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The Importance of Wearing a Hoodie

by Little L Thu May 4th, 2006 at 04:25:53 PM EST

If you're having any doubts on what to wear, there is one simple decision- wear a hoodie. And don't think it is inappropriate attire. Why? Because "99 per cent of those who wear hoodies are law-abiding citizens", says The Telegraph. And there is something more than that- even archbishops wear hoodies.

Nice color too. Makes a good background for the holy cross hanging on his neck, doesn't it ;-)?

Since I always thought (and please correct me if I am wrong) that the Anglican Church is a little more conservative, I find this bit of news a little odd. The questions I am asking myself are also to what extent is it appropriate for religion or a religious leader to interfere with the mundane, and does it do the Church any good? Doesn't it underestimate the holiness of the Church, or does it make it more accessible to young people? I am interested in your opinion.

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On How Populism in Bulgaria Is Different

by Little L Mon Mar 27th, 2006 at 12:21:34 PM EST

This diary gives a short insight on three populist figures, which have strongly influenced the Bulgarian political system in the last five years and seeks an explanation of why populism remains the predominant trend, which determines the Bulgarian electorate's choices, and what the typical characteristics of our national populism are.

Populism in Bulgaria did not worry us five years ago as much as it does right now. In 2001, most of the people were happy that the bipolar model of the political system, which involved the prodigy of the former Communist party- The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) on the left and the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) on the right, in the country was destroyed. Its destruction opened the space for a political center, which itself created a vacuum which sucks out both rightist and leftist formations, not just individual political figures, as it was before 2001. As a result, we now view populism as a potential ideology, and now everybody in Bulgaria is worried and skeptic about its place in the political life of the country.

1."When the Time Comes"

The first figure, around which populism started its upward movement, was Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha, the last Bulgarian tsar and the first monarch to become also the Prime Minister of the country in 2001. He established the National Movement Simeon II and entered the Parliament with a mandate from the Party of Bulgarian Women. His promise to fix the economic situation in Bulgaria for 800 days proved to be a farce, but people believed him, especially those who were conquered by memories of the old days of the Bulgarian monarchy. Simeon easily won the parliamentary elections in 2001, leaving the UDF far behind. He headed a government, composed mainly of technocrats, who had gained education and work experience in the Western societies. He neither had a political platform, nor needed one. Simeon always avoided political confrontations, never gave clear messages to the people and to the media and became famous with the phrase: "I will tell you when the time comes." Apparently, the time never came for him to tell us anything.

2. "I Shall Fix Everything"

Those are the words that would best describe the political figure with the highest ratings in the last four years- Gen. Boyko Borissov, the current mayor of the capital Sofia and the former secretary general of the Ministry of the Interior. And if you still have any doubts that he can do it, take a look at this quote. Borissov is a typical example of a person, who never came out with a clear political message. During his election campaign in 2005, he did not even have a political platform. But he has charisma, and people love him. This is the tough guy with the threatening look in his eyes, who is always there in the center of all events, and the media are on his side, which is a great advantage for every politician. But while just two months ago he refused to be affiliated to any political party,  he publicly announced that he is ready to create a party of his own. Strangely enough, or maybe reasonably enough- the presidential elections in Bulgaria are coming in the fall of this year.

3.    "The Time is Ours Now"

This is the slogan of the newbie on the Bulgarian political stage- the right-wing extremist nationalist party "Attack", which surprisingly for the sociologists, but not for its leader Volen Siderov, entered the National Assembly in June 2005 as the fourth largest parliamentary group. A former editor-in-chief of the official newspaper of the UDF and the anchor of the TV program "Attack", Siderov is famous for his xenophobic behavior, his hatred for the Roma and Turkish minorities in Bulgaria, his three books, in which he denies the Holocaust and creates a new theory of global conspiracy, with which he explains everything- low pensions, high prices, and anything else happening within and out of the borders of the country. Siderov's last major activity included organizing a rally in the streets of Sofia on March 3, Bulgaria's national holiday, which he used as a tribune to remind the crowd that Turks and Gypsies are not welcome in the National Parliament, and better not exist at all.

I am sure that those three persons are not something extraordinary by themselves. They are, in my opinion, rather mediocre populist figures. However, their existence raises another question: how is populism in Bulgaria different from populism elsewhere?

Kalin Yanakiev, a professor in the Sofia University, wrote the following in an analysis in the newspaper "Sega" (translation mine and therefore all errors should be attributed to me):

Here is a theory that somehow sounds calming- populism in Bulgaira does not have leaders. A leader is not a person, who has an intense and strong media presence, but one who has some (populist) philosophical fundament. The great populist leaders in the history of Europe from the 20th century have such a fundament regardless of its quality. Moreover, populist leaders have a sharp sense for the mythological and for the religious. None of the so-called leaders of populism in Bulgaria have such a sense, because they do not even have messages

Thus, their effect of populism on the society can be defined with the old Bulgarian saying "Every miracle is a miracle for three days only."

Second, Bulgarian populism is an ideology of the people, who are seeking justice and manipulating people with it- and "justice" is a very sensitive term in the mindset of our society.  In the course of seeking justice, populism opposes the political reality, and renounces it.

And last, populism is a result of the problems of Bulgarian political presentation. Citizen's disappointment with the government leads to a lower voter's turnout, because the electorate is offered choices, which do not reflect its priorities and does not match its expectations. The political system has failed to generate trust in the people a long time ago, and people are somehow clueless what choice to make. The result? In the words of the Bulgarian political analyst Ognyan Minchev, Bulgarians punish politicians with populism. The question is, whether they also punish themselves this way.

I would be also very interested if you could share experiences from your own countries. I know that populism is a very strong trait of the political culture of Latin America too, and I would be glad if someone more knowledgeable than I am could contribute by sharing thoughts about it. And how about other European countries? Is the antidote to populism a more conservative and educated political strata?

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Bulgarian Ice Dancers' Triumph in Calgary: Justice Restored

by Little L Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 10:13:39 AM EST

The Bulgarian ice dancing couple Albena Denkova and Maxim Stavsiki finally got compensated for the unfair judgment that ranked them on the fifth place at the Olympic Games in Turin last month by winning the golden medal at the World Championship in Calgary. This is the biggest success ever in Bulgaria's ice skating history and one of the notable moments for our country's sport.

Denkova and Staviski have been a sports couple since 1996, and ever since they have been in the world ice skating elite, but they had never made it to the top before that. The couple can also boast silver medals from the European and third and second place in the world championships in 2003 and 2004.

Their victory makes me feel extremely proud that I am Bulgarian. In Bulgaria, there is only one ice skating rink, where skaters can practice, and the funding they get is anything but enough to cover their expenses as elite sportspersons. But they gave us all a lesson that is worth remembering: hard work and stubbornness eventually pays back. Strong will and high spirits are essential for success. Good if Bulgarian politicians could also get this message.

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Medicine Supply- Every EU Country by Itself

by Little L Sun Feb 12th, 2006 at 05:50:04 AM EST

Ever since its creation the European Union is trying to enforce to its current or aspiring member states regulations and uniform standards for everything. When it comes to determining the prices of medicines for the state health systems, the "ever-closer" Union follows another scheme- every country by itself.This presents a challenge to the prosperity of the health sector and an obstacle for the successful integration of the ten new member states and the other two, Bulgaria and Romania, which are awaiting a carte-blanche from the European Commission later this year.

The obvious explanation is the significant wealth gap among the countries in United Europe. Overall, the healthcare budget of the EU countries is between eight and nine per cent of the country's national GDP. In Bulgaria, the percentage is twice as small. The widest discrepancies can be found in the percentage of the healthcare budget devoted to purchase of medicines- in Western Europe it is about 15 per cent, whereas in a poorer country like Slovakia it can go up to 50 per cent.

Then follows the explanation- big pharmaceutical companies are far more reluctant to negotiate discounts for purchase of expensive drugs with a medium-income country like for instance Bulgaria, which has a small market volume. Its low healthcare state budget does not offer space for high patient reimbursement for the purchase of expensive and often life-saving prescription drugs. For a certain drug, a country like Norway would reimburse the patient fully, while in Bulgaria a patient would have to pay up to 70 per cent of the price for the same medicine. This results in inequality of the European citizens to the access of new medicines and therapies and therefore, considerable discrepancy in the health standards of the different countries.

The governments of the European countries are reluctant to collaborate when working with pharmaceutical firms, which are trying to impose maximum prices for their newest products. The whole negotiation process is often kept a secret, because rich countries are afraid that they can miss the good deal with the pharmaceutical company as they are the only ones that have the capacity to work out a discount. In poorer countries, such negotiations take much longer time and by the end of the day, governments may find themselves forced to wait for years until a prescription medicine becomes old and therefore cheaper. Sometimes, this presents a life-threatening situation to the patients.This way innovative medicines are often left out of the market of a poorer country. Neither can one take a drug across the border because prescriptions apply only in the country if origin. An avian flu pandemic is threatening Europe and now every country negotiates the price of the vaccine Tamiflu separately, without presenting any information about the deal or the negotiated price to the public.

For now, the Baltic countries are the only ones who are experimenting with a joint purchase of pharmaceutical products. This would also be a good idea in other regions of Europe- for example the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Slovakia could also unite their efforts to get better prices and offer better health services to their citizens. Of course, Western countries would rather opt for differential pricing of drugs instead of having the market adjust them, because they would have to pay more than they do now. But a joint action is always a better example to follow and will hopefully prove economically feasible to the Union, especially having in mind that the European healthcare market is still falling behind its main competitor- the US.

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