….and summary of our two days in Bulgaria….
Visiting former Communist countries has been eye-opening and different from most prior travels. Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania are all part of the European Union now, although none are using the Euro currency. However, their citizens are free to legally work in other EU countries and many are doing so. We heard from guides in several countries that a lot of folks are working abroad — leaving their children back home to raised by grandparents or friends. It seems like there will be lost connections and lost generations as people work abroad to support their families. I wonder how this can be sustainable? Of course, the same thing goes on in Mexico, where we live now — folks (mostly men) working in the US and Canada and rarely, if ever, seeing their children or other family members. It can’t be a good or sustainable practice.
My more worldly friends already know a lot about these countries (Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania). Me, not so much. As history- and geography-deficient Americans, we heard a lot of things that were interesting, shocking, and/or sad, such as:
⁃ Bulgaria used to have a big industry in raising lamb for Muslim countries. Now, they don’t even grow their own lamb and have to buy it from New Zealand (somehow part of an EU agreement?). Same for apples and other foods. We have heard that local food production in other countries has been disrupted or stopped due to EU membership as well, although I don’t know the history or rules around it.
⁃ Serbia says they are fine without joining the EU. Other countries say that Serbia was denied admission due to their refusal to turn over war criminals to the international war crimes tribunal. They say that folks responsible for horrible atrocities are still walking around free.
⁃ Non-Serbians can buy property in Serbia now, making Belgrade too expensive for locals. They live in multi-generational households to save money.
⁃ Some think that these Eastern European countries were admitted to the EU only to allow the richer countries to exploit cheap labor and to push their environmentally toxic industries to these poorer counties.
⁃ In Romania, the dictator lived in a nice palace (we saw it) and other Communist cronies lived in big houses they confiscated from rich families when they took over. Meanwhile, they exported all the goods and locals often had no electricity, no heat (gets very cold there), and very little food. Shops were mostly empty and meat could only be obtained through black market connections with people in the countryside. Peasants were not permitted to buy bread (they had to make their own).
⁃ In Bulgaria, those who were able to obtain any Western goods such as nice soap or Nivea skin cream would save those products for ages and when finally used, they would display the empty packaging in their living rooms for friends to see and envy.
⁃ We met a man who was at the square in Bucharest when the Romanian revolution took place in 1989. He and his work colleagues had been bused to the square to provide an audience for the dictator’s speech. He ran from shooting and saw a colleague get shot. Evidently, the revolution was broadcast live on TV but I don’t remember it. I guess I wasn’t too interested in 1989!
As someone raised in the sheltered and isolated United States, it’s hard for me to imagine these experiences. I so appreciate the guides who shared their often difficult personal stories with us (and we were lucky enough to have guides who were old enough to have experienced life under the dictatorships).
Now, on to sights…..
Our first stop in Bulgaria was Vidin. There, we went on a tour of the red rocks area and a fortress. The little town hear the fortress and rocks was very charming and we had a nice walk to the rocks area (without rain, hooray).
The next day, we were in Rousse where we had a walking tour of town and then a visit to an ancient cave church (Orthodox) and a cave monastery. The cave church reminded of us similar places we had visited near Goreme, Turkey, with colorful frescoes on the ceiling and walls. A thunderstorm cut our visit a bit short.