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’.

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

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.

#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!

Same.+He+sucked+at+putting+out+fires+though+_2c7005008ced9f70ccb1f58fd49822fa

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.

Smoking idiocy

smoking kidsThere’s something horribly wrong in Bulgarian’s rebellious spirit. For example it is not a bad thing to be against all stupid decisions of your government. I just believe that people should be really careful when they choose their causes and the things they fight for to the end.

Bulgarians are actually really bad at choosing and fighting. The latest big cause of our society is to lift the smoking ban that’s part of our lives since June. Although I’m a smoker I absolutely support the ban but since there are two positions in every dispute, I’ll try to present the other one, too.

The pro-smoking people, all of them smokers, said the ban prevents the business from making money. Restaurant owners said that their earnings are 50% down compared to last year. There are countless stories of bartenders, waiters and owners who waved fingers at our government and said that the ban is killing their business. There are also many smokers who said that smoking ban is discriminating people and it’s questioning their freedom of choice to smoke or not. Back in May there were protests of smokers against the ban which I consider as one of the most ridiculous and stupid protests ever happened on Earth.

Those things are the “wrong” part of our society’s spirit. During a period in which people are struggling to find job and are in their poorest state since the dark end of the 90’s, some idiots with cigarettes go out to fight for their right to… kill themselves, while killing the surrounding people. Instead I would prefer massive riots for changes in our education, healthcare or justice system which are really important but nobody cares.

The pro-smokers proposed a new rule – you can’t smoke where food is served and is OK everywhere else after 10PM. Here comes the second wrong part in the freedom idiocy of Bulgaria. Right now in Sofia you can have a cigarette in almost every bar, restaurant or club after midnight or 1-2 AM, depending on the place. So practically the thing is to legalize this manner. A manner that goes with every ban, rule or advice that Bulgarians don’t like. Actually you can hear people in Bulgaria complaining that nobody is going according to the law around here, while speeding on the highway or smoking in the bar.

While my fellow countrymen practice their freedom cretinism I, the smoker, am fully supporting the ban. Surprisingly, I guess, the main reason is I don’t like to smell like cigarettes when I go back home after party. Also, I feel more comfortable in a room/bar/pub/restaurant with clean, fresh air. And last, but not least, I smoke less cigarettes this way, while, in a way, taking care of my friends’ health. This makes me feel better and I really hope the ban will survive this attack.

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The picture is from Frieke Janssens’ amazing series Smoking Kids. You can check it at http://frieke.com

I’ve been surfed

Last few weeks were really crazy for me, but I don’t mind because everything happening is really amazing and interesting. One of the amazing things done this month is my first CouchSurfing experience as a host. I was looking forward to this moment for a long time and it was even better than expected.

I hosted two really nice girls from Berlin. D. who studied in Turkey in the past half year and her roommate and friend H. who went to pick her up. They decided to have a long trip through Eastern Europe on their way back to Berlin and the reason they cited was “We just don’t know this part of Europe, which is so sad and stupid”.

Their arrival wasn’t packed with good luck because this Sunday was the rainiest day in Sofia since May. All day long it rained with some pauses. Actually it wasn’t raining while we had local meals at Divaka and during our coffee break. But it rained on our way from the station to my flat, while we tried to have a walk after our lunch and we almost drowned on our way to zbl and Ru’s home. There we played some cards, drank few beers and talked about almost everything from music and card games to politics and psychology.

The second day was sunny and really nice for walks. We had plan to visit the Museum of Socialistic Art but when we arrived the guard told me it wasn’t working in Mondays. Something they forgot to mention on the website which says working time 10 to 17:30. Aside from that the girls were really surprised when we stopped in front of a random building and I told them it was the museum. Actually there’s only one big label saying Ministry of Culture written in Bulgarian. If you go there make sure you’re with someone local.

After this failure we went to buy bus tickets from the station and to the Women’s market. That’s one of the dirtiest and most colourful areas in Sofia. Friends of mine asked me why I want to take foreigners to this ugly place. My answer was and will always be – that’s one of the most amazing areas in my city. The biggest reason is that’s the oldest area of Sofia with some of the most beautiful old buildings. I’m really sad because most of those buildings are ruining and are actually dangerous. My second reason are the people you can see at this market.

The biggest part are the gypsies. There are all versions of them – poor, traders, thieves, old, young, dirty, clean. The second biggest group are older people who are going there because of the prices. They are really interesting to see too, although kinda sad. The smallest part of the people are these strange people who would fit better in a shopping mall.

H. and D. told me that Women’s Market was their favourite place we visited, and that’s my first proof that Women’s market is a must-visit for every tourist in Sofia. From the market we walked for awhile to the National Palace of Culture where we met Ru and had some pizza. Then we went to the National Theatre’s Garden to drink beers with another friends of mine. There we stumbled upon one really amazing show mixing theatre, dance and swirling fire. It ended with amazing fireworks after which we had another bunch of nice conversations. Before we went home we passed by Soviet’s Army Monument for another beer and little more time for chatting.

H. and D. told me they had really good time and invited me in Berlin. I think they were honest, because I had amazing time, too. This CS experience was just another proof for me that people are meant to communicate with each other regardless their nationality, colour, language or cultural differences. I really hope that was just the beginning of one amazing trip for these girls. Meanwhile I’m preparing for my next surfers who are coming next monday.