Category Archives: Events

Greek Crisis: Is Bulgaria Safe?

Greek Crisis: Is Bulgaria Safe?

This post was first published in Stara Planina Properties newsletter on 4th November 2011.

It has been over a year since the problems in Greece concentrated the attention of the European leaders. Since this point in time there has not been a single month without news of plans being drawn about rescue of Greece and Euro currency from the threatening storm.

The problems of Greece came from spending more money than the government was collecting from taxes for long period. The deficit was funded by borrowing money from foreign banks (mainly French and German) through issuing state obligations. Thus the state debt increased to an amount which could not be paid off anymore. In 2010 the Greek government was put under pressure to start reforms in order to save money and start paying off the debt. The EU would help by giving additional funds for reasonable amount of time whilst Greek economy was cured from the proportionally very high state expenditures. However Greek government faced the resistance of their own people to part with the benefits of the past. Strikes of state servants and workers of various industries in Athens and most big cities were a daily occurrence. People simply want to continue to live la dolce vita without changing any of their attitudes.

Compared to the above Bulgaria is completely different case. Following a severe bank crisis in 1997 the government and Bulgarian National Bank introduced strict rules for state spending and bank capitalisation. Between the years 1998 and 2008 there were budget surpluses (Bulgarian government was spending less money than collecting). Bulgaria has much lower state debt and budget deficit of less than 3%. 2009 was the only year when the budget deficit exceeded this healthy figure going up to just 4%. The restrictions provide confidence in the stable development of the economy but, on the other hand, make life of most Bulgarians hard as majority spend about half of their budget on food and utilities. Bulgarian economy just started in last quarter of 2010 to grow slowly again after the last crisis. Now according to the Bulgarian finance minister Simeon Diankov Bulgaria is safe out of the economic crisis. However this safety is fragile as such a small export oriented economy depends much on the growth in the Western European economies.

What is the impact of the Greek crisis on the Bulgarian economy and what can be expected if the problems deepen? It was again the finance minister Diankov who claimed that the trade between the two countries has decreased significantly and the Greek crisis will not have direct negative impact. However the national statistic shows that Greece is one of Bulgaria’s major export markets (9% of Bulgarian exports in 2010). Being immediate neighbours the two economies are strongly connected. Several Bulgarian banks are owned by Greek banks (comprising about one-third of the market). This does not mean that Bulgarian banks will collapse but if there are problems in Greece, banks will be looking to take back to Greece more funds which means even less credits with higher price for the Bulgarian businesses. Even now credit policies are very restrictive and price of the capital is high. This will put Bulgarian producers in a difficult situation and will make them less flexible; they will not be able to invest in modern technologies and will be less competitive on the international markets. The third direct impact is that large number of Bulgarians work in Greek tourism and services. These people are paid much better than workers on similar positions in Bulgaria. Many of these people send their income back to support their families in Bulgaria. If Greek economy collapses many will lose their jobs and less money will be coming into the Bulgarian economy.

There are other points which are to the positive side. Over 2,000 Greek companies have moved their business to Bulgaria recently fearing the problems in their home land. Some Greeks are looking to invest their savings away from the uncertain banks and quite a few sales have been completed during the summer months in the ski resorts and regions in Southwest Bulgaria with Greek buyers. In addition there has been steady growth of Greek tourists holidaying in Bulgarian winter and spa resorts in the same regions.

It is difficult to predict all the outcomes in a world where economies are so much connected and where relationships are so complex. The world markets already reacted to the news from Athens and Nice and Euro went down compared to the US dollar. If this trend continues fuel prices (which are formed in US dollars) will rise. As a direct result for Bulgarian goods and services for daily consumption such as petrol, electricity, transport, food will be increased too. This will put pressure on the weak domestic demand and put break to the slow growth.

Bulgarians want to believe problems in Greece will be resolved without negative effect on the Bulgarian economy. Naturally fears are connected with lost of jobs and reduced income. There have been enough crises during the last 20 years and life for many seem to have worsen despite the hopes and talks for the bright European future.

St Valentine’s day? No, St. Trifon’s

St Valentine’s day? No, St. Trifon’s

What is celebrated on 14th February? You would say St Valentine’s Day. Not in Bulgaria!

Although in the last 15 years the catholic St Valentine is also celebrated by the younger generation, in the Bulgarian tradition it is the St Trifon’s day after the patron saint of vines and wine. According to the myths St. Trifon lived in the third century AD and is believed to have had the divine power to heal any sickness. He was tortured to death and beheaded for his Christian faith.

Bulgarians call the day of 14th February Trifon Zarezan (Trifon the Pruner). The celebrations on the day have their roots in the Thracian times and involve ritualistic pruning of the vines to ensure abundant grapes harvest. The ceremony takes place in villages with vineyards across the country. The men prune the vines whilst the women bake festive breads and roast chickens for the post-pruning feasts. Having done the pruning, men gather in the vines to eat, drink, sing and dance.

The man deemed to have grown the most grapes and made the best wine in the previous year is crowned ‘Tsar’, and he and his subjects are ordered to get drunk to ensure a plentiful harvest the following year. In the evening the men are guests in the Tsar’s house.

The St Trifon’s day is the first of the many Bulgarian traditions on the calendar connected to the eagerly awaited spring after the cold winter.

Martenitsa

Martenitsa

In Bulgaria March is associated with the coming of the spring. It is considered the first spring month and starts with an unique and beautiful ancient tradition – wearing of martenitsas.

“Martenitsa” is a red and white woven threads and tassels symbol of the wish for good health and prosperity. They are the heralds of the spring and while white as a color symbolizes purity and soul, red is a symbol of life and passion. It is given as an amulet in the period of spring, when nature gets “reborn” and starts blossoming.

The tradition requires that on the first day of March and few days afterwards, Bulgarians exchange and wear white and red tassels or small thread dolls called Pizho and Penda. The tradition calls for wearing the martenitsa until the person sees a stork or a blooming tree. The ritual of finally taking off the martenitsa may be different in the different parts of Bulgaria. In most cases people would tie their martenitsa on a branch of a fruit tree, thus giving the tree health and luck.

According to the legends the tradition to wear martenitsas started in 7th century. Despite its ancient roots it is very strong today and you would definitely be given a martenitsa or two if you are in Bulgaria during first days of March.

Bulgarian Christmas Traditions

Bulgarian Christmas Traditions

According to the Bulgarian tradition Christmas is celebrated from 24th to 27th December. The Bulgarian word for Christmas is ‘Koleda’ and the evening of the 24th December is called Malka Koleda (‘Little Christmas’) or Badni Vecher.

Malka Koleda (24th December) is a more important holiday than the 25th December because it is the birthday of Jesus Christ. At the centre of the celebration is the solemn Christmas table with the home-made bread and the Christmas dishes which should be vegan and odd number (7, 9 or 11). Traditionally there is round loaf, wine, beans, rice- made ‘surmy’, dried fruits, nuts, honey, boiled sweet wheat, and other dishes.

Once the table is arranged everyone sits at the same time and none should leave the table until the dinner is over. Usually the eldest woman raises the round- loaf and says a pray for health and prosperity for the family. Then she would break the bread and hand a piece to everyone. In some families half of the bread is put under the icon of the Holy Mother.

Everyone should try a bit of each dish on the table and when the dinner is over all leave the table at the same time. The table should not be cleaned until the morning. This is done due to the belief that dead people from the family would come during the night to taste the meals and to take care of the welfare of their relatives.

According to the older traditions the young ladies have to keep the first bit of the bread and put it under their pillows and dream about their future husbands. Every person on the table would get a walnut and check if it is good inside. This would predict whether he or she would be lucky during the following year. There are many other traditions connected with the prosperity, the livestock and crops as well as with the health and happiness of the family members.

The 25th December is the first day of Christmas. The families gather for lunch. Traditionally the meal is rich and the main course is pork. Again there is home- made round bread and wine.

Giving presents on Christmas is not part of the Orthodox tradition so people would open their presents on the evening of 24th, on 25th or on the New Year’s day depending on their own preference.

During communism the state restricted the celebration of Christmas as religion was in contradiction to the communist doctrine. Some of the traditions connected with Christmas were shifted to the New Year celebrations together with some modern traditions not connected with the church.

‘Buying a Property – Bulgaria’ Book

‘Buying a Property – Bulgaria’ Book

Stephane Lambert, Director of Stara Planina Properties

We would just like to draw to your attention the release of our book Buying a Property – Bulgaria, Anderson and Lambert (2008, Cadogan Guides). The book uncovers the best places to buy, from the coast to the mountains to Sofia- gives the lowdown on visas, job-hunting and education – covers the details of finding a property: choosing types of accommodation, renovating and security – offers specialist advice on mortgages, taxes, surveys and conveyancing – helps with the challenges of settling-in: learning the language, the law and the culture.

By way of background both myself and Andy Anderson (directors of Stara Planina Properties) graduated from Oxford Brookes University in Urban Planning and worked in London and overseas before taking up posts with the United Nations in Bulgaria in 1998 as advisors to the Beautiful Bulgaria Project. The project was started to renovate historic buildings across the country and improve the urban environment through job creation. Later we set up the business Stara Planina Properties to help other Brits purchase and renovate houses in Bulgaria. Since then we appeared on Channel Four’s ‘A Place in the Sun’, ITV’s ‘I Want That House’, and Real Estate TV as experts in the Bulgarian property market. We have also contributed numerous articles to many leading newspapers and magazines.

It was a great pleasure and privilege to be afforded the opportunity to contribute to the understanding of the process of buying a property in Bulgaria but more importantly of day to day living both negative and positive.

Small Group Homes for Children Leaving Institutional Care in Stara Zagora

Small Group Homes for Children Leaving Institutional Care in Stara Zagora

It has been exactly 5 years since 7/12/2007 when we published our first article about the small group homes in the city of Stara Zagora, which had been developed by ARK Bulgaria foundation with the help of Stara Planina Properties Sofia office.

Read more about the project of ARK Bulgaria Small Group Homes for Children Leaving Institutional Care and contribution of our clients for the kids in the homes in Stara Zagora in 2007.

The foundation supported the local government in this project for the first two years and recently Stara Zagora municipality is running the homes and providing for the needs of the children. Some of the first occupants already have new families and others still live there. They all have grown and developed much since they moved from the old state institution “Nadejda”.

Now a total of 38 children at the age of 6 to 12 years live in the five small group homes in Stara Zagora (there is one child aged 3). They need clothes, shoes, toys, early learning centre games and elementary English books, drawing materials and computers (even old ones).

If any of you, our readers, is interested to help by donating any of the above, you can contact our Sofia office at sofia@stara-planina.com or the Small Group Homes Support Centre at mgd_starazagora@abv.bg. You can also send any contribution to Small Group Homes Support Centre: 8 General Stoletov, Street Stara Zagora 6000

We sincerely thank anyone who would like to help.

Contribution to ARK Bulgaria SGH Project

Contribution to ARK Bulgaria SGH Project

This post was originally published in Stara Planina Properties newsletter on 14th March 2008.

In our December 2007 newsletter we informed you about ARK’s Small Group Homes project aiming at creating homes for kinds from an institution in the Bulgarian city of Stara Zagora. Following the receipt of the newsletter several of our readers have immediately contacted ARK Bulgaria to offer their help.

Our clients Steve & Tina Barrett have contributed a lot to the cause by purchasing toys worth over 2,000 pounds and driving from the UK to Bulgaria to bring them to the kids in Stara Zagora. Steve & Tina visited one of the homes in February and below are their impressions.

“When we saw the kids we were amazed at how relaxed they were, how friendly and well behaved they were too. Despite the obvious language barrier, they managed to communicate with us and they were so polite. Obviously, we have only a perception of what they have been through in their short lives so far, but the benefits of the comfortable, safe and pleasant environment have clearly made their mark and the work that ARK is doing is incredible. Add to that the life education and guidance that is clearly working so well and it all looks like a great set up.

What was really encouraging was to hear that the issues are being tackled at government level and that once the local support network has been “trained” by example, ARK will be able to hand control back to the locals with such an excellent model to follow.”

Both ARK Bulgaria and Stara Planina Properties are grateful to Mr & Mrs Barrett and all other people who showed interest and helped within their means.

ARK Bulgaria – Small Group Homes for Children Leaving Institutional Care

ARK Bulgaria – Small Group Homes for Children Leaving Institutional Care

This post was originally published in Stara Planina Properties newsletter on 7th December 2007.

Some of you may have watched the recent BBC broadcast concerning Bulgarian orphanages. It was a very negative portrayal of the plight of the kids living in one of these institutions. Bulgaria has an extremely poor legacy from the communist times when all the homeless kids had to be hidden not to disturb the perception of the “ideal” society. Nowadays the Bulgarian society does not accept the situation with the kids in the state institutions and there are many positive examples however the knowledge and experience how to bring the kids back to the community had to be brought to Bulgaria from other European countries which have had more positive experience dealing with such problems.

ARK is a UK charity, committed to transforming the lives of these children by providing them with better care, wherever possible based in families. ARK Bulgaria is developing foster care and adoption services and wherever possible supporting parents to take their children back home. Laura Partker, Managing Director of ARK Bulgaria, explained more about one of their projects in the Bulgarian city of Stara Zagora.

“Throughout Bulgaria, several thousand children live in institutions – often called ‘orphanages’, although only 2% of the children in these homes have no parents. These children are often very isolated, going to school as well as living in the institutions with little chance to socialise with others. The care which they receive does not allow them to develop fully and the emotional, intellectual and physical developmental damage which the children experience is often irreversible.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to find family placements for all of the children. For those who have nowhere else to go, ARK is developing small-scale, high quality children’s homes. In these ‘Small Group Homes’, 8 children will live with teams of dedicated, trained carers.

ARK is piloting this new approach for the first time in Bulgaria in Stara Zagora where 5 Small Group Homes are currently being finalised. Working with ‘Stara Planina Properties’, ARK has financed the refurbishment of two properties provided by the Municipality, built one home on Municipal land and purchased two apartments.

The first of the Small Group Homes opened in September 2007; the last one will open at the end of December. A total of 40 children will leave the institution Nadejda to live in these new homes – and to enjoy a quality of care and individual attention which will radically improve their long-term life chances.

After only a few weeks we have already seen dramatic differences in the behaviour of the children who moved into the new homes in September. Their physical appearance has also started to change: all of the children are putting on weight and one little girl who suffers from alopecia now has hair growing. The children are thriving, loving going to school in the community and enjoying having their own home and possessions – in many cases, for the first time in their lives.”

Eva Ward, an expert involved in the creation of the model being applied in Stara Zagora, have assessed the needs of the kids for toys.

“It has been difficult to be able to buy enough for the five homes from our budget. Our children have never actually had any proper toys before and we are desperate to give them the opportunity of some good quality play materials. I took a plastic tea set and a simple road track and cars to each of the three established Small Group Homes recently and could not believe the excitement and pleasure the children got from them.

The children are aged between 3 and 7 but many have developmental delay and need the kind of toys normally enjoyed by younger children – this will also help us to work with development issues. These are some ideas -

Cuddly soft toys – we would like each child to have a good quality teddy or other animal soft toy to keep on their beds and to cuddle at bedtime. This would be their very own and they would keep it forever! There would need to be 8 different types to ensure that there are not two the same in each home – so no confusion or fights! The children have never had anything of their own before.

Baby dolls – we would like one for each Small Group Homes – again quite a big one so it is like a real baby. We do lots of ‘playing families’ with the children which is very much ‘learning through play’ as of course our children have no idea about families or caring for babies. There are quite nice ones that come in a set with baby bottles and various extras! A dolls pram or pushchair for the above baby!

Strong plastic trucks and cars - the children are quite heavy handed with toys due to their lack of experience and so toys need to be as robust as possible.

Lego or other building/construction toys – I know lego is very expensive but it is such good value for co-ordination and concentration. We will try to accumulate collections for each Small Group Homes over time.

Educational toys – I’ve seen sets of matching cards (classic pairs games) and numbers games etc here now. Anything in this category is always welcome.

If by any chance you are in the UK and wish to buy from there absolutely anything from the Early Learning Centre would be fantastic!”

Each home is fully equipped but there are items which would be good to have in addition to what has been provided by the foundation. These are kitchen robots (one costing about 80 levs), toasters (40 levs), kettles (35 levs) for each home and one camera for all the kids so that they have pictures of their birthdays, Christmas parties, first school days and other event arranged in their own albums.

The team of Stara Planina Properties’ Sofia office were touched by the kids and bought winter jackets for all of them. We will also contribute to purchase some toys and other necessary items but the kids grow and always need support – new toys, clothes, shoes. So if any of you, our clients, wish to contribute we will be able to help with the logistics.

Bulgaria’s Independence Day

Bulgaria’s Independence Day

On 22nd September Bulgaria celebrates the proclamation of the Bulgarian independence from Turkey in the year 1908. Although Bulgaria was liberated on 3 March 1878 politically it was a vassal country of Turkey according to the Berlin treaty of 1878.

During the communism era the significance of this event was very under played but this date is very important for Bulgaria – one of the oldest countries in Europe – as it reappeared on the political map of Europe after 5 centuries.

Veliko Turnovo traditionally is the centre of the celebrations as the independence was proclaimed on Tsarevets hill by the Bulgarian royal prince Ferdinand together with the government and members of parliament.

Every year celebrations take place in the Bulgaria’s ancient capital starting with the re-enactment of the 1908-events in the Holy Forty Martyrs Church and on Tsarevets Hill.

6th May – St George’s Day in Bulgaria

6th May – St George’s Day in Bulgaria

Being among the most famous Christian figures St George is believed to be born in Kapadokia (present Turkey) around the year 284 and died in present Israel in 305. Nothing of the man himself is known certainly but according to the chronicles he was a soldier of noble birth who was put to death by the Roman Emperor Diocletian for protesting against the persecution of Christians. Despite his young age George held the prestigious rank of tribune in the Roman army and was the Emperor’s favourite before manifesting his religious affiliation. After his death George rapidly became venerated throughout Christendom as an example of bravery in defence of the poor and the defenceless.

On St George’s Day (6th May) the Bulgarian Army flags are being consecrated by the priests in the city squares. Outside the religious tradition of St George’s Day it is also the symbol of spring revival. People go to church and bring home geranium to hang it over the gate where they leave it until the next spring as a symbol of health and prosperity.