The Bulgaria 2012 Review: Culture

Culture | January 7, 2013, Monday // 20:37|  views

Ivan Dimitrov, the first Bulgarian playwright whose play premiered on a New York stage. Photo: Personal archive

A number of cultural events marked Bulgaria's cultural scene in 2012 despite continuing shortage of funds and crippling economic crisis.

Cinema and Film Fests

Bulgarian Cartoon Artist Grabs First Prize in Iran

In January, Bulgarian artist Valentin Georgiev came out as a winner at Iran's traditional Tabriz cartoon fest, whose participants in 2012 were provoked by the austerity times the world is going through.

Musa Gumus and Sait Munwr, both from Turkey, ranked second and third respectively. Artists from 38 countries took part in the 11th edition of the contest.

Sofia International Film Fest

The sixteenth edition of the Sofia International Film Festival, one of the main film events in the Balkan region, was held in March.

The feature film Ave of Bulgarian director Konstantin Bozhanov was shown at the official opening of the festival in the Bulgarian capital's National Palace of Culture, Hall 1.

A total of 138 features, 39 documentaries and more than 80 shorts are included in the fest's program. American director Jaffe Zinn's Magic Valley, Brazilian/French/Argentine co-production Stories Only Exist When Remembered and British movie Holy Flying Circus were the main highlights of the 2012 year's film fest.

Featured in Variety's Top 50 of cinema festivals, the event presents Bulgaria to the world as the host one of the important film festivals in Europe and takes place annually in March. Since 1997 more than 1 600 feature films and documentaries have been screened within the festival's framework.

The early program of Sofia Film Fest opened with the movie "Stoker" of famous Russian Director, Aleksey Balabanov. "Stoker" has received the "White Elephant" award for best movie, director and music in Russia in 2010, and the "Golden Lilly" award from the festival in Wiesbaden.

In addition to "Stoker," the early program of Bulgaria's largest film event included Bulgarian movies, key movies from the so-called Romanian new wave cinema and from the special movie festival of the European Parliament LUX.

The main organizer is Stefan Kitanov with Art Fest. The event is held under the patronage of the Sofia City Hall in partnership with the Culture Ministry, the National Film Center and the National Palace of Culture.

Bulgarian Film Grabs 1st Prize at Moscow Fest

In April, Bulgarian crime thriller "Operation: Shmenti Capelli" won the first prize for best film at the film festival DetectiveFEST, which is taking place in Moscow.

This is the debut of Vladislav Karamfilov, aka Vladi Vargala, as film director and tells the tale of a mystery string of crimes modeled after Bulgarian real life. "Operation: Shmenti Capelli" turned out to be especially close to the Russian audience, for the criminal absurdities in the two countries during their period of transition are vastly alike.

"Operation: Shmenti Capelli" was awarded the central prize of the festival, the one for best full-length film, in competition with 76 other movies from around the world.

Bulgarian Movie Tilt with New US Award

In May, Bulgarian movie "Tilt" was bestowed the Best International Feature award at the Independent Filmmakers Showcase in Los Angeles, California.

The film, which was Bulgaria's nomination for the Oscars in the foreign film category, did not make the final five cut, but remains one of the most popular foreign features at California's film fests. This is the second award, received in the course of one month, and the seventh film forum in California for "Tilt."

"Tilt", which marks the debut of director Viktor Chuchkov Jr. and producer Borislav Chuchkov, was screened on October 2 in Los Angeles to an audience of many local journalists and some members of the jury.

Following its hugely successful official premiere in Bulgaria on February 11, 2011, which sent it straight to the top of the box office list, the movie has already been screened at 11 international film festivals with eight more ahead. The list features the festivals in Santa Barbara, Gothenburg, Montreal, Singapore, Raindance (London), Woodstock.

"Tilt" is reaping immense success in the United States, where it has been selected to feature at five festivals, including the one in Seattle, the largest in the country. The movie made it to the second spot in the audience vote ratings among 450 productions from around the world. It has received the Raindance "Best Debut Feature" award and the James Lyons award at Woodstock.

Just days after the latest California award, it was reported that the next project of the "Chuchkov Brothers" Co – "18% Gray" had won financing from the EU Media Program. The movie will be based on the bestselling novel of Bulgarian author, Zachary Karabashliev, who lives in the US. Karabashliev will be the screen writer of the movie as well.

Bulgaria Screens 'The Boy Who Was a King' Just before Simeon's Birthday

A day before Simeon Saxe-Coburg celebrated his 75th birthday on June 16, a documentary about his unprecedented journey from boy king to democratic leader was screened in Bulgaria's capital Sofia.

The event was unique as director Andrey Paounov and producer Martichka Bozhilova decided to make just one screening of the film, tellingly entitled "The boy who was a king".

Paounov's documentary takes a bold look at the symbolic power of royalty to show how Simeon Saxe-Coburg long represented Bulgaria's hope for a better future while in exile and the harsh reality of politics back home. The abundant use of archive footage paints the portrait of both a man and a country still torn between the past and the uncertain political future.

Simeon Saxe-Coburg was Tsar of Bulgaria between 1943 and 1946 when at the age of eight he was exiled by the communist regime to Spain, where he spent most of his life. Saxe-Coburg became Europe's only ex-monarch to be elected prime minister after sweeping the polls in June 2001. At the time of his election Saxe-Coburg promised to bring about a substantial improvement in living standards within his government's first 800 days in office.

In 2005 the former Tsar's party lost the elections to the Bulgarian Socialist Party, but later joined the governing three-way coalition as a junior partner. In the latest general elections in July 2009 his party failed to make it to the next parliament after garnering no more than 2,9% of the votes, which prompted the resignation of its leader.

The movie shows how Saxe-Coburg turned out to be in exile once again – this time from the favor of the nation who had celebrated jubilantly his return. "The boy who was a king" is the third movie for director Andrey Paounov. His debut documentary, "Georgi and the Butterflies", won the prize for best mid-length documentary at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam. "The Mosquito Problem and Other Stories" screened at the Festival.

Bulgarian Animation Artist Wins Daytime Emmy

In June, Bulgarian animation artist, living in Los Angeles, Christo Stamboliev, won the daytime Emmy award for Outstanding Directing in an Animated Program.

Stamboliev shared the directing award for Nickelodeon's "The Penguins of Madagascar" with David Knott, Supervising Director, the other 2 Animation Directors, Shaun Cashman and Steve Loter, and Voice Director, Lisa Schaffer.

The Penguins of Madagascar is an American CGI animated television series airing on Nickelodeon. It stars nine characters from the DreamWorks animated film Madagascar, whose part 3 is currently on the top of the US box-office.

Stamboliev was born in 1971 in the northern Bulgarian city of Lovech and is a graduate of the National Academy for Theater and Film Art (NATFIZ) in Sofia. He works in Los Angeles since 1998, after one of his animation films received high marks at several international festivals. There, Stamboliev has been part of the teams producing animation series such as Making Fiends, Squirrel Boy, Rocket Power, All Grown Up, and animated film Too Loud a Solitude.

Bulgaria Probes Cartel of 2 Cinema Chains

In July, Bulgaria's Commission on Protection of Competition (KZK) launched a cartel probe of the two biggest cinema chains in the country, Cinema City Bulgaria and Kino Arena BT.

The proceedings were launched on a tip-off of Lyudmil Todorov, writer, producer and director of "The Migration of the Belted Bonito" movie, who complained that the two chains had offered identical conditions for the screening of his work. According to the Bulgarian film director, the same scenario unfolded over the issue of the movie revenues distribution.

The anti-trust watchdog also draws attention to the identical ticket prices and the simultaneous changes in market behavior of the two main players on the market.

Bulgarian 'The Island' Hits Movie Theaters in France

"The Island'" young Bulgarian director Kamen Kalev's famous movie, which premiered in 2011 at the Cannes Film Festival, was being screened in movie theatres across France in July 2012.

This is Kalev's second movie. French top model and actress Laetitia Casta and Danish actor Thure Lindhardt play the main roles in the movie, which was filmed on Bulgaria's St. Anastasia Island, formerly called Bolshevik Island, near the Black Sea city of Burgas.

Kalev's debut, "Eastern Plays", became the first Bulgarian production to be selected for the prestigious festival in the past 20 years. It was selected for the Director's Fortnight in 2009.

Bulgaria, Turkey Sign Film Industry Cooperation Deal

Bulgaria and Turkey signed in August an agreement aiming to boost the bilateral cooperation between the countries' film industries. The agreement was inked by Turkish Culture Minister Ertugrul G?nay and his Bulgarian counterpart Vezhdi Rashidov during the latter's visit to Turkey.

The Bulgarian delegation to the neighboring Balkan country included several actors and producers. The shooting of a Turkish series named "Riders" is already underway in Bulgaria. The series will consist of a total of 78 85-minutes-long episodes. "Riders" is co-produced by Turkey's Galata Film and Bulgaria's Nu Boyana Film.

It was also announced earlier in 2012 that Bulgaria will launch its cultural center in Istanbul, while Turkey will open one in Sofia after Bulgaria's Council of Ministers approved a project for an intergovernmental memorandum with Turkey for the creation of the two cultural centers.

The cultural centers will have the status of state cultural institutes within the framework of each of the countries' legislation. Bulgaria's cabinet has also approved of a program for cooperation between Bulgaria and Turkey in the sphere of preserving immovable cultural heritage.

Bulgarian-Shot 'Expendables 2' Tops US Weekend Box Office

In August, "The Expendables 2," an action movie that was shot mostly in Bulgaria topped the weekend box office.

The star-packed flick debuted at No. 1, as it gathered USD 28.8 M, according to studio estimates. The sequel opened in 3 316 theaters, averaging USD 8 670 per screen.

However, the film's first weekend gross was down from the USD 34.8 M start for "The Expendables" two years ago. "The Expendables 2" was released across Europe on August 16 2012, followed by a North American release on August 17. The movie stars Sylvester Stallone, Jean Claude Van-Damme, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris and Jason Statham, among others.

The shooting of hit action movie "Expendables 2" in Bulgaria gave it a "unique look," director Simon West believes.

"Bulgaria is a country that hasn't really been shot very much so most of our locations will have never been seen before. As a result, I think 'The Expendables 2? has an incredible look. There are so many different types of landscape and locations we were able to use. I think people will be surprised by what they see," West told Flick and Bits.

International Film Festival to Begin in Bulgaria's Varna

The 20th edition of the International Film Festival "Love is Folly" was launched at the end of August in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna.

The opening ceremony included a red carpet walk of top Bulgarian movie stars in front of the Festival and Congress Center in the city. Russian actress, Natalya Bondarchuk, was a special guest of the event, while screen writer, Angel Wagenstein, who turned 90 in October, received the special award of the organizers for overall contribution.

The program included 71 movies from 19 countries, the most in the entire fest's history. The opening night featured the debut of the Bulgarian film "I Am You," directed by Petar Popzlatev. The closing ceremony included a showing of the low-budget 3-time Oscar-Nominated "Albert Nobbs," where Glenn Close is appearing in a male role.

There were several panoramas of leading directors such as Andrey Tarkovski and Andrey Konchalovski, and a panorama of movies that have received awards in the last couple of years.

In addition to "I Am You," the Bulgarian participation included the movie "Sunny." Other Bulgarian films, shown at the fest, featured great Bulgarian actors who recently passed away such as Kosta Tsonev, Georgi Cherkelov, Ivan Andonov, and Velko Kanev, along with several Wagenstein movies. 12 movies from Germany, Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Greece, Russian and the Ukraine, among others, competed for the Grand Prix of the fest.

Bulgaria's Indie Road Movie 'Ave' Hits Modern Art Museum, NY

In October, Ave, first-time filmmaker Konstantin Bojanov's slow-burning indie road movie, was screened six times at the prestigious Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Laurence Kardish, senior curator of the film, says that although Ave has been made in Bulgaria, the director and his co-screenwriter live in New York and the narrative, at once charming and disturbing, could take place anywhere.

The movie tells the story of gaunt and brooding Kamen, who while hitchhiking to the funeral of a friend, meets Ave. The scruffy beauty, much to Kamen's annoyance, begins to hitchhike with him, telling different stories about herself, and even about him, with each pickup. The movie features strong turns from Eastern Plays actors Ovanes Torosyan and Andjela Nedyalkova.

Bulgaria Picks 'Sneakers' for Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film

In September, Bulgaria's National Film Center put forth " Ketsove" ("Sneakers") as the Bulgarian nomination for the next US Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

The Bulgarian movie has received huge acclaim over the last year, including the prestigious Moscow International Film Festival's Cinema clubs prize and diploma.

"Sneakers", the debut feature of young directors Ivan Vladimirov and Valeri Yordanov, tells the story of six young people trying escape from the failures in their families, love lives and ambitions, fleeing the big city to settle at the quiet sea coast. The film exudes a contagious energy that reflects the zeitgeist of a generation, according to critics.

Hollywood Legends Travolta, De Niro Visit Bulgaria

In October, Hollywood legends, Robert De Niro and John Travolta, were in the Bulgarian capital Sofia for the shooting of the movie "Killing Season." They shot at the Nu Image Boyana film studios two scenes from the movie, which is their first ever appearance together.

Upon departing from the Sofia International Airport, Travolta generously gave autographs and photo ops to the crowd of fans waiting for him. He told journalists he was impressed by the Boyana studios and the professionalism of people working there. The movie star further explained he wanted to buy something for his children, but had no time for shopping for souvenirs in Sofia. He added he would like to return at some point.

Unlike during his arrival, when he was reportedly stunned by the crowd, when departing De Niro did not decline autographs. With short, curt answers, he confirmed he has enjoyed his stay in Bulgaria very much and had liked Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, whom he met at a dinner the previous evening.

"Killing Season" (previously titled Shrapnel) was written by Evan Daugherty and is directed by Mark Steven Johnson for Millennium Films. The movie tells the story of two veterans of the Bosnian War, an American and a Serbian, who clash in the remote Smoky Mountain wilderness. Military veteran Benjamin Ford (Robert De Niro) has fled to a cabin retreat somewhere in the Mountains. The drama begins when Emil Kovac, a former Serbian soldier, seeks Ford out, hoping to settle an old score. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game.

First Festival for Contemporary Art 'Sofia Contemporary' Launched

In October, Sofia Contemporary – the first international festival for contemporary art in Bulgaria, offered to residents and visitors of Sofia diverse artistic experiences, traditional and new media, urban and interior art spaces.

The main goal of the event was to shorten the distance between the contemporary art and the Bulgarian audience. The festival presented artistic works which are part of the daily life of the big city, The program of the festival was divided into 5 main sections: On the Move, Parallel, Kids, Video and City.

SOFIA CONTEMPORARY is a new festival for contemporary art created within the frameworks of a project of Sofia Municipality "Festivals for art in the public space: SOFIA CONTEMPORARY and Open-Air Festival in Western Park", financed by OP "Regional Development" 2007-2013.  The parts of the festival program "In Motion", "Forum", "For Children", "Video" were organized by the financial support of Societe Generale Expressbank, Samsung Electronics, Renault.

New James Bond Movie Features Bulgarian Actor

Bulgarian actor Krastyo Peev took part in Skyfall, the twenty-third movie of the James Bond series. 27-year-old Peev is the only Bulgarian actor starring in the new 007 movie.

In a TV interview, Peev said that he had initially taken part in the casting for assassins alongside 20 other men. He explained that their role in the movie had been that of a group seeking to murder Bond.

He passed the casting successfully and it turned out that the producers were looking for a Russian-speaking actor to play a certain scene.

"As I was the only one of ten who spoke Russian, I was lucky enough to be picked for a scene with Daniel Craig. Then we shot three scenes in the City of London. Subsequently we also shot one other scene with him," the actor explained. Skyfall premiered in Bulgaria October 26.

'Sofia's Last Ambulance' Debuts in Bulgaria, Hopes to Inspire Change

In November, Bulgarian audience finally had the chance to watch the critically acclaimed documentary "Sofia's Last Ambulance".

Earlier in November, "Sofia's Last Ambulance" won Award for Best Director at the Festival dei Populi in Florence, the "Award for Best Documentary Film" at the 14th International Film Festival in Bratislava, the Silver Dove at one of Europe's most respected documentary film festivals, the International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film - DOK Leipzig.

"Sofia's Last Ambulance" is a documentary by Ilian Metev about Bulgaria's capital Sofia and staff at its ambulances struggling to keep up with their workload. It premiered at Cannes Film Festival 2012 (Critics' Week), where it won the "Visionary Award". It was the second documentary ever to compete in the section's 51 year history.

In his gripping documentary, Ilian Metev offers a highly authentic look at the exhausting and often frustrating work of Sofia's three-member ambulance crews as they rush to save the lives of people in need in the Bulgarian capital. Owing to the low earnings of the crumbling health care system, a mere 13 ambulances now handle all the work demanded by a city of two million.

So, despite their best efforts, charismatic Dr. Yordanov, nurse Mila, and driver Plamen sometimes get to their patients hours late. The movie follows the crew over the course of a 48hour shift, allowing viewers (with the help of a camera mounted on the ambulance dashboard) to share the ins and outs of their demanding work. Dramatic situations – saving a life or a collision with an inattentive driver – are intermingled with short cinematic moments of relaxation over a cigarette and a funny story.

Bulgarian Student Grabs Hollywood Film Fest Prize

In November, Tsvetan Naydenov, a Bulgarian student from the Sofia National Academy of Film and Theater Arts, NAFTA, won the Best Foreign Language Experimental Film award at the 10th Annual International Student Film Festival Hollywood. His film "Choice" was selected among 300 contenders.

The film featured as main topics love and war presented in Bulgarian, English, Japanese and Spanish. It includes quotes from famous people such as Herodotus and Dalai Lama. Naydenov has been part of another film "World."

He is a third-year NAFTA theater and pantomime student. Naydenov was the director, the screen player, the editor, and one of the cameramen for the film. The other one is Simeon Simeonov, who has coauthored the idea. ISFFH attracts producers from top film companies such as Paramount and Warner.

Antonio Banderas to Film Automata in Bulgaria

In November, Spanish-born Hollywood megastar, Antonio Banderas, announced at a special press conference that he will shoot his latest movie Automata in Bulgaria.

Gabe Ibanez will direct Banderas as Jacq Vaucan, an insurance agent of ROC Robotics Corporation, who is out to investigate robot manipulation. During the course of his investigation he will realize that mankind has degenerated and that, somehow, the Robots are now carriers of the values that once were at the core of humanity. The cast includes other huge names such as Lady Gaga, Sofia Vergara, Danny Trejo, and Jessica Alba.

Bulgarian Film 'Color of the Chameleon' Acclaimed in Sweden

In November, Bulgarian film "The Color of the Chameleon" of director Emil Hristov was shown with great success during the 23rd edition of the prestigious Stockholm film festival and was met with huge interest and has attracted a large audience.

The Swedish film critics' elite have talked about "The Color of the Chameleon" as a creative and extraordinary black comedy with elements of surrealism and of a thriller, while Hristov's work has been praised for originality, sophistication, and style.

Emil Hristov was known until now as one of the best Bulgarian cameraman (movies such as Zift) and this is his debut as director. The film grabbed the grand prize at the Bulgarian "Golden Rose" festival in the fall and had successful showings in Thessaloniki, Toronto, and Washington.

2nd Online Chinese Film Festival Underway in Bulgaria

The second online Chinese film festival entitled "Weeks of Chinese Cinema" was launched in Bulgaria in December. Six famous Chinese kungfu movies were streamed without cost for three weeks on Bulgarian video-sharing site The first online Chinese film festival in Bulgaria was held in January 2012.

The Chinese embassy in Sofia stressed the second edition of this festival would allow more Bulgarians to see Chinese films and feel the attractiveness of Chinese traditions and modern culture. The festival was organized by China Radio International, the Chinese Embassy in Bulgaria and Netinfo, the parent company of Vbox7.


Bulgaria Welcomes Cypress Hill, Sean Paul, Fatboy Slim

The second edition of Bulgaria's Elevation music festival opens in June at the military airfield in the village of Dobroslavtsi near Sofia, featuring a string of top global music names.

Elevation 2012 featured some of the stars on the world music stage: Cypress Hill, Sean Paul, Fatboy Slim, Erykah Badu, Groove Armada (DJ Set), Pendulum (DJ Set) & Verse, Nneka, Kosheen, Chambao, Roni Size feat. Dynamite MC, Rev Run & DJ Ruckus (Run D.M.C), Ed Solo, Breakbot, Mickey Moonlight, Breakage, Graviti Co, Skre4, Der Hunds, Kottarashky, Milenita, Rubikub, Ogi 23, The Top Stoppers, Roots Rocket Band, Southwick, Camp Session.

In addition to the top global music names, the Elevation festival showcased a number of entertainment venues and parties as well as a camping site with various fast-food spots and bars. This was be the first time in the 18-year history of the Dobroslavtsi airfield that the military facility was used to host a public happening.

On June 24-25, 2011, Bulgaria saw the first ever Elevation festival event, which gathered Jamiroquai, 30 Seconds to Mars, Morcheeba, Stereo MCs, Delinquent Habits and Cypress Hill among others. The Bulgarian bands that took part in the festival were Ostava, Tri O Five, Monyx, Sepuko 6 and Odd Crew, as well as the Djs from Metropolis, DJ Marten, DJ Rawland and TV and radio host Krasimir Moskov.

The second day of the event was marred by a storm with gusty winds causing the ban of access to the site where the event was being held - near the mountain town of Razlog. This was to be Cypress Hill first concert in Bulgaria. Morcheeba had their first gig in Bulgaria on June 20, 2010 as part of the summer music festival ParkLive.

Bulgarians Celebrate 'Hippie' July Morning Holiday

Thousands of Bulgarians flocked to the country's seaside early on July 1 to see the sunrise and celebrate a unique holiday.

The "July Morning" event, dedicated to the famous eponymous song by Uriah Heep, tradition dates back to the hippie period in the 1970s and 1980s and originated as a protest against the restrictions of the communist regime. The holiday is still quite popular among Bulgarians.

On July 1, John Lawton delighted thousands of Bulgarian fans by performing "July Morning" at the Kamen Bryag village near Varna exactly at dawn (5:33 am local time). Lawton took part in the event for the sixth time and was accompanied by popular Bulgarian rock band B.T.R.

It was at Kamen Bryag where the tradition started, but it is celebrated all across the seaside now, including near the cities of Varna, Burgas and Sozopol.

Busta Rhymes, Prodigy, Korn Top Names at 'Spirit of Burgas' 2012

Busta Rhymes, Prodigy, and Korn were the biggest names on the program of the Spirit of Burgas music festival in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Burgas that kicked off at the beginning of August.

Over 100 performers, international and Bulgarian stars alike, including Platform Crew, Juan Alvarez, Armin Van Buuren, among others, took part in the 5th edition of what has become the greatest summer music festival in Bulgaria. It was attended by some 22 000 people from Bulgaria and the neighboring Balkan countries as well as large groups from the UK, France, and Spain.

None of the scheduled performers refused to participate at the Spirit of Burgas Festival after the July 18 terrorist attack at Burgas Airport, which killed 5 Israeli tourists and 1 Bulgarian.

Eccentric Lady Gaga Delights Sofia, Waves Bulgarian National Flag

In August, the "Quinn of Provocations" Lady Gaga staged a spectacular show and won the hearts of the Bulgarian audience. The US singer appeared on stage before a 12 000-strong audience at Arena Armeets Hall in the capital Sofia. She came out on a brown horse while the star of the evening was later born by a "monster" in the form of huge inflatable vagina.

Even those who are somewhat prejudiced about Gaga and say she is a bleak copy of Madonna admitted the set design, the costumes, the choreography, the dancers and everything else has been amazing.

Some parents, however, who brought young children and teens, noted that they felt embarrassed by the megastar's obscene language, the vulgarities, and some scenes such as a simulation of a sex act between the singer and a female ballet dancer on a motorbike.

The audience went crazy from the very first minutes until the very end and broke into thundering cheers during hits such as "Bad Romance" and "Judas". While the spectators applauded, shouted and danced, the singer alternated songs with moving speeches about Bulgaria being a special place with special people and fans whom she will always keep in her hearth.

In a gesture to Bulgaria, Lady Gaga appeared on stage on a motorbike waiving the country's national flag. She thanked all who purchased tickets for the concert instead of wasting money on outfits like herself. The star changed clothes and make-up after every song and her at least dozen of stage incarnations ranged from an obedient nun to a sex tigress with a machine gun. For the performance of her chart-breaker hit "Alejandro" she appeared on an armchair made of fake meat.

The magic of "The Born This Way Ball" concert, which started Lady Gaga's European tour, is said to be something until now unseen in Bulgaria, and a show that even outperformed the one Madonna staged in Sofia several years back.

The evening ended with an encore and the fans listened to "The Edge of Glory" and "Marry the Night." The star also picked a girl from the audience, took her on stage, told her the story of her life; sang and danced with her, and sent to everyone the message to always follow their dreams.

Pop and folk stars, a number of other Bulgarian celebrities, and even politicians such as Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, were spotted among the audience. US Outgoing Ambassador to Sofia, James Warlick also paid tribute to the fellow American.

Red Hot Chili Peppers 'Give It Away' in Sofia

The American rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers staged a magnificent concert in Sofia in September, deemed by fans the most significant music event of 2012 in Bulgaria.

The show, anticipated for a long time, and staged by the founders of the group Anthony Kiedis (vocals), Michael "Flea" Balzary (bass), longtime drummer Chad Smith, and new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, lasted two hours and will be remembered for many years to come.

The concert was held at the Arena Armeets Hall in Sofia. With Klinghoffer performing on a chair because of a broken leg, the band started with Monarchy of Roses, followed by Around the World, Snow (Hey Oh) and Otherside, bringing the audience to their feet.

The new pieces from their album I Am with You also delighted everyone in attendance. The concert ended with Under the Bridge, Californication and By the Way, while the encore featured Give It Away, the song that brought the group to fame.

Fans and musical critics gave high marks to Red Hot Chili Peppers for the energy, the contact with the audience, and the focus on music instead of visual effects, choreography and vulgar provocations. Taking the t-shirts off, walking on hands and the amusing monologues were part of the entertainment.

Klinghoffer, who joined in late 2009, following the departure of legend, John Frusciante, despite the leg injury and being 20 years younger than the other three, proved up to the challenge in Sofia.

The band formed in Los Angeles in 1983. The group's musical style primarily consists of rock with an emphasis on funk, as well as elements from other genres such as punk rock, and psychedelic rock. They incorporate many aspects of jam rock due to the improvised nature of much of their performances. The Red Hot Chili Peppers have won seven Grammy Awards and sold over 80 million albums worldwide. In 2012 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Nicola Conte Brings Acid and Latin Jazz to Bulgaria's Capital

Nicola Conte, famous for his innovative combination of acid jazz and bossa nova themes, staged a gig at Sofia Live Club in October. Conte was accompanied by his vocalist Stefania Di Pierro.

The Italian DJ, producer, guitarist, and bandleader, is known best for introducing an innovative style of acid jazz that incorporates bossa nova themes, melodies drawn from Italian film scores of the 1960s, easy listening themes, and ethnic Indian music. Recently, he has focused much more on latin jazz, in his albums Other Directions (2004, Blue Note & Schema) and Rituals (2008, Schema), and many remixes he has done for contemporaries stretching across many closely related genres.

Samantha Fox Lands in Bulgaria to Taste Sofia Light Life

The most famous Page 3 pin up girl ever in the UK, Samantha Fox arrived in Bulgaria's capital Sofia in October to stage a gig at a local club. Rumors had it that Fox, most well known for her popular nude pictorials and eighties pop songs, agreed to come on a nearly secret visit to Bulgaria and taste the night life of the capital at "a humble" price. At Sofia airport the singer was welcomed by a huge white limousine, which took her to a location kept secret.

'Eternal' Bulgarian Pop Diva Delights 15 000 in Sofia

In November, Lili Ivanova, Bulgaria's eternal pop diva, a favorite of several generations of Bulgarians, staged a magnificent concert. Ivanova, 73, performed live for over 3 hours before an audience of 15 000 gathered at the Sofia Arena Armeets sports and multipurpose facility.

Bulgarian media wrote that her talent and energy would make many younger singers envious all while she became the first ever Bulgarian performer not only to dare to take the stage of Bulgaria's newest and largest facility, but to fill it to the top.

As usual, Lili did not disappoint the huge audience where fans ranged from 20-year-olds to the elderly. She performed some of her all-time hits and over 20 of her newest songs on the backdrop of thundering applause. A total of 31 musicians from Grand Li Orchestra partnered with her on stage.

As the culmination approached, the audience gave her a standing applause and did not sit down until the very end. Brimming with happiness, the star said she was ready to sing everything all over again. Ivanova says the concert at Arena Armeets was the most important in her life along with the one at the Paris' Olimpia Hall in 2009.

J Lo Delights 12 000 in Sofia

In November, pop star Jennifer Lopez did not disappoint an audience of over 12 000 people in Bulgaria's capital Sofia, as she had her first concert in the Balkan country at Sofia's Arena Armeets Sports Hall.

The world-renowned singer performed some of her greatest hits, including On the floor, I'm into you, If you had my love, Jenny From The Block, Let's Get Loud, Love Don't Cost A Thing, in front of a mesmerized audience, local pundits inform.

Lopez thanked her enthusiastic Bulgarian fans and promised to return for another gig. The Latin diva was supposed to hold her first concert in Sofia on May 2, 2006 as part of the tour promoting her album "Rebirth". Eventually she cancelled the tour, leaving thousands of disillusioned fans in Moscow, Dubai, Mumbai, Athens, Baku and Thessaloniki, only to announce shortly after that she was three months pregnant.

Sofia Lauds Goran Bregovic Concert

In November, renowned Balkan musician Goran Bregovic staged a concert in Bulgarian capital Sofia's Arena Armeetz. Bregovic was accompanied by his well-known Weddings and Funeral Orchestra.

The Sarajevo-born composer presented his new album, "Champagne for Gypsies," created as a response to the huge pressure that Roma people have experienced all over Europe recently. Goran Bregovic is highly popular in Bulgaria and has had a number of concerts in the country.

Jose Carreras Delights Sofia Audience

In December, prominent tenor Jose Carreras had concert in Bulgaria's capital Sofia on Monday. He performed, together with conductor David Jimenez,  works of Francesco Paolo Tosti, Josep Ribas and Catherine Davis, and Irving Berlin, among others.

Jose Carreras is particularly known as one of The Three Tenors along with Pl?cido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti in a series of mass concerts that began in 1990 and continued until 2003. The Catalan tenor has had over 60 roles on the stages of the world's leading opera houses and in the recording studio.

Bulgaria on the International Cultural Stage

5 Talented Bulgarian Kids to Join London Olympics Choir

Five Bulgarian teenagers joined the Youth Music Voices choir which is to perform on several occasions during the summer Olympic Games in London.

The participation of the five Bulgarian children in the prestigious choir was organized by the British Council in Bulgaria. Youth Music Voices is a major project providing 14-19 year olds with the opportunity to join in and celebrate the Olympic and Paralympic Games through singing.

The choir consisted of over 100 British teenagers, as well as 5 Bulgarian and 5 Brazilian youngsters.

Youth Music Voices Artistic Director Richard Frostick personally visited Bulgaria to select the young singers.

Bulgarian Pianist Debuts in US after YouTube Success

The Columbia County Chamber Orchestra's inaugural performance in January featured a Bulgarian pianist making her first tour of America.

After seeing 17-year-old Lili Bogdanova in a YouTube video, the Columbia County Orchestra Association invited the pianist from Sofia, Bulgaria, to play here, the association Executive Director Rob Nordan told the Columbia County News Times.

The concert was the North American debut for Bogdanova, who primarily has performed in Europe. During Bogdanova's three-week stay, she also preformed local churches and schools.

Bulgarian Cuisine Could Get Protected by UNESCO

Products from the Bulgarian cuisine could be included in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage, Bulgarian Vice-Minister of Agriculture and Foods Svetlana Boyanova announced in February during her visit to Paris for the yearly International Agricultural Show.

The Bulgarian vice-minister said that the same protection could be also given to Bulgarian folk arts, such as music, dances and crafts. According to her, nevertheless when French Minister of Culture Frederic Mitterrand was recently was asked which his favorite food is, he replied with Bulgarian tarator – a cold soup made from cucumbers and yougurt.

The Bulgarian stand at the Paris International Agricultural Show featured the Gorna Oryahovitsa sudzhuk (sausage), which was recently certified as a product with registered origin by the EU.

Bulgaria's Sofi Marinova Fails to Make It to Eurovision Final with 'Love Unlimited'

In May, Bulgarian Roma pop folk diva, Sofi Marinova failed to qualify for the final of the 2012 Eurovision song contest in Baku, Azerbaijan. The countries from the second Eurovision semi-final to make it to the final were Lithuania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Ukraine, Sweden, Macedonia, Norway, Estonia, Malta, Turkey.

The second semi-final, which featured Marinova with her song "Love Unlimited", coincided with the Day of Slavic Script and Culture.

Sofia Marinova was chosen to represent Bulgaria at the end of February by the viewers of the Bulgarian National Television, and became the first ever pop folk singer and the first ever Roma singer to represent the country in Eurovision. Marinova performs the song "Love Unlimited" in Bulgarian but it was also features saying "I love you" in several other languages.

Bulgarian Exhibit on Balkan Wars, WWI Visits Paris

In May, the Bulgarian National Museum of Military History staged in Paris an art exhibition entitled "Interpretations of the 1912-1918 Wars" at the Bulgarian Cultural Institute in the French capital.

The exhibit featured 55 paintings of Bulgarian artists of the period, depicting the efforts and toils of the wars Bulgaria led in the period. The cultural event was being organized on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Balkan Wars, which started 1912 and continued through 1913.

Among the Bulgarian painters to be showcased in the exhibition were Boris Denev, Stanyu Stamatov, Nikola Tanev, Konstantin Shtrakelov, Yakim Banchev, Atanas Mihv, Peter Morozov, Hristo Yonchev-Kriskar, Alexander Mutafof and Vladimir Dimitrov-Maystora. Few of them were mobilized during the Balkan Wars, but many volunteered in the Bulgarian Army.

During World War I, some of those painters received the official status of military painters at the headquarters of the army and various army unit. As a structure in the then Ministry of War, now Ministry of Defense, Bulgaria's National Museum of Military History has the fortune of possessing many of their fine works relating to the wars they witnessed and participated in.

Most Beautiful Bulgarian Lady in US Crowned First Time Ever

The first most beautiful Bulgarian woman in America pageant, entitled "Miss Bulgarka 2012", was held at the end of May in Chicago, hopefully setting the beginning of a long tradition.

The winner – Rossitsa Stefanova - was crowned with a tiara made in Dubai by local jewelers, studded with Swarovski crystals. She also received a check worth USD 5 000. Tina Telalyan and Martina Slavcheva became runners-up after a selection among 16 finalists, who traveled to Chicago from across the US.

The tiara for the winner was provided with the help of star Bulgarian actress, Anya Pencheva, who was a member of the jury. Other Bulgarian beauties, including Laura Chukanov, who claimed fourth position in the Miss USA 2009 pageant, were also guests of the event. The initiative belongs to the Bulgarian Women Club in New York.

Organizers of the contest say the goal is to bring Bulgarian community together, to prove its strong presence in America and to support Bulgarian culture and beauty. The Miss Bulgarka 2012 will provide personal and professional opportunities for young women to promote their voices in the Bulgarian community.

To be eligible for Miss Bulgarka 2012, contestants were obliged to represent their community or have an active part within Bulgarian Community in the state or town they live in, be between the ages of 21 and 35, be a Bulgarian citizen or having Bulgarian heritage, and have a permanent address in America.

The "Miss Bulgarka 2012" pageant and the after party were held in the Bulgarian-owned Enigma night club in Chicago. An estimated 100 000 Bulgarians live in Chicago, which makes it the city with the largest Bulgarian population outside Bulgaria.

Bulgaria Goes Ahead with UNESCO Bid for Thracian Kings Valley

In June, the Bulgarian government moved forward a project to develop a proposal for the so-called "Valley of the Thracian Kings" to be included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The co-called Valley of the Thracian Kings is a region of Thracian burial mounds, located in the valley of Kazanluk, a large town in central Bulgaria. Apart from the famous Kazanluk tomb and the tombs at the villages of Krun, Muglizh, the Koprinka Dam and many others, the archaeological excavations in the Valley in the 90s and 00s brought to light new sites. They include in particular a residence of the Odrysian kings, as well as the tomb of renowned Thracian king Seuthes III. The unearthed archaeological monuments are unique showing the development of Thracian culture in the 5th and the 4th century B.C.

The idea to bid for the inclusion of the Valley of the Thracian Kinds in the UNESCO World Heritage was suggested as early as 2009 by current UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, who at the time was running for the position.

Bulgarian Bagpipe Record Officially Enters Guinness

In June, the performance of 333 Bulgarian bagpipers in Sofia was officially recognized as a record by the Guinness World Records. On May 16, a total of 333 Bulgarian bagpipers performed a 9.13 minutes suite in Hall 1 of the National Palace of Culture, NDK, in downtown Sofia. The suite consisted of parts of 8 traditional Rhodope songs.

The event was organized by the Art of Living International Foundation of Indian spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The majority of the musicians were from the Rhodope Mountains region in southern Bulgaria, where the so-called kaba-gaida is a traditional musical instrument. The revenues are to go to social projects.

Unknown Bulgarian Singer Dena Surfs Sudden Popularity Wave

A young Bulgarian female singer, who lives in Berlin and is a total unknown in her home country, is basking in popularity and many business proposals after her summer hit "Cash, Diamond Rings, Swimming Pools".

The Guardian described Dena as a singer with an air of ambiguity hanging over her, provoking people to wonder whether she is celebrating or satirizing the hipster lifestyle. Dena has studied visual and media studies in Berlin, where she also, she says, "experimented with working with audiovisual techniques".

Next, she formed a synth duo with a female drummer inspired by 90s R&B and hip-hop, after which she decided to go solo. Dena says she never worked for what she studied but her visual and media skills are definitely helping her now a lot. The plan is to issue an extended play by the end of the year and her first album in 2013.

Dena is already working on the album with Jonas Verwijnen / Kaiku Studios in Berlin and claims she has a bunch of really banging tracks already. She doesn't  have a label yet, but is looking forward to work and release new songs in the next months.

Monument of Cyril and Methodius to Be Erected in Mongolia

A monument of brothers St St Cyril and Methodius will be erected in Mongolia since the Cyrillic alphabet they created is used in the Asian country.

The news emerged in September, after a meeting between Bulgarian Culture Minister, Vezhdi Rashidov and the Ambassador of Mongolia in Bulgaria, H.E. Mr. Zerendorsh Ganhuyag. The two signed a program for cooperation between Bulgaria and Mongolia in the culture sector for the 2012 – 2016 period.

Bulgarian Play with Glorious Debut in NYC

The Eyes of Others, a contemporary Bulgarian play by young writer, poet and playwright Ivan Dimitrov, made its successful debut in New York. The New Ohio Theatre World Premiere of The Eyes of Others took place on September 6 and tickets for the opening night were sold out.

This is a rare production of a Bulgarian play in the United States, and, according to, the first one to be staged in New York City.

The play is directed by Samuel Buggeln, translated by Angela Rodel, an American literary translator living and working in Bulgaria, and produced by Bug Company.

The prestigious New Yorker magazine and New York Times newspaper recommended the play. The play will also be staged at the National "Ivan Vazov" theater in Sofia, where it will be directed by Mariy Rossen.

Despite his young age, Ivan Dimitrov has written a total of 7 plays, most of them award-winning, both in Bulgaria and abroad. He has also authored the novel "Life as a Missing Spoon," the poetry collection "Poet on a Portrait," the short-stories collection "Local Foreigners."

The Eyes of Others won the Shumen new play contest in Bulgaria and was selected from among hundreds of international plays to be read at the Lark Play Development Center's 2012 hotINK Festival in New York. In September it became the first Bulgarian play to receive a major New York production.

Ivan Dimitrov was born in 1983 and graduated with a degree in Bulgarian Philology. His short stories were nominated for the debut book prize of the Ars Publishing House and his play Separation at First Sight was one of five nominees for the Slavka Slavova chamber play competition in 2010. He is the author of Local Foreigners, a book of short stories, and the novel Life as a Missing Spoon. Dimitrov's poetry placed him as one of the top five writers in the Sofia Poetics Festival in both 2010 and 2011.

Angela Rodel is a literary translator living and working in Bulgaria. She holds a B.A. from Yale and an M.A. in linguistics from UCLA. She received a 2010 PEN Translation Fund Grant for Georgi Tenev's Holy Light. Her translation of Milen Ruskov's novel Thrown into Nature was published by Open Letter Books in 2011.

Spielberg's Son Debuts in Bulgarian-Tied NYC Play

In September, the son of famous Hollywood Director, Steven Spielberg, Sawyer Avery, made his theatrical debut with a troupe, created by Bulgarian actor, Theodor Petlev.

Liliya Slavova, actress, director, lecturer and head of Ambassador Theater in Washington DC, wrote that Spielberg has been spotted sitting on the fifth row at the 4th Street Theater, an off-Broadway venue, happily smiling after Sawyer's successful debut. The entire Spielberg family has been present at the premiere.

Bulgarian "Theo" Petelov and American girlfriend Kate Hoffman are the founders and artistic directors of The WhiteListed Theatre Company, which staged the play – Serbian Biljana Sbrljanovi?'s Belgrade Trilogy. Petelov and Hoffman have also translated the original text for this production. In addition to Sawyer Avery, the rest of the cast includes young actors from Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Australia and New Zealand.

The personalities in "Belgrade Trilogy" are young and smart people, who have left Serbia over a number of political, social and economic reasons, and became expats in search of luck and new life. The play focuses on the hard fate of the emigrants and has been staged in 50 countries. Sawyer Avery plats a young Serbian living in Prague.

The presence of Spielberg and mother Kate Capshaw did not intimidate, but rather motivated the cast to do their best. The after-party has been held at popular Bulgarian restaurant in New York City – Mehanata, however, Spielberg declined the invitation to attend.

Bulgarian Writer Nets BBC Short Story Award

In October, Bulgarian writer Miroslav Penkov won the prestigious BBC International Short Story Award for his short story "East of the West."

The judges said they were "unanimous" in their selection of Penkov's story, which is set during and after the Cold War in Bulgaria, BBC informs.

The writer "ambitiously and successfully united personal and political life, joining inner and outer worlds through its deployment of different kinds of realism: social and magical and folkloric," according to Michele Roberts, member of the judging panel.

"I wanted to write a story about those Bulgarians who, at the will of the Great Powers, were severed from our country, and who inevitably will lose, if they haven't already, their sense of being Bulgarian. At the same time, I wanted to write a story about myself, abroad in America and in many ways alone, with a huge body of water between me and the people I love," Penkov commented on his winning story, as cited by

The award is now well established as one of the most prestigious for a single short story, with the winning author receiving GBP 15 000. The BBC competition was opened out in 2012 to include international writers, in honor of the London 2012 Games. Penkov, 29, has lived in the US since 2001 and currently teaches creative writing at the North Texas University.

Bulgarian Soprano with Fabulous Debut in Chicago

In October, Renowned Bulgarian soprano, Krassimira Stoyanova, joined the stars of the Chicago Lyric Opera, which is the second largest theater in North America. Stoyanova's made a magnificent debut in the main female part – Amelia, in Giuseppe Verdi's Simon Boccanegra.

Stoyanova is one of the most prominent and popular opera starс worldwide. The New York Times describes her sound as "earthy, rich and poignant." The Lyric Opera audience has reacted to her performance with thundering applause while colleagues and media gave her raving reviews.

After Lyric Opera, the Bulgarian soprano traveled to Moscow where, from the stage of Bolshoi Theater, she opened on November 18 the Days of Bulgarian Culture.

Bulgarian-American Ranked Most Powerful Arts Person

In October, an American with Bulgaria roots, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, topped the British magazine's Art Review's eleventh annual "Power 100" list of the most influential people in contemporary arts.

The Bulgarian-Italian, who was born in the US, is the first woman to lead the ranking. Former winners include prominent people in arts such as Brit, Damien Hirst, Chinese, Ai Weiwei, and American gallery owner and collector, Larry Gagosian.

The 2012 title went to Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, who is little known outside the world of art, for her curating the marathon Documenta 13 art fair staged in Kassel in Germany. The art marathon is held there every five years and lasts 100 days. The 2012 edition spread over a number of parks, galleries, movie theaters, and Kassel's railroad station. It has been visited by 860 000 people.

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev was born 1957 in Ridgewood, New Jersey, US, to an Italian mother and a Bulgarian father. The mother was an archaeologist and the father a doctor, who emigrated from Bulgaria after World War II. Bakargiev lives in Washington DC. She is a writer, art historian and curator.

The Russian punk band Pussy Riot entered the list for the first time this year as recognition for directing international attention to freedom of speech. The band ranked 57th.

Opera with Bulgarian Star Soprano Nominated for Grammy

Handel's opera Agrippina where the main part is performed by the Bulgarian prima Alexandrina Pendatchanska was nominated for the prestigious American Grammy award for Best Opera Recording. The ceremony will be held on February 10, 2013, in Los Angeles.

The opera is one of the 45 written by Handel (1685 – 1759). The talented Bulgarian soprano has the central role in the documentary about its staging in Berlin. Agrippina will compete with Berg's Lulu, Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, Vivaldi's Teuzzone and Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung.

Bulgaria-Born Christo to Create World's Biggest Sculpture

In November, Bulgaria-born artist Christo announced plans to embark on a monumental project, designed to outshine Egypt's Pyramids.

The USD 325 M Mastaba sculpture will be built in the desert 161 kilometers away from Abu Dhabi to become the world's biggest figure, according to its creator. It will take 400 000 multi-colored oil barrels, 30 months and hundreds of people to erect the 150-meter flat-topped pyramid, which will be marginally taller than the Great Pyramid of Giza.

"When the sun rises, the vertical wall will become almost full of gold," Christo said. He denies that choosing oil barrels to build the sculpture had anything to do with the region's main source of wealth.

Chirsto announced in February that he was postponing for the summer of 2015 his Colorado "Over the River" project.

The project includes draping fabric canopies along a stretch of the Arkansas River in Colorado and will now start in August 2015, instead of the initially scheduled August, 2014.

The delay will give more time to the public to find out how issues with safety and traffic will be resolved, the announcement read. Christo and his late wife Jeanne-Claude's vision for Over The River was conceived in 1992.

Once completed, the Over the River installation could be seen in the course of two weeks – a 68-km long segment of the river between Canyon City and Salida in southern Colorado will be draped with silvery translucent fabric panels, each 10-km long. The stream of successive fabric panels will be interrupted by bridges, rocks, trees and bushes, and for esthetic and technical considerations. Steel wire cables, anchored on the upper part of the riverbanks, will cross the river and serve as attachment for the fabric panels, which will follow the configuration and width of the changing course of the river 2.4 to 7.6 meters above the water.

At the beginning of February, a lawsuit was filed by group of environmentalists, outdoor enthusiasts and wildlife advocates demanding to block Christo's project in Colorado. According to the group, the US Bureau of Land Management in Denver has violated federal legislation and its own policies by approving the project.

The project will cost USD 50 M and is expected to draw 400,000 visitors, and is fully financed by the Bulgarian-born artist, but Rags Over the Arkansas River Inc. fear that it will get in the way of natural beauty.

Christo Yavashev was born in 1935 in Gabrovo, of a Bulgarian industrialist family. The artist was declared an honorary citizen of the town in 1997, but he failed to visit it and collect the award.

Christo and his late wife Jeanne-Claude, who was French, are known for their large-scale public art pieces. Jeanne-Claude died in November 2009 at the age of 74.

Days of Bulgarian Culture Kick Off in Russia

The Days of Bulgarian Culture in Russia started, November 18, with a festive Gala Concert in Bolshoy Theatre.

The Gala Concert included some of the most famous Bulgarian and Russian opera singers. Bulgaria was represented by the opera singers Krassimira Stoyanova - soprano, Vladimir Stoyanov - baritone and  Kamen Chanev - tenor.

The Days of Bulgarian Culture in Russia were organized by the Russian and Bulgarian Ministries of Culture. They were held in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The program included concerts, exhibits, theatrical performances, literature discussions and movie screenings, a week of contemporary Bulgarian cinema, and an exhibition dedicated to the fact that the Cyrillic alphabet was invented in Bulgaria.

Museums and Other Cultural Sites

Bulgaria's Bokova Opens Intangible Heritage Center in Sofia

A new Intangible Cultural Heritage Center in southeastern Europe based in Bulgaria's capital Sofia opened in February.

UNESCO Director-General, Bulgarian Irina Bokova, inaugurated the Regional Center for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in South-Eastern Europe under the auspices of UNESCO.

This center is one of six around the world that focus on intangible cultural heritage and the only one in Europe.

Sofia Nevsky Cathedral Marks 130 Years of 1st Stone Laying

February 19, marked the 130th anniversary since the laying of the foundation stone of the world-famous St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in downtown Sofia.

Alexander Nevsky is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world and the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedral on the Balkan Peninsula. It is located in the very heart of Bulgaria's capital. It holds, according to estimates, anywhere between 5 000 and 10 000 people and was built on the idea of Petko Karavelov.

The construction of the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral started in February 1882, when the foundation stone was laid, but most of it was built between 1904 and 1912. Saint Alexander Nevsky was a Russian prince – knyaz, a national hero and Saint. The cathedral was created in honor to the Russian soldiers who died during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, as a result of which Bulgaria was liberated from Ottoman rule.

In July 1240, the Knyaz, heading a small group of soldiers, defeated on the banks of Neva River the Swedish army advancing towards Moscow. The legend says that after the epic battle he was given the name Nevsky.

Built in Neo-Byzantine style, since 1951 the cathedral serves as the cathedral church of the Patriarch of Bulgaria. It is also one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world, as well as one of Bulgaria's and Sofia's symbols and primary tourist attractions.

The mural, the mosaics, and the icons are the work of some of the most famous Bulgarian and Russian artists at the time. The cathedral has 12 bells, including the tallest bell on the Balkans – 53 meters. Inside the cathedral, to the left of the altar, is a case displaying relics of Alexander Nevsky, given by the Russian Orthodox Church in March 2010.

In November 2011, the Bulgarian National TV, BNT, reported that the temple has no owner to take care of it. The top Bulgarian landmark is without a title deed, and at the same time is in a desperate need of repairs. According to the report, the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is not owned by the Bulgarian state, nor is it owned by the Sofia Municipality, or the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

Bulgaria's Ex Tsar Krichim Palace Transformed into Art Center

In July, Bulgaria's Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Simeon Djankov, took over the management of the former royal palace Krichim to turn it into an art center.

At the beginning of June, the Bulgarian Supreme Court of Cassations (VKS) confirmed the rulings of two previous courts rejecting the claim of Bulgaria's former Tsar and Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg and his sister Maria-Louisa in the dispute over ownership of Krichim.

The palace will become a center for spiritual and arts advancement, managed by the Finance Ministry, and open for everyone. Besides the hunting lodge, the palace, near the second largest city of Plovdiv, is known for its magnificent park. Mexican turkeys, pheasants, South American ostriches, rock partridges, grouse, and guinea fowl are all bred there.

Djankov plans to gather at the palace artists and archaeologists for plenaries and seminars.

"Krichim is the first royal estate the State was able to acquire back. We expect to have more soon," the Finance Minister says.

Bulgaria Celebrates Night of Museums

In May, bigger cities across Bulgaria joined the Europe-wide Night of Museums for the eighth time. Over 30 museums and galleries across the country opened their doors free of charge and extending their working hours.

Bulgaria's National Art Gallery, Gallery Sofia, National Gallery for Foreign Art, National Archeological Museum, National Polytechnic Museum and Museum "Earth and People" were among the participants in the capital.

The first Night of the Museums took place in Berlin in 1997. The idea was to give free access to the public to all exhibits and introduce new artists to the cultural institutions.

Bulgaria's Miracles

In October, the Belogradchik Rocks and the Magura Cave were declared the newest Miracles of Bulgaria, while the Plovdiv area masters of puppets from corn husk and foliage won in the intangible treasures category.

These were the final results of the campaign "The Miracles of Bulgaria 2," held under the initiative of the Bulgarian Standard daily, aiming at choosing new Bulgarian treasures to be added to the list of protected cultural heritage of the UN Cultural Organization UNESCO. Over half million of Bulgarians voted online for "The Miracles."

The winners were announced by Standard's Editor-in-Chief, Slavka Bozukova, after the mega show, staged by the media at Hall 1 of the National Palace of Culture in downtown Sofia. With it the daily also celebrated its 20th anniversary.

The goal of the initiative is to help the State in protecting at least two more Bulgarian treasures by including them in UNESCO's World Heritage List of properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage, which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value.

The spectacular and very moving show was attended by President, Rosen Plevneliev, Culture Minister, Vezhdi Rashidov, the Minister of EU Funds, Tomislav Donchev, the family of the Minister of Economy and Energy, Delyan Dobrev, the Member of the Parliament from the ruling Bulgarians for European Development of Bulgaria party GERB, Deyan Chervenkondev, the MP from the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP, and former Interior Minister, Rumen Petkov, MP BSP, Maya Manolova, prominent archaeologist Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov AKA the Bulgarian Indiana Jones, and the Chairman of the Council for Electronic Media, CEM, Georgi Lozanov, among others.

Eleven Bulgarian miracles – 9 material and two intangible – are already included in UNESCO's World Heritage List. The material ones are: the Boyana church, the Ivanovo rock churches, the Kazanlak tomb, the Madara rider (horseman), the old town Nessebar, the Rila monastery, the Sveshtari tomb, the national natural park Pirin and the natural preserve "Srebarna." The intangible include the choir of the Bistritsa Babi (Bistritsa Grand Mothers) and the Nestinari dancers.

Other Cultural Events

6 000 Perform Ancient Rites to Drive off Evil in Bulgaria

On January 29, Bulgaria's largest Kukeri event, a tradition in which people gather in traditional costumes to drive off evil spirits, was held in the western city of Pernik. More than 6 200 participants from around the world gathered at the festival, which had its 21th edition since being founded in 1966.

It celebrates "kukeri", or mummers, a beloved Bulgarian folklore tradition with roots from Ancient Thrace. 99 folklore groups took part the Surva Festival, 12 of them from abroad - Albania, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Romania Serbia, Slovenia, and China. The talismans of the festival – the dolls couple – Sura and Suri were present at all rituals of the masquerade.

In 2012, for the first time, there was a youth masquerade procession open for students between the ages of 10 and 19.

Each mask is handmade by the person wearing it and all are unique. Another attraction was the wrapping of the Clock Tower in downtown Pernik with 50 meters of cloth by several circus acrobats. Three gliders flew over the parades route. They took pictures and distributed promotional flyers.

Henry van der Kroon, chair of the European Town Festivals Federation, was honorary guest to the festival. A number of events, such a costume-making workshop, and a bazaar for kukeri outfits, were featured at the event. The closing of the festival was marked with a traditional horo dance at the Pernik central square.

The Kukeri ritual is performed between Christmas and Lent by costumed men with scary animal masks, who walk around and dance to scare away the evil spirits, as well as to provide a good harvest, health, fertility, and happiness. Similar rituals can also be found in Romania, Serbia, Italy and Spain.

The Surva Festival, which first took place in 1966 as a cultural event based on Bulgaria's folklore traditions, is the largest carnival event in Bulgaria and the Balkans.

In 2011, a representative of UNESCO announced that the kukeri tradition and the Surva Festival in Pernik will be included in UNESCO's list of protected non-material cultural heritage once the respective procedure is completed.

Bulgarian Capital Launches 'Sofia Breathes' Fest

Beginning Sunday, August 5th, as well as the following Sundays until the end of the month different streets in downtown Sofia, were closed for vehicles under the project called "Sofia Breathes."

The project was launched for the first time in August 2010 and has enjoyed huge success ever since. The closures are in a bid to reduce air pollution from traffic and favor commuting by foot. In 2012, the Levski Sports Club was for the first time the official partner of the City Hall and will provide equipment for the practice of 10 types of sports.

Bulgaria's Sozopol Launches Traditional Apollonia Fest

At the end of August, Bulgaria's traditional Apollonia Festival of Arts launched its 28th edition in the southern Black Sea resort town of Sozopol.

The festival featured, as always, a vast array of performances in music and theater, literary events, film showings, and visual arts exhibits. The program included 67 different events, organized by Foundation Apollonia and the Sozopol Town Hall, along with 9 concerts of classical, jazz, and pop music.

Apollonia 2012 was officially launched with a concert at the open-air theater in downtown Sozopol featuring Bulgaria opera diva Alexandrina Pendachanska and pianist Lyudmil Angelov.

Apollonia was Sozopol's ancient name 6th c. BC - 4th c. AD.

Ivan Shishman Street, connecting the Narodno Sabranie Square in front of the Bulgarian Parliament with Graf Ignatiev Street, a shopping venue for Sofia dwellers, is a favorite place among walkers in the city with its many shops and bars.

Symbolic Sofia Monument Abandoned in Village Backyard

The Monument of Russian Tsar Alexander II, one of Bulgarian capital Sofia's main landmarks, has been abandoned in a village backyard, an opposition party alarmed in October.

Sculptor Velislav Minekov and art expert Lyudmil Veselinov, members of the newly formed Bulgaria for Citizens party, revealed that the monument was located in a backyard in the village of Trebich near Sofia, with no restoration work being performed on it.

The monument that has been sitting in front of the Parliament in downtown Sofia was dismantled in September to undergo restoration. According to Minekov, it has been completely abandoned and was surrounded by "a complete mess." He argued that the monument could have been restored for two and a half days and for much less than for much less that the BGN 1.2 M announced by authorities, adding that he suspects a corruption deal. According to the sculptor, the recent dismantlement of the monument has been triggered by investors who want to construct a parking lot beneath it.

Known as the Monument to the Tsar Liberator, it was designed by Italian sculptor Arnoldo Zocchi, and unveiled in 1907, since when it has been a landmark in Sofia. It celebrates Alexander II, the Russian Tsar who led the 1877-78 war against the Ottoman Empire, which resulted in the liberation of Bulgaria.

Bulgaria Welcomes Copy of Miraculous Virgin Mary Icon

In October, hundreds flocked to welcome the arrival of a copy of the miraculous Dostoino Est icon of Virgin Mary from Mount Athos into Bulgarian capital's main cathedral, St. Alexander Nevsky.

The icon arrived as part of the celebration of 130 years since laying down the foundational stone to the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the centenary of its completion, and the 98th anniversary of Bulgarian Orthodox Church Patriarch Maxim, which all fell in 2012. Maxim passed away in November 2012.

Two prior copies have been made of the Dostoino Est icon from the cathedral of Karyes on Mount Athos - one for the Finnish and one for the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The name of the icon (In English – It Is Truly Meet to Bless Thee) comes from the first line of a hymn devoted to Virgin Mary, which was supposedly revealed by Archangel Gabriel to a novice monk in the presence of the icon. As the monks sang the yet unheard hymn, the icon began to irradiate with Uncreated Light, says Christian Orthodox church tradition.

The copy of the icon, which will remain in Bulgaria forever, has been painted by the monk Ephrem from the Esphigmenou monastery in Mount Athos. The icon's casket was crafted by Bulgarian carver Ivaylo Elshishki.

Bulgarian Culture in Numbers

Annual Household Spending on Culture in Bulgaria at BGN 4

A Bulgarian household spends a mere BGN 4 on cinema, theater, and concerts a year, according to two surveys on the role of culture in the economy.

The surveys were prepared by the Observatory of Cultural Economics in cooperation with Bulgaria's Ministry of Culture and the Open Society Institute.

According to statistics, cultural spending in Sofia amounts to BGN 12. The survey indicates that a Bulgarian household spent an average BGN 3 on cultural events in 2009, while the sum was BGN 11 in Sofia.

According to the findings, 74% of Bulgarians, or around 4 million people, did not go to the cinema in 2011. Meanwhile, about of Bulgarians did not read even one book both in 2007 and in 2011.

The average spending on books per household was BGN 14 in 2008, BGN 13 in 2009 and BGN 12 in 2010. In Sofia, a household spent on books BGN 26 in 2008, BGN 23 in 2009, and BGN 18 in 2010.

In 2011, nearly half of Bulgarians failed to see a performing arts event. However, the segment registers an improvement because the share of people who did not see a performance in 2007 was 60%.

The main reason for the meager amount of money spent on cinema, theater, and books was the lack of money, with 30% of respondents saying that they could simply not afford more.

Bulgarian Language Faces Digital Extinction - Study

Bulgarian is among the 21 major languages spoken in Europe that are in danger of digital extinction, according to a new study called "Europe's Languages in the Digital Age," which was released in September.

Assessing the level of support through language technology for 30 of the approximately 80 European languages, the experts behind the study concluded that digital support for 21 of the 30 languages investigated is "non-existent" or "weak" at best.

The study, prepared by more than 200 experts and documented in 30 volumes of the META-NET White Paper Series (available both online and in print), assessed language technology support for each language in four different areas: automatic translation, speech interaction, text analysis and the availability of language resources.

Several languages, including Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian and Maltese, have received the lowest score in all four areas. On the other end of the spectrum, while no language was considered to have "excellent support", only English was assessed as having "good support," followed by languages such as Dutch, French, German, Italian and Spanish with "moderate support".

Languages such as Basque, Bulgarian, Catalan, Greek, Hungarian and Polish exhibit "fragmentary support", placing them also in the set of high-risk languages.

The Average Bulgarian Bought Less than 2 Books in 2011

In August, Bulgarian publishers announced statistics showing a continuing slump in the yearly sales of books in the country. Since 2008, book sales have been dropping by some 7-8% each year, according to their data.

For 2011, that means some 12 M units shifted, or little less than 2 books per year per capita. The average price for books sold in 2011 has been about BGN 11, say publishers. December, January and August have proven to be strongest for sales, not only due to winter holidays, but also due to emigrants making a trip home for the summer.

The most sold books fall in the categories of fiction, children's books, and popular "for dummies" editions, say publishers.

Bulgarians Still Favor Cinema over Museums

The average Bulgarian favors the cinema and the theater, seldom visits museums, but the number of library visitors is on the rise, according to data from statistical surveys conducted by the National Statistical Institute, NSI.

The surveys, released in May, are providing information on activities of museums, theaters, libraries, cinemas, radio and television programs and film productions.

Their main indicators and coverage are designed in accordance with methodological requirements of UNESCO and Eurostat.

Culture and Politics

Bulgaria Moves to Bring Back Historical Treasures from Abroad

In March, Bulgaria launched a campaign to bring back some of its illegally exported historical treasures from abroad, the country's Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov announced.

The Bulgarian government is currently working towards recovering 160 valuable icons from Italy. In 2009, a total of 2200 artifacts that had been illegally exported to Italy were successfully sent back to the country.

"We will also travel to the US to negotiate and create conditions necessary for bringing back valuable Bulgarian artifacts, since this is precious for our country. It was only in Canada where I got to understand that illegal antiquity dealership is second only to drug dealing," Rashidov said.

In June 2011, he delivered 21 000 antique objects from Canada to Bulgaria in carry-on luggage following the Canadian Court rule they were illegally exported from Bulgaria.

Bulgarian Rulers to Do Away with Architectural Reserves

In October, press reports alarmed that Bulgaria's ruling party GERB has come up with draft amendments to the Cultural Heritage Act stripping the country's 19 architectural reserves of their special protection status. Instead of remaining architectural reserves, the 19 cultural monuments in question will be awarded a status of "valuable real estate of national importance."

However, experts said that this status does not rule out encroachments by investors; in fact, it is believed to allow investors to easily break up "group cultural monuments" into individual monuments allowing developments in the zone around them.

This was said to be the greatest concern of the Supreme Prosecutor's Office of Cassation's unit on cultural heritage. The draft amendments will strip some of Bulgaria's top tourism spots of their architectural reserve status, and will turn them into "group monuments with national importance."

If the amendment is passed, the affected emblematic architectural reserves will include Koprivshtitsa, Arbanasi, the Old Town in Plovdiv, Kotel, Bozhentsi, Zheravna, Melnik, Sozopol, Kovachevitsa, and Tryavna.

Bulgarian PM Brags about Giving 'Huge' Funds for Culture

In October, Bulgarian Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, declared his Cabinet was going to slate an additional BGN 18 M in 2013 for the culture sector.

The statement came on the heels of Bulgaria's Culture Minister, Vezhdi Rashidov, complaining the funding for his sector in the 2013 State budget is far from sufficient and blaming Finance Minister, Simeon Djankov, for failing to understand the importance of culture.

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