When moving to a foreign land such as Bulgaria, especially with a small child in tow, crime should always be one of the first things to be researched. It is often difficult to do so on the web objectively – this may be your only resource if you don't know anyone resident in the country – because there are so many sensationalist news stories published which tend to skew one's outlook. Crime is always a difficult thing to gauge for the addition reason that it doesn't always get reported, so the media relies on a combination of anecdotal experience and public crime surveys to get a handle on what is going on (but of course the public also feed off the media – and crime sells!). This is not solely the case for Bulgaria of course. As far as our experience goes, we haven't been here long enough to give any decent advice of our own, however we have spoken to a lot of expats and residents here as for us this is the best way of getting an idea of what sort of crime occurs in addition to reading first hand accounts at online forums.
In terms of official crime figures in Bulgaria, there was a massive increase during the transitional period of the early nineties after the fall of communism but, according to a study done by the Centre for the Study of Democracy crime levels fell between 2001 and 2004 as evidenced by both official figures and victimisation surveys. This report also shows that crime levels in Bulgaria are comparable to other industrialised countries and are actually lower for most categories of crime. The reduction in crime has been put down to decreasing levels of unemployment and emigration of young males (!).
Crime is of a different sort in the countryside to that in towns and cities. I lived in Camberwell, London for eight years before moving here, and there gun crime is rife and people would regularly get shot in the neighbourhood, mostly gang-related incidents. In addition to this several of my acquaintances and friends had been mugged in the vicinity of my home. I am not about to compare our village in Bulgaria to Camberwell – it is a different sort of life and a different sort of crime that goes on here. I felt safe in Camberwell because I was familiar with the environment and knew how to avoid sticky situations (no walking down dark alleys at night for me!). When we first moved to Bulgaria I was quite apprehensive the first time Tom was away for a night. Everyone knows that we are English and so this makes us, in my mind a natural target for burglary – that and the fact that we have an easily scalable fence around our property! It is not only this – it is also the fact that there is no police in the village and that we don't know that many people yet.
So how to approach the issue of security? We have been advised by some people to get a gun, not so that we can pop a cap in any intruders' asses, but because it acts as a deterrent – you know how village life is, word spreads like wildfire as soon as anything happens! And opportunists are likely to avoid burgling a house that is known to have a gun in it (or maybe they would simply bring a bigger gun... and therein lies the problem with guns!). People have dogs here for similar reasons; if you have a dog that barks when it hears a noise nearby at night (which ours certainly do) it is a great comforter. Guns are legal here, although licensed, and it is not difficult to obtain one – a large proportion of the decisions to turn down licence applications are later overturned in court. Often we hear people firing them off during their evening revelries!! Even if you do not want a gun in your house, if you are worried about security you could think about getting a replica that fires only blanks, as a warning shot is probably enough of a deterrent in the unlikely event that someone is trespassing on your property. The only problem with this is that if you fire a warning shot and it turns out that they have a real gun and are willing to use it, you may be in a worse situation... this is all highly unlikely, but it is a useful thought experiment to carry out. There are also (for use on animals only by law) blank rounds filled with pepper spray – anyone who has encountered this will be aware of how incapacitating it can be.
Another consideration that we had no idea about is racial crime – is xenophobia a problem in Bulgaria? These sorts of issues are often swept under the carpet. It is only since being here that we have a better hold on the situation. Most racism, when it occurs, is against Romany and Turkish minorities who – at least the former – make up a significant proportion of the unskilled workforce. Poor racial integration often gives rise to fear and a lack of understanding, stemming from a lack of communication, that unfortunately is common in many countries. This form of racism is highly institutionalised. But again when you are relying on the press issues of racism are difficult to gauge in terms of how pervasive it is in the culture here. An interesting case in point are a married couple we know from Southampton, an English man and a Nigerian woman, who are thinking about buying here. They performed a web search of the keywords 'racism bulgaria' and happened upon several articles about recent racist / neonazi / fascist events. To show how this is not necessarily illustrative of much, we did a search of 'racism southampton' and came up with a few recent news stories too. According to one of our Bulgarian friends, Bulgarians and especially the youth do not hold any racist sentiment to people of African ethnicity because of rap music and how it has popularised black culture and made it accessible to people around the world, which we thought was quite a neat little idea. But these are just one man's thoughts and how this translates at ground level we do not know. And like in any other country there are many folk that are open minded enough to be nothing but good-willed to people of other ethnic origins, as well as the dangerous minority that is raised on white supremacist ideals.
On a more practical note, whether you are thinking about travelling to or living in Bulgaria there is good practise when it comes to crime that apply to most places in Europe and that you are probably familiar with: don't flash your money around in public and try to keep your money and ID safe in concealed places about your person (no, no, not there - a handbag that lies flat under your garments will do!); don't leave anything in your car if you are out and about; keep your house well secured and get a safe (and use it!); keep your car doors locked especially when stuck in traffic jams; and be wary of people claiming to be figures of authority – always ask for identification.
The opinions that we have encountered on the topic of crime are naturally anecdotal and you will find many more personal stories if you trawl the web. This is intended as a broad introduction – the subject of racism is a highly complex one and will be dealt with more fully in a separate article. Another intentional omission here is the Bulgarian Mafia; this is also a topic too great to cover in this piece.
|Last Updated on Friday, 27 November 2009 01:36|