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You are here: Home Blogs RMS Too Late for Bulgaria (2005-04-19 to 2005-04-22)

Too Late for Bulgaria (2005-04-19 to 2005-04-22)

by Richard Stallman Contributions Published on Jul 12, 2010 05:11 PM
For an open audience of university students and the public interested in Free Software, Stallman attended a videoconference in Sofia, Bulgaria. In 1995, of all the countries in Europe, the one I would most have loved to visit was Bulgaria. Bulgarian folk dances were the most exciting, and I loved to do them. I loved the music as well, and learned to play many of the tunes on my recorder. It is no coincidence that I used a Bulgarian folk dance tune for the Free Software Song. If anyone had invited me to Bulgaria, I would have arranged to stay there for a few weeks, and found an opportunity to study dancing and listen to a lot of music. However, Bulgaria in the 90s had other priorities. No one ever invited me to go there andspeak.

Then in 1998 came the tendon injury. I felt a strange tearing sensation in my foot while I was using an exercise machine. It didn't immediately hurt, but it felt strange and wrong. I stopped exercising immediately, but the foot swelled up. Doctors told me that my peroneus longus tendon was injured. Most of the swelling went away in a few months, and the rest in a couple of years, but the tendon has never healed. I don't feel it most of the time--it only hurts if I dance. Various types of physiotherapy achieved nothing. The only thing that helps is not to dance. So I don't dance any more, at least not really dance. Occasionally I do a little easy dancing that won't hurt. What I can't do are the exciting Bulgarian dances that I really used to love.

Finally, in 2005, I was invited to speak in Bulgaria. These days, traveling and speaking so much, I could only stay for 4 days. I made no special arrangements about dancing, but I expected at least I could find an opportunity to see dancing and to listen to folk music. I hoped at least I'd be able to replace the CD of old Bulgarian records from the 20s, 30s and 40s which was stolen in Colombia, or get something similar.

Aside from a couple of restaurants that had musicians (and one of them dancers) to entertain tourists, I did not get to hear much music or see much dancing. There isn't a lot of it nowadays, it seems. As in many parts of the world, traditional arts are being displaced by the products of the music factories. We found out about one performance, but when we got there, it turned out to be children under 12, and mainly of interest to their parents. The previous evening, people told me, older students had been performing and it was good. I just didn't have much luck.

On the way to lunch one day, as we crossed a park near the center of Sofia, we stopped and listened to a rather sad old man playing kaval. He told us the story of how he had visited the US and played music there, but nowadays nobody wants him to play because he's too old. (My hosts translated this for me.) Walking back through the park after lunch, we found the same man and he told us the same story over again. I guess his memory is really shot.

One of my hosts has a mobile phone which plays the Free Software Song when it rings. I was amused by the irony of a Bulgarian using a Bulgarian folk melody because I borrowed it for the free software movement.

I did visit a couple of record stores, and got 14 records of Bulgarian folk music, some of which are very nice. In one store, a small operation which appeared to be run by a man who loves music, the proprietor surprised me by giving me two LPs from the 80s. I asked, "Is it that nobody wants these any more?" He said, "No, everyone here already has them."

I asked him if he had any recordings of old performances. He said that nothing like that was available, and he was amazed to hear that I had obtained a record of old performances in the US. It's too bad that record had been stolen, because otherwise I'd still have had it with me, and he probably would have been delighted to listen to it and copy it.

In one restaurant where we had dinner, representatives of local governments from around Bulgarian were having dinner together. One of my hosts knew the leader of that group, and introduced me, so I spoke with her briefly about free software. Perhaps some good will come of that. I told the people from an NGO that tries to spread information technology and network access that the low level of these in Bulgaria was an advantage, since it meant they had less to unlearn in order to adopt free software.

A week or so after leaving, I read that Bulgaria and Romania had signed a deal to become part of the European Union. This will bring with it various unjust laws that affect computer users, and a general loss of democracy. So you could say my visit was too late for Bulgaria, as well as for me.

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