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Versai Club, Sofia

BBC featured Bulgarian pop folk music, chalga, in its Close-Up series: Bulgaria’s special brand of folk music.

I’m surprised to hear the inconsiderate and disrespectful language of the journalist, who seems to be mocking this popular cultural phenomenon in my homecountry. I wouldn’t necessarily argue that her facts are inaccurate, but in the context of the Bulgarian reality, they are more innocent than what she describes.

What is more, chalga and modern Balkan music as a whole (because this type of music is typical not only for Bulgaria, but also for Greece and Serbia) do not deserve such a belittling attitude, especially from someone who is not familiar with our mentality and culture.

In the video, the journalist pays a visit to Sofia’s Versai club (obviously on a weekday night judging by the number of people) and interviews chalga singer Elena. Take a look and feel free to give your feedback!

Watch the BBC video


Yane Sandanski was born in 1872 in Vlahi, near Melnik, Bulgaria


What the world today calls the “Miss Stone Affair” is an exceptional story of national duty, revolutionary ideologies, bandit means, international crisis, great manhood, and sturdy womanhood.   

Miss Ellen Maria Stone was an American Protestant missionary from Roxbury, Massachusetts who arrived in Bulgaria in 1878. This was in the time immediately after the Russo-Turkish wars when Bulgarian gained back its independence from the Ottoman Empire after five hundred years of yoke. Still, the Treaty of Berlin of July 1878, did not grant full independence to all regions of Bulgaria, which gives rise to a new movement for the autonomy of the Bulgarian regions Macedonia and Odrin from the Turkish rule.   

In 1901, the revolutionary organization IMORO (Internal Macedonia-Odrin Revolutionary Organization) was suffering from utter lack of money, so its leaders resorted to kidnappings for ransom of rich persons as a means to earn money for the cause.   

On August 21st, after a three day ambush, Bulgarian revolutionary leader voivoda Yane Sandanski, together with Hristo Chernopeev and Krustio Asenov and their cheta (revolutionary group) kidnapped Ms. Stone on the way from Bansko to Gorna Djumaya, Blagoevgrad region. The men took Katerina Stefanova, Tsilka, as a maid for the 55-year old American missionary, and later found out that she was pregnant in the fifth month. The abductors demanded 25,000 golden Turkish lira (about 110,000 USD) and held the women for six months until they received the ransom.   

His troops come in support of the Bulgarian army officers


Now don’t be scared. Both women were in good hands. Yane Sandanski was not only a fervent patriot and a fierce opponent of his repressive ottoman enemies, but he was a man of his word and a charismatic, noble leader. Born in Vlahi, a village near Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, Yane Sandanski believed that the Bulgarians in the region of Macedonia should riot against the Empire and should found an autonomous state in a greater Balkan Federation. Today, he is a common hero for both Bulgarians from Bulgaria and Macedonians from the Republic of Macedonia. One of the most beautiful cities in Southern Bulgaria is named after him.   

Yane Sandanski ‘s cheta took great care of the two women (Ms. Stone spoke Bulgarian) and kept them safe in Vlahi. According to memoirs, Sandanski did not let “a hair fall from their head” and even organized a feast for Ms. Stone for one of her American holidays, Thanksgiving.  Some sources say that Ms. Stone developed a Stockholm syndrome: she fell in love with her abductors and their noble cause.   

Meanwhile, the affair became an international crisis situation. The States were reluctant to negotiate with the outlaw organization or with the Bulgarian diplomacy. The protestant lobbyists were pressing the US Senate. The American public had to raise the ransom money from donations, and the press became very interested in the incident with the American and her pregnant maid. The world’s attention fell on the strained Macedonian-Turkish relations and the unhappy fate of the Balkan peoples after the Treaty of Berlin.   

In February 1902, the ransom was finally paid and the women (with the baby, which was successfully delivered) were set free. Upon her return in Massachusetts, Ms. Stone held numerous lectures on the Macedonian issue and called the public to action in aid of the revolutionary movement. In her memoirs, she calls Yane Sandanski “the good man.” Both I and Ms. Stone consider him by no means a bandit, but a hero, because we understand his righteous motives.   

He was killed in 1915. His famous thought were engraved on his tomb: "To live means to struggle: the slave for freedom, and the free man for perfection"

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