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Commenting article: Europe's Black Stain

Last week I had the opportunity to spend two days in Brussels, Belgium. Of course, I used my first spare minute to see the exhibit that stirred a storm of controversy across Europe - the infamous "Entropa".

I rushed into the lobby of the European Council building and there it was! It looks like a giant plastic child toy, with colorful snap-out parts, sounds and lights. Yes, Romania is a Dracula theme-park; France is covered with the inscription "Strike!"; Sweden looks like an IKEA box; the Netherlands are series of minarets submerged by flood; Germany, with its network of motorways, resembles a swastika; Spain is buried under concrete; Italy is a giant football stadium; Slovakia - a sausage wrapped with a string with the colors of the Hungarian flag; Denmark is composed of Lego blocks, which seen from afar remind of the Mohamed caricatures that fired up the Arab world in 2006 and the Finish are a bunch of dinosaurs, sitting on barren land.

"Entropa" is provocative, funny, witty, ingenious, I thought. Then I saw Bulgaria. No, not the squat toilet that triggered heated debates and angered many Bulgarians, especially officials at European Institutions and at home. The toilet was gone, covered by a untidy, shabby looking black cloth.

In the lobby of the Justus Lipsius building, this kind of response, this running away from the facts, seemed so inadequate that it felt much more insulting than the image of the squat toilet.

At the exhibit's inauguration, Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra officially apologized to Bulgaria and offered Bulgarian diplomats to hold constructive discussions about ways to repair the damage. The talks obviously led to the black cloth.

It is true, "Entropa", which was supposed to be the prominent symbol of the Czech Presidency of the EU, caused the Czechs some embarrassment and discomfort, but they surely knew what to expect when they commissioned the work to the "enfant terrible" of Czech art - David Cerny. The choice, itself, speaks to their anticipation and desire to have something provocative, clever, controversial.

After all, Cerny is the one who painted a Soviet tank, a Second World War memorial in Prague, bright pink in the early 1990s. This, as well as his other pranks, has not been a secret to anyone. Let's not forget that the Czechs gave the world Yaroslav Hasek and his "Good Soldier Sveik".

Maybe they got more than what they wished for? Maybe Cerny's own apologies for misleading his government, the promise that he would return the money, or the explanation that this was "just art" and he wanted to "see if Europe could laugh at itself" are not enough and not an excuse... But we must give him credit for seizing the opportunity to poke fun, promote his work and avoid censorship.

Well, almost. Bulgaria, somehow, managed to censor "Entropa".

Michael Archer recently wrote for the British "The Guardian": "Well, I laughed. But then I'm not from Bulgaria."

It is hard for a Bulgarian in Brussels to laugh, even smile. Certainly, not just because of Entropa, the toilet and the black cloth...

Of course, being perceived as a toilet is not flattering. But the ragged black spot on the map of Europe isn't either. Instead of trying to repair the image, those in power in Bulgaria resorted to the good old censorship, embedded deeply in their minds since Communist times. It was easy then: "What we don't like must be taken away, removed, covered and it would never bother us again." They have yet to realize that the times have changed.

The European Council lobby was filled with visitors, flocking from all over to see "Entropa." People around me were pointing at the different countries, checking out maps, laughing. Even the Brits, despite the fact that their country was absent from Europe altogether. All, without any exception, asked about Bulgaria - either where the toilet was, either what was behind the black cloth. The censorship did not work.

Maybe the Mayor of the Bulgarian Black Sea town of Balchik, who wrote Cerny to tell him that art must not be construed literally, invited him to have his own art display in the town and promised to show him that Bulgaria could be associated with much more pleasant things, was the only one with the right reaction?

Otherwise we face the choice to continue to be seen either as Europe's toilet or Europe's black stain. And what kind of a choice is that?

Bill - 1 Feb 2009 // 18:39:37


Come on, now. I'm not THAT naive! I don't care what whoever made the film is pushing; I just look at the scenery, try to make sense out of signs that I see (practice reading cyrillic and comparing it with what little I know of Russian), and in general try to get an idea of what the place is like.

By the way, I wouldn't compare the German Black Forest with anything in California. The climate's too different, and so's the vegetation,

I lived in southern California, so I don't know all that much about the northern part of the state, but in what little travelling I did do, I didn't see anything comparable to hundreds of square kilometers of nothing but forest, like you can encounter here. If you want a real laugh, go to Los Angeles and look at the Angeles National Forest! (I think it's a national forest; may be only a state one.) A collection of dwarf trees that doesn't qualify in my mind as a forest at all. I had to chuckle every time I drove through it.

xNELLIEx - 1 Feb 2009 // 18:07:00


Of course advertisements about Bulgaria will be flattering to the country, even travel videos would be. Consider their purpose - to entice you to take a trip there. You should be mature enough not to believe advertising. But on the other hand, you are American (naive) so you probably believe all the ads you see on TV.

As for your sound card, things happen to computers. My USB ports stopped working for no reason the other day, now I can't upload the photos from my digital camera, my mouse stopped working, I can't connect to my printer. But I am not complaining.

Bill - 1 Feb 2009 // 17:22:06


Nellie's right, I'm afraid. Since one of my "gurus" worked on my compute, I have no more sound.

However, there was a nice travel program on Bulgaria on German TV last night. I only caught the tailend of it, but what I saw was beautiful The title was "From the Black Sea to Plovdiv, so I assume what I got to see was in Plovdiv. Not nearly so decrepit as reading this forum would lead one to believe.

Staviiski certainly wasn't the only reason I got onto this forum. I came here hoping to learn more about Bulgaria, because everything I'd seen up to that point was beautiful.

I've seen a few travel (and holiday promoting) programs since, and nothing has changed my mind in this regard.

xNELLIEx - 1 Feb 2009 // 17:11:38


Nice advertisement about Bulgaria. Our Billcho has no sound card in his rusty old computer, so he will miss out on the bag pipe music if he bothers to open the link at all - he does not approve of youtube and similar devil's temptations. lol

Devil's Advocate - 1 Feb 2009 // 16:41:40

This isn't a "poke" but rather a chance for you to learn more about BG. Please watch:
(The video is on 25 interesting facts about BG)
so you can learn more about BG.

mavro from australia - 1 Feb 2009 // 03:10:58

I was always wondering where all the squat toilets went to ?
Did they all get exported to BG ?

DP - 1 Feb 2009 // 01:59:57

"Eurotrash was quoting something Bill said to you, that's why the whole sentence starting with DP is in quotation marks"


I realised that (a bit too late) and this is what I meant when I said in my next post: "Apparently I screwed up, blah, blah....." and refused to apologise. LOL

xNELLIEx - 31 Jan 2009 // 23:58:44


Eurotrash was quoting something Bill said to you, that's why the whole sentence starting with DP is in quotation marks. Eurotrash was addressing himself to Billcho.

DP - 31 Jan 2009 // 23:51:47

Apparently I screwed up in my previous post. No apologies though.
Just don't mention my name/nick in vain. That is it! ;-)

DP - 31 Jan 2009 // 23:35:46


"Rev. Bill


Why did you address this post of yours to me also?
Where and when did I get involved in a discussion about religion, in particular about Mormons? I have never expressed any opinion on that topic. Maybe you should try to sharpen your comprehension skills?

Your fondness of using vulgarities is amazing if not amusing.

Finally how is this idiotic statement about not been ever in Bulgaria related me? A Bulgarian born? How clueless can you be whatever-tourist ? Tsk, tsk, tsk...

Where is Kolegialen when one needs him!

xNELLIEx - 31 Jan 2009 // 23:11:15


Now you have gone and done it! You are at war with both Bill and me now! But what should I say to you that I haven't already said? I have thrown at you every possible insult already, plus the kitchen sink! Still you keep turning up like a bad penny! Well, you are lucky I am too bored to repeat myself by insulting you further. Been there, done that. Consider yourself insulted. lol

Eurotourist - 31 Jan 2009 // 22:42:12

Not sure. Not in Scotland. You are closer than I am. (To Scotland, not god)

Bill - 31 Jan 2009 // 22:30:42


That's two. Wanna try for three? They do count to three in Scotland, don't they?

Eurotourist - 31 Jan 2009 // 22:22:19

Blabbermouth Bill,

Don't come on to a public forum and spout about things that you hold deep to your heart. The rest of us don't care about them or you. GET IT!!!!!!!!!!!!

Bulgaria news (Sofia News Agency - is unique with being a real time news provider in English that informs its readers about the latest Bulgarian news. The editorial staff also publishes a daily online newspaper "Sofia Morning News." (Sofia News Agency - and Sofia Morning News publish the latest economic, political and cultural news that take place in Bulgaria. Foreign media analysis on Bulgaria and World News in Brief are also part of the web site and the online newspaper. News Bulgaria