Mihai Bătrânu: I want to see Bulgaria one day from the Musala peak, at the height of 2925 metres

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Mihai Bătrânu before a billboard, which promotes a 2018 concert of  the rock groups from the 80s in Sofia (photo: Mihai Bătrânu)

The founder of the Romanian blog “Bulgarikon” speaks with the blog “The Bridge of Friendship” about his adventures with Bulgarian culture and language

Vladimir Mitev

Mihai Bătrânu is the founder of the blog ”Bulgarikon”, which is an effort to help his Romanian conationals to know Bulgaria. It also allows him to develop his curiosity with regard to the southern neighbour of Romania. Bătrânu has started his blog in 2013. His interest about Bulgaria is older. Like many other Romanians he watched the programmes of the Bulgarian National Television in  his childhood and learned different words and phrases in Bulgarian. After many years, while being in Bansko, he discovers that he understands a lot of Bulgarian words and decides to start to learn Bulgarian. The IT specialist travels often as a tourist – not only in Bulgaria, but also in the world. He enjoyes cooking and knowing different cultures through their food and language. He listens to rock music and learns to play the bass guitar. He is married and has one child. 

This interview was published originally on 27 May 2018 in Romanian and Bulgarian on the Bridge of Friendship blog. 

Mr. Bătrânu, you have been present at the big concert in Sofia of the Bulgarian rock groups from the end of the 80s and the beginning of the 90s. These bands – such as Review, Control, Hypodile, New Generation were once the representatives of the cultural current of the young and had a lot of influence. What impresses is that you have fallen for their music, while you are Romanian. You have passion for Bulgarian language and culture which led you to an approximation with Bulgarians, worthy of jealousy. But let’s start with the concert. What impressions did you have from the concert in Sofia? How would you describe the music there before our readers in Romania, who don’t have the slightest idea about these groups?

I discovered these four bands – and not only them – as I was looking for music from genres closer to what I usually listen to. What unites that is that they started their career at the end of the communist era, which means some 30 years ago, and as you say they had immense influence among the public and among the other bands, that followed. These bands made the first steps in Bulgaria in a number of genres (new wave, cold wave, punk rock, mixtures with traditional motives) and they were active in a period, when it was full of creative energies, thanks to the won liberties after the fall of communism. 

This type of concert was not something new. There were other editions, where at least three of the mentioned bands played along with the others, but I think that is the first time, when all the four play. Also, remarkable former members such as Kolyo Gillana from Control and Milena Slavova from Review participated. She had a solo career after her Review period, which I appreciate a lot. Hypodile also presented on the scene members of the first formations of the band. 

What does Sofia look like for a citizen of Bucharest?

I have only been to Sofia two times. But I will goagain, because my visits were short and I didn’t manage to see a lot. The first thing, which I enjoyed is that it is not as congested as Bucharest is, which is getting suffocated. Also, in Sofia there are pedestrian zones, while in Bucharest everything is to the benefit of the cars. I have seen this in other cities of Bulgaria as well. Another advantage of Sofia is that there is a subway from the airport to the centre. Bucharest will have to wait for years until it builds something like that.  

I liked that there is a mountain in the vicinity of Sofia. I consider going to Vitosha in the future. 

I guess the Romanian and the Bulgairan readers would like to know how your passion for Bulgarian language and Bulgarian stuff came into being and how did it develop. In our countries people usually open themselves to the West, to the larger world, but the opening to our region often is limited, because of different reasons: such as historical prejudice, feeling of superiority or national egoism, lack of curiosity and implication. What is your love story towards the things to the south of the DAnube?

My first contacts with Bulgaria were in my childhood, in the 80s, through the Bulgarian television. Although it was coming from another communist country, it has incredible openness in comparison with ours. Maybe this wasn’t difficult to achieve, because in Romania there emissions only a few hours per day and everything was about Ceausescu. It was important to have an alternative. Otherwise we wouldn’t dream. As far as I remember at that time you had two channels that were transmitting programmes 24 hours. The TV situation in Romania was probably known in Bulgaria, because the embassy was posting the weekly TV schedule, translated into Romanian. I remember how my father was going there and was bringing it back home. There were a lot of jokes about that. I remember a drawing by the dissident caricaturist Mihai Stanescu, who unfortunately died recently, in which the director of the Bulgairan TV was interviewed in the beginning of 1990. When they asked him “And, in the end, what would you like to transmit to the Romanian TV viewers”, he answered “We would like to send them the world football championship”.  

Like all the people in Southern Romania I was watching on a daily basis what Bulgarians show. I learned the Cyrillic alphabet. After that I learned a lot of words. I don’t know how I was understanding them. Nobody was helping me. When you are a child you accumulate a lot from the context. After 1990 the contact was lost. The cable TV didn’t include any more Bulgarian channels. The situation is the same today. Unfortunately, it happened like that. I didn’t realise until January 2012, when I reached Bansko for the first time, that somewhere inside my memory something had remained. I realised I can read and even understand a lot of the written words. Apart from that, the experience was a complete success, especially when we consider my first contact with the Bulgarian cuisine in the traditional restaurants in Banso. So I decided to learn Bulgarian and I did it immediately after I returned. After some time I realised my experience would not be complete, if I don’t explore other dimensions of Bulgarian culture. I started to gather information about music, gastronomy, history, geography… and that is how I reached a moment, when I enjoy all the adventure and want to go further on.

I suppose that in your searches about Bulgaria – in real life or in the virtual space, you have been making comparisons with Romanian life and realities. What thoughts does the knowledge of the southern neighbour stir in you? To what extent do you play the role of a human and civil bridge of friendship between our countries? 

I think that we resemble each other a lot. We are neighbours and we have evolved together in the course of history. Unfortunately, we don’t know a lot about one another. I never thought seriously about playing a role. I don’t have such an influence. I only hope that more Romanian will get interested in Bulgaria and will explore various dimensions of this country and its people. If they have questions, they could find answers at Bulgarikon. 

You make the only Bulgarian blog in Romanian language which I know at this moment – Bulgarikon, where you share your discoveries about the grammar of Bulgarian language and about Bulgarian cuisine. It deserves to be noted that you write very detailed explanations about Bulgarian language, from which Bulgarians would have something to learn. You also have a hobby to cook Bulgarian dishes in the way they are cooked in Bulgaria, including with as original ingredients as possible. How did you formulate the idea for the blog “Bulgarikon”? What have you accomplished with it so far? What plans do you have for its future?

The idea occurred to me, after I decided to start learning Bulgarian language. As I was looking for resources I discovered that there is nothing on this issue in Romanian online space. I started the blog in the summer of 2013. My original intention was to find other people, who are passionate about Bulgarias so that we could help one another reciprocally, but this hasn’t happened yet. But it matters less now. I will not renounce on developing it, even though I write more rarely in comparison with the beginner’s period. It is important that there are people who find useful information. I realised that when I read their sent messages. Among them the most interesting one belonged to a 72-year old man, who managed to learn Bulgarian at the age of 72. He explained well his motives: “I understand that as a form of respect, as a sign of sympathy, which I owe to our brothers beyond the Danube, when we visit their country”. I completely agree with this explanation. 

The fact that the site helps is another motive to go further. On the other hand, it is useful for me as well, because it is a space, in which I synthesize all kinds of information about grammar. I can review them as much as I want, when I need a refresher on my memory. 

I thought a lot if there were to be transliterations of te Bulgarian words in Latin alphabet. They could be useful in the beginning, but I noticed that later the process breaks down, because no longer takes place the effort to read cyrilic letters. I say that out of my own existence.  A lot of time I had problems with the reading of the letters in Italics or the hand-written ones in Cyrillic alphabet. I tried to exercise as I read from a conversation guide, in which the texts in Bulgarian were written in Italics and then came to version in Latin. The result was that involuntary my eyes were shifting to the transliterated version. 

But the site wasn’t friendly at all towards those, who wanted to find out something about Bulgaria –  for example, the cooking receipts or the casual phrases and words when it was only with Cyrillic letters. I discovered a medium way. I put transliterated letters (the emphasis included, so that there is a greater conformity), but they were not visible at the place, but in a balloon, which appears when the mouse is put on the word. But the articles, which deal strictly with grammar, have remained the way they were, without any transliteration. 

I would like to write more about other subjects in the future, not only about grammar. For example, I haven’t discussed anything about geography or territorial division of the country. These are topics, which might be useful for travellers. I would also like to present all kinds of curiosities and personal discoveries – e.g. recently I found coinicdentally the rules, for the abbreviations of the regions in the car registration plaques. A lot of them  were not as intuitive, as we would have expected. 

You are a man, who likes to travel and Bulgaria is one of your destinatios. What discoveries could a Romanian make in Bulgaria with regard to tourism? What recommendations can you make to your fellow countrymen, who want to explore the southern neighbour?

First of all the cuisine is fantastic. It resembles a lot of ours. It is again Balkan one. But it has differences in preparation. Even the most conservatve people among Romanians can find similar things to eat as ours, which they might like. I enjoy a lot of the traditional type of restaurants, which is shown in the way dishes are cooked. All types of clay plates are used. I also bought such dishes. I have even presented a part of them on the site. There are hearths and grills, where all kinds of tasty stuff can be baked. I like to use flavoured plants and spices, some of which I didn’t even know that exist. for example, I found out that ”thyme” means ”mashterka”, which I met in the Bulgarian receipts. 

I can’t make special recommendations. I can only mention the site of Dianora, which is a source for inspiration for travellers. Bulgaria offers so much variety, that everyone can find something interesting there. Those who love history might be interested in monuments from the long Bulgarian past. Those who like traditions, can participate in various holidays and local festivals. The amateurs, who walk in nature, can visit national reserves and to climb mountains. Whoever loves the sea, can visit a place on the Black Sea coast. 

This interview is a kind of fraternization between our blogs – “Bulgarikon” and “The Bridge of Friendship”, and it will be published on both sites. Would you like to conclude the interview with a motivational message about the Romanian-Bulgarian relations? What future would they have? What do you dream of doing with regard to Bulgaria and Bulgarians?

The message is very simple: we are neighbours. We live two steps away. It would be wrong not to try to know each other better, especially when we are not so different. We are connected by more things than we think. The first among them is the language. There are many common elements in our languages, which only wait to be discovered. The fact that we have been part for more than 10 years in the same entity – the EU, is also useful, especially with regard to our travelling in one or another direction. 

As far as I am concerned, I would like to reach the moment, when I speak Bulgarian fluently. When I speak in real time, it doesn’t happen so well. and I would like to continue writing articles on my site. I would like to create possibly different instruments, which could help those who want to learn, such as applications on a mobile phone. I would also like to continue my visits and to explore more regions of Bulgaria.

And I want to see one day Bulgaria from the Musala summit, at the height of 2925 metres. 

Read in Romanian language!

Read in Bulgarian language!

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