Is Bulgaria ‘preparing to leave’ the EU? Did it really join?

Many Sofians will be aware of the recent mayhem surrounding NDK. The area has been ‘cordoned off’ while works have taken place to upgrade the building in preparation for Bulgaria’s assumption of the rotating presidency of the EU in 2018.

Yet ‘cordoned off’ doesn’t really do justice to the elaborate machinations. In particular, if you’re trying to access NDK, or Peroto – the book sanctuary/café favoured by freelancers, would-be scribes and pensioners hoping to cadge free vino during a literary event – then you face an elaborate obstacle course. Emerging from NDK metro station you have to veer right towards Vitosha Boulevard, walk on a little and then turn sharp left, approaching the windswept edifice from an alternative ‘flightpath’.

On a recent visit even this usual deviation was impossible. Much of the square bordering Vitosha with NDK was closed. Burly guards manned strategic entry points. So this time the inconvenience was even worse. It involved a trek down Vitosha, then cutting left via Bulgaria Boulevard, leading to Fridtjof Nansen Boulevard and THEN trying to get back into NDK square.

After navigating this elaborate route to go around and then come back to NDK,  a policeman told me that Peroto was closed. I decided to head to Starbucks. It seemed like an unobstructed route. Had I finally found a safe haven? Groups of policemen not only bordered the perimeter but also filled the square itself. As the crow flies, it was a distance of around 150m to get to Starbucks.

Just as I started a policeman approached to tell me that I couldn’t proceed that way. I would have to go left, descend the steps to the metro and then veer right via the underpass. Why? No physical barricade or cordon was in place. It reminded me of that classic episode of Candid Camera where some people perform the intricate operation of moving a large sheet of glass across a pavement. The glass doesn’t exist. But pedestrians, witnessing the earnestness with which the operation is conducted, all dutifully circumvent it. So it was on this morning.

Eventually another policeman, detecting I was a foreigner, interrupted in English with a helpful aside. ‘We’re preparing to leave the EU next year,’ he told me. He advised me to walk towards the little chapel further down in the square and then turn right. Someone overheard the conversation and corrected him. “‘Lead’ the EU, he means.” Talk about a malapropism! I secretly believed that Bulgaria should never have been allowed to join the EU in 2007. It was simply premature. So perhaps Bulgaria should actually leave the EU and then re-apply. I didn’t say that, of course.
Anyway, I continued on for a few metres, waited until the policemen were not looking and then took my original intended path towards Starbucks.

Turns out that the area surrounding NDK was unusually hectic not because Bulgaria was ‘leading’ or ‘leaving’ the EU but because of a summit involving countries from the Western Balkans, as well as the World Bank. The summit in question managed to gather the president of Kosovo and the prime minister of Serbia around the same table. I assume that the dignitaries’ route around NDK was less cumbersome than mine.