Posted on September 29, 2008
What a bizarre weekend we have just had in Sofia, there is nowhere like this European Union capital of corruption that I have seen (Warsaw has nothing on this place) everything appears bent, taxis, restaurants, bars, politics, sport, the lot. Sofia became the capital as recently as the end of wwII and after coming under communist rule it had all it’s private farm land collectivised and the masses moved to work in Sofia which the USSR created for heavy industry and textiles, building masses of tenament blocks for housing that remain today.
Since the fall of communism in 1989 Bulgaria has been struggling to create capitalist stability, as the majority of the countries assets have been taken by mafia groups evolving from the old communist regime. Most of the agricultural equipment has been sold to the Greeks, and the government are struggling to get farm land back to it’s original owners to try and build the industry up again. Basically it is a mess, Bulgaria recently received EU Funding for a better road system, the money disappeared and no roads were built. Now they are in the situation where they pay to be in the EU but any funding is frozen until they clean their act up, so they are effectively worse off.
Whilst we were there three referees and a sports minister were arrested for fixing football matches and an “illegal” taxi driver was shot (The legal ones are apparently far from it). That’s the way of the world in Bulgaria. I went with Hutch to watch Levski Sofia win 2-0 and the apathy towards sport (see the empty ground) is obvious as the fans just don’t know whether a game is bent or not. We were escorted in and out of the game by Yuri who joked that he could have told us the result last week.
That said, I loved it, I enjoyed the feeling of danger, walking down the back streets and visiting the dodgy bars, because in reality you are in no danger. Whether it is genuine people or Mafioso, they need Westerners to survive and prosper, so killing them or endangering would be foolish, and they know that. Two Bulgarians walked us out of the ground after the Levski game and escorted us through the endless tenements to their car (they refused to let us get a taxi). I asked Hutch if he was nervous (I was getting that way, they could had they wished, driven us anywhere) and he said he wasn’t as he trusted them for their human decency in helping us out. They drove us to the door of our hotel about five miles away and refused any money. Hutch was right, just because people are poor it doesn’t mean they want to do you over, in fact the opposite is more likely.