Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas line-up: check!

From left to right: 2012 Minkov Brothers Le Photographe Syrah (Gold Medal winner in blind tasting at Alliances du Monde 2013), Thracian Valley, Bulgaria; 2009 Chateau Ste Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington State, U.S.; 2007 Domaine Duclaux, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Southern Rhone, France; 2007 Ruschi Noceti La Costa Rosso, Tuscany, Italy; 2008 Stellenzicht Golden Triangle Pinotage, Stellenbosch, South Africa. Yum yum!

Friday, 13 December 2013

Reflections on Ukraine

I attended on Thursday a public discussion in Sofia entitled, “Ukraine's Struggle for Europe: Mapping Ukraine’s Choices before the Protests and after Vilnius.” It was held at the European Commission Representation in Bulgaria and organised by the Centre for Liberal Strategies (CLS). The key speaker was Mr Valentyn Gladkykh, a young political scientist who is currently Chief Adviser of Verkhovna Rada's Secretariat; the other two panellists were Ognyan Minchev of IRIS, the policy institute I work at, and Lithuania’s Ambassador to Bulgaria, H.E. Darius Gaidys, representing the EU Presidency. Moderation was provided by CLS’s Antoinette Primatarova.

                 Photo by Nessa Gnatoush, Wikimedia Commons / Flickr (bit.ly/18Gm4lx)

This was a very useful event which got its due attention, judging by the people present, but it also helped some ideas I had about Ukraine, the EU, Russia, and the Euromaidan protests crystallise. Here are some thoughts:

Thursday, 14 November 2013

New policy brief: "U-turns and Ways forward: Armenia, the EU and Russia beyond Vilnius"

Take a look here at my fresh policy brief, co-authored with Anahit Shirinyan and entitled "U-turns and Ways forward: Armenia, the EU and Russia beyond Vilnius." It was published on the website of the Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS).

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Tasting the glass

I hate to write about a company but I can’t escape it here. I went to an event organised by Riedel, the glassware maker, in Sofia’s Grand Hotel on this pleasant October Wednesday. What captured my attention in the promotion email was that by signing in for the tasting at the price of 15 levs (€7.50) I’d get attractive discounts for buying three of my favourite wines from a favourite wine retailer. It’s Burgundy, Washington State and Australia, geographically. The wines which Riedel chose were: Joseph Drouhin Santenay 2009; Chateau Ste Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2009; Yalumba Patchwork Shiraz 2010.

But this thing grew to something bigger than the wine. I admit I never expected the shape of the glass can have such a profound effect on the sensual perception of the drinker. Maybe there is also the marketing and the psychological tricks, but I definitely believe Riedel has a point. No wonder their glasses cost a fortune (€85 for the set of three used in this tasting, regular price; sold at discount at the event for €30). These people made their glasses as the wine itself would want them to be made, as they like to boast. Mr Riedel had that idea back in 1973 and tested it among the most renowned wine producers in Italy. It was them who chose the form of glassware for their own wine. And it’s not only wine. Riedel has glassware adjusted to enhance any imaginable drink, even Bulgarian rakia. But enough about the company, let’s shift to the event.

                              Glass 1 - Pinot Noir; 2 - Syrah; 3 - Cabernet Sauvignon

Friday, 4 October 2013

A meet with the Prokupac

Time has come for my serious meet with Prokupac. It is a native Serbian red variety mostly grown in the central part of the country. In Bulgaria, we never associate Serbia with wine, and when we do we think white: Smederevka or Karlovački Rizling at the Exit Fest in Novi Sad, or Krstač  for those spending more time in the country, for that matter.

I tried a number of Prokupac wines in my Serbia travels over the last year. I was impressed by the combination of vigour, elegance and rusticity. Of course, it's different when you're home and the wine you chose to buy is all now at your disposal for a serious scrutiny.

I am trying the 2011 Prokupac by Vinarija Ivanović, Aleksandrovac, 14%. I bought the wine in Belgrade in May of this year but waited for the autumn to settle over the Balkans in order to try it in the more appropriate of atmospheres. This is medium to light bodied and quite the choice for September or even August, if we have to fall for those season/wine considerations. But it's 6 degrees centigrade in Sofia now, and the juice is just perfect. It displays wild plum, raspberry and redcurrant on the nose, and a bit of oak. I decanted it and waited for only half-hour for this, but for a 2011 Prokupac I think it's okay. On the palate the acidity is pleasing; it's again the redcurrant. What makes this special is the saltiness and the coffee nuance in the aftertaste. Rustic, red Balkan openness on a powerful display.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

A less known Piedmontese red

One of the bottles I brought from my Po Valley quest in Italy is now on the table. I never imagined Piedmont had such an abundance of autochthonic grapes. Barbera, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo from the reds and Arneis and Moscato from the whites are somewhat well known. But this Freisa was a nice surprise. It was recommended to me by an old Turin lady who caught me trying wines in a Turin wine shop and felt obliged to suggest some less known vernacular beauties.

The Freisa wine is light-bodied, a bit carbonated at times and generally produced around Turin, in Monferrato and Langhe. This one is Balbiano Freisa di Chieri Secco Vivace 2011, DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta), €8.50. Secco means dry, so obviously Freisa has sweeter expressions, and vivace is lively - they're hinting at bubbles. It's from Turin region: Azienda Vitivinicola Balbiano is based in Andezeno, near Turin. Plum and redcurrant and forest fruit on the nose, a bit rustic, reminds of a young Tuscan Sangiovese. On entry it's light, a little frizzante/bubbly, the plum is what I feel at once, with redcurrant and morello cherry around. Low tannins and typical Apennine acidity. I like it. I think this is a great wine for the summer to enjoy with salty Italian antipasti such as prosciutto and the hard cheeses (Parmigiano Reggiano etc.).

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Moments of a Po Valley quest, with wine notes

The truth is I don’t want to write a travel story. I want to write about sporadic moments that left a mark in my mind and heart in this quest of the Po Valley, and beyond, that I made. Many of us have visited Italy and have their own personal experiences in that country. My thing will be honestly brief, random, un-touristy, oenocentric and accompanied by images. Italy is never something so fabulous to discover; but I realise now I love Italy so much that in the end here I am in front of the laptop on a Sunday, one week after I came back to Sofia, writing about it.

                                          Photo: http://olive-drab.com

Why the Po Valley, or the Padan Plain, the vast lowlands in the north of the country along the Fiume (River) Po, linking the Western Alps and the Adriatic? This area, including the regions (from east to west) of Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, Piedmont and tiny parts of Tuscany and Liguria, is notorious for its industrial development, often branded as the motor of Italian economy. It is. But it is also home of the best Italian wines and cuisine, and the industry is conveniently away from the living space of people, even away from the traveller’s eye in a, say, Turin-Milan train. The natural beauties are everywhere. It’s the Alps, the Apennines, the plain, the Po, the maize crops, the vineyards that make the landscape. And the beautiful cities make it complete.

So why the Po Valley? First, because I never fully explored Italy’s north and its wines; second, because I was to meet some college friends; third, because I did my master’s studies in Bologna precisely ten years ago and I needed this trip at some point to see how ‘grown up’ I was; and last but not least, because Italy as an idea and a congregation of emotions and experiences is for me one of the best places to visit. Blame me for my bias. Following is a collection of momentary impressions from the Po Valley, in a chronological order, which I thought were worth ‘putting on paper.’

Thursday, 25 July 2013

"Хронология на едно насилие над протеста"

По-добре, отколкото аз самият бих могъл да разкажа. Чудесна хронология от Крис Георгиев (Twitter @chrisgeorgiev) на Ден 40 на ‪#‎ДАНСwithMe‬ със снимки, видеа и туитове от мястото на събитието вижте тук. Снимката долу е моя.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Те искат едно / They want one thing

San Francisco

14 юли worldwide (see link)


Нека покажем подкрепата си за протестите в България отново! Беше страхотно преживяване! Благодаря ви много, че дойдохте :)

Имаме официално разрешение за Карлсплатц в неделя. 
1.Организаторите на протеста в различните градове обсъждахме да направим едно общо видео с послания и да го изпратим до медиите в България. За тази цел ни трябва камера и статив. Нашият фотоапарат прави HDвидео и в краен случай можем да го използваме, но ни трябва статив!
2.Проблемът с тока също все още не е решен. От KVR ми предложиха да си наемем генератор :О Най-лесният вариант ще е ако някой има от големите касетофони. Два комплекта батерии ще свършат работа?


Нека да се съберем в знак на съпричастност с протестите в България! #ДАНСwithme Frankfurt!!!

В неделя /14.07./, 30 дни след началото на антиправителствените протести, ни предстои ‪#‎ДАНСwithme‬ FFM 3. Сборният пункт отново е пред ЕЦБ, като в 17:30 започваме шествие към Römer. Предвидено е там да можем да поставим "Kommunikationsstand" за раздаване на flyer-и etc.


Нека да се съберем в знак на съпричастност с протестите в България ! 

Lasst uns in Eintracht zusammen kommen, um die Protestbewegung in Bulgarien zu unterstützen!
#ДАНСwithme Stuttgart
Тъй като на Schlossplatz и Marktplatz започват скоро различни фестивали, общината ни предложи друго място. Улицата е успоредна на Königstraße. Срещата ни в неделя е : An der Ecke Büchsen-/ Kronprinzstraße !!!


Am Sonntag, den 14.07. zwischen 13.00 und 14.00 Uhr findet zum dritten Mal #Hamburg ist ДАНСing with you! - diesmal am Biedermannplatz 1 - statt. Mit einem traditionellen Choro-Tanz wird diesmal das Ereignis belebt und dem Motto endlich angepasst.

Diesen Sonntag wollen wir dem Protest eine neue Form geben: manche lesen, andere malen und wir wollen beten! Denn was gibt es stärkeres als unser Wunsch nach höherer Moral in der Politik an die höchste Macht zu richten!

За трети път тази неделя ще се състои #Hamburg ist ДАНСing with you! Часът и мястото на срещата този път са отново променени: 13.00 ч., Бийдерманплац 1. Нека този път с поне едно хоро одухотворим мотото ни!

Тази неделя ни се иска да дадем и нова форма на нашия протест - някои четат, други рисуват, а ние ще отправим молитва. Защото какво е по-силно от това да изпратим желанието си за по-висок морал в политиката на най-висшата сила!


Мирен протест в подкрепа на демократичните промени в България!

Вече цял месец сънародниците ни се борят срещу пируващата мафия в България.
Нека изразим подкрепата си с креативни идеи и висок дух!

Събитието е част от глобалния ден на протести ДАНСwith me in one day over the world.


Peaceful demonstration supporting the democratic processes in Bulgaria!

For one month alreadу, the people are protesting against the filthy goverment and the triumphant Mafia.
Let us express our support with creativte ideas and high spirits!

This event is a part of the global day of protests ДАНСwithme Global, supporting the protests in Bulgaria!



Манхайм подкрепя #ДАНСwithme!

#ДАНСwithme Deutschland



Магдебург is #ДАНСwithme World в Неделя, 14.07.2013 на Домплатц пред главния вход срещу улица Брайтервег.

Колкото повече, толкова повече!!!
Очакваме виии!!!

От Сан Франциско до София, цял цвят ще подкрепи протестиращите в България! Подкрепете и вие глобалният протест в Неделя!!!




като част от обединения протест ДАНСwithme Global Ви предлагаме да се съберем отново тази неделя, 14ти юли, от 16:00 до 20:00ч. в подкрепа на протестите, които продължават вече близо месец в България и по света!

Мястото на срещата този път е различно, предложено от Префектурата с оглед на акциите по случай националния празник на Франция и то е Place Igor Stravinsky до Centre Pompidou!

Фонтаните, доброто настроение и бирата са от нас, 

фойерверките от Френските власти,
а оргиналните, позитивни и креативни лозунги под наслов 
- Какво искаме ЗА България - 
са от Вас, нейните граждани, където и да сме по света!

Venez nombreux, доведете и приятел или поне ги информирайте за събитието!


Нека всички се присъединим в Глобалния мирен протест и излезем тази неделя, 14ти юли 2013 г., в 15.00 часа, на Place du Luxembourg до Европарламента.

Нека заедно отхвърлим границите, които ни разделят, където и да сме.
Нека отново покажем, че и ние в Bruxelles се интересуваме от съдбата на България и не искаме да ни управляват олигарси и мафиоти, които ни третират като "лумпени".


Част от обединения протест ДАНСwith me in one day over the world


Втори протест на българите в Норвегия в подкрепа на протестите в България срещу правителството на Пламен Орешарски, властта на олигарсите и за повече граждански контрол в политиката.

Нека и ние да дадем своя принос в започналия процес на осъзнаване на българското общество, който ще принуди политиците да започнат да се съобразяват с интересите на народа, а не на мафията.

Това правителство вече доказа с действията си, че не е готово да направи такава промяна и да води открита политика, съобразена с исканията на гражданите. Затова ние искаме неговата незабавна ОСТАВКА. Всяко следващо правителство ще бъде мерено със същия аршин до момента, в който политиците започнат да ни чуват. Всеки ден ще е така до победата!

Този път протестът ще бъде в неделя, тъй като датата е избрана за глобален протест на българите по света. Мястото остава непроменено - пред българското посолство в Осло. Вземете със себе си позитивизма и доброто настроение от предишния протест + още някой приятел и съмишленик :)



Ние сме българите, в Англия, които подкрепяме нашите сънародници и протестите срещу правителството на Пламен Орешарски !

Протестираме пред българското посолство в Лондон всяка неделя с плакати и знамена, с песни и креативни идеи, с разум и надежда за България!

Ние ще сме с вас винаги !!!


Ще има глобален протест, нека се включим и от Мадрид.

Протестът в неделя, ще е част от ДАНСwithme globally https://www.facebook.com/events/208806839272933/. Демонстрацията предвижда включвания на 15 централни градове по света между които са Ню Йорк, Сан Франциско, Лондон, Франкфурт , Мюнхен, Виена, Берлин, Брюксел и Cидни.
Глобалният протест e много вероятно да се излъчи по централни емисии по bTV, Нова Телевизия и БНТ, затова нека покажем колkо сме единни и как подкрепяме всички протестиращи българи по света, като всеки един от нас по възможност намери време и дойде на протеста.
Неделя, 14 юли, 12:00 часа, пред БГ посолството в Мадрид



Спите ли, #лумпени :) Кой ще пише новия изборен кодекс последно? Ние или те? Линк за юристи, програмисти и лумпенентусиасти:



Sunday, 14 July 2013

Time12:00 until 13:30 in EDT


Протестите в Родината не заглъхват, напротив народното недоволство нараства ден след ден ! Нека покажем, че се гордеем с нашата силна нация! Нека покажем на сънародниците ни, че оценяваме и се възхищаваме от това , което правят те в България и за нас !!! 


Символичен протест за подкрепа на демократичните промени в България и премахване на мафията от държавното управление!

Ню Йорк

Cкъпи българи,

Нека се съберем, за да изразим подкрепатa си към нашите сънародници в България, които безотказно се борят срещу олигархията във властта. 

Протестът e мирен и не е в услуга на една или друга политическа партия.

Място на протеста:

- Неделя, 14 юли, 17:00- 20:00ч. - Brooklyn Bridge

Mястото на срещата ще бъде в Cadman Plaza Park пред Brooklyn War Memorial срещу игрището. Cadman Plaza Park се намира в Brooklyn, в близост до Brooklyn Bridge. В самия парк има спирка на метрата А и С.
Протестът ще започне от парка, ще премине през Brooklyn Bridge, което би трябвало да отнеме около 30-40 миннути, и ще завърши пред City Hall в Манхатън.


Dear Bulgarians,

Let’s gather to show solidarity for our compatriots in Bulgaria, who relentlessly protest against oligarchy in power 

This protest is peaceful and does not favor any political party!

Date and place of the protest:

Sunday, July 14th

from 5:00-7:30pm PM 
Brooklyn Bridge, New York, NY

Сан Франциско

Призовавам тук в тази група да обединим усилия и да покажем пълната си подкрепа към това, което се случва в България!!!

Нека накараме света да обърне внимание на протестите в цялата страна!
Ние, българите от Сан Франциско Залив искаме да поканим всички българи от района да се присъединят към нас и заедно да изразим своята подкрепа към нашите сънародници в България, протестиращи срещу престъпното управление на тройната коалиция БСП-ДПС-АТАКА. Искаме незабавна оставка на правителството на Орешарски.

Лос Анджелес

Тази неделя има глобален ден на протести на българи по цял свят. Нека да се включим и в Лос Анджелес!


Приятели и българи от Вашингтон и околностите,

Този уикeнд става 1 месец от началото на масовия протест в София. Ако имате време и желание, нека се съберем неделя следобед пред посолството за нищо повече от една групова снимка в подкрепа и солидарност с хилядите протестиращи в София всеки ден. Трудно е да се конкурираме с искреността и оргиналността на софийските плакати, но може да опитаме. Споделете и с ваши близки и познати във Facebook и заповядайте пред посолството около 12 часа неделя следобед (12 p.m.). 

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Are they reformed?

I am not a Socialist. Even less am I a Bulgarian Socialist. The transition in Bulgaria has been such a wayward, idiosyncratic exercise that I – as  one who caught the last years of communism but who has fought for democracy after coming of age afterwards – define myself as right-of-centre in Bulgaria and centre-left out of Bulgaria. I have spent time in London, Sarajevo and Belgrade, sufficient time. There, I felt comfortable with the centre-left option: I like Labour more than the Tories (and even the LibDems), I used to like the Social Democrats (SDP) in Bosnia and the Democrats (DS) in Serbia before they decided to ruin themselves. I also read a lot, and I think the social democratic parties in Europe are sensible.

After the Party of European Socialists (PES) elected the Bulgarian Socialist leader, Sergei Stanishev, as its head, I thought there was a real chance for reform in this decaying, oligarchic structure called the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). I thought – okay, this guy is of the same dough, a totalitarian child, Moscow-educated, hadn’t had a real job except party posts, but PES elected him as its chairman. Maybe this is a good sign: he will reform the party secretly from within. He rants about the usefulness of the Russian Belene nuclear power plant project, he seizes every opportunity to disgrace true centre-right reformists in Bulgaria, but after all he may be Europe’s secret weapon to reform my own Communists. Every person in the ex-Soviet bloc has their own Communists. Ask Kundera.

I have many Bulgarian Socialist friends. I admire them for their perseverance.

But Stanishev and his BSP now took a huge shit on both my friends’ beliefs and on my hopes that one day the Bulgarian left may be worth it. He appointed a mafia guy to take care of national security; he relies on the support of a far-right populist and Bulgarian neo-Nazi in parliament, even tolerating this guy’s appointment as head of the parliamentary ethics and anti-corruption committee; his foreign minister appoints former communist state security spies as chiefs at the ministry. He refuses to admit that there are tens-of-thousands-strong legitimate protests against him and the essence of this government taking place every single day in the capital. He says “these are only a couple of thousand of Sofians; it’s not Bulgaria.” It’s just like a quarter of a century ago, when his mother party invented the “Sofia citizenship” thing to separate people.

I am asking now – asking PES and all the people of Europe, for whose values I won’t stop fighting; Europe, our sacred home: Are they reformed?

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Will Bosnian ethnoelites take heed, finally?

Take a look at my comment on the June mass civic action in Bosnia against the inadequate behaviour of its ethnic elites and the implications for the country. It was written for the Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS) and is available here.

Friday, 7 June 2013

A couple of analyses from March and April (the UK's Bulgarian/Romanian migrants hysteria and the EU's Balkan successes in Jan-Apr)

Following are links to two analyses I wrote for the Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS) in March and April which for а reason were not published until today. Though a bit old, I think they offer interesting insights. The first one, "While an EU member, Britain should behave like one," discusses the anti-Bulgarian and -Romanian hysteria in British society vis-a-vis potential immigration waves from these countries once EU labour restrictions for their citizens fall in January 2014, all this amidst the recently rising eurosceptic moods in the UK. It is available here. The second one, "Brussels should step up its involvement in Balkan disputes because it works," looks at the relative successes of EU foreign policy in the Balkans (this was written before the landmark success of the Brussels agreement between Serbia and Kosovo) and urges a more consistent involvement by Brussels. It is available here.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The importance of the Serbia-Kosovo deal is yet to be realised

Springtime is a precarious time in the Balkans. It is a time of agitation, oftentimes unrest, and sometimes open and deadly conflict. Looking at more recent history, hostilities in the Croatian war of independence from Yugoslavia broke out in March 1991; the war in Bosnia began a year later, in the spring of 1992; and the conflict between Serbia and NATO over Kosovo erupted in full force in March 1999. Conflict and unrest have regularly occurred afterwards, always in the time of spring – in Macedonia in 2001 and in Kosovo in the form of ethnic clashes, blockades and tensions.

What makes the spring of 2013 different is that it witnessed an agitation of a slightly different nature. For the majority of interested parties and observers, the deal for improvement of relations between Serbia and Kosovo of 19 April is a giant step forward in the ‘normalisation’ of politics and democratisation in the Balkans. It is one of the most important reconciliation achievements in the geographic domain of the former Yugoslavia, one of the last sore wounds long waiting to be healed. Western diplomats, policy makers, observers, mainstream Kosovo and Serbia political factors, as well as neighbouring Balkan leaders all praised the reached agreement. For others – extreme nationalist elements in the north of Kosovo, where an ethnic Serb enclave exists, similar-minded people in Belgrade and their Albanian counterparts in Prishtina – the agitation of spring 2013 is negative in nature. They denounced the deal and promised to fight it.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Bulgaria’s protests and political crisis: a mixed blessing

Several things come to mind about what happened in Bulgaria over the last weeks (the street protests and the eventual resignation of the government led by PM Boiko Borisov on 20 February):

                                          Photo courtesy dariknews.bg

1) To be clear, the protests did not begin in February 2013: they only intensified to a mass scale this month, triggered by unbearably high electricity bills many people across the country received in January and February. Before that, there were regular, though low-scale and segregated, civil expressions of disagreement in Sofia and other big cities on various issues such as environmental and development policies and unpaid salaries in big state-owned firms. But there is this particular characteristic of Bulgarian citizenry: it is only aroused to mass civil action when something hits directly, and massively, its pocket. Back in 1997, when the truest democratic revolution took place in Bulgaria (1989 was only a coup d'état within the Bulgarian Communist Party followed by a mimicry of reforms), it was hyper-inflation and collapse of the banking system, leading to loss of savings and mass poverty, that drove people on the streets. They were not much impressed by the failure of democratisation after 1989. Now, it was the electricity bills. Of course, these are quite legitimate causes of protest. They seem to be the most effective ones in awakening the Bulgarian public conscience.

2) The mass protest action was spurred by the absurdly high electricity bills, but subsequently other legitimate, more general claims were posed by the citizens. They were disappointed with the political system in general, and found a vent in this budding mass action. They wanted a thorough change towards true democracy and citizens’ participation. These were not partisan protests: they were essentially against all political parties and the establishment as a whole. Also, they were not explicitly anti-austerity protests, as many Western media commented. Bulgaria has been implementing austerity ever since 1997. They were against the monopoly structures that command huge bits of the economy with the consent and collaboration of recurring governments – not only the current government – smothering small and medium-sized private initiative and ordinary earners with high end-prices. These monopolies are in the power sector, fuels, pharmaceutical industry, agriculture, even airport services.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Is the Post-2000 Improvement of Relations Between Serbia and Croatia Irreversible?

Despite recent drawbacks, relations between the two Balkan neighbours are destined to improve. Read my piece written for the blog of the German Marshall Fund of the United States here.