopes of Snezhanka are reflected in the


SMOLYAN LAKES They are located near the town of Smolyan, under the natural landmark Orpheus Rocks. In the past, the lakes were about 20, but today only 7 of them are well shaped, while the rest have turned into marshes. During spring and autumn, small lakes re-appear in the place of some of these marshes. One of the lakes – Bistroto, (The Clear Lake) is not more than a metre deep, and the bottom is easy to see through its crystal clear waters. The lake’s water flows out underground and springs up at a distance of 20 kilometres. After a short ascent on a wide and very steep path, we suddenly encounter the highest of the lakes – Mаtnoto (The Turbid Lake). The view is impressive, the lake nestled in the thick spruce forests right underneath the rocks. Light hardly finds its way to the lake through the tall trees and that is why its waters look dark and black. That is what gave its name. Mаtnoto is the deepest of all the lakes – 4.5 metres.

Just a few kilometres away from the Smolyan Lakes we find



of the imperial eagle. It is also called “The Eastern Imperial Eagle” and it is one of the largest species of eagles, with a wingspan up to 2.10 metres.

The next 10 kilometres of the route pass by 46 waterfalls, the largest of which bears the name of the mythical singer Orpheus. The water streams fall from a height of 68 metres and look like the strings of a harp. In sunny weather, a rainbow can be observed at the Orpheus Waterfall. Another landmark in the Canyon of Waterfalls is the Age-Old Beech, with a diameter of more than 4 metres. Three panoramic platforms have been built at an altitude of 1,700 metres. They provide a vantage point to the wild goats on the hills, to different rock formations and to the peaks in the Perelik part of the Rhodopes. The next destination is one of these rock formations -


The magnificent rock complexes Orlov Kamak (Eagle’s Rock), Meden Kamak (Copper Rock) and Kozi Kamak (Goat’s Rock) are the sites where vultures rest and sleep. The black vulture is one of the largest birds of prey in Europe, with a wingspan up to 2.80 metres. In the 1950’s, their population decreased greatly. However, there still are individual pairs in the Easterh Rhodopes and their odd hoarse calls mingle with the even stranger, bark-like calls

After encountering rare birds in the wild, we head for adventures in the


Uhlovitza is located here – one of the most beautiful caves in Bulgaria. Close to it is the Golubovitza Cave, where the visitor can experience a memorable boat trip in an underground river. A via ferrata is

constructed in the rocks above Golubovitza, and many other rope constructions are provided in the region. At high water, tourists can observe extreme kayaking in the white waters. Only experts are allowed to practice this sport, while tourists can take advantage of the many bicycle routes. A real journey back in time is the travel to Bulgaria’s border at


The route was created under the project “Biodiversity in the Rhodopes – Precondition for the Creation of New Tourist Products”.

A picturesque Roman road with two exceptionally well preserved Roman bridges leads there. In 2011, a border point will be built here and this will become the shortest route from Plovdiv to the Aegean Sea. For the time being, only the eco-route passes through here, leading to its end in the Greek



The ambitious project was initiated by the Rhodope Regional Tourist Association, which has worked towards developing tourism in the region for years. The project is almost exclusively financed by the EU and its value is approximately 257,000 Euro. The eco-route was built over the course of more than a year. Many shelters, arbours, drinking fountains and washrooms have been built on the route. Informational and instructional signs have been placed, as well as markings. Several panoramic platforms with special metal fences have been built in order to provide security to tourists, who ascend rocks like Orlov Kamuk, Sokolitza, Chervenata Skala, which haven’t been visited so far due to their hard accessibility. Materials, advertising this cross-border route will be issued in the world’s markets.

The major landmark there are the tallest waterfalls in the Rhodopes – St. Varvara, Lepidas and Livadigis.

An aged woman from the village of Sivino Smolyan municipality


As a teenager, Maria Vassileva dreamt of being a motorcycle competitor in the Super Bike class, of travelling around the world, or at least of being an inventor. Today she works as the Project and Structured Finance Manager in Raiffeisen Bank’s headquarters in Vienna. What has not changed since then is my constant desire to test my own limits.

I ALWAYS WANT TO... be able to hold my head up high and sleep well with my conscience clean

Maria’s day starts with coffee and CNN. She drives to the central area of the Austrian capital and works till dark in her office on the tenth floor of the main building of Raiffeisen near the city’s Stadtpark. She is an Acquisition, Project and Structured Finance

She graduated with a Master’s in Finances at the University of National and World Economy and a MBA at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration. She graduated a Master’s Class on Eastern Europe at the Vienna University of National and World Economy. She attended courses in Business English, American Culture, Corporative Finances, and Investments in Santa Barbara (California) and Boston (Massachusetts) in the USA.


I THINK WE SHOULD... stop waiting on help from the outside and try to help us ourselves

After 2 years of professional realisation in Bulgaria, she started work in the Austrian Control Bank in Vienna. After another 2 years she goes back to her home country and works for the local Porsche dealership, and later she continues her career in the Porsche office in Salzburg. Since early 2007 she is a part of the team of Raiffeisen Zentralbank Оsterreich AG in the position of Project and Structured Finance Manager . She has fluent command of English, German, Russian, Macedonian, and Serbo-Croatian languages.

Manager in the teamPetrol and Gas, Metals, Mining, and other primary industries. Together with her colleagues she analyses all possible risks, related to a project, in order to create a financial structure that optimally satisfies the client’s needs for the project and minimises risks for the respective financial institution. The bet is high. Work is tense and requires


Indifferent people do not risk. They are afraid to bet, because they have no control over their life – they just let it “happen”, the outcome does not depend on them.

absolute concentration. There is no room for jokes in this office. Still, professionalism and the ability to take responsibility for your decisions guarantee the successful outcome of all projects. Another influent factor is the good team. All my colleagues are young and ambitious, with an international background. They are open to


everything that I want, as long as it wouldn’t harm the people around me

different cultures and mindsets, which makes work that much easier and more enjoyable. The multinational team is one of the reasons Maria Vassileva chose to work in Vienna (Raiffeisen employs many Bulgarians and other Eastern European young specialists). Another incentive was the challenge of large-scale international projects. The same position in Bulgaria would confine her to local projects only, which wouldn’t allow her to test the limits of her abilities. Maria loves her home country. She goes back home whenever she has a chance. Her favourite places are her home, the sea, the mountains and a small village, related to her unforgettable childhood memories. She knows all about the political and social events in Bulgaria and she takes it very emotionally:


Flippant people risk everything. They boldly roll the dice, but then chance and fate get to decide everything... To them, life is a gamble.


why humanity still tolerates waging meaningless wars or wars, incited by the economical interests of a handful of people, which lead to the death of thousands of innocent people. I cannot understand why people cripple their souls by letting hatred and malice take refuge in them I rejoice every success of Bulgaria, and I suffer for each of her failures. In the summer of 2008 Maria’s phone literally “overheats” due to calls from her friends all over the world, wanting to discuss the negative report on Bulgaria of the European Commission. Everyone is shocked by the information in the media and want to find out what’s happening from her personally. Maria said that until a couple of years ago, Bulgaria was generally unfamiliar for all people abroad. After we joined the European Union, interest increased, but the “knowledge” is still confined to several negative facts – the Black Sea coast as a cheap tourist spot, corruption, and poverty. People abroad know almost nothing of our centuries-old history and culture, values, and traditions, and that is why Bulgaria needs a purposeful campaign to contribute to the country’s positive image. Maria herself actively contributes to making our country more popular. She tells her international friends:

We are famous for our open hearts and hospitality, our ambition and energy to overcome adversity on our way to success. Last but not least, we know how to have real fun. However, most of all Maria likes to invite her friends over to Bulgaria, so they can get a personal feel of its atmosphere and people. There is a spot where she takes everyone – the Rila Monastery, in the heart of the Rila Mountain. That is where they can enjoy Bulgaria’s beautiful nature and cultural heritage all at once. My friends are an essential and inseparable part of my life. Maria Vassileva never stays home. Even after a long and stressful day, she prefers to see her friends. Night life in Vienna isn’t as dynamic as it is in the capital

Strong personalities know that development is not possible without some risk. They like provoking themselves and testing the limits of their own abilities. Yet, they do it with sensible judgment. of Bulgaria, but many other temptations are offered here – exhibitions, festivals, concerts, dramatic and opera performances. Maria is a fan of modern art, but she was exceptionally impressed by a unique Van Gogh exhibition with paintings that hadn’t been shown before. Of course, visiting an exhibition is twice as pleasant when shared with a friend. That is why lovers of extreme experiences like her have a sacred field where they don’t experiments – the people around them.


Friends can also help out when seeking adventures. Maria rests actively and travels the whole world. In New York, London, Paris, and Chicago she usually

I CANNOT IMAGINE... being indifferent

meets friends and classmates. Most of her travels, however, are related to extreme sports. They offer a great challenge and many risk and require a sensible judgment of the situation, a lot of knowledge, physical skills, sharp reflexes, and a will and desire to fight the forces of nature and your own desire for self-preservation. The feeling that comes afterwards, the feeling that you have done something that seemed beyond the range of human abilities, is amazing. Depending on the season, Maria enjoys snowboarding, wind and kite surfing, bungee jumping, sky diving, rafting. The latest adventures that impressed her were riding quads (ATVs) and yachting in the Mediterranean Sea.

I NEVER WANT TO... stop dreaming

My love for extreme sports stems from my desire to test my own limits. I am never afraid to try new things or to start from scratch. In the bustle between dynamic work life and adrenaline-soaked weekends, Maria Vassileva always finds time for an obligatory trip – going home to her family for Christmas. Every year we gather together to celebrate Christmas and my father Christo’s name day. I am happy we are able to follow this tradition and I hope we will keep it up. On Christmas I will wish that my family and me are healthy and open up our hearts even more to the people around us! l



23.5-carat gold that is 2,400 years old. That is a sensation even in Bulgaria, whose lands hide countless cultural riches, left by seven civilisations ever since prehistoric times.


A golden breastplate dated from the 4th century B.C. was discovered in the grave of a distinguished Thracian warrior near the historical village of Starosel, close to the country’s secondlargest city – Plovdiv. The find rewarded the efforts of the team, led by the most prominent Bulgarian archaeologist, Dr. Georgi Kitov.

In recent years, the attention of the Bulgarian people, as well as of specialists and connoisseurs all over the world, seems to be drawn mostly to the evidence of the wealthy Thracian civilisation, which rose in Europe’s dawn together with the Hellenic one. The Thracians did not have a written script and it took quite some time to research the dozens of rock sanctuaries, tombs, temples, and mound graves in order for the world to discover the evidence of the significance of the Thracian culture. Everywhere in Bulgaria’s famous wondrous nature we find traces of this millennia-old enigmatic civilisation, first described by Homer. In 1972, near the Black Sea coastal city of Varna, archaeologists discovered the oldest polished gold in Europe, which was assumed to be proof of an unknown ancient culture – more than 300 graves, abundant with amazing adornments, appliqués, tiaras, and sceptres of pure gold.

Now it is well known that in 5,000 B.C. – long before the Egyptian pyramids – the Eastern part of modernday Bulgaria hosted a powerful civilisation, the first of its kind on the Old Continent. The ancient people cultivated the fertile lands, worked with metals, sailed the seas, built sanctuaries, had kings and nobility. Together with the Hellenic one, this is the most ancient cultural heritage in Europe. Archaeological excavations have found evidence for the continuity of this civilisation. Three years ago, near the village of Dubene by the town of Karlovo, about 20,000 small golden jewels were found, dating back to 3,500 B.C. Very recently, in October 2008, near the village of Izvorovo by the town of Harmanli, an archaeological team discovered about 340 golden beads, shaped like barley seeds, dated back to 2,000-1,800 B.C. That highlighted the connection between the oldest known golden finds, through the later Thracian artefacts from the times of Troy and




Mycenae, to the valuables that the Thracians left during the upsurge of their states in 500-300 B.C. Bulgaria has exhibited some of the Thracians’ brilliant golden treasures in Rome, Bonn, Berlin, Paris, New York, and Tokyo. However, the amazement at the museum stands cannot compare to the thrill one feels when one steps into the authentic historical site and sets on a journey through the centuries. Bulgaria hosts remnants of huge rock sanctuaries and caves, where mystical shadows of priests are still roaming and the racket of ancient Thracian orgies is still echoing. The walls of mighty fortresses still stand, as well as of palaces of ancient Thracian kings, who have ruled during the times of Crete and Troy, of Hellenic Athens, of Philip II and Alexander the Great. The Getes, who lived in the lands of North-Eastern Bulgaria, expanded their state even when Caesar invaded Britain, and Crassus sacked Jerusalem’s temple. Many sites offer visitors completely preserved tomb temples under mounds of earth, where the Thracians celebrated their rulers and offered sacrifice to their god. The science of Thracology explains their unique beliefs. The Thracians held it that the intellectual energy of man remains immortal after physical death and flows into the Cosmic energy. Only the most noble of aristocrats – kings, priests, and their relatives – were initiated into the Knowledge that is Beyond. Unlike the ancient Greeks, Thracians only had one god – Sabazios-Zagreus, son of the Great MotherGoddess, which puts them closer to Christianity. The mythical Orpheus, the symbol of Thrace, was a son of this god as well as a king, priest, and demigod singer, who carried the knowledge in himself.

All this was masterfully engraved on items from dozens of golden and silver treasures, which can be seen in Bulgarian museums. Depictions of the Mother-Goddess and the king, sacrifices and hunting scenes are preserved in the colourful frescoes of the tombs near Kazanlak and



Sveshtari, as well as the tomb near the village of Aleksandrovo by the town of Haskovo.


The so-called “Valley of Thracian Kings” near the town of Kazanlak has 20 well-preserved royal tombs and many funeral sites of the Odrysian Thracian tribe, dating back to 2,500 years ago. They hosted rites, related to the Thracian astronomical calendar. In one of these tombs, a unique golden mask of a Thracian ruler was discovered, which rivals the famous Mycenic mask of Agamemnon. Another mound tomb produced a perfectly worked bronze head, celebrating the Thracian king Seuthus III. In general, the amount of Thracian tombs in Bulgaria is about 40,000, many of them still unresearched. In the last two years, Dr. Kitov’s expedition discovered a yet unknown fact – that the Valley of Thracian Kings goes further south to the town of Sliven. Last summer, one of the mounds near the town produced another golden mask – a symbol of the highest enlightenment a Thracian king could achieve. Even after Thrace was conquered by Rome and became its province, and was later ceded to Constantinople in Byzantium, the local culture still preserved a lot of its Thracian character.

The great discovery of 2008 was proof of that – a preserved ancient chariot from the 2nd century AD, complete with all its cargo, evidently buried together with its owner. The archaeological team of Ms. Daniela Agre uncovered from the chariot and the few tombs around hundreds of ancient items – jewels, unique vessels, cosmetic and healing sets, even remnants from the leather shoes of an aristocratic lady, buried together



with the Thracian lord. After the chariot and the finds are conserved and restored, science will make them tell their story.

It is very difficult to summarise the sensational finds of an archaeological season, comprised of the work of more than 170 research teams in Bulgaria.


The three finds of 2008, mentioned above, are perhaps the most brilliant pieces of a rich and colourful puzzle, which will complement the country’s museum collections with unique new items. The exhibitions of the season’s finds are usually presented in public in December, after all archaeological teams return to their bases and move on to the winter half of the archaeological year – processing and analysing the materials. It would be unjust to emphasise only the ancient finds of this year, especially considering that the Bulgarian Middle Ages gave the European and the global cultural treasury its brightest contribution – the alphabet of the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius, the Slavonic writing script, the Cyrillic alphabet, which some 250 million people write in. Usually the attention, when thinking of our early Middle Ages, is drawn on the falling apart of Kubrat’s Old Great Bulgaria from the 7th century in the basin of the Dnepr River, the arrival of Asparukh’s Bulgars in the lands of modern-day Bulgaria, and the creation of a state in 681 together with the Slavs who had settled here after the 6th century. This year, the research of a large Proto-Bulgarian necropolis near the first capital of the Bulgarian State, Pliska, and together with the Madara Horseman – the only rock relief in Europe, carved at a height of 23 metres. The relief depicts the mounted hero from the mythology of the steppe peoples, which the Bulgars were a part of. Unfortunately, the first discoverer of the Proto-Bulgarian necropolis, as well as one of the best specialists on the early Middle Ages Prof. Rasho Rashev perished untimely early this year. Recently, straight from field



excavations, Dr. Georgi Kitov followed him into the Afterworld. These two tragic events clouded the Bulgarian archaeologists’ year, while world science proclaimed them to be a grave loss. In fact, the remnants of the first two Bulgarian capitals – Pliska (especially in 9th century, when in all of Europe only Charlemagne’s city could rival it) and the brilliant Great Preslav, have uncovered new secrets of medieval culture in the last 3-4 years.

This summer, in the crown jewel of the First Bulgarian Empire – Great Preslav – archaeologists found a seal of Tsar Simeon the Great, who turned the Bulgarian capital into Europe’s most splendid city in the 10th century.


The magnificence in the newly found Rulers’ Church – with all its white marble and colourful mosaics – testifies for a culture, which could easily rival Constantinople. Yet another significant success of Bulgarian archaeologists happened in the recent months – a church was found in Tsarevgrad Tarnov, capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, which hosted the relics of Saint Ivan of Rila – Bulgaria’s most veneered saint. Later his relics were buried in the Rila Monastery, which is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the cloisters, which preserved the history, culture, and language of Bulgaria during the Turkish yoke, and which conceived the Bulgarian Awakening and enabled the birth of the new Bulgarian country.



Nedko Solakov

rom September 20 to November 16, 2008, a large exhibition by Bulgarian artist Nedko Solakov will be taking place in the Kunstmuseum, Bonn, It includes some of his most prominent works, created from 1989 up to now. Among them are Top Secret (1989), A not so) White Cube (2001), The Yellow Blob Story (1997), as well as the collection of drawings Fears, his entry in documenta 12 in 2007. The emphasis of the exhibition is his latest work – a complex installation of about 20 parts, each of which could have been a separate work, united under the common title Some Nice Things to Enjoy While You are Not Making a Living. Nedko Solakov is famous for his ability to


(b. 1957) is one of Bulgaria’s most acclaimed modern artists. His prominent popularity on the global artistic scene rose with his work A Life (Black & White), initially realised in 1998, as well as with Top Secret (1989), which is emblematic for the Bulgarian national context. He was the first Bulgarian artist to participate in the Manifesta European Modern Arts Biennale in 1996, and in 2007 he also participated in the world’s most prestigious quadrennial festival for modern art documenta, traditionally held in Kunsthalle Fridericianum in Kassel, Germany. In 1999, his work Announcement was included as Bulgaria’s national participation in the 48th Venice Biennale. In 2007, after several participations in the international exhibitions in Venice, he was awarded the special Honourable Mention for his work Discussion (Property). In 2004 and 2005 his exhibition A 12 1/3 (and even more) Year Survey (displayed in the Casino Luxembourg Forum d’art contemporain in Luxembourg, the Rooseum Center for Contemporary Art in Malmo, Sweden, and the O.K Centrum fur Gegenwartskunst in Linz, Austria) was the first essential review of his overall work. After visiting the Kunstmuseum in Bonn, the current exhibition will travel to the Kunstmuseum in St Gallen and Mathildenhohe in Darmstadt. A large exhibition of Nedko Solakov is expected in the Sofia Art Gallery in 2009. captivate the viewer through his works into a continuous tracing (at the same time fascinating and frustrating, entertaining and disturbing) of the connections between text and images, in all forms of contemporary art. The basic concept in many of his works is developed through stories of petty human suffering or innocent vices such as fear, superstition, pride, impudence, or vanity. Through his mocking attitude, sometimes even towards his own self, the

watching a series of concentric circles in the most frustrating combinations of intensive colours. Also available are useless cardboard boxes, provided for satisfaction of any destructive urges (it is interesting whether the visitors of the exhibition in Bonn have taken advantage of that opportunity). The artist also offers a set of seven pictorial interpretations of options for quality spending of the endless resting time in the afterlife. The viewer can gloat over a nightmare-like computer animation of the neverending fall of a broke businessman. After a little while, the missing terrible outcome starts to look like salvation. Another composition is related to the cases when realising the work demands certain physical efforts, as opposed to the instant generation of an idea. Nedko Solakov thinks that in such cases it is very pleasant to have the opportunity simply to lay the foundations. After that, he hired a young artist (Violeta Tanova) and entrusted her with academic reproduction of a very complex subject – a bouquet of the asparagus plant, known in Bulgaria as ‘The Artist’s Toil’.


artist successfully unites and unifies the various groups of viewers. Once on the bait, the public is ready to suffer all kinds of tiresome (in the physical sense of the word) discomforts, just to get to the end of the story.

Dealing with contemporary art (one of the most pleasing things in life) has been presented in a video clip, from the perspective of it being a commodity and a means to develop a successful business, through the story about questionable commercial and intermediary operations at one of the world’s largest art fairs. The subject for the value of artwork moves on in a different direction with an ingenious, yet terrifying discovery – the realisation that, in a specific case, the price of an artwork (an early painting by Lucio Fontana) can be increased significantly, if the artwork is damaged through a series of holes (such as the ones Fontana punctured

The current exhibition is spatially organised in such a manner that the viewer can finish touring the retrospective review with, or simply divert to a separate hall with Some Nice Things... for a breather. At first, the composition can lead to a brief delusion that the successful artist with a long career, celebrating his 50th anniversary, has decided to call a time-out for himself and for the public. The separate parts seem to form a completely calm series of soothing images – a sleeping child, a comfy sofa, a burning fireplace, a sunrise and a sunset. This work, however, is a trap for anyone gullible enough to think that the author has given up his adept manipulations.

himself in his later works). So, Nedko Solakov really did puncture the holes.

The purpose of a soundproof, beautifully upholstered booth, is for visitors to go in, so they can shout at ease – given that the gallery’s security personnel lets them do that. If not, they can pick from a selection of soothing sounds (courtesy of Johnny Penkov), which, however, they have to listen to, while they are

In brief, dear viewer (like Nedko Solakov sometimes starts his sentences), the artworks that were promising so many opportunities for relaxation, were actually intended to induce intensive emotions such as fear, love, hate, or disgust, and they will not let you doze off even for a second. l


GOLUBOVITZA CAVE Smolyan municipality


Devil’s Throat

The Exit Out of Hell Is in the Devil’s Throat Of all the Rhodope caves, the Devil’s Throat turns out to be the most appropriate backdrop for the scene Orpheus Descends in the Underworld to Seek His Beloved Eurydice. If you tend not to believe this cliché, the guide could offer you a rich selection of other legends with different cultural and ethnic origins. Some will tell you how fearsome genies came out of the cave at night and kidnapped maidens. (Of course, nothing is said about what happened to the maidens underground.) Not so humane is the



If you visit a cave in the Rhodopes and you don’t find traces of Orpheus’ life (or death), do not lose heart! After all, Orpheus was one man and he didn’t have the opportunity to live (or perish) in all the caves here – even though some tourism peddlers are enthusiastic to try to convince in the contrary.

legend that a fierce underground deity lived in this cave, whom the locals tried to appease by throwing live rams down at him. Much more noble were the Thracians – legend has it they threw their dead chiefs in the Devil’s Throat, so they would pass on into the bosom of immortality. Did you notice that all these legends view the cave only from the surface? That is because the ancient dwellers of these lands could not descend into the abyss. Two Bulgarian mountaineers descended to the hall’s bottom for the first time in 1962. From that point onwards, speleologists have researched the Devil’s Throat. In 1977, the cave was facilitated

place, not because “just like the ring, the underworld has no end...” but because the Yagodina Cave really gives you the feeling that you are in one of the most enchanting places under the Earth’s surface. This “hole” is so charming not because it is muddy, damp and now allows tourists to ascend from the bottom upwards.


An artificial 150-metre tunnel leads to the bottom of the Rumbling Hall. Instead of imaginary rams, maidens or dead chiefs, you will be struck by something far more impressive. Just a few steps away from the path, a 32-metre waterfall pours out 300-320 litres of water per second during the dry period, and 2360 litres at high water. That makes you forget all legends and savour the view, similar to a cinematic set from some of the modern fantasy films. Even more fantastic is the fact, that the only way out of “Hell” is through the Devil’s throat – that is, up and away, by the waterfall, via steep and narrow stairs. At the end, of course, you will manage to get out of there alive, but you will have suffered your fair amount of bruises, because the captivating sight of the falling water will have made you forget to watch your feet. If you have the right guide with you, he won’t re-tell the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, but will instead let your imagination write its own stories against the backdrop of this unique natural setting. If you are lucky, the guide will explain to you how this precipice was formed. You will learn that caves in the Rhodopes are different from the other caves in Bulgaria, because they are formed in carbonate marble rocks. You will realise that the facilitated Rumbling Hall is but a small part of the Devil’s Throat. Trained speleologists roam the other galleries, and yet there are still many “white spots” in the cave. Almost 400 m away from the entrance, the underground river’s waters plunge into a siphon that’s more than 150 metres long. In 1970, while attempting to swim through it, two divers meet their demise here. Since then no one has dived into the siphon.

The Yagodina Cave

Site of Romantic Ceremonies It hasn’t been proven that Orpheus and Eurydice wed in the Yagodina Cave, but you could always do it yourself. (Unless you have already done it underwater, in the sky or in the city hall.) Nowadays more and more young people opt to exchange rings at this

and cold like most caves, but because its galleries are adorned with almost all secondary formations of underground Karst – stalactites, stalagmites, stalactones, draperies, helictites, crystals, leopard skins, cave pearls, flowstone lakes... If you are not a bridegroom, but just a guest, at some point the wedding ritual will seem too long to you and you will start to look around for details. Should you see a plate with charred wheat, don’t jump to the conclusion that this is an inappropriate dish for such a great occasion. This plate has been there ever since the Calcolithic Age. In fact, this cave has revealed remnants of a prehistoric dwelling with well-preserved tools, a furnace for baking ceramics, several fireplaces, decorated pottery...

If there is no wedding in the Yagodina Cave at the time of your visit, do not think you would be bored. The fantastic shapes on the walls, floor and ceiling of the halls will mislead you to believe that the most exciting task during your 1,100-metre long walk is to take 1,100 photos. However, you need to know beforehand that your photographic efforts will be useless – the darkness in the cave does not allow for a good picture without the aid of additional lighting equipment. On the bright side, you could buy a DVD album with professional pictures by the entrance.


The 1,100 metres with the impossible 1,100 photos will have taken an hour along the well-shaped and beaten track. How long then do you think it would take to travel the next 9 kilometres of unlit sections, filled with obstacles? The Yagodina Cave’s galleries amount to 10 kilometres, which makes it the longest cave in the Rhodopes and the third longest cave in Bulgaria (following Duhlata and Orlova Chuka). Of course, at some point, the guide’s tales of the ten kilometres of halls and galleries will send your imagination off beyond the pretty and comfortable tourist path, and then you will want to sneak through some narrow crevice beside the track – despite the prohibition. Even if you do it, you will not be able to figure out where you are, because you will be in pitch-black darkness. Then you will remember about the cell phone in your pocket, and you will see that its display can barely light up the palm of your hand. Finally, you will have to backtrack your way to the path.

Travelling through the unlit sections could be much more satisfactory: if you request that in advance, the local cavers will provide you with the necessary equipment and instructions, and then they will take you on a genuine underground adventure that lasts for hours.

Haramiyska Dupka The Only Road Lies Ahead

You are standing on the edge of an underground abyss, while a rope is stretching down into the darkness, its end unseen. You descend into the unknown. This feeling will be best experienced in the Haramiyska Dupka. The adventure there is double, because (even though it might sound paradoxical) in order

to go underground, first you need to climb a steep path above the river, and then – a 20-metre rock wall. That is when you reach the entrance to the cave. You sneak through the dark labyrinth and you finally get to the ledge. You see just an endless black hole, but the guide tells you that it is a vertical wall, as tall as a 15-story building. There is no going back. The only road is ahead. Or in this case – down.

Golubovitza Testing the Prepared


After you’ve enjoyed the magnificence of the Devil’s Throat, the beauty of the Yagodina Cave and the adrenaline rush of the Haramiyska Dupka, it is time for the underground waters of Golubovitza. You won’t meet Charon – the mythological Greek ferryman, who carries the dead through the rivers Styx and Acheron in Hades’ underworld. Instead, you’ll be greeted by the guys from Smolyan’s caving club, who will provide you with specialised equipment and escort you on your underground boating trip. Soon after entering the cave, you will reach a long, wide lake. You will cross it in small inflatable boats. At first you will try to sit in them, but at places the ceil-

ing is so low that it hangs only 30 cm above the water’s surface. The boat’s height is just as much! After you sale through the lake, you will wade upstream for quite some time. And, of course, you will get to enjoy the shapes that the water has created in the narrow gallery. Just when you have picked up speed on the underground river, your route leads you to a siphon – the ceiling suddenly drops as low as the water’s

surface. Only experienced cave divers can continue from this point on. Currently, Golubovitza is one of the most researched water caves in Bulgaria. In late September 2008 a national expedition went there, passed through the siphon and discovered new sections (long galleries and spacious halls), as well as another siphon after them. The whole length of the cave system is now 1,896 metres, which makes her the third longest cave in the Rhodopes.

Uhlovitza and Snejanka

A Reward for Obstacles Overcome


They call Uhlovitza “One of the Rhodopes underground palaces”. It is one of the oldest caves in the area, boasting a lot of beautiful dendrite formations, resembling sea corals. The cave ends with seven lakes, which fill up with water in the early spring. The road to the cave’s entrance is steep, but after all you’ve gone through so far, it will be but child’s play to you. The name of the cave Snejanka means “Snow White”, yet it is not related to the seven stalagmites that look like dwarfs, but with the whiteness of the cave formations, as well as with the female figure that was naturally formed in the Magic Hall. The cave was a temporary home for the Thracian tribe of Besses about 2,600 years ago.

In Conclusion

As mystical as the underworld may seem, in fact it is nothing more than shapes of the Earth. The truth is that visiting the caves won’t give you miraculous power or bring you closer to the ancient Greek gods. However, after overcoming so many obstacles, you will find in yourself strength of spirit and will that you never thought existed, and you will also relish the divinely beautiful underground world. l

NADARSKA CAVE Smolyan municipality




Jason Allegrante is a student at Columbia Law School in New York. He was born in New Jersey to a family of educators and raised in the company of intellectuals, musicians and delinquents. Jason received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and History in 2007, once again from Columbia. He is an avid lover of food and has received awards for his amateur cooking skills. Although he may find himself as a corporate lawyer in the near future, he continues to enjoy Rimbaud, Asian Cinema and urban architecture in his spare time. He has travelled to Iceland, Vietnam, France and has spent time living in London; but he keeps coming back to Bulgaria.


suspect that the Boosters of Bulgarian Tourism will not be entirely thrilled with me. I stress that I continue to feel this way after having made a decision to not disclose details of the events of the night my friends and I visited a Black Sea-borne tequila bar in Nessebar. Frankly, despite this exercise in discretion, I worry that I will fail to meet expectations: simply put, when asked to submit a short piece on the reasons why, year after year, I return to Bulgaria, almost none of the things about which Bulgarians should rightly be proud – their country’s rich cultural history, its beautiful cities and resorts, or Levski’s debut in the Champion’s League – came to mind. It’s not for a lack of trying. My days in Sofia have often been

spent wandering past old Roman ruins and Soviet monoliths on my way to one or another of the city’s many galleries, museums, or theatres. And indeed on several occasions, likely against my own mild protestations, my Bulgarian hosts have thought it appropriate to cart me halfway across the country to see this or that church or village. On a particularly memorable excursion to a well-preserved rural settlement, my English-speaking guide presented proof of Bulgarian ingenuity: “This”, she explained, “is the cherry-wood cannon the villagers constructed to defend this town against the invading Ottoman armies. Needless to say, it malfunctioned upon its first firing. Of course, the town fell soon thereafter.” Do then believe me when I say that I have often been surprised by how enjoyable and educational these trips have been. It is just that this is not the reason I consistently return to Bulgaria. It has occurred to me that the Boosters of Bulgarian Tourism would like me to say a few words about the


changes I have witnessed over the five or so years I have been visiting. To see a society in transition, they no doubt believe, is a plausible explanation for my willingness to return again and again to Bulgaria rather than to, let’s say, take my limited vacation time and visit Rio de Janeiro, where I might spend my days greased and roasting under a tropical sun. It is true the Boosters of Bulgarian Tourism would have a point: Bulgaria has changed tremendously from my first visit, and from what I can tell, mostly for the better. I was there, for example, last New Year’s Eve when Bulgaria was admitted to the European Union; I vividly remember news of a small Albanian invasion the next morning as citizens of that country sought to improve their economic prospects by acquiring EU work permits in Bulgaria. I have visited

the new, American-style shopping malls popping up around Sofia, and seen the influx of foreign investment in Bulgaria made material in the looming forms of construction cranes and half-finished apartment buildings. Driving through Sunny Beach on a recent trip, a friend summed up the changing demographics of that resort community, seemingly sprung up over night, by lamenting that the beaches and clubs were now overrun with Western European tourists just looking to get drunk and fornicate. Really – that’s not the reason I keep returning to Bulgaria – but it is indicative of Bulgaria’s increasing international visibility. I doubt it would have occurred to the Boosters of Bulgarian Tourism, but it is my firm belief that one of the strongest arguments to be made for traveling to Bulgaria is to sample its cuisine. The steak in Buenos Ares is indeed very fine, but I assure you that one simply cannot procure an authentic tripe soup in that world-renowned South American capital. I freely admit that at least one of the reasons I have

found my cultural excursions into rural Bulgaria so deeply satisfying is the merciful understanding on the part of my hosts that a restorative tripe soup is really what’s needed after the physical and mental exertion that such a trip entails. I cannot say for certain as the shameful topic was never broached, but to this day I suspect that several of these trips were in fact planned around the known fact that a particularly good version of this dish, or some comparable delight, was being served in the near vicinity, such was the quality of the product and the promptness of its acquisition after a long day’s sightseeing. In all fairness, I could hardly devote an entire paragraph to Bulgaria’s food without at least a brief paean to the quality of its produce: the tomatoes and peppers are unrivaled in my experience, and, really, one has tasted neither vegetable until they’ve tasted a fresh Bulgarian one. As an unabashed food-lover, I say Bulgarian cuisine is a very good reason to visit Bulgaria. It is not, however, the most salient. Make no mistake about it: Bali is really quite exotic, Beijing is on the rise, and, and I have always wanted to visit Bangkok. But, at least for now, I won’t; I will continue to come to Bulgaria. Yes – I will come to Bulgaria to soak up more of its culture and history; yes – I will come to see how it changes and grows; and, yes – I will come for the tomatoes and tripe soup. More than all of that, though, I’ll come to see the wonderful and extraordinary people who have opened their hearts and homes to me, the people who have shown me everything worth writing about Bulgaria – and in doing so have shown me something more precious than all of that in themselves. Bulgaria can be a frustrating and beguiling country; I suppose that explains their irony and humor. Bulgaria has struggled for centuries with foreign rule; I suppose that explains their strength – also their disarming warmth. For these traits and more, I’ve found – almost inexplicably – friends who year after year seem more like family. And so, this winter, when I make my bi-annual trek to Bulgaria, it won’t be like any other vacation I might take. I will get off the plane, muddle my way through Sofia’s new airport, and make my way to an apartment in the city. There, the table will already be set with cured meats, cucumber and tomato salad, and eggplant spread. Soon Rakia and Mavrud will be poured, toasts made, and the meal will begin. Gradually, all the things that identifiably make Sofia a great capital, and Bulgaria a great country, fade into the background, and I’ll remember the real reason I came: I had to – it’s as good as home. At the end of the meal, I’ll try in my own meager way to repay my hosts for all they’ve done for me by delighting them with a poor attempt at Bulgarian: I’ll say, emphatically, “Merci”. l

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Beacon to Bulgaria  

number 1, 2009.01.10