Thursday, 5 September 2013

Pernik. Does one need to carry a baseball stick there?

Kukeri ritual dance (scaring away evil spirits) during the Pernik's Surva festival. Image: Wikimedia Commons. 

''Hahaha! Pernik!!!!!'' says my Bulgarian friend when I mention to her my intentions to visit the former miners' town of Bulgaria. Pernik nowadays is a topic of many Bulgarian jokes, along with other towns like Dobrich ('best' drivers) and Gabrovo.

Pernik, however, is special. It is the town where ferocious, always ready to start up a fight men live. They wear miners' hats with flashlights, drive old WW Golf cars (the plate numbers always start with 'PK'), and when they do start a fight, the earthquake can be felt even in Sofia*. That's if we believe what the jokes tell us.

Pernik became known as a mining town at he turn of the 20th century but actually it's much older than that. The area has been inhabited since centuries BC, although nowadays probably the oldest remaining construction in town is the medieval Krakra Fortress (you have the option to switch off the rather annoying musical effects at the top left corner of the linked website).

Much of what we see in the streets of Pernik today is the 20th century socialist architecture, including a heavy memorial dedicated to miners. There is also a large park and a grandiose Palace of Culture (communists did indeed love public 'palaces'). In the main street there is no shortage of cafe life, and people are actually quite friendly. The whole town is surrounded by picturesque hills. River Struma flows through the town, carrying empty packets of crisps and other rubbish.

At the end of each January Pernik becomes the venue of the large - and international - Surva festival (apparently, it's the biggest of such kind in Bulgaria and one of the largest in the whole Balkans). Men (only they are allowed to perform) dress up in voluminous furry costumes, put on scary looking masks and dance & parade through the streets of the town. As they move, copper bells attached to their costumes make the noise that is meant to scare away evil spirits. These are the local men at their scariest, as far as I have witnessed.

Surva is a pagan event, and some Bulgarians believe that it can be traced back all the way into the Thracian times (Thracians were the people who inhabitted present-day Bulgaria before the Romans & later the Slavs arrived).
Interestingly, Pernik itself is named after a pagan deity - the Slavic god of thunder Perun. Perhaps that's why Pernik feels somewhat like a sleeping force: peaceful at the surface but able to wake up and get into a rage if carelessly provoked. Besides the (jokingly) ferocious reputation of its residents, Pernik lies at a geographically intense location: mountains around; coal underground; and occassional earthquakes.  

PS already on my way to Pernik I realised that I had forgotten my camera so please excuse the lack of original photos at this blog post. Below you can see yet another arguably hilarious Bulgarian joke about a WW Golf from Pernik.

* Pernik indeed was the epicentre of the June 2012 earthquake. The quake, over 5.5 Richter scale points, broke some windows and destroyed a number of buildings in town. It could also be felt in Sofia. I remember waking up that night at a flat in Ovcha Kupel from the sensation as if someone was standing at the back of my bed and, for some reason, vigorously shaking the whole furniture. Yes, it was Pernik.   

Bulgarian jokes. Image:

Text and the top photo (c) Agne Drumelyte, 2013.

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