Mavericks & Lost Causes

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Vladimir Zhirinovsky Liberal Democrat Russian MP

The problem with modern day politics, is that it is populated by grey and rather boring people. Maybe we are living in an age where being anodyne and characterless somehow reflects a quality of dependability and dedication, but I suspect that our present day leaders are no more dynamic or dependable than before, and often quite the opposite..

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They are becoming rather elderly now, and one might say a little battered around the edges, but a few years ago politicians seemed to have more charisma, and more lustre.They somehow inspired us all to hope, and in anticipation of change, many of these huge characters, not only influenced these changes in the world, but they were often quite amusing too!

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a flamboyant veteran lawmaker known for his fiery rhetoric, recently told Reuters in an interview, that Trump was the only person able to control the dangerous tensions between Moscow and Washington, but by contrast, Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton could spark World War Three. Zhirinovsky, received a top state award from Putin, after his pro-Kremlin Liberal Democratic Party of Russia came third in Russia’s parliamentary election last month.

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Friends in High Places

Many Russians regard Zhirinovsky as a clownish figure who makes outspoken statements to grab attention but he is also widely viewed as a faithful servant of Kremlin policy, and sometimes used to float radical opinions to test public reaction.

“Relations between Russia and the United States can’t get any worse. The only way they can get worse is if a war starts,” said Zhirinovsky, speaking in his huge office on the 10th floor of Russia’s State Duma, or lower house of parliament.

“Americans voting for a president on Nov. 8 must realize that they are voting for peace on Planet Earth if they vote for Trump. But if they vote for Hillary, it’s war. It will be a short movie. There will be Hiroshimas and Nagasaki’s everywhere.”

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Vuk Draskovic Leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement.

Vuk Draskovic is a Serbian politician who served as the Deputy Prime Minister of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and as Minister of Foreign Affairs fro both Serbia and Montenegro, and Serbia itself.

Graduating from the faculty of law at the University of Belgrade in 1968,  from 1969-80 he worked as a journalist in the Yugoslav news agency Tanjug, was a member of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia and worked as the chief of staff for Yugoslav President Mika Spiljak. He has written several novels, and fits into the Balkan stereotype, of intellectual politician and leader.

After the Milosevic years, he attempted a comeback as one of the eleven candidates in the Serbian presidential elections, which were subsequently unsuccessful due to low turnout. Despite a polished marketing campaign that saw Drašković change his personal appearance and tone down his fiery rhetoric, he ended up with only 4.5% of the total vote.

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His next chance for political redemption came in late 2003. Fully aware of a weak political standing, after more than 3 years in political oblivion, Drašković entered his party into a pre-election coalition with New Serbia,  reuniting with old party colleague Velimir Ilic, but Joining forces for the 2003 parliamentary election, he achieved limited success. But more importantly, he managed to get into the coalition that formed the minority government, in which Drašković received the position of foreign minister for Serbia and Montenegro.

In response to Montenegro’s vote for independence, Drašković called for a restoration of Serbia’s Monarchy – “This is an historic moment for Serbia itself,” he said, “which would be based on the historically-proven and victorious pillars of the Serbian state and I am talking about the pillars of a kingdom.”

After the breakup with Montenegro in June 2006, Drašković served as the foreign minister of the Republic of Serbia, a successor to the state union of Serbia-Montenegro. He has published two novels, including The Knife and Charlie Rose, which became a TV series.

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George Ganchev BBB and National Patriotic Union.

I have known George Ganchev – real name Georgi Petrushev – since 1985, when he walked into my West London office, and talked about a Bulgaria he had only recently returned to. He subsequently came most Saturday mornings – at exactly 10 am – knowing full well, that it was when a plateful of bacon sandwiches would be delivered from the nearby Greek cafe.

During his impromptu breakfast, he would regale us all with stories of communism and patriotism, and of course, the forthcoming changes. So much so, that I finally told him to stop talking about it, and to show me the realities of Communist Bulgaria, which he did during the Christmas period that followed.

A lot of rot has been spoken about him, and his connection with the old regime. And of course, much has been said by George himself, which has added to his myth and public image, but most of which was carefully crafted for his Bulgarian voters.

During the first Bulgarian presidential election, there was no doubt that George managed to capture the attention of the younger voters, with his Mid- Atlantic spiel and his numerous exaggerated claims. But that was then, and now of course, things are quite different.

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April 1996 The Good Old Days.

But in the beginning he was one of the founders of The Union of Democratic Forces, and however you see that hotchpotch of opportunists – plus the occasional idealist – it did happen, and it left its mark on Bulgarian politics.

As to George being a spy, what was he spying on? Obviously it must have been his fellow boozers in Stringfellows. Or was his deceit crystallized, during an amorous foray into London’s Hampstead suburb, and an adulterous romance with a Russian Countess; with a thick Australian accent. Full of of American chutzpah, learned from his days in the US, perhaps it was when he was finally able to play the central character, and the romantic lead, in a story about himself.

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George Galloway, leader of Respect Party.

On the subject of Donald Trump, George Galloway had this to say-

“He is a big vulgar oaf, a locker room jock. But we knew that. And it is saying something that he beat the Establishment’s favourite, the one with all the money behind her. Trump spent more on souvenirs, T-shirts and giveaways than he did on pollsters and focus groups. Who called that one, right? The elite – and Clintons represent that elite – have constructed a supra-national paradigm in which the losers, the ordinary people have no say. People want to live in a national economy. They don’t want globalisation, which cannot be affected and they cannot; by definition, influence..”

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George Galloway, was a traditional socialist, until he fell out with Tony Blair. A long-standing associate, Galloway has supported Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn,  since Corbyn’s election in September 2015.The Respect Party “voluntarily deregistered” itself at the electoral commission in August 2016.

Early in his career, Galloway was an opponent of Saddam Hussein, but he has been accused by David Aaronovitch and Christopher Hitchens of changing his mind, about the Iraqi leader, when it became Western policy not to support him. Galloway visited Iraq in 1994 and delivered a speech to Saddam Hussein, which ended with the statement – “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.” But, he maintained that he was addressing the Iraqi people in his speech.

Galloway testified to the United States Senate in 2005, over alleged illicit payments from the United Nations Oil for Food Program. Galloway supports the Palestine side of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, taking an anti Israel stance, and was involved in the Viva Palestina aid convoys.

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By Patrick Brigham 

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Shopska or Greek Salad? – The Balkan Foodie Page

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The difference between having an annual Balkan holiday, and permanently living almost anywhere in The Balkans, is the difference between sitting in a posh restaurant, or going food shopping for yourself. Living in a Western European country, where almost anything is available in the market at all times, or trolling around a hometown Balkan supermarket – whilst desperately trying to buy the correct ingredients – can be maddening.

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But one thing is for sure – despite what the celebrity chef on the local TV channel might have to say – that most of the ingredients available anywhere in the Balkans, are disappointingly much the same. Cooking, on the other hand, does vary a bit, but not as much as the pundits would have you believe, and although most national dishes have different names, many hark back to the Otterman Empire, and 500 years of Turkish occupation.

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The Balkans have always been fairly austere, and this has determined the average diet, and of course the lifestyle which it supports. Although the main factor is tradition, food in the Balkans is about wives or Grandmothers, who are determined to maintain traditional cooking standards.

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That is why every dish one eats, seems to be fairly similar to the last time, and any variation in quality or presentation will receive a scowl – usually from some ancient lady in a black dress – or even a knowing look, from a patronizing dinner guest. The Balkans doesn’t seem to like gastronomic change or variety, meaning that restaurants and homes tend to serve up the same fare, and try to maintain the same standards.

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Communism stymied many of the cooking skills in Bulgaria and Romania, which wasn’t helped much by central food planning – factory ships collecting fish from around the world, meat freezing factories. Russian processed tinned fish and meat, cooperative farming, and regional agricultural plans, all helped to provide a glut of certain foods, and a dearth of many others. So, a citizens food choice during communism was a frugal affair, and with high days and holidays occasionally helped along by Father Frost, most Balkan nations remained Christian, except in name.

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Greece, on the other hand had no such restrictions; other than poverty or the will of the people to grow their own vegetables and fresh meat, and of course Greece had the sea. Today, it is the fresh fish – if expensive these days – that attracts the visitors and holidaymakers, to this friendly and hospitable nation, and to most of those countries to be found in the Aegean and the Adriatic. So……………

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Whatever I might have said which may sound a little critical about Balkan food, it is meant to amuse more than detract, because Balkan food is unquestionably the healthiest food in Europe. With a surfeit of olive oil, cheap and easily available herbs and spices, white brine cheese – feta in Greece or sirene in Bulgaria, but much the same all over the Balkans – kaskaval yellow cheese, wonderful yoghurt,  and some spectacular smoked meats and sausages, the Balkans generally have a lot to offer by way of home grown, and interesting produced foods.

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But, let’s get back to our problem. As foreigners, many of us are used to a varied diet. That means the odd Indian curry, Chinese food – world famous take out food – and of course gourmet food from France, Italy, Spain and most recently, Denmark.

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Although it is hard to compare Balkan food with top French cooking, if you have a simpler taste and enjoy a fish diet, most of the Balkans, and all the little countries along the Adriatic should keep you gastronomically content for years to come.

By Charlie Loftus

Communism and Self Esteem

What did ‘Communism’ do for you?

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Perceived from the sitting rooms of suburban England or even from a press office in Canary Wharf, the ex Communist countries of Europe remain an anathema to most. With an absurd oversimplification of the facts, to the yellow press, it is just another rant about the job market, cheap Eastern European labor, and taking work away from English people. But most of it is rot and downright misleading. It also presents these foreign job hunters as androgynous, feeling-less and totally self motivated, but of course, none of this is true.

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All gone except Gobby the only decent man among many! 

Sixty years of Communism have caused more emotional damage to the inhabitants of Eastern Europe than has been presupposed. Despite the various Communist administration’s absurd political claims – that social engineering would one day put greedy western capitalists in their place – after the political changes in the 90s, there was little evidence of this success, just a daunted and disillusioned population of resentful and confused people. Just how our fellow Europeans managed to survive the oppression, which Communism so gladly provided for them, is a lesson we should all learn, when it comes to the personal management of our mental health.

The reality of Communism was a tall greasy pole which anybody with any ambition, had to climb. The rewards were very clear and although a citizen had to conform to certain strict criteria when it came to where they lived and how much they were paid, their way forward was either through working as a senior manager in one of the many enterprises, or by becoming a part of the control structure and working for the Ministry of the Interior.

The whole system was tied to Communist Party values and to the people who controlled and oiled the corrupt political process. Everyone knew this, and together with a paper trail – which makes Franz Kafka’s literary machinations seem almost childlike – they were doomed to conform to the often absurd edicts of their masters, held in an emotional inertia, under strict observation and remorseless control.

The effect of all this pressure was to create a creature which nobody in Northern Europe could easily recognize then, or even to this day. People of all ages were secretive, conspiratorial, passive and compliant. Few liked their lifestyle, their jobs, their colleagues or even their own families. The net result was that jealousy and contempt, were gradually superseded by paranoia and a massive grudge. Nothing was good enough, people – who on the surface seemed cordial and reasonable – conspired against one another and looked forward to the day when they could reek humiliation on their chosen victims, which for some deeply held and obscure reason, gave them their greatest satisfaction. That was reality under Communism.


In layman’s terms, it also goes a long way to describe a massive inferiority complex, too, and together with little opportunity to excel – of course there was always sport – and with deeply held resentments in place, many once loyal citizens descended into alcoholism, drug abuse and prostitution; especially after the political changes.

When these changes finally came, most of the peoples of Eastern Europe had dreams of being saved by the Americans. It was believed that they would wave the stars and stripes over these forlorn and forgotten nations like a magic wand, and that everyone’s lives would be changed for the better overnight. But this did not happen.

Iris Murdoch once described low self esteem, in terms of finding fault in others. This might be true, in a gentle English town, full of gentle English people. But in modern Britain, people are forced to compete for the few jobs that are still around and being knocked back and rejected must seem a very painful experience to those of a gentle disposition. But you must take heart and to try to understand how it is that many of your fellow Europeans have been through far greater trauma and humiliation than you because, in the end, all they had to believe in was themselves.

By Charlie Loftus

Beautiful Greece & The Evros Delta

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Greece is not very good at advertising itself in the media, because it is assumed that the world knows all about it anyway. Recently, the destination for a particular visiting American democrat, Greece is usually associated with stones, myths, sunny islands, and the blue Aegean Sea.

Set in an intimate café, we imagine ourselves – as dreamers often do – enjoying the warm Mediterranean breeze, and watching the sun set, with the sound of Bouzouki music quietly playing in the distance.  Well, it is all true, but this is the Greece of the package tour; a forsale advert discretely placed in The Lady Magazine for a holiday home, offering long leisurely summers, and warm winter breaks. But what about the rest of Greece, what happens there? Well that; according to the Greeks, can take care of itself!

The River Evros divides Greece from Turkey, and runs from Bulgaria to the north, where it is called the Maritza. Flowing down to the Aegean Sea, it gradually widens into a delta and a rather unmanageable border area with Greece’s neighbour Turkey.

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Famous for its wildlife, it is an ornithological wonder, and a place of pilgrimage for bird watchers worldwide. Protected by the World Wildlife Fund, trippers and tourists pass it by, with little interest – as they drive along the E 85 to Bulgaria or Turkey – ignorant of the fact that they are passing through a National Park, the biggest display of Raptors in Europe, and most of the migrating birds from North Africa and beyond.

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Greece has been blighted by illegal immigration in the past, but since the intervention of EU Frontex Police, and the building of a Trump –like fence in the most vulnerable places, these poor unfortunates have given up crossing the River Evros from Turkey, opting for the easier sea bound route from Anatolia to the Greek islands, and Italy. Whilst writing, I think that it is fair to say that; at great cost, Greece has been the European gateway, for most Middle Eastern migrants, and has done more than any EU member state, on behalf of Europe.

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Evros is also the name of the county, which borders Bulgaria to the north and to the rest of Greek Macedonia. Called Thrace, it also includes both the island of Thasos and the mystical and hardly known island of Samothraki. Mainly visited by the Greeks themselves, it might account for the few foreign visitors  because  Greeks are very good at keeping secrets. Especially about Samothraki, which is a mountain bikers and hikers paradise, but with many small hotels, waterfalls and beautiful beaches, it is a wonderful family destination.

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Alexandroupolis is the capital of Evros Region, and is a working port for fishermen. With few pleasure craft to clutter up the harbour, it is no surprise that fresh fish is on the menu at the many little café’s and restaurants.

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What is good about Alexandroupolis, is that compared to the usual holiday spots in Greece, it is not expensive. Unlike much of Greece, which appears to be presently asleep – the failed economy has made much of the provinces give up – Alexandroupolis is alive and vibrant, with all the well known international shopping haunts and more besides, on offer to visitors.

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Alexandroupolis – and the Evros Region – has many good quality and good value hotels. Mainly found in the port area, which up until now have catered solely for Greeks and passing commercial travelers, with B&B starting at about 35 Euros and upwards, it is good value, with most hotels offering family rooms.

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The Greeks are a kindly lot, and like children,  so it is always a pleasure to stay in these places, where many Bulgarians now go for their summer break. If you want to be a little posher, there is more luxurious accommodation to be found along the coast road towards the little port of Makri, on the way to Komotini. But Evros beaches are wonderful, uncrowded, clean and tidy, and the municipal campsite, is one of the best in the Balkans.

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But it is not all fishing and seashells, because the countryside is startling in places, seeming to be as old as the Greek myths and legends themselves. In Makri, you can visit the cave of the Cylops, and in Samothraki you can discover Niki – not a Rolls Royce adornment or expensive trainers – but the real thing. There is also a local airport in Alexandroupolis, with two flights a day to Athens.

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HOTELS IN ALEXANDROUPOLIS

 

 

Edi Rama: The Artist Prime Minister

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Prime Minister Edi Rama of Albania

There are very few colourful characters left in Balkan politics, mainly because The Balkans, is the poorest part of Europe. Savaged during World War Two, most of South Eastern Europe fell into obscurity, when communism took its grip on power, turning these little countries into minor minions of the Soviet Union. The only true exception was Greece, which also had its post war political challenges, but Albania has remained an enigma to most Europeans, and until the 21st Century, very little was known about this beautiful country or its politics.

After 1990, the Balkans experienced the free for all of heavily disguised democracy. It was the usual game of musical chairs, where all the old communist leaders repositioned themselves – spinning their fiction on the wheel of fortune –with newly named political parties. Offering absurd agendas, they remained the same men and women from the same old political club. Meaning that most of what they said was unpractical drivel, their main objective was  to make money.

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Today, things are very different, although there is still that whiff of corruption in the air, and so it is positively refreshing to write about the Balkan artist and Prime Minister, which Albania has chosen above all others, to lead it into Europe. This is because Edi Rama, the ex basketball playing surrealist artist, is now at the helm.

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Coming to prominence in 2000, as the mayor or Tirana, he spent eleven years tidying up a capital city which had lost its lustre. Not always the most popular politician, he managed to get rid of the third world buildings, which cluttered up the centre of Tirana, and embarked on an ambitious rebuilding program. With his artistic flair, he also managed to cheer up some of the older buildings too.

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In 2011 his term in office as mayor, came to an end, which is when he entered main stream Albanian politics, achieving the office of Prime Minister in 2013, which he has held since, on behalf of the Albanian Socialist Party.

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Edi Rama Surrealist Painter

Popular with many western politicians, his towering figure even managed to dwarf John Kerry, at a recent meeting, and he remains friends with many of the worlds greats, and perhaps not so good.

By Charlie Loftus

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Petar Ouvaliev aka Pierre Rouve – 1915 to 1998

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A man for all seasons

I knew Pierre Rouve by his European name, mainly because I met him in London when we both lived there, thirty years ago. In a smoke filled room in Markam Square, Petar Ouvaliev, as he was better known in Bulgaria, always seemed effusive, thoughtful, and interested in the world around him. You might say that he was a ‘jack of all trades and master of none,’ but that was not strictly true. It would be far better to introduce him, to those who hardly knew him, as a man of many parts.

Born in the capital Sofia, Pierre lived with his parents Xhristo and Guina, in Karnigradska Street, in the centre of the city, and was sent by his parents to the Alessandro Manzon Italian Primary School. He once said-

‘It was 1921 and my father – who had only one fault, but a huge one: he was wholeheartedly European – said to my mother: ‘We’ll need to send this son of ours to an Italian school. If one day he’ll want to be a cultured person, he’ll need to start by speaking Italian. Thus it was that I found myself the only foreigner in a small Italian school in a pretty small Balkan capital and, if I haven’t quite succeeded in becoming what my father would have wished, it is entirely my fault.’

Living in a country which was hardly the most sophisticated in Europe, after graduation in 1937, Petar started to write film reviews. Published in Balkan, the  pages he edited, were called Dnes and Zlatorog. He was to continue writing reviews, not only in Bulgaria – but also while travelling and on postings abroad – and for the rest of his life.

By then, Pierre was working in the Bulgarian diplomatic service, specifically for the Ministry of the Interior in their Press section. This meant that with his contacts, and excellent command of foreign languages, he became very useful when official visitors came from overseas. Later, in the early 1940s, Petar was transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and in September 1942, he was appointed Legation Secretary in Rome.

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On the road to freedom

Despite the war, and his diplomatic posting, it must have been a dream for a sociable and charming young man in Rome. His knowledge of Italian made him very useful to the Head of Mission, Boris Altinoff, and Petar was present at the meeting when the Bulgarian Prime Minister, Bogdan Filov, was received at the Vatican.

The progress of the war meant that after one year of being in his post, the Allies began their push, and the landings in the south of Italy meant that Rome would very soon be under attack. On the 19th July 1943 the Allies bombed Rome, and on the 25th July the Grand Council of Fascism met, and Mussolini was dismissed. Diplomats were given certain options to remain or go elsewhere. After the war, Pierre continued to work as a diplomat, and was finally sent to London.

Life in the British capital started in an interesting and lively manner, including meetings with many different people – not just diplomats – and learning the English language. In 1948, Petar Ouvaliev was promoted to the rank of 1st Secretary and was due to be sent to Prague. At this point, Petar decided to turn down the promotion, and to stay in the UK. This decision was to completely changed the course of his life, because, although an immigrant, he also had a work permit.

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One of Bevin’s boys?

Following his interests, he made contact with writers, translators, theatre and film people, and due to his knowledge of French and Italian, he started publishing articles and reviews in the French magazine ‘Art & Culture’. In 1949, he started his longstanding passion – writing reviews of exhibitions for the British magazine ‘Art News & Review’ and made weekly broadcasts on cultural topics, for the BBC Bulgarian Service.

There, he was able to use his beloved mother tongue and inform his Bulgarian listeners about British culture. At the beginning of the 50s, Pierre Rouve – as he was then known – launched his theatrical career in the UK by working with Jack De Leon at the Q Theatre. He also directed his close friend Jonathan Griffin’s translation of Claudel’s Partage De Midi at the Ipswich Playhouse in 1972, starring Sir Ben Kingsley and Annie Firbank.

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The film noir of the 60s

In the early 50s, with the help of his Russian friend, Anatol De Grundwald, he began working in the field of cinema, where he met with the likes of Richard Todd, Dirk Bogarde and Claire Bloom. By this time, Pierre’s work in cinema was becoming ever more significant, and in 1962, he filmed Sofia Loren in ‘The Millionairess’ and worked with Antonioni, Vanessa Redgrave and David Hemmings in ‘Blow Up,’ one of the most iconic films of the ‘60s.

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Back home once more

These are only the bare bones of Petar Ouvaliev’s story, and I am sure that many of those from ‘the good old days,’ are very familiar with his life. This is because he was one of the few Bulgarians who managed to bridge a complicated period, and remain politically intact.

From an independent pre-war Bulgaria – throughout the Nazi Axis period of world war two – the formation of the Bulgarian Communist State, and beyond to the present day Bulgarian Democratic State, Pierre Rouve’s search for personal and intellectual freedom, did not come easily.

In his obituary written by Antony Rudolph in 1998, Rudolph refers to perhaps the most famous poem by Wallace Stevens, Rouve’s favourite English- language poet. It is called “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”. Rudolph goes on to say –

‘Substitute the name Rouve for blackbird, and you will have a good idea of his manifold nature.’

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The Millionairess – produced by Pierre Rouve on YouTube

A man of many parts and with considerable influence within the arts, the cinema and the theatre in London, he must have seemed to be  rather an enigmatic character, to the usual Bulgarian anoraks at The Ministry of the Interior, but somehow art does conquer all. At some point, the inevitable suspension of disbelief must have found a conscious place in the hearts and minds of the Bulgarian intelligentsia who, at the time, were so cut off from mainstream influences, and for so many tragic years, that he must have seemed like a huge breath of fresh air!

By Patrick Brigham

Donald & His American Dream

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I think that one belongs to you Joseph.

Before this particular jigsaw puzzle was finished, politics as we knew it had changed forever. Before these three had opened the box, most views were far easier to understand. Working class people were socialists, middle class businessmen and the professions were conservative, and liberals were a collection of intellectuals and misaligned aristocrats. Unquestionably, and to a great extent, they were all concerned with the welfare of citizens, no matter which class they might represent. Each political party had a distinct image – even if they became blurred at the edges, during elections – and everyone knew their place in society.

Well, you don’t need a history lesson from me, and the consequences of post World War Two, are well known. Generally thought that politics would remain in carefully labelled boxes forever, recent events in the US have proved otherwise, tipping our whole conception of politics on its head. But, how was it done?

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The androgynous and loutish Donald Trump.

I think it is clear that neither of the two candidates – Trump or Clinton – were particularly truthful at any point in the so called debate. But that didn’t seem to matter. Trump had studied the Brexit debacle, and come to  a very simple conclusion. That it was very little to do with firm political beliefs and completely to do with disenfranchisement and poverty. That it was not so much what he said, but who the audience was at the time, and how they would react.

This is why his whole spiel is full of inconsistencies. He simply told a willing electorate what they wanted to hear – rednecks, KKK, racists, homophobic’s, sexists, misogynists and losers – who were all told that they were right to hold their somewhat extreme views, comments about which the next day, he would deny ever having said.

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Hilary Clinton and her tribute to US dentistry.

Clinton, on the other hand, wasn’t really equipped for a street brawl – kicking gouging and biting were allowed in Trumps rules – and gamely failed to deflect Trumps accusations. Mainly about an alleged FBI investigation into her emails –  which he then called corruption – she became wrong footed, demonised, insulted, abused, and politically assassinated. Something which must all sound a bit familiar to those of you, who have studied the run up to the second world war in Nazi Germany? But, does this mean that there are no longer any distinctly different political parties? And, is the biggest liar and bully, going to be your next leader?

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Who’s the biggest liar?

The similarities between Trump’s US election, and UKs Brexit are very clear, although hardly similar in scope or scale. This was because, in both cases, voters stepped away from their customary political standpoint and turned against their traditional representatives. Meaning that many voters no longer subscribe to the three party system in the UK and the failed two party system in the US, it also underlines the fact that politicians in general are out of touch with their voters, and cannot claim to represent them any more.

In some ways, Clinton seemed at times to be more right of centre than Trump, and Trump – allegedly representing the hard core of American business and the world of banking – found himself hobnobbing with the Klu Klux Klan, and the rednecks of Floridia. None of which he acknowledged later on during his election program. But it was this very similar faction, which removed the UK from forty years of European Union membership, and we have yet to discover the result of Trumps triumph, or his version of the American dream.

By Patrick Brigham

Greece on the Internet

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It is not a language difficulty nor is it an inability for me to comfortably use the internet – after all I am a writer and a Journalist – but for many Greeks, the idea of being online appears to be unnaturally abhorrent. For me, Greek attitudes towards life on the web, are akin to some aging aunt from Middle England switching off her cell phone when she gets home. Can you remember how annoying that was? I can.

This year, there has been a great improvement in Greece, and I can now pay all my bills online. Unknown to most, including many of the office staff working in the enlightened company’s which offer this service, perhaps it is an ageist thing? After all; according to local standards, I am well past it, and should not bother my poor dithering brain about such complicated things like computers. But whilst others stick to the heady subject of horticulture, I write books, and play hard on the internet.

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All roads lead to Athens, as the paraphrase goes, but they often stop there too. In a country which seems to get almost anything and everything by courier; where the well known mantra – ‘I will have to order it from Athens’ – seems to punctuate each response to even the mildest unorthodox request, you might think that buying your goods on the internet, for delivery next day, is a brilliant idea!

Perhaps people have simply got used to the standard shopkeepers droll reply, ‘that it will be here in the morning,’ followed by the usual trudge back to the shop the following day, only to be told to come back tomorrow..

Oddly enough, the deals available by Forthnet and OTE – the main IT service providers in Greece – are very good. Even from my little northern Greek village, I have no complaints about the 4G service – five G on offer shortly – a deal which includes TV, and a virtually free landline. Although, that maybe one of the problems?

The Greeks, with their inclination to chatter on forever, and to frequently repeat themselves into the bargain, might find their elongated streams of consciousness, far more satisfying than clicking away on a laptop. The trouble is, that they tend to do this on their mobile phones as well, which – from my own experience – costs an arm and a leg.

So, it all happens in Athens, and – subject to availability – it is safe to buy things from established businesses and traders, as long as you are careful with your banking information. The Greek banks, whilst enjoying a few years of doubt, despondency  and depression, have nevertheless improved their banking services, and recently The Bank of Piraeus has adopted an internet programme, which anyone should be able to operate online, which is fast and helpful. But what happens if you cannot use a computer?

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Well, the other day I needed, for some annoying reason, to go to my local branch of the said same bank, to be confronted by such a crowd of people, I thought that the building had been evacuated, due to some life threatening emergency. But no, it was a crowd of crumblies, priests, farmers and pensioners, all trying to deal with a rather knackered ticket numbering machine, followed by a wait of two hours!

Of course, there were many claims for special treatment – especially by the priests – and everyone quickly became angry and extremely twitchy, including me. So – for that alone – I think I have made quite a good case for the internet, but what about the banks themselves? And, why are they so overcrowded and dysfunctional?

As a part of the Greek banking crisis, many banks were amalgamated, although remarkably, very few have actually been shut down locally. So, whilst there was a shortage of cash, there was also a surfeit of employees. Those employees who remained were then distributed amongst the active branches and the rest were let go. But which ones were let go, and which ones now remain? Not all the good ones, that’s for sure, I can attest to that!

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There is another side to the rather neglected Greek internet though, and that relates to news media, and publishing in general. Now that news media from around the world can be seen virtually anywhere online, it has only recently been the case in Greece, but not to any great extent. I am referring, of course, to newspapers printed in English or other European languages. We all know how difficult it is , for us laymen at least, to fully understand the Greek language, but – unlike most other EU countries – there are few choices to inform or entertain readers on the ‘World Wide Web’ in Greece. Greece has very reliable standby’s like Kathimerini,  or the Athens News Agency, but as to the real happenings in Greece and the Greek Parliament, this very often remains a mystery to most foreigners.

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I have always said that Greece – certainly up until the financial crisis finally exploded on the world scene – was a secret society. Byzantine to the point of exasperation, ten years ago, and as a then recent arrival, Greece seemed to me to be populated by underemployed and overpaid citizens, steeped in nepotism and corruption, who – in comparison to the rest of Europe – were as much use as a chocolate teapot. But since this crisis, much of this has gradually changed.

But not in the case of computer familiarity  or use, and Greece remains well behind its next door neighbours of Bulgaria and Romania in this respect. And Turkish computers? Well, aren’t most of them presently in Police custody?

By Charlie Loftus

 

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Bed & Breakfast in Romania – by Royal Appointment.

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His Royal Highness Prince Charles.

The beauty to be found in Transylvania was there a long time before Prince Charles arrived in Romania, or even his Transylvanian colleague, Count Tibor Kalnoky.

Descendant of a family persecuted by the Communist authorities, Count Kalnoky was born in Germany and was educated in France. He graduated from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, in 1990, but after the fall of the Nicolae Ceaușescu regime, he returned to his family home in Romania.

Passionate about both his natural and cultural heritage, Count Kalnoky has supported the efforts of HRH Prince of Wales, to preserve the natural, and cultural treasures of Romania, together with a programme for the sustainable development of rural communities.

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Count Tibor Kalnoky.

There seems to be a kind of synergy between the these two men. Or is it more an expression of timelessness; the futile social engineering of communism having ended up in the rubbish dump of history, simply means that they have resumed their natural place in the world. But, why is Transylvania such a beautiful part of Romania?

Many years ago, the Saxons were able – during  a few hundred years – to civilize a large part of medieval Transylvania. They  were skilled craftsmen and merchants, who represented a real economic and cultural boom for the regions where they became established.

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During the XIIth Century, many of the Germanic nations began to emigrate to Transylvania. Some of them lived on the Carpathian Arc in the south east, while others preferred the north east of Transylvania, where they started to colonize and civilize the rural areas; which were then mainly inhabited by the Vlachs or Slavs. The new settlers were called Saxons, which is how they were described by numerous historical sources throughout the Middle Ages, and those who knew them well, were impressed by their diligence and skills.

In Medieval Hungary the Saxons were holders of privileges – as owners of the original mines in Saxony – which they also obtained in Transylvania, Slovakia, Bosnia, and also Serbia. This colonization began during the reign of King Geza II, during which time waves of Germanic immigrants continued to appear.

The Saxons improved many major cities, such as Sibiu, Brasov, Alba Iulia, Bistrita, Seica, Medias, and many villages as well. Building beautiful fortified churches, and beautiful houses, they left a very recognizable mark on the area, and even during the communist period, Transylvania was different in culture, economy, and in people’s behaviour, from the rest of Romania.

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The past and the present.

The story of Count Dracula, has always dominated peoples thoughts, when Transylvania has been mentioned, which  ‘in publicity speak,’ gives the whole area a somewhat bizarre aura. But we must always remember that the Hollywood story of Dracula, is historically inaccurate and simply the imaginings of Bram Stoker.

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The mantra of the Prince Charles Foundation in Romania is ‘Nature, Tradition and Privacy.’ In the website of the Prince’s private retreat, it refers to a fundamental belief in the practical world. It offers the visitors much more than a pampered few days away from their reality, and introduces them to a calmer and simpler world.

The website says – ‘Our philosophy of restoring heritage architecture, is characterised by utmost respect for the textures and atmospheres of ancient buildings. All the rooms have been lovingly restored and furnished with authentic antiques and textiles from Transylvania. The way we restore derelict houses is barely noticeable, rather it would seem that the buildings have aged gently and gradually without recent intervention. The property is not to be seen as a ‘shabby chic’ styled holiday resort – it is genuine in its harmony – and guests feel like staying in a centuries-old private home.’

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The heritage centre includes the ‘Prince of Wales Guest House,’ a fully appointed hotel, which offers a full service to guests, and a unique restaurant menu, with many local dishes. Guests are looked after by discreet local staff, who cater to all their needs – also transfers – and guided activities and meals are all available. Guests are welcomed on arrival with local Transylvanian brandy and pastries, before being shown to their rooms. There is neither TV nor radio, but the drawing room has a small HiFi player with cds. There are plenty of books, including nature guides, and you can also borrow binoculars and a scope to watch wildlife from around the house. Laundering is also available at a small charge.

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Meeting like-minded travellers from all around the world, is one of the special features of this place. Meals are mostly taken along with other guests, unless otherwise required, and the rooms are equipped with kettles for making your own tea and coffee, and bottled mineral water is also provided. Local produce and crafts are on offer, to buy at the little shop in the guesthouse office. There are only two small shops in the village, and no restaurant. The nearest town is 20km away called Barót Baraolt.

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On each day of the week, they offer one activity for their ‘All Inclusive’ guests. These are mostly in the form of nature walks, horse & cart rides, and visits to local craftsmen guided by knowledgeable staff and dependent upon the season. In addition, horse riding is available at nearby stables; transfer by car, and bicycles are available for hire. In the warm season  -May to September – ‘al fresco’ dinners in the surrounding hills are offered, as well as visits to the nearby wildlife hide, with mostly bears and deer. Guests can simply relax in  deck-chairs and hammocks, in one of the most harmonious surroundings in the hills of Transylvania. Guests can also enjoy a refreshing dip in the mineral water pool during the summer heat. In winter, they also offer horse-drawn sleigh rides with bells, blankets and mulled wine, but no trips by motorised vehicle are possible except for transfers to and from the estate.

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The Zalán Valley nestles among the rolling foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania, Romania. Its cultural landscape can be said to be unique in Europe, still reflecting the harmonious interaction between man and nature. Small brooks trickle through the valley and cross the property. Some of the most beautiful and biodiversically rich wild flower meadows are located in the direct vicinity of the guesthouses. The landscape is ideal for painting and for photography.

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The tiny hamlet of Zalán Valley  -Zalánpatak in Hungarian, Valea Zălanului in Romanian – was first documented in the 16th century as belonging to Bálint Valentin Kálnoky of Kőröspatak, one of the Transylvanian ancestors of H.R.H. The Prince of Wales. The family had originally founded a glass factory in this part of the hills, which has since ceased to exist. Today, around 120 inhabitants live in the village. Prince Charles owns the property that had been built for the former ‘judge’ who was overseeing the glassworks and the village. It is composed of several buildings, and has a patch of forest and extensive flower meadows, with mineral springs and small brooks belonging to it. The property is characterised by its rich biodiversity of plants, insects, birds, mushrooms and large mammals including bears, who sometimes crossing the back yard. One of Europe’s rarest and most spectacular orchids, the Lady Slipper – Cypripedium calceolus – of which only one single wild specimen has survived in Britain up to date, is blossoming in the valley’s forests in May and June.

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Charles Helping out with a fleece.

The Prince of Wales hopes that his guesthouse will encourage more people to visit Transylvania and in this way promote sustainable development. Proceeds from the guesthouse go to The Prince of Wales Foundation in Romania, member of The Prince’s Charities.

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GUESTHOUSE WEBSITE

 

 

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The Invisible Bulgarian President

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Mr. Harold Thodes.

Recently listening to an interesting podcast discussion, by Clive Leviev Sawyer and Lance Nelson – concerning the forthcoming Bulgarian presidential election – I chanced upon a newspaper interview in the Daily Sleaze, a Bulgarian underground yellow press weekly. It was with a jobbing actor, who had recently arrived in the capital, called Harold Throdes.

A well known impersonator, Mr. Thodes has recently appeared in the Wrexham Players version of The Invisable Man,  and in the past featured in the Hollywood film Ghoastbusters. Originally appearing in a documentary, filmed in Sofia in 1998, called The Invisible Bank Manager, Mr. Throdes – a talented actor – specializes in parts involving people who aren’t there.

The 2016 Bulgarian Presidential election has 21 candidates to date, many of whom have never been heard of before, most of which will never be heard of again, and some of whom are so old, that they have forgotten why anyone is voting for them in the first place. Most candidates qualify for the well known maxim that: ‘Politics is Hollywood for ugly people,’ which is something that makes Harold Throdes an ideal candidate. This is because, you cannot see him at all!

It all came about when the Bulgarian Parliament chose to make it illegal, for its citizens not to vote in presidential elections. It has also become rather confusing for political statisticians, because it befuddles the matter of electoral numbers, if people don’t vote. But, nevertheless, the law was passed.

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This then caused more anxiety, when the political pundits had to design a voting slip for the Bulgarian election, because, what if people didn’t want to vote for any of the candidates? So finally, and in desperation, it was agreed to have a special box to tick on the voting form called, “I don’t support anyone.”

‘That’s when I got the phone call,’ Throdes was reported as saying in The Irish Pub, ‘it suddenly dawned of the voting commission, that if the “I don’t support anyone” voters won, there would be no one to take the top job.’

Asked if he was politically motivated in any way, he replied, ‘Nah, most politicians are a bunch of plonkers, aren’t they? They are all the same to me, I only came here for the money!’

Asked what he would do, if he was elected, ‘Well, nothing really; nobody else does, do they? I might open a few supermarkets and petrol stations, and I am quite good at dancing and singing, as long as my bandages don’t drop off. If that happens, everyone usually runs away.’

Asked about the advantage of being invisible, Harold Throdes had to think for a moment. ‘Well, I suppose the best thing is not having to pay for buses, and of course, being able to drink as much beer as I like. I usually find a nice crowded pub, and go around emptying every bodies glasses. Nobody seems to notice!

By Patrick Brigham

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