Monday, March 16, 2009

Sojourn in Sofia

Well, I'm back in Istanbul following my three day sojourn in Sofia, Bulgaria. So what are my impressions of one of the European Union's newest member states? I must admit that I was not very surprised by what I saw.

The city is quiet. Most of the tourist attractions are located in the city centre within a geographic area of no more than a few kilometers in radius. The people are friendly and quite pleasant to chat with.

The country has obviously made great strides in transitioning from its difficult Communist past to a liberal democracy and free-market economy. I witnessed the contrast firsthand at a demonstration by police and firemen in front of the President's Office - something quite rare in the tightly controlled political system of Communist Bulgaria.

Of course, the changes have not been kind to all. The city's older generation, mostly Russian speaking, are finding it difficult to adjust to the new capitalist era away from the reliance on the state for food and shelter. Many poor seniors can be found selling hand-crafted souvenirs and other menial products on street corners and in the main Bazar just to get by. They seemed dejected and out of touch with the modern world.

For the young it's another story. Most of the younger people that I met were perfectly capable of conversing in English, a sign of the new emphasis of the country's education system away from Russian influence. The girls and boys were trotting around in typical European fashion and most seemed quite hopeful for the future of Bulgaria.

Less positive however, is the dirtiness of the city's streets. Liter can be found almost everywhere - even in front of the massive Presidential Office!!

Also, the crime situation is still very bad. Organized crime groups have obviously benefited from the economic liberalisation process and one policeman I talked too was considering quitting his job because in his own words "combating the criminals is simply no longer worth it unless we receive better weapons, training and a higher salary to compensate for the risk."

I will post more thoughts on my trip if they come to me. Please forgive the quality of this post as I am quite tired from my very bumpy 14 hour train ride!

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