Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Bulgarian Life under Communism
The Communists discouraged celebrating Christmas by playing the best TV shows on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. That way the children would resist going to church for the services, usually with a grandmother or other old relative. They usually showed Westerns, made in India with German producers and stars, “Achtung, fella!” Five days later the children celebrated the coming of Grandfather Coal, who put gifts under the New Year’s tree.
Those who regularly attended church had the fact that they were religious stamped on their ID card. This affected everything: their employment, their schooling, where they could live., who they could associate with. Needless to say, no one was religious.
During the Communist era they decided that everyone should work the land, so they gave every citizen 1000 sq meters of land to farm. You could farm it, but you couldn’t build on it. Most people were too poor to travel to their plot of land, and those who got there and built a place to live would have their houses torn down by the local officials. Our host’s grandfather’s land was some kilometers outside Varna, near the present-day beach resorts. He was a doctor, not a farmer, but went out on weekends to grow some things. He obeyed the law, as our host said, “only farmed, did not build.” Then they passed a law taking back all the land, however the law provided that those who had built, breaking the previous law, could keep their land. “That’s Bulgaria,” our host exclaimed, “those who keep the law are punished and those who break the law are rewarded!”
The law also said that if in one year, no one claimed the land, you could buy your land; the grandfather waited one year, no one had claimed the land, so he paid the municipality 30,000 leya for the plot. Sometime later, a man came to the land with papers from the national government saying that he owned the land, “Go to the municipality and get your money back.!” The city corrected their mistake, but only paid 30 leya for reimbursement. “That’s Bulgarian life! You do what you can do!”
Russalka Resort was built in the communist era, 1950s, to cater to French tourists. They came by bus, stayed at the all-inclusive resort, and were kept separate from the locals. “We could see them on the beach, but we couldn’t talk to them or we’d be shot.”
Our host’s grandfather had built a house near the center of town. Four families, the grandparents, two uncles and our host’s parents, lived there. During the communist era, the government made them share their house with other families. “We were lucky, at least we got to keep our house.” During this time the grandfather and uncles decided to add two floors to the house. They built it themselves, as they could find or buy materials. One uncle was an engineer and supervised the construction. The hardest part was getting permits from the government to allow the construction. Once they finished the building, the other families left and they were allowed to live there without sharing. Each family has their own floor of the apartment building to this day.During Communism, the officials used Olympic weightlifters and wrestlers as body guards. After Communism , these body guards became the elected officials because they knew how to use power and influence. “They are crooks, some are competent crooks and competent politicians and others are competent crooks and incompetent politicians.”