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The man who saw the bear who saw freedom – Liberation

Witold Szablowski is interested in the end of the dancing plantigrades of Bulgaria and that of the Eastern bloc.

June 14, 2007 is a date that marks a before and after for Bulgarian plantigrades. On that day, the last three dancing bears in the country, Micho, Svetla and Mima, were confiscated from their owners, the Stanev family, and released. A relative freedom since the association which for years recovered these tamed wild animals could not put them back in the wild. They would have died. So let’s go to Bélitza, about a hundred kilometers south of Sofia where a park of twelve hectares and about twenty congeners awaited them. No more metal rings in the nose, no more painful exhibitions, various abuses: broken teeth and questionable diet, including alcohol. But learning to live in freedom is not easy. When the bears in the park see a human, they continue to stand up, ready to “dance” or clown.

Read also our report in the Pyrenees

Witold Szablowski, a leading Polish reporter, investigated the end of this now illegal tradition that had lasted for centuries in Bulgaria: the training of bears by Gypsies. Certain tamers express themselves here, expressing their affection for their animals, which often contradicts the physical state of the latter. The author was struck by the difficulty bears have in breaking away from their servility, in enjoying their freedom. He compares this incapacity with the situation of nationals of communist countries whose borders have been opened. There followed reports from London, Cuba, Albania… Witold Szablowski tactfully questions those left behind in the transition to capitalism. The parallel is daring, but the journey very instructive.

Witold Szablowski the Dancing Bears. From the Black Sea to Havana, the setbacks of freedom. Translated from Polish by Véronique Patte. Black on White Editions, 240 pp., 22 euros (ebook: 14.90 euros).

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