Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sofia Unrest - I Was There

Sofia, BG - With everything going on in the world today, I doubt many in the West are looking at what is happening in Bulgaria today.  On Saturday, as I was flying to Sofia, protests began after a young man was run down by an associate of a mafia boss, known as Tsar Kiro,  in the village of Katunitsa.  From my imperfect understanding of the situation, this Tsar Kiro is a Roma, or a gypsy, a group that makes up between 5 and 10 percent of the population of Bulgaria and is looked down upon as being thieves, swindlers and just all-around lazy.  I'm not saying that is true, but that is the perception I get from some here.

I didn't realize all of this was going on as I didn't follow the news.  After all, nothing local could really affect me, right?  And I didn't know any of this background until I got home last night.  However, I do have a practice of scouting out an area I arrive at, and since I had stayed at this hotel before, I actually know the surrounding area a little better than the area around my office building in Chicago.  During my two hour walk, I did notice a crowd in the park adjacent to the National Palace of Culture, which is across the street from the hotel.  I didn't know if it was a political rally since it was led with Bulgarian flags or if something else was happening, like a football (or soccer) match.  It was that type of crowd.  Did I forget to mention the Bulgarian presidential campaign began on Saturday also?

Yesterday's unrest began with crowds beginning to organize around 7pm.  I can confirm that as I and a colleague were walking home from the local office and saw a crowd beginning to form and march down Vitosha Blvd.  We wound up at the very end of the blob, which I estimated cover the area 2-3 platoons of soldiers would stand in, making the crowd size between 100-150.  Apparently, news coverage from the scene confirms my count.  But at the time, I wasn't as  worried about the numbers as I was the mood of the crowd.  This was not a fun, happy crowd.  This was one I wanted no part of.

As police began to arrive at the back of the crowd, we slowed our pace and allowed the crowd to pull ahead.  As my Bulgarian is very bad, I didn't know what was going on, and I didn't want to know the reasons why, quite frankly.  Since they were marching toward the National Palace of Culture, I figured they were going to a rally or protest of some sort.  Either that, or they were going to march up and down Vitosha, a shopping district, to make a point.  For those in Chicago, think Michigan Avenue.

Sure enough, at least part of the crowd began to double back.  Either that, or it was a different crowd.  I'm not really sure.  The only think I knew was that two foreigners walking into that crowd was not the wisest thing to do.  So I led my colleague down Patriyarh Eytimiy Blvd. and then made a quick left to get us out of sight.  After that, the way was clear, although not knowing that I had spotted all of the crowd, I was still leery of another group appearing.  I may have scouted the area, but I don't know it THAT well.

As I told my colleague, an adventure was something bad happening to someone else.  Fortunately, our adventure was minor and we arrived at our hotel at 7:30 with something to talk about.  I perhaps unwisely decided to walk to the Central City Mall around 8pm.  As I walked in the park around the National Palace of Culture, it was a pleasant evening with a not-so-good band from the United States playing a free concert.  Apparently all the real action was occurring at the National Assembly square.

I realize as a gaming blog, this post is way off-topic.  If I really wanted to, I could try to relate the experience to Eve Online and how some of the actions I do relate to the way I play the game.  I'd like to think that my life experience led my to behave the way I did (and influences the way I play Eve) rather than the other way around.  After all, I'm 47 and this is my 7th trip outside the United States.  But this is something I just had to write about.  And next time, I'll remember to take the camera out of my computer bag to prove "I was there".

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