Archive for July, 2008

Summer Bike Ride

28 July, 2008

This weekend I took my new bike out to the village of Zetevo and took some pictures along the way. The trip went through several sunflower fields. However, the season is over so it’s just fields and fields of dead sunflowers. Though it was pretty in its own way.
Photos from my trip:

I also went to Tsenovo today but didn’t bring my camera. Next time I do (probably next weekend; it was a gorgeous ride) I’ll certainly take it.

Summer Bike Ride

Deep Thought

25 July, 2008

Cause for concern?

  1. The weather has cooled down so much that I’m wearing jeans and a jacket
  2. People are preparing for winter (chopping up fire wood, etc)
  3. It’s July

What I’m reading

24 July, 2008

Eschaton: Unconditional Withdrawal:

The local Fox outlet just showed me clips of McCain saying (roughly) “Obama won’t acknowledge that we’ve succeeded [in Iraq]” and “He’s in favor of unconditional withdrawal.”

If we’ve succeeded why can’t we leave? Just who are we at war with and what conditions should we demand before we withdraw? Does any of this make any fucking sense at all?

How to Annoy Me

24 July, 2008

Pay for your groceries with, and I kid you not, six debt cards.

How to Charm Me

24 July, 2008

Ask me to be a resource volunteer.

Stripped and Social Commentary

24 July, 2008

Bulgaria has been stripped of it’s EU funding and PHARE has been suspended. None of this is good news for the people that need the money (the average Bulgarian).

From Trud, via the Daily Press Brief:

The daily leads with a report on the issuance of the EC reports on Bulgaria’s progress on the mechanisms of cooperation and verification and the absorption of the EU funds by emphasizing on what it considered to be the highlights in the reports:

  • EUR 500 m has been frozen, but Bulgaria is not required to return the funds that have already been absorbed;
  • The billions of euro under the cohesion funds are not at risk;
  • Brussels is still waiting to see conviction against corruption and mafia but DANS seems to be working.

Selected reaction from the executive branch (via the DPB):

Deputy PM Miglena Plugchieve is quoted as saying that the EC report conclusion don’t come as a surprise to her but she feels disappointed that the EC has failed to report on what Bulgaria has done in the last few months.

Selected reaction from an opposition party (via the DPB):

DSB’s Ivan Kostov: The expectations that the EC will tone down its criticism were not met. The situation is worse than expected an the only way out of it is the resignation of the whole cabinet.

Selected reactions from EU representatives (via the DPB):

Geoffry van Orden: This is a tremendous disappointment. We treated Bulgaria like a friend and supported is accession although we were well aware that a lot of work still had to be done. That’s why this lack progress is so deeply disappointing to us.

Joseph Daul, Chairman of the EPP-ED Group: Bulgaria has failed to honor its commitments toward Europe to successfully eradicate corruption and organized crime. It is high time now to untangle the web of conflicts of interests and prove to the rest of Europe, that national policy-makers are not synonymous with corrupt criminals.

Ouch. Those are some stinging criticisms. Though I have to say some of them are justified. In the end, as is the case with all corruption, the people in need of the money will be the one’s most impacted by the freeze.

(more…)

Balkan News

23 July, 2008

From CNN: ‘Butcher of Bosnia’ Held After Decade-Long Hunt

Former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, the man accused of masterminding the massacre of tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats during the brutal Balkans conflict, has been arrested after more than 10 years on the run.

This news reminded me of an Esquire article I read a while back.

From Esquire: What I Did on My Summer Vacation (Oct. 2000)

In which three American journalists–the author, Sebastian Junger, and John Falk–try to get a little R&R in Bosnia, accidentally almost capture the world’s most-wanted war criminal, are hassled by the CIA, and discover why our government doesn’t really want to catch the bad guys after all.

[…]

How was it that five years after the war in Bosnia had ended, men like Karadzic and Mladic were still at large, despite the presence of twenty thousand NATO peacekeeping forces in the country and the professed desire of the United Nations and every Western government to apprehend them?

Bringing Bulgaria into the picture (Bulgaria shares a border with Serbia):

From Trud, via the Daily Press Brief:

The daily quotes the MoI Chief Secretary Pavlin Dimitrov as denying Serbian press allegations that Radovan Karadzic had hidden in Bulgaria.  Dimitrov said that if that were true, the Bulgarian authorities would have found out about it for sure.  Asked whether an individual by the name of Dragan Dabic (Dragan Dabic was the name used by Radovan Karadzic while hiding in Serbia) had visited Bulgaria, DANS spokesperson Zoya Dimitrova said that this was not a question that the Agency could respond to.

What I’m Reading

18 July, 2008

From the BBC: EU Plans to Block Aid to Bulgaria

The European Commission is planning to block almost $1bn in funds for Bulgaria as a penalty for failing to tackle corruption and organised crime.

A report seen by the BBC warns that millions worth of aid could be lost unless the authorities act decisively.

Bulgaria’s chances of joining the Schengen [border-free zone] area are also at risk.

[…]

[The Commission’s report] concludes that Bulgaria “has to make the commitment to cleanse its administration and ensure that the generous support it receives from the EU actually reaches its citizens and is not siphoned off by corrupt officials, operating together with organised crime”.

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer, I have no personal experience with any of this since this type of stuff is way over my head. I work with people in communities and have very little, if any, interaction with the European Union. I’ve noticed more and more headlines regarding Bulgaria have focused on organized crime and corruption. The Daily Press Brief from the US Embassy in the Bulgaria (and made available to Peace Corps Volunteers) shows the daily roundup of Bulgarian news papers have been intently focus on this as well. From everything I’ve read, massive amounts of EU funds to Bulgaria has been siphoned off to corrupt politicians and the mob. What can be most frustrating about this is this the broad daylight some of this stuff occurs. For example, the former Minister of Transportation (who has since lost his job as a result) was accused of stealing EU money earmarked for Bulgaria’s highway projects. He owned a paving company but sold his shares to his brother after he accepted the cabinet post. This company received most of, if not all, the contracts to build and repair Bulgaria’s highways. When pressed on his, he simply replied something to the effect of “It’s my brother’s company, not mine. I have nothing to do with it.” Yeah. Right. As a result of this nepotism, some roads are still in horrible disrepair. My tutor told me that the EU has certain requirements for roads going through mountains; that they must be a certain thickness to withstand the weather. In order to “save money” for “other projects”, the Ministry of Transportation shaved some of the thickness off, leaving some roads in the Rhodopi Mountains in disrepair.

The EU has set up a special commission to monitor all funds going to Bulgaria and Romania. My tutor told me a joke about this. “When we were occupied by the Roman Empire, we destroyed them with our faulty accounting. When we were occupied by the Byzantine Empire, we destroyed them with our faulty accounting. When were were occupied by the Ottoman Empire, we destroyed them with our faulty accounting. When we were occupied by the Soviet Empire, we destroyed them with our faulty accounting. Now the European Union has set up these commissions to monitor our accounting and we will surely destroy the EU!”

What I’m Reading

18 July, 2008

From the newspaper Standart, via the Daily Press Brief:

Under the headline “500 Police Officers Hold Vitosha under Siege” the daily reports that the Police have carried out yet another raid in the southern neighborhoods of Sofia in search for ex-Litex President Angel Bonchev’s kidnapped wife.  This time, however, their enthusiasm was less visible and the operation turned into a several hour-long eating of banitsa (cheese pie), the local residents said.

Sometimes, I don’t even know what to think.

New Roommate

16 July, 2008

I’ve been in the market for a bike for quite a while and I finally found one. I was told of a bike store on the edge of town on the way to the next village, Zetevo. It turns out that the name of this auto shop (that sells bikes) is “Jimmy”. I walked there on the way to lunch. I walked in, and there she was. I just knew that was the bike for me. A woman behind me called me by name and asked me if she could help. I was a bit surprised that she knew my name but it turns out she’s on the dance team. She introduced me to her husband, Jimmy. He could a kick out our name. He’s a jolly guy and very kind. I took the bike out for a ride. It was a perfect fit. They told me if I ever have a problem with my bike to bring it to them and they would fix it. For free. It pays to have friends in town. 🙂

She’s a Soviet-era road bike built in the city of Kazanlak (so they told me) and has a gnarly Bulgarian flag on the fork. I took it out for a spin after work. It was so much fun whizzing around town! I decided to go down the best street in town. It’s important to note that in my city, when there are pot holes in the road, they fill them full of gravel. I did not think about this and the road quickly became the worst road in town; a road that no amout of gravel could fix. There is a reason that they were repairing that road! With these roads and cobble stone streets, it makes sense all the bikes for sell are mountain bikes! I’ll be taking this bad boy out to the country side as soon as I can!