Why Czech literature is still relevant

Czech literature goes beyond Kafka and Kundera. It can be humorous, heavy, and soul-crushing, but it's always approachable. The lack of recognition for Czechs makes readers poorer. Czech themes and ideas about art remain relevant, though some of it comes from bleak circumstances. War, social decay, disillusionment, tradition, progress, modernity. Sex, intimacy, adultery, jazz, freedom. [...]

Buzludzha: A crumbling remnant of Bulgarian communism

The struggle of some post-communist states to preserve the communist-era monuments is a symbol of communism itself. The unsustainable grandiosity, the hypocrisy inherent in the "classless" societies, and the impoverishment of the masses get captured in the decay of communist relics. It's the social commentary of time and economics. Across Bulgaria, it can be seen [...]

A friendly goodbye from Bulgaria

Traveling through Bulgaria is interesting because, in addition to no things working quite as they should, guidebooks are futile attempts to capture what is and what does not exist anymore. In Veliko Tarnovo, the monuments were still there, but hunting down the restaurants that Lonely Planet recommended were trickier. Except that pizza place. The pizza [...]

Old World Illiberalism: The Fall of Schengen

As Sweden introduces identity checks at the Danish border, the Schengen Area has come under threat, along with the liberalism at the heart of what is valuable within the European Union. Sweden isn’t the first. Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, and Denmark have added checks, controls, and fences to various extents. Under pressure from [...]

Plovdiv: Glimpses of central Bulgaria and the oldest city in Europe

I recall Bulgaria as a mosaic of snapshots. Old men in parks betting 1 lev on each chess game. A pimp walking through the cafe at 11 p.m. to drum up business. Protests on the first day parliament sits. Glimpses of horse-drawn carts on a long bus ride across the country. The middle-aged couple on the [...]

Rila Monastery: Frescoes and a Stray Dog

The Rila Monastery, founded in the 10th century, is one of the most popular tourist sights in Bulgaria. I spent little time in the church itself. Monks covered the exterior walls in bright frescoes depicting saints, the life of Christ, heaven, hell, demons torturing the sinful, etc. All that good stuff. Like most things in Bulgaria, reaching [...]

When Museums Obscure History: Eastern Europe and WWII

FBI Director James Comey is taking heat for a speech he gave, reprinted in the Washington Post, that blamed Poland for the Holocaust as well as Germany. Polish officials condemned him and summoned the American ambassador to apologize. However, the scandal should be over the lack over the Polish officials' interpretation of history. Without local [...]

Wandering Through Moscow

Some months ago, I found a 1977 book published by the National Geographic Society: Journey Across Russia: The Soviet Union Today. A writer (Bart McDowell) and a photographer (Dean Conger) covered 30,000 miles, visited 50 cities and towns, and the 15 constituent republics of the U.S.S.R. It's an admirable effort that avoids ideological propaganda, even with [...]