DW: Why is Bulgaria So Dirty?

Society | February 8, 2021, Monday // 19:35
Bulgaria: DW: Why is Bulgaria So Dirty?

The travelers around our lands probably feel as if they found themselves in a hospital room of a patient with depressive disorder: the bed is unmade, a musty bowl of yogurt by the window, flies buzzing around the chamber pot. Any doctor will tell you: one of the signs of depression is the loss of desire to keep things around you tidy.

Bulgaria has sunk into depression. And in waste

Why is it so dirty in Bulgaria? If you, like me, walk a dog in Sofia, you certainly know that the streets are littered with bones and all sorts of other discarded food - my pet must think he's going out to a restaurant. Dogs’ masters do not clean up after their pets, and if you ask them why, they will offer a lame excuse that having in mind the number of stray dogs the overall effect of their conscientious attitude would not be much noticeable. Dry leaves are rotting in the streets by and large, and if someone decides to set up a small garden in front of an apartment block, it would be only under their own balcony. During the Covid crisis, restaurants switched to selling takeaway food, the result is that mountains of empty boxes and plastic bags are piling up in the nearby bushes and around the trash cans. But the most curious is the way they deal with the wall graffiti in Bulgaria - because no one bothers to clean them, they get thicker, form layers, and in the end the graffiters give up because they see that their hobby occupation is pointless.

I live on a small street in a central neighborhood, and I haven't seen it washed even once in ten years. In my childhood, I also lived on a small street, but I remember that every month street washing trucks would come to clean it. I see weeds running riot in all kinds of crevices, perhaps under a wildlife protection program. It’s true, once we used to be forced to remove garbage, and we didn't like that at all. But with the onset of democracy we can freely team up and clean our environment, we can also insist that the government should maintain some adequate sanitation level. But we don't. One might say: That's all I need - dealing with weeds. Others will justify poor waste management with the limited local budget. However, it seems to me that an important role here has the feeling that we are slowly sinking anyway and nothing makes sense anymore.

The country is flooded with litter - they clean it in one place, and it pops up in another. Take a walk around the Bulgarian villages - to this day there is an institution of the "gully", where the locals dump their waste. Then why do you wonder when some factory discharges toxic waste in the local river? The other day, I had an argument with a neighbor who was throwing branches out of his yard over the fence into the park across the street. "Well, isn't it nature all the same?" he acquitted himself. If the parks can be thought of as a dumpsite, what to say about the fields, beaches, or even the Rila Lakes.

If you google up the words "feces waters", you will see how often the theme pops up - as the sewage waters surge after every heavy rain either in Varna, or near the luxury villas in the vicinity of Sofia. Recently, Environment Minister Nankov said that a third of Bulgarians do not have sewerage facilities. Along with Romania, we are first in pit latrine toilets in the EU - 15 percent of households vs close to zero in the West.

You can imagine the smells, insects, overflowing and pumping off the wash pit. You will be amazed to learn that for many older people in Bulgaria, the outhouse toilet is actually a matter of hygiene - they think that the dirty place should be outside, in the yard. And how do Bulgarian municipalities solve the problem of toilets in public places? Instead of building real toilets with sewage, they found the equivalent of a latrine - the so-called chemical toilets, which are so smelly that many citizens prefer direct contact with nature.

Why don't we resent it? Well, those more fastidious choose to pay a toilet fee in a nearby café, others say, come on now, it’s nothing but a folly!


The cities in Bulgaria are often reminiscent of Mondrian’s abstract paintings: one revamped floor painted in white, the other in pink, the third and fifth still look as air raid survivals. You'll say it's expensive for people to paint, they barely make ends meet.

No, I'm not talking about the self-made buildings in the Roma ghettoes where the really poor live. I am talking about those with a home in the center of Sofia, which costs more than they will earn in their entire life. If you go inside, you will see that they try to keep their apartment neat and cozy. And in front of the rusted yard door an expensive crossover is often parked which helps them deal with the road traps.

How do we explain this anomaly? Well, it just doesn't matter what the place looks like on the outside, "my home is my aesthetic fortress", because this country is incorrigible all the same. Without public pressure there are no stiff fines to force people to keep the facades in decent shape, at least on the main streets. The issue has sparked off legal disputes about the sacred private property and the cultural heritage.

But I can't really see any resentment of the crumbling plaster.

Maybe people also put up with poor waste management for purely metaphorical reasons: because they see it is as a reflection of a deeper moral problem - the country is head over heels in lies, theft and inept governance. After occasional outbursts of hope during the summer protests, the Bulgarians are sinking again into their severe depression.

There's no getting around it, and we have ready excuses: Ottoman rule, communism, corrupt intelligentsia... And the entropy follows its course just according to Newton's law, i.e. if the humans don‘t interfere everything eventually turns into garbage. If we want to overcome the national depression and bring back our hope for change, let's start from one simple thing - take out a brush and get fresh paint./Ivaylo Dichev, DW


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Tags: Bulgaria, waste management
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