My freedom of speech after Charlie Hebdo

I was born in 1991 – two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when Eastern Europe, including Bulgaria, was ‘freed” from communism. I suppose that’s the main reason why I have an issue understanding what the fuss about freedom of speech is all about. Never in my life have I had a problem saying whatever I wanted to say. As a journalist I was always able to express myself while my editors only fixed my wording, spelling and grammar. Until now freedom of speech was something I took for granted. But then the Charlie Hebdo shooting happened and for the very first time in my life I realised what freedom of speech really is and more importantly – what is it to feel that your freedom is threatened.

Since I don’t speak French, I have only heard about Charlie Hebdo because it published the Jyllands-Posten’s cartoons that caused a huge controversy a decade ago. When I saw information about the shooting on Twitter, I was shocked. Shocked as a person, as a citizen of a western country, as a journalist, as someone who believes that free speech is one of modern societies’ most precious achievements. Then I checked out what these people did to trigger such actions against their satiric art.

What I found were cartoons that most of the world, including many people in Bulgaria, would consider too excessive. The cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo didn’t leave a stone unturned. They mocked everything with extreme sarcasm and I can fully understand why their work made so many people angry, although nothing can justify such an aggression. And that’s what is amazing about Charlie Hebdo and France. The people there are exercising their freedom of speech in a way I haven’t seen anywhere else before.

Most of the western world has some issues with religious or ethnic minorities. In Bulgaria we struggle with the Roma people and Syrian refugees. These topics are very often polarizing society and there are two extreme points of view. One is that we shouldn’t leave these filthy animals to conquer our country and culture. The other is that we should help and protect them no matter what it’ll cost us. My believes are somewhere in the middle – we should integrate the different, without losing our identity, and yes – these people are a problem, a big one as well.

When we talk about these issues in Bulgaria there is one giant elephant in the room called “political correctness”, or the sever lack of it. On the one side are the ones who take the path of extreme hate and some weird Doomsday-like scenarios about the death of everything Bulgarian, thanks to those filthy minorities. On the other hand are the touchy minority rights protectors who act like pinched[1] ladies, as we say in Bulgaria, whenever someone shares an opinion stating that there actually is a problem.

One of the most controversial covers of Charlie Hebdo

One of the most controversial covers of Charlie Hebdo. The bubble says “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter!”

As far as I can tell the English language media, especially the American one, doesn’t have a too different position. The distinctions are that the talking is going on at a higher level and with better arguments and wording, but the situation is practically the same. The first examples that come to my mind are #GamerGate, Ferguson, gay marriage and this guy’s freaking t-shirt.

This political correctness isn’t helping anyone and is probably the worst exercise of freedom of speech. We censor ourselves because we don’t want to offend anybody. We try, and fail, to talk about enormous problems with little words and arguments. We want to resolve big issues with small talk.

Charlie Hebdo does exactly the opposite and that makes the satirical newspaper one of the best examples of freedom of speech for me . Often extreme, sometimes bounderish, every now and then ridiculous, but always representing these people’s views and believes. Obviously they never held back on dark jokes and that wasn’t a problem for the people in France. On the contrary, that made Charlie Hebdo loved and respected, not just in France, but also worldwide.

On the other side of Europe, 25 years into our democratic freedom, people still don’t really know what is freedom. We never really used our freedom of speech and that’s a good reason to be unable to say that We Are Charlie, as millions did with #JeSuisCharlie. But hopefully really soon many of us will be able to say that we are Charlie with our heads held as high as Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists’.


1. A Bulgarian idiom for someone with high ego, who doesn’t accept critique


How I Made The Most Of Christmas All By Myself

Lisbon Christmas

Lisbon (Christmas) by mgkm photography, on Flickr

My family is a weird one and it never had special Christmas traditions and rituals, except my aunt’s yearly Christmas Eve dinner, that’s happening since she started her own family. However, even if we had any traditions they would’ve be gone because almost everyone else lives abroad. Probably that’s the reason I always feel really confused about the week, between Christmas Eve and New Year’s day, when everyone, including my girlfriend, is with their own families. This confusion made me feel a bit of hatred about this period of the year for most of my life. After all what is there to love about being alone in your apartment, while everyone posts happy things online?

This year was actually a crazy one. I lived through many awesome things but I was never able to enjoy them, because most of the time I was focused on something else. That’s why I don’t feel like I made the most of my trips to Lisbon, Barcelona and Budapest, neither the few freelance months I’ve dreamed about for quite a while. When I realised all that, I promised to myself that I’ll do my best to enjoy every moment, instead of longing for some distant future when everything will be perfect. That’s the more important part of my decision to get excited about Christmas 2014 and my attempt to get the most of it. The other part includes a little physics. At some point I realised Christmas time is the darkest of the year, just because around Winter Solstice we experience the longest nights and the shortest days.

All this means we really need something to brighten our lives and what can do it better than sparkling lights, nice gifts and cheerful songs? So that’s why this year I hindered myself from the usual Christmas hate. Instead, I bought a tiny, artificial Christmas tree with Christmas lights and put it in my room, sparkling every evening. I actually bought the usual gifts – mostly books, but instead of the familiar clumsy bags, I gave most of them in beautiful wrappings. Last but certainly not least, I dug through Spotify and played huge amount of non-Michael Buble Christmas songs. The smaller steps include a spike in my ginger latte consumption and rock bottom levels of hate, not just Christmas.

We all know that I’ll lie if I tell somebody that’s my best Christmas ever. After all I’ll still prefer to be with many nice people, eating tasty food in unhealthy amounts and watching dumb movies, instead of that afternoon coffee in my empty flat. However, this year’s Christmas is my most festive one since I started living on my own and it’s all my own fault. I just made myself excited about the holidays and didn’t let myself plunge into the usual anti-Christmas mood. For me that’s pretty big lesson that the holidays, probably our whole live, are whatever we want them to be and even the snowless Christmas can’t change that.

Let’s make Halloween really scary!

The Dark Knight Returns

The Dark Knight Returns by Jesse Dang at Flickr

The vast influence of American culture over the world is something you can slice through, smell and see with just a walk around Sofia on Halloween. The capital city of Bulgaria – the Eastern European country that stays in the shadow of it’s post-communistic social issues, is getting full of costumed people at the end of October. One big difference is that unlike in the U.S., most of the costumed people who wander the streets in zombie, witch or vampire fashion on that day aren’t children.

Celebrating Halloween is a funny thing. We all live in a world where masks are part of our daily routine. We cherish them and even switch them pretty often because we own a few masks for every occasion. With that in mind is a bit hard to imagine a character that will scare the evil spirits and win you a candy.

That’s why I came up with an idea. I believe that, unlike the bad Halloween outfits, the thing that’ll scare the hell out of everyone is putting down our masks. Getting rid of the happy Facebook persona, the witty Twitter character and the artsy Instagram self and being what we really are deep inside the shell of prejudices, social norms and self censorship. Such an approach to Halloween will make the celebrations something to be scared of, something to wait impatiently even if you know you won’t feel good at the moment. More importantly it can help people start knowing each other and themselves better.

After all, the scariest thing is to be really open about yourself. The reason is that we’re always scared of being cast out of the tribe and left alone with our ugly selves. Probably that’s the reason for America’s cultural dominance over our post-communistic society. We don’t want to be left out again. We just want to play with the cool kids, like every other kid on the block.

On tolerance


Tolerance by Don Moyer, on Flickr

In modern societies people generally agree that anyone can be as different as they want, as long as they don’t make others suffer. We accept and approve people who have different sexual preferences, gender, race, origins, and so on. But what’s going on with accepting people with different opinions? Is it possible for, let’s call them closed-minded people, to exist in this tolerant world?

Ever so often I see people who are deeply offended because somebody doesn’t like gay people around themselves. Or because someone have the opinion that women don’t really fit in some jobs. Every time there’s such a “controversial” opinion a storm of aggressive tolerant people shows up to explain the importance of acceptance and so on. I believe that’s really not OK, although I absolutely agree that we should accept everyone as what they are.

However, I believe that I have the right to get annoyed by overly queer gay men. As I have the right to get annoyed by cocky macho men. But more importantly I absolutely believe that I have the right to share my opinion about it – I don’t like such people. Although logic says this should be OK, reality is different and we all know it.

Tolerance is about accepting people as they are, even when you don’t like their lifestyle, opinion, religion, or whatever you can dislike about someone. Tolerance is definitely not about putting “different” in pedestal for the sake of it. Actually tolerance is all about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, so you can understand why they act and think that way.

After this little rant, I beg you – be tolerant not only about gender, sexuality or skin tone but also about opinions and ideas.

Keep it simple

"Letterpress Paul Rand Quote" by David Marshall and Elizabeth Ellis © All Rights Reserved

“Letterpress Paul Rand Quote” by David Marshall and Elizabeth Ellis © All Rights Reserved

With fourteen posts, for almost two years of it’s existence, I can’t really call Eastern Things a blog. Quantity doesn’t matter, some will argue, as long as there is quality. And they’ll be absolutely right.

The thing is I have really high criteria about quality, and really low self-esteem when it comes to my English writing skills.

I mean, I’m reading Medium on a weekly basis, The New York Times, The Verge, Pitchfork, even Thought Catalog. And what these sources share is the quality of writing, which I don’t feel like I’m able to achieve, although I really want it.

And then comes my biggest problem. Until few weeks ago I always wanted to strike some long and deep text concerning some long and deep problem. And that’s the worst way to start anything.

Right now I have a new plan that is quite simple – just write. It’s normal to start with just bits and snippets but that’s the only way to grow to longer thoughts and big essays.

I’ll be glad if you follow me in my way to the 1000 word post and I hope you won’t be too bored until then. Anyway thanks for the support – past and future.

The trailer for ‘Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective’ thrills me

“A keystone species is any species in an ecosystem whose population and behaviour affects every other species.” These are the first words in the trailer for Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective, a documentary about permaculture. In a nutshell that’s a philosophy of working and living with the nature, rather than abusing it.

Since I was a kid the people around me, mostly my uncle, taught me that we should protect the nature and be part of it. Now as a grown up I see that humanity does it’s best to distant itself from the nature as much as possible. We live in big cities, eat processed food made from genetically modified organisms, breathe and release toxic gases and communicate through machines. And that’s just the begging of it.

I have actually never heard of permaculture before I saw this movie trailer and probably that’s the reason I was so excited about it. This philosophy sounds just like the right thing our modern agriculture, and not only, should embrace. Anyway, I’m really excited to see this movie and I hope it reaches its second Kickstarter goal of $45,000.

#ДАНСwithme or why are Bulgarians protesting

Something important is happening in Bulgaria, the poorest EU member country. Tens of thousands of people were out on the streets for four days in a row and as it looks, they’ll be there again today.But let’s start with some recap of what has been going on around in the last few months.

The resignation

I’ll start with the story of the resignation of our ex-PM Boyko Borisov. He is the leader of GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria), one of the biggest parties in Bulgaria. The government he was PM of was in power from 2009 to February 2013 and brought even more frantic corruption, extremely bad misrule in both the public and the private sector, awful bureaucracy and what was worst for the people – high unemployment and more poverty. Those were the reasons behind the protests in February, which were triggered by high utility bills in the winter months, but quickly turned anti-government. The protests led to the resignation of Borisov and the preliminary elections of this spring.

The elections

The elections, which happened on May 12, were won once again by GERB, but with just 30% of the votes. Second, with 27% of the support, came BSP (Bulgarian Socialist Party), which was part of the government of the Triple Coalition, in power from 2005 to 2009. The third party with 11% of the votes was DPS (Movement for Rights and Liberties, the party of the ethnic turkish people in Bulgaria), also part of the aforementioned coalition. The last party that made it to the new parliament, with 7% of the votes, is Ataka (Attack) – far right party, whose leader Volen Siderov is one of the most outrageous nationalists in our parliament. Those elections were shocking and filled with violations. Still, they were considered valid.

The new government

After GERB failed to form a cabinet and Borisov returned the mandate, BSP, in coalition with DPS, successfully formed the new cabinet. That was possible because of the leader of Ataka, who informally supported the now ruling parties. Just few weeks in the term, this government started to enrage the people with awkward discussions and decisions. The most absurd one was about the lift of the smoking ban I wrote about a few months ago.

This is the short story of one of the most unstable governments in Bulgaria. Or probably just another unstable government of Bulgaria.

DanceWithMe as #ДАНСwithMe

DANS (or ДАНС in cyrillic) is the abbreviation of the State Agency for National Security or just something like the ‘Bulgarian version of FBI’. Last Friday, in another absurd episode of our local political drama, the parliament voted Delian Peevski as the new chief of DANS.

Peevski is the son and partner of the biggest media mogul in Bulgaria and one of the most controversial MP in Bulgaria. The media outlets he and his mother own are popular for being servants of the power, no matter who’s in charge of the country. He was also part of many corruption scandals during the Triple Coalition.

This appointment is the reason for the massive rallies in Sofia and many other cities around Bulgaria in the last 4 days. More info about them you can get from here.

The different protest

There is something different about the protests this time and it is the people who participate. Contrary to the February rallies, now I see many friends out on the streets. The protesters now aren’t out because they are poor and they want a new messiah to come and save them. The are in fact out there because they don’t want any more appointments like this, and the protests turned anti-government because it’s obvious that this parliament can’t offer the wanted adequate governance of the country.

The swap

In the last few years every bigger protest in Bulgaria ends in the same way. Some paid skinheads, football fans and nationalists mix with the protesters and provoke the police. This leads to a lot of violence, which is a good reason for all the media publishings in favour of the power to make the protesters look like a bunch of criminals. Sadly, there’ll be attempts to do the same, but I hope we’ll resist.

The world’s on fire

I also hope that we’ll get the support we need from outside. Share what you see and read, tell your friends what’s going on. Tell them about #ДАНСwithme in Bulgaria, about #OccupyGezi in Turkey, about #changebrazil in Brazil, about Germany, Northern Ireland, England, Spain. Share the fact that the world’s on fire!


Teaching photography

keep calm and take pictures

My photography philosophy in a nutshell (Photo credit: tyler.wainright)

I told you about my English classes in my last post. I also mentioned my awesome teacher. What I missed was how I ‘pay’ for her teaching. The answer is simple – I’m teaching Photography. Believe me it was as shocking for me.

I do know stuff about photography. I know how DSLR cameras work, what is the process when you shoot a picture, what are aperture, shutter, depth of field, etc. However, I am totally clueless about teaching. For years I’ve been thinking what would be like if I become one but I never even imagined it could happen to me. At least not so soon. Or teaching Photography.

The story is that I was bitching about my English to L. (my English teacher), whose job description is English teacher. So at one point she offered me to teach me. I told her that at the moment I can’t afford it but she said ‘Don’t worry I’ll think of a way you’ll repay me’. Few weeks later, after few more conversations on the topic, we met to discuss my English classes. At the end of it I asked L. about the payment and she was like “Teach me photography”. I’m not 100% sure, but I think I laughed before accepting in a little shock.

So, now I’m learning English, which feels surprisingly close to banging my head to a wall, and teach Photography. The latter feels horribly wrong and inappropriate but still so satisfying. The best part of it is I’ve learned so much more about photography than ever before. So, double thank you, L.

Learning English


Teacher (Photo credit: tim ellis)

I’m learning English. I mean, with a teacher, exercises and everything else. Until now my knowledge for the language was based on TV shows, video games and news articles. As a result I have really good passive knowledge for the language. The mission my teacher and I are facing is the upgrade of my active knowledge. Her words.

So, after three English lessons I feel like my world is falling apart. Month ago life was easy and I wasn’t questioning every third word I wrote. Now my head feels like hit by train and I stumble upon every word I try to write in English, even when I tweet or post a facebook status. The worst of it is that I never experienced something like this before. I have always been the guy who remembers everything just by listening in class. Contrary to my habits now I need to study hard for every class. And I still can’t manage to be as good as I want to.

However, I’m sure I’ll be way more optimistic about it in just a month. But for now I’ll stick to my bitching about how hard it is for me. The good part of it is that I have the coolest and most supportive teacher you can think of. She makes tasty cakes, drinks excellent tea and reads good books(and lends them to me), so we can talk about the books while eating cake over a cup of tea.

Hey, Brits, we don’t want to come!

What? You're Not Coming?

You mad, Queen?

If you missed the About page – I’m a Bulgarian student, 21 y.o. I’m mentioning this because I’ll talk about the continuing debate about Britain and its future in or out of the European Union. Also, after I realized that British politicians are as stupid populistic idiots as ours and British people are as stupid as Bulgarian, for believing them, I feel irritated for the obviously working machinations of the British media and politicians when they speak about Bulgaria and Romania.

The problem is that eurosceptic British parties are using the poorest members of the EU to validate their statements that the Union is bad for Britain. Suddenly the largest concern for the UK is the immigrants from the European Union. Still, it seems that nobody can use Google and find out that less than a third of the immigrants in the UK are from the EU. However, the populistic idiocy on this topic reached its peak not long ago when the leader of the UK Independence Party Nigel Farage scared the frak out of people speaking about 29 million Bulgarian and Romanian people who are “coming to Britain”. See the full video.

Basically, the things said about Bulgaria by this obvious eurosceptic are really close to the truth. We are the poorest member of EU, many of our people are extremely poor even for our understandings, we are struggling for our food, the mafia rules around. However, the average salary isn’t 200 Euro, it’s more like 400 Euro and living here is extremely cheap, so these 400 Euro for us are way more than any Brit can imagine. And if you believe in what Mr. Farage said you should imagine some Baghdad-like place, which is far from what Bulgaria is.

Of all the things said I most strongly disagree with the statement that 29 mln. people from Romania and Bulgaria will take their bags, leave their homes and families and will start living in England. The main reason is that the UK is hard and expensive country to even try to start proper life in and Bulgarians are aware of this important fact. I’m going to finish my bachelor’s next year and I want to study for master’s abroad. My childhood dream is to study in England but I won’t be able to do it. So I started looking for places where the politics towards immigrants are better, education is affordable or free and there are jobs for the foreign shit I’ll be when I arrive. I’m sure that many people in Bulgaria went through the same line of thoughts and changed their plans.

And if this is not enough, I have to confess from the name of many Bulgarians. Dear Brits, we don’t like you. You are ugly and fat, you are rude and you live in one of the countries with the worst weather in Europe. On the other hand you treat foreigners like shit and come to our country to drink cheap alcohol and vomit on the street. You’re disgusting and most of us don’t even want to imagine living on your island.

So, dear Brits, Mr. Farage, Queen of England, sleep calm. The amount of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants most surely won’t change much after January 1st 2014. We won’t invade your precious island full of rain, Pakistanis and wonderful music. Still, you’re welcome to vomit on our seaside and have cheap whores, while hating us.