LONDON (InsideBitcoins) — That the Black Sea is sometimes seen as the Mediterranean’s poorer cousin is perhaps an unfair comparison. Smaller than the Mediterranean and with no direct access to the open ocean, the Black Sea is nonetheless one of the most beautiful places in Europe. The ancient Romans referred to it as the Hospitable Sea; its brackish, nutrient-rich waters are kind to the hulls of ships, the endemic zebra mussel — an invasive species when introduced elsewhere — grow naturally here, though as elsewhere they are not suitable for human consumption. Its waters are warm and calm, its vistas breathtaking; the Black Sea has been poorly named.
Bulgaria owns a healthy portion of this coastline and the cities of Burgas and Varna are both situated on the sea’s enviable western coast. You could almost be forgiven for thinking that you were on the Med. Yachts drift lazily across a sea that at times is as flat and calm as a mill pond; beaches become crowded during summer months, there are divers, sunbathers, hikers and adventurers. It’s idyllic.
Similarities to the Mediterranean are there to found to be sure but Bulgaria adds its own unique flavor to the surrounding area. The exquisite Black Sea lakes are enjoyed by those who are looking for less hustle and more quiet contemplation at Durankulak for example an eneolithic settlement mound dating to 4600-4200 years BC — that’s 1000 years older than the pyramids by the way — has recently been discovered. The same site pays host to a temple to a forgotten goddess — the Phrygian goddess of fertility, motherhood and the mountain wilds who went by the name of Kybele.
Such exoticism is common in this European nation that throughout its history has always had one foot in the East. Whilst it’s true it shares borders with Romania, Serbia and Greece, it shares one with Turkey also; the East has suffused the country with an air of quiet mysticism and its collision with the West, not always a harmonious affair to be sure, has in the 21st century at last brought Bulgaria into the fold.
We’ll take the EU, hold the euro
Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007 though it has yet to meet the requirements necessary for it to adopt the euro as its currency. The Euro is accepted regardless; that the Leva is a stable currency is somewhat beside the point. Just as Canadian merchants close to the border are happy to take U.S. dollars so too are Bulgarians conscious of the ease with which one can transfer euro back to the local currency, the Leva.
There is a third option of course, bitcoin’s proliferation in Europe is on an upward curve and that curve is being serviced by two separate streams, the consumer and remittance market. The latter in Bulgaria’s case remains an unknown quantity. Joining the EU comes with many benefits, the most significant of which, the free movement of labor is usually put on hold for around seven years after the date of ascension. A quick calculation reveals that Bulgarian’s have been able to work anywhere they wish in the EU only since January 1st 2014. Remittance figures will no doubt be available soon.
The consumer market on the other hand is more of a known quality. Bitcoin merchants operate across a thin strip of central Bulgaria that stretches from the capital city, Sofia, all the way to the coastal resort of Burgas; that makes for 16 merchants in total but as is so often the case with cryptocurrencies, you have to scratch beneath the surface to get a clear picture of what is actually going on at ground level.
“One of the friendliest bitcoin countries in the world”
Bulgaria ranks 76th in the world in terms of GDP adjusted for PPP; it’s not the poorest country in Europe by this measure, but it’s not far off that mark either. And the banking crises of 2007 let’s remember respected no boundaries; it hit hard irrespective of the size of economy caught in its wake. In June of 2014 a run on the country’s fourth largest lender, Corpbank, prompted the nation’s central bank to seize control. According to Reuters, the European Commission described the complete suspension of payments that followed as “a non-justified and disproportionate restriction to the free movement of capital.”
Indeed. That the banks have a lot to answer for is not news to anyone who has even so much as dipped their toes into the waters of cryptocurrencies. What is less clear is how far the trauma of appropriated funds has sunk into the popular consciousness. According to Bulgarian language site hash.bg, “Bulgaria is on its way to become one of the friendliest bitcoin countries in the world,” and a quick perusal of the country’s nascent community certainly helps verify that point.
Bitcoin has been busy in Bulgaria. Charity concerts to promote the raising of education standards co-mingle with venture capitalists who have indicated a “willingness to finance projects related to bitcoin and crypto technology.” Meanwhile over at Grabo, everything from jewelry, food, clothes, furniture, hand-delivered potatoes and online language courses can be purchased for bitcoin. The range of products on offer might be a little eccentric by western European standards but one thing is undeniable, living on bitcoin in Bulgaria is a hell of a lot easier than living on it in London.
Ian Jackson is an Inside Bitcoins correspondent based in the U.K.