Anyone who was an expat in Bulgaria in the past 15 years, or anyone who is now, knows – or at least should know – one name: Clive Leviev-Sawyer. From 2001 to 2012, he ran the editorial office of The Sofia Echo, a printed weekly in English. He wrote thousands of articles himself. Yes, that is where you remember this name from.
He still writes. Along with his colleague Alex Bivol he founded The Sofia Globe, an online news publication, in English, for Bulgaria and the Balkans, which happens to be Magazine79’s affiliate.
Leview-Sawyer is South African. Being born and growing up in a racist society took its toll on his thinking and ambitions: “I was born in the very early 1960s. I grew up with an instinctive, principled, moral revulsion about apartheid. Not only was it evil, but it was also impractical, the denial of the talent and potential of millions of people – denial because of the colour of their skin, something not only profoundly irrational but also incredibly stupid”.
By the time of the 1970s, South Africa was the world’s polecat – subject to all kinds of sanctions and isolation. Leviev-Sawyer underlines: “For me, those boycotts were highly welcome, and not only for me, but for millions of my compatriots – obviously, not so so much the unreconstructed white racists, certainly the vast majority of Black people. For us, the solidarity of the outside world, in boycotting the products and activities of the apartheid state, there was a strong message that those of us who opposed apartheid were not alone.”
South Africa was killing children and peaceful demonstrators in Soweto and elsewhere. Binding U.N. Resolutions were putting the regime in Pretoria under pressure. So were media and book releases, the information and scripts for which were smuggled out of the country. The New York Times, sticking it to the institutionalized racism in South Africa, was something which influenced Clive Leviev-Sawyer: “I saw what I believed to be the power of the media. The fine work done by investigative journalists, among them Donald Woods in exposing the truth about the murder of Steve Biko, the investigative reporters like Kit Katzin who dug and brought to light the corruption at the heart of the state – there was a moment, when I was about 15, when it came to me that my love of writing and commitment to fairness and truth could be brought together…perhaps I was naive then and still am, but I thought, journalism is a way to serve justice, and have a damned good time indulging my pleasure in writing.”
Why does he have this emancipated last name, Leviev-Sawyer? Because he married in Bulgaria, which is where he brought his experience as an editor, into The Sofia Echo’s editorial office. Objectivity and professionalism were the trademarks. These principles certainly made most readers happy, while certain Bulgarian business and political circles were not. Attempts to pressure Leviev-Sawyer and the team into a streamlined approach, e.g. by former Sigurnost agents, were rejected and fought off.
The Sofia Globe, sofiaglobe.com, upholds these principles as well. Leviev-Sawyer and his friend and colleague Alex Bivol make sure, by constantly discussing political events, their content and their strategies. They seldomly disagree on core issues. Sterling coverage of the 2013/14 anti-government protests, acerbic contempt for ridiculous political manifestations from Volen Siderov’s Ataka and other pro-Russian, far-right, political forces, all have helped to build the Globe’s reputation.
Clive Leviev-Sawyer loves Bulgaria, where he has made many friends, while his views on this country’s politicians are somewhat less charitable. Hatred towards him from the ultra-nationalists and others mean nothing to him. Negative comments online are a mere fleabite, likely only to earn the poster a report to social networks for hate speech, and a weary comment in Leviev-Sawyer’s customarily dry humour. Like many of us, he still hopes to see genuine reforms in the judicial system, and not only those, but also in the education and health care sectors.
“I would fervently wish to see real action take the place of supposedly well-meaning statements, of puffery about action plans, about supposed ‘political will’ towards reform. Like in any other country, change can only be measured by what it means for people who do not have money for gilded lawyers, for treatment abroad, for the best of the best of private schools. Like many people who came here from somewhere else, I can see the potential in Bulgaria – it screams at you from every landscape. I want to see that potential realised, in real terms, for ordinary people. Politicians need to stop their cheap waffling and actually do their jobs, for the sake of the people who pay their salaries.” Because of his deep knowledge of Bulgaria, his love for this country, his hopes and demands, Leviev-Sawyer almost seems more Bulgarian than some Bulgarians.
Writing is one thing, acting is another, which he enjoys. He appeared in the BBC’s “Hannibal” production, in “300: Rise of an Empire”, “Sleeping Beauty” as well as several Bulgarian TV series. E.g. he played a Secret Service agent. He even has an IMDB entry. Acting, he says, “takes me into an alternative universe, one in which, normally not forthcoming, he indulges a love affair with the camera, seeks an inner and outer voice”.
Clive Leviev-Sawyer, a journalist, book author and actor, but also a believing Jew. It is a Mission Impossible to keep kosher in Bulgaria or to honour the Jewish high holidays, while the world is falling apart and articles need to be written, but he tries. In daily life, encounters with anti-Semitism are few. “That kind of evil nonsense is reserved for the anonymous cowards who post their poison on the internet”, he says.
Fifteen years in Bulgaria, Leviev-Sawyer has seen changes, and changes that have not happened. The expat community boomed with the property boom, and shrank when that bubble passed. His friendships, he says, are based on a sense of commonality. “I don’t look at passports. I sense only fellow-feeling, whether my conversation is with a Bulgarian or a foreigner, wherever they’re from.”
Clive Leviev-Sawyer suffers from Alopecia Universalis, a condition which makes all hair fall out. He takes it with humour.
As a private citizen, he is a loving father and husband. And an extremely nice guy of the kind I wish I had gotten to know 15 years ago, instead of two weeks ago.