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Bells and Brooms Drive Away Evil. A mummer's procession walked along the 'Vitosha' blvd. in Sofia yesterday on the first Sunday before Lent. Mummers chased away the evil spirits with brooms and bells. The procession stopped around a burning fire in the garden in front of the NPC. There were some courageous people who jumped over it as the tradition requires.
Joseph Ralston-wreaths. NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Joseph Ralston arrived on a two-day visit to Bulgaria. He laid wreaths at the Monument to the Unknown Soldier. Pressphoto BTA Photo: Anelia Nikolova
MACEDONIAN DELEGATION VISITS NATO HEADQUARTERS IN BRUSSELS.
Within the preparation activities for fully-fledged membership to NATO, starting from Monday, Macedonian delegation comprised of ministers and experts from several Macedonian ministries will pay a two - day official visit to NATO' headquarters in Brussels.
According to the Defense Ministry's announcement, at the meeting 19+1, which is to be held Tuesday, the Macedonian Defense Minister, Vlado Popovski, is expected to present the defense priorities for the year of 2002, the partner's goals for collaboration on experts' level, the financial aid from NATO member-countrie, and strengthening of the activities from the Partnership for Peace program.
During the discussions for the commitments and the realization of the Macedonian Membership Action Plan, they will discuss the new defense strategy as well as the transformation, i.e. establishing of a new structure of the Macedonian armed forces.
FIFTH SKOPJE FILM FESTIVAL.
Today's program of the Fifth Skopje Film Festival includes "The Filth and Fury" (UK) directed by Julien Temple, "Under the Sand" (France/Japan) by Francois Ozon, "Monsoon Wedding" (India) by Mira Nair, "Storytelling" (USA) by Todd Solondz and "Cool and Crazy" (Norway) by Knut Erik Jensen.
In the framework of Documentary Films Series, audience can enjoy "Golgota" directed by Meto Petrovski, "Tulgesh" by Kole Manev, "The Love of Koco Topencarov" by Antonio Mitrikevski and "Border" by Branko Gapo".
Films "Taurus" (Russia) by Alexander Sokurov and "The Warrior" (UK) by Asif Kapadia will have their second showing.
The 5th edition of Skopje Film Festival was opened Friday with the film "Kandahar", directed by Mohsen Makmalbaf.
The focus of the interest at this year's film festival are small and new cinematography, debuts and awarded films which as a result of the co-operation with City Cinemas will be presented in Kultura and Manaki cinemas.
The programme of the festival is consisted of the following selection, "Waving," "Open Zones," "Regional Programme," "Nordic Light," four documentaries connected with music events and 11 short films.
"Waving" whose selector is Labina Mitevska includes films that waved the world with original expression, controversial films and bearers of prestigious awards, also three women directors are included.
The selection "Open Zones" by Tanja Janevska is comprised mainly of debut films of young and relatively unknown authors. The third selection "Regional Programme" according to the organisers is one of the strongest and most important possibilities for introduction, co-production and co-operation. Six Swedish films in co-operation with the Stockholm Film Festival will be presented within the frameworks of "Nordic Light."
Bigger selection of short films by brothers Quay whose presence is expected next weekend will be presented to Skopje's audience. They produce hybrid variants of film animations with dolls, documentaries and advertisements.
In co-operation with "Kinoteka" of Macedonia the festival will also incorporate a retrospective of 50 documentaries divided in several topics. Vladimir Angelov and Pavlina Panovska made the selection of the films.
Several workshops - "Macedonian Film in Transition," "In a Search for Context" and "Characters and Dialogues in the Film," will opened at which famous film authors, creators, film fans, reviewers, analysts and journalists will participate. A round table titled "Audio-visual Sector" will also be held.
This year's budget for the festival is between 70 to 75.000 where the Ministry of Culture participates with 2 million denars. The participants are guests from abroad and representatives of audio-visual sector.
President To Veto the Armed Forces Act.
MPs invite adviser to Parvanov for consultations.
President Georgi Parvanov may veto the Armed Forces Act, which is to be voted in parliament this week, advisers to the head of state said. In their opinion, the planned amendment to the Act which will narrow the age brackets for generals and colonels in service by 3 years, may stir unrest in the army.
Debatable as well will be the composition of the military cabinet, the president wants to set up. Parvanov's stand on the bill of the Armed Forces will be presented to the MPs by his adviser, reservist rear-admiral Stanchovski. The MPs are members of the foreign policy and national security committee who have an extraordinary sitting in parliament tomorrow, its chief Stanimir Ilchev said. The President's administration prefers regular servicemen, senior admirals in the composition of the military cabinet. The BSP insists that the military cabinet's chief be nominated as chief of the General Staff. To date, 6-7 people in the state enjoyed such a right, the idea is to expand the circle now, Ilchev explained.
BSP: It's Not Right Time For Cabinet Reshuffles.
'It's not time for elections or change in the cabinet now. The people in the government have their potential. Reasonable and clear criticism could help them to overcome the problems', Atanas Paparizov, MP from the 'For Bulgaria' coalition said before the BNR. He said that despite the problems with the foreign debt deal, the BSP is unwilling to be an additional factor for the destabilization of the country.
Statutes of NMS Clear Tomorrow.
MPs from the NMS will discuss the drop in the credit rating and the draft statutes of the party at their sitting tomorrow. The MPs should vote to decide what kind of a party the NMS will be, who could be its founder and member, how the maximum participation in the movement could be achieved. That was what Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha said in his speech on January 26 in the NPC. A political decision about the criteria for the election of a party leader is needed, too. If the criteria are clear-cut, the statutes could be written within 3 hours, Daniel Vulchev, one of the leaders of the working group for the drafting the statutes said before 'Standart' yesterday.
Milen Velchev: Opposition Backtracked from Its Stand on the Debt.
The extreme reactions against the Brady bonds swap are a surprise to me, Finance Minister Milen Velchev said. He elaborated that during his conversations with the parliamentary groups he received their firm support. To the Finance Minister, the net profit for Bulgaria would amount to about $100 million. There will be a small profit for the banks and a bigger one for the investors, Velchev specified. To him, Bulgaria will economize about $700 million during the next several years.
EU: Extend Retirement Age.
The reason is in that Europe's population is growing old. The EU experts have calculated that in 2010 the average age in the continent will be 49 years. The rise in the pensioning age-limit will take place gradually and will complete by 2010. At the moment men in Bulgaria retire at the age of 60 years and 6 months, and women - at 56 and a half. According to the Insurance Code, every year the pensioning age will be increased by 6 months until it reaches 63 years for the male and 60 - for the fair sex. If one hasn't accumulated the necessary points, he may get pensioned at the age of 65. It will be difficult to apply the recommendation, the social price will be very high, said the National Insurance Institute's Head Yordan Hristoskov. He reminds that even now people in some European countries retire earlier than the Bulgarians do.
Gen. Marin Asked Forgiveness for Revival Process.
Those to blame for it shouldn't evade punishment, Vice-President said.
On Forgiveness Day I would like to ask you to forgive the violence against you, Vice-President Gen. Marin said at the commemoration meeting on the occassion of the so-called Revival Process in the village of Barutin, Dospat region, yesterday. He said that he felt guilty for what happened 30 years ago, even if he didn't take part in it. Not only the people who ruled the country, but all of us, who observed silently and indifferently are to be blamed, too. In return Ahmed Dogan said that there should be forgiveness, but the Revival Process shouldn't be forgotten. To understand doesn't mean to acquit, the leader of the MRF said.
Our Policemen in Kosovo Work for Nought.
Only travel expenses of the Bulgarians are covered, they buy uniforms themselves.
'Standart' correspondent in Kosovo
The Bulgarian policemen in Kosovo complained to the IM chief secretary, General Boiko Borissov and the chief of the NPSD, General Vassil Vassilev that they were the only ones among their colleagues from the contingent of the international peace-keeping forces in Kosovo who do not get salaries. The Bulgarians are contracted as policemen on paid leave who get only US$ 75 per day which are their UN-paid travel expenses. Our colleagues from the other countries are amazed at our situation, the commander of the Bulgarian contingent, lieutenant colonel Kiril Kirilov explained. Subordinates of his complained that they were even forced to buy their uniforms themselves. I know that it isn't fair, but Bulgaria is a poor country and the IM budget is more than insufficient, General Borissov told our policemen. He promised he would report to the Premier on the situation. Such is the state of affairs, there isn't any money, go ahead, Borissov encouraged the policemen.
German Tourists Opened Summer Season in Varna.
We are to suffer losses because of the low prices in Spain and Turkey, hotel-keepers forecast.
Today the summer season is to be opened in Varna. The first tourists to arrive are Germans from Dusseldorf and Frankfurt. Tourists from Austria are expected next week. The groups will be accommodated at hotels in Albena, Golden Sands and St.St. Constantine and Helena. Unfortunately, only the resort of Albena is completely ready for the season, said Dimitar Dimitrov, chairing the Varna-based Tourist Chamber. The preparations in the Golden Sands and St.St. Constantine and Helena is lagging behind and the same is valid for the overhauls in Byala and Skorpilovtsi. "We will have the same old problems with the infrastructure of the Golden Sands, hotel-keepers complain. The reason is in the accommodation capacity: last summer the resort had 13,400 beds and this season they reached to 20,000 which is an increase by 80 percent, Dimitrov said further. The visa regime is also a serious problem for the hotel-keepers. Despite the alleviations, the tourists from Russia and Ukraine are expected to be by 50 percent less this summer. The third problem is VAT, for the Parliament had not adopted the amendments to the VAT Act. If the VAT rates remain 20 percent, we will not be competitive, because in Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Spain the VAT rates are between 6 and 8 percent, hotel-keepers maintain. On the tourist bourse in Berlin that is taking place at present, Spain and Turkey will offer a dramatic cutdown in prices. It means loss of tourist to Bulgaria. Bulgaria's advertising campaign is also poor for we are dealing with the sole problem to survive in these hard environments, Dimitar Dimitrov elaborated.
Budget Arrears of Salaries Amount to 120 Mln.
The budget is indebted 120 million levs for salaries, said Valentin Nikiforov, chairing the National Strike Committee of the CITUB (Confederation of the Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria), for Darik Radio . The major debtors are the Varna Shipyard, Balkancar, Incoms Telecom and Bulgartabak Holding. The BTC employees are to occupy the office building of the company on March 22, protesting against the privatization. Later on the same day they will join the nationwide rally, organized by the CITUB against the economic and social policy of the cabinet, in front of the buildings of the Council of Ministers and Parliament.
Gap between UDF and NMS Is Not Rated Accurately.
Nadezhda Mihailova's rating has logically increased because of the anticipated change within the UDF.
Prof. Petar-Emil Mitev, Sociologist
The results from the MBMD poll should not be regarded as absolute. The poll is not representative enough to provide a completely precise picture of the configuration of the political forces. The statistical error may be bigger than the difference between the rating of the NMS and the UDF, for instance. The way in which figures are dealt with, is incorrect in one more respect - nowhere in the world do the data include the tenth parts of the percentage. As for the increased rating of Nadezhda Mihailova, it is something absolutely logical from a socio-psychological point of view. In principle every new, higher position occupied by a politician is accompanied by an increase in his rating. The rating of the Bulgarian presidents is traditionally very high, at least at the beginning of their mandate. As is now the case with Georgi Parvanov, This is how at the moment society associates the name of Nadezhda Mihailova with the hope that the UDF will be renovated and revived. It is another question that every rating can drop if the people get disappointed and haven't got the promised. From this point of view the drop in the confidence in Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, who last year accumulated many a hope for a speedy improvement of the living standards, is completely logical. However, rating is not a constant value. It is won and lost in accordance with the specific successes or failures of a politician.
BOIKO BORISSOV - 74 percent
SOLOMON PASSY - 54 percent
GEORGI PARVANOV - 52 percent
STEPHAN SOFIANSKI - 48 percent
NADEZHDA MIHAILOVA - 41 percent
Simeon SAXE-COBURG-GOTHA - 38 percent
*The data of the nationwide opinion poll of the MBMD polling agency was commissioned by Darik Radio.
If the general election was to be held today who would you cast your ballot for:
NMS - 15.5 percent
UDF - 13 percent
BSP - 13 percent
*Towards February 15, 2002
NMS - 11 percent (-4.5)
UDF - 15.8 (+2.8)
BSP - 16.6 (+3.6)
Union "Free Democrats" - 4.4 percent
Movement "Gergyovden" - 0.9 percent
BAPU - Popular Union - 0.5 percent
*Towards March 15. 2002
*The data of the nationwide opinion poll of the MBMD polling agency was commissioned by Darik Radio
**NMS - National Movement Simeon II
UDF - Union of Democratic Forces
BSP - Bulgarian Socialist Party
BAPU - Bulgaria Agrarian Popular Union
Montana, March 18 (BTA) - Some 400 ha of orchards will be planted by Serbian businessmen in Northwestern Bulgaria this year, the regional administration said.
The nursery in Leskovac (Serbia) will start supplying fruit trees this spring. They will be planted and cultivated with the help of farmers from that Serbian region.
The Yugoslav businessmen have promised to buy the fruit crop and process it in the Leskovac cannery, Regional Vice Governor Ivo Filipov said. The project was discussed during a visit by a Montana delegation to Leskovac district in late February.
Serbian farmers and traders say the cost of creating cherry, peach and apricot orchards will be much lower in Bulgaria thanks to its cheap land and labour. Part of the products will be exported to the European countries where Serbia has kept its markets.
Bulgarian farmers will benefit from the creation of jobs and the cultivation of currently unused land where orchards and vegetable gardens stood once, the regional administration said.
Sofia, March 18 (BTA) - Knowledge and not nationality certificates are required from Macedonian university applicants, said Alexander Popov of the Bulgarian Education Ministry in connection with an article that appeared in the Skopje-based "Utrinski Vestnik".
The headline of the article claims "Failed university applicants from Macedonia offered enrollment, Bulgarian nationality." The paper explains that Bulgaria is the top draw among the countries in the region for Macedonians who have failed the entrance exams at home or who were afraid to take them in the first place.
The paper explains the attractiveness of the Bulgarian universities with the geographical proximity, the preferential treatment granted to Macedonians during enrollment and in getting the desired academic degree; to receive the latter some are even prepared to profess their Bulgarian origin.
Some 2,000 Macedonians are attending 30 Bulgarian universities at the moment, the Education Ministry said.
1,000 Macedonians sat entrance exams for the 2001/2002 academic year; 300 of them enrolled in Bulgarian universities.
The university courses in medicine are the most popular, Popov said, adding that one of the draws for the Macedonians are the affordable tuition fees.
Within a month of enrollment, Macedonian students are required to have a permit for a six- or a 12-month stay in Bulgaria; otherwise they will have to exit the country every month, Popov. This requirement applies to all non-residents.
The 2,500 Macedonian students and students of Bulgarian origin living abroad that attend Bulgarian universities are entitled to preferential treatment; 500 of them pay the same tuition fee as their Bulgarian counterparts - between 100 and 240 leva, depending on the major. They have all passed entrance exams that include a test of their knowledge of Bulgarian, an oral exam in Bulgarian literature and history and a special major-related exam. Failed applicants are allowed to enroll if they pay 30% of the tuition fee for foreign students which varies between 1,300 and 6,000 dollars depending on the university and the major.
Supreme Allied Commander Europe Ralston: It Is Important that Bulgaria Persevere in Implementation of NATO Membership Action Plan.
Sofia, March 18 (BTA) - Visitng NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Joseph W. Ralston, said he was very pleased with Bulgaria's progress even though a lot remains to be done. General Ralston summarized his impressions in a lecture organized by The Atlantic Club of Bulgaria. The lecture, which attracted great interest, was attended by politicians, diplomats, top brass, public figures and journalists.
General Ralston made a very high assessment of the multinational peace forces headquartered in Plovdiv, and of Bulgaria's efforts for the forces' formation in particular.
Taking up a question what cooperation programmes the Alliance will offer Bulgaria if the country is not extended a membership invitation, General Ralston said he believes NATO will follow the open-door policy as it has promised. In his words, it is not yet clear whether in case of such development the Alliance will offer programmes like Partnership for Peace.
The decision for NATO's enlargement will be a political one and not a military one, said General Ralston. In his words, a country may meet all military criteria and yet remain uninvited for political reasons, while another one may be invited even though the reforms in its army are insufficient.
Earlier on Monday General Ralston conferred with Foreign Minister Solomon Passy. Emerging from the meeting, he said that it is important that the country persevere in its efforts to implement the NATO Membership Action Plan. The meeting was attended by Gen. Miho Mihov, chief of the General Staff of the Bulgarian Army.
The guest described the Membership Plan as very good.
General Ralston said that he is in Bulgaria to focus his attention on the military aspects of the army reform. "The moment when we will be asked for advice to our political leadership is not far," said the General and pointed out that he has arrived in Bulgaria to become acquainted with what it has achieved after his visit last year.
As an example of great progress SACEUR pointed to the Air Sovereignty Operations Centre (ASOC). He stressed that the centre was "an idea only" during his previous visit, while now it is equipped with radars, software and trained staff. General Ralston promised to include this in his assessment of Bulgaria's progress.
Taking up a question General Ralston described the decision to lay off top servicemen as a very difficult and painful one, but as necessary for the modern build-up of the Bulgarian army.
General Ralston expressed gratitude on behalf of the US government and people for Bulgaria's support in the fight against terrorism and the decision to allow US humanitarian missions in Afghanistan to use the airport of Bourgas. The Bulgarian servicemen are doing brilliantly in the SFOR and KFOR missions in the Balkans, he said.
Foreign Minister Passy described the visit as extremely important and timely in the runup to the Reykjavik summit.
SACEUR met with Defence Minister Nikolai Svinarov, as well.
During a meeting with President Georgi Purvanov later on Monday General Ralston stressed Bulgaria's great progress over the past years. The country has an ambitious action plan for achieving NATO membership, the guest said after the meeting, adding that despite the difficulties he was very encouraged by what has been achieved.
President Purvanov informed General Ralston him about the country's efforts in the military reform in the past few months, the changes connected with increasing the army budget, and the laws connected with Bulgaria's NATO membership that are being passed.
"I admit that I am reassured by Gen. Ralston's assessment.
His words encourage me for further work in the serious tasks with which we are faced in the runup to the Prague summit," said Purvanov.
According to the Bulgarian head-of-state, the guest made a positive assessment of the country's interoperability, the modernization of the Bulgarian army and Bulgaria's solidarity with NATO's actions in the Balkans and in other parts of the world.
Kostov Thinks He's a Wizard.
INTERVIEW Standartnews: Krassimir Katev
The former government failed to appreciate the advantages of a foreign debt swap, says deputy minister of finance, Krassimir Katev.
- Mr. Katev, have you acquainted the political parties in advance with the prepared swap of Brady bonds?
- Before the deal was officially announced we have made several attempts to get in touch with Mouravey Radev, Nadezhda Mihailova and Dimitar Abadjiev of the UtdDF, as well as with their expert, Plamen Oresharski. To no avail, though. We were told that they were too busy. To our regret, Georgi Pirinski, Atanas Paparizov and Sergey Stanishev of BSP also declined our proposal to have a discussion. Fortunately, the President agreed. His economic advisors also were acquainted with the details. The President understands what are the advantage this deal offers and I sincerely hope he will support us.
- In the opinion of your most serious opponent, ex-minister of finance, Plamen Oresharski, the interest rate for the new bonds will not be profitable for Bulgaria. Do you think it's true?
- To the state treasury the swap is not risky. Actually, we expect to pour in some $ 110-120 million. At the same time the foreign debt will melt.
- What made you chose exactly this time to swap the bonds?
- IMF recommended such operation to the previous government already in 1999, but it couldn't pluck up courage to carry it through, for lack of political will and inability to appreciate its financial advantages. Putting forward as a counter-argument only the low interest rates, Kostov and Oresharski in fact only distort the real facts. Maybe they remember that in 2000 for the same bonds they paid around 8.5 percent. Apparently, these gentlemen have a crystal ball or a magic wand. They probably think that they are more knowledgeable than the experts of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Bundesbank or Central Bank of Europe. Because except for these two, all prognosticate that the interests will rise up to 6 percent and more, after the USA and Europe come out of the recession.
- Most Bulgarians can hardly make both ends meet. How are you going to explain to them that now is the opportune moment for such a deal?
- The aim of the operation is to decrease the foreign debt without spending money, replenish the state financial reserve and give Bulgarian economy a chance to grow in the coming 5-9 years. And the lion's share of the profit - over 90 percent - will remain in Bulgaria.
It Would Be Nice if BSP and MFR Had More Ministers.
INTERVIEW Standartnews: Yunal Tassim
We are concerned over the NMS group, I'm indignant at the opposition, says MFR MP Yunal Tassim.
MFR MP Yunal Tassim is deputy chairman of the parliamentary economic committee. In his opinion the UDF has resorted to the external debt deal as a pre-election ploy. However, there does not exist any election situation in Bulgaria, Tassim points out.
- Mr Tassim, did the NMS approach you for advice after the embarrassing situation with the withdrawal of 5 MPs from the NMS PG?
- We neither want, nor do we interfere in the internal affairs of the colleagues. We are alarmed.
- The exit of the five also embarrassed the MFR because the quorum in the National Assembly became fragile. Did you, the MPs from the MFR got any instructions to be permanently in the hall to maintain it?
- When it comes to politics I don't deal with arithmetics. Nothing can shake the government because at the moment neither the BSP nor the UDF are capable of assuming the power. There doesn't exist such a situation.
- The BSP and the UDF will keep competing for the part of the opposition. Will the MFR assume the role of a referee?
- The opposition is better represented in the power than the MFR. At this stage, the opposition is not constructive enough. I don't believe that this conduct is the best for Bulgaria.
- How would you explain the complete unity of opinion between UDF and BSP MPs in the plenary hall on voting the external debt law?
- I'm indignant at their conduct.
- Why, in your opinion did Ivan Kostov write to Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and didn't speak out his his objections from the rostrum while the law was being discussed?
- I thought higher of Ivan Kostov, but this letter of him disappointed me. It can't be claimed that debt is purchased and sold today. If it was said by a former minister of culture or education I would have understood it. In this case we talk of a swap. I suspect some envy on the part of Ivan Kostov that he didn't have the opportunity of directing such a financial operation which is extremely useful for the country.
- Do you think that the participation of coalition 'For Bulgaria' and the MFR in the cabinet should grow?
- It would be nice. The BSP has the potential and possibilities to help Bulgaria. But a political solution should be sought. It would be a good sign when taking into account our forthcoming integration into the NATO and EU. Why shouldn't there be a larger-scale consensus in parliament and society at the end?
- Does the new leader Nadezhda Mihailova give any signs of a change within the UDF?
- Nadezhda Mihailova is not only a person, she is also leader of the party. It is interesting that the young supported her. Regrettably however, in the UDF ranks there are such persons as Edvin Sougarev who think in the white-black colors only. While the smile of Nadezhda Mihailova emanates diversity.
- Do you anticipate any dramatic processes within the UDF after the conference?
- Bulgaria needs a strong opposition because its rule is strong.
Christo Imagines Central Park in Saffron.
The New York Times
By AMEI WALLACH
CHRISTO calls Jeanne-Claude "Amour." When he is agitated, which is often, he calls her "Cherie," as in "Nononono, Cherie!" When he decides to let her win, he says "Madam." Then he kisses her. It is necessary for him to do this carefully, since she wears a wide slash of Orange Slip lipstick, which she reapplies often. The lipstick is calculated to clash with her hair, which is a species of the bordello red once standard in B westerns.
"Nononono, Cherie, please!" Christo is saying one recent afternoon in their downtown Manhattan digs. He is vainly trying to deter Jeanne-Claude from emptying the contents of a bulky manila folder labeled "The Gates, Project for Central Park, New York City" onto a coffee table laden with books about their monumental art projects.
Christo doesn't really want to talk about "The Gates" right now. He'd rather talk about "Christo and Jeanne-Claude in the Vogel Collection," a four-decade survey of their work currently at the National Gallery in Washington. There one can see photographs and drawings of the Reichstag they wrapped with silvery fabric, of the 11 islands in Biscayne Bay, Florida, they surrounded with hot-pink cloth, and the 1,340 blue umbrellas they deployed across the rice paddies of Japan.
But "The Gates" is too irresistible to ignore. Christo and Jeanne-Claude propose to festoon 26 miles of Central Park's walkways in swatches of translucent saffron fabric supported by thousands of metal gates. They first conceived the project in 1979, and though it was rejected in 1981, they have never given up on it. Now its fortunes could change, in large part because of the election of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
Mr. Bloomberg was a supporter of the project in private life, and he has already begun to let artworks reach farther into the park as part of the current Whitney Biennial. All at once, in a city determined to re-energize tourism after the attacks of Sept. 11, a boffo attraction might not be such a bad idea.
Other things, too, have changed since 1981. In an art world awash in performance and installations, Christo and Jeanne- Claude's panoramic collaborations no longer appear to be bizarre exceptions, though the very fact of the pair's celebrity continues to make them suspect to many art insiders.
And the view that huge crowds are anathema to Central Park has shifted as well, now that rock stars and the Disney corporation have staged extravaganzas there.
Drawings for the Central Park project show a meandering trail of 11,000 rectangular steel gates, each 15 feet tall with a free- hanging panel of material waving from the top. The gates would begin at the park's pedestrian entrances and continue at nine- foot intervals. Viewed from a distance, the billowing cloth would outline the park's cat's cradle of winding promenades, which Christo describes as "very Victorian, roundish." "The Gates" is designed to be installed for two weeks in the winter, after the New York City Marathon and before the forsythia blooms.
The mayor can't single-handedly make "The Gates" happen, and whether it will is still a delicate matter. All he can do is suggest a strategy, open doors and lead the way. It will take all of Christo and Jeanne- Claude's considerable capacity for seducing, cajoling, badgering, politicking and educating to win the support of the five community boards surrounding the park, the parks commissioner and a healthy majority of the Central Park Conservancy, the nonprofit group that manages and supports the park.
"Central Park is like the Mona Lisa of landscape architecture," says Christo.
"The conservative vision is that the park should be closed like the Metropolitan Museum. If they had a chance they would charge for tickets, like a museum.
On the liberal side, the park is the only place where underprivileged people can go in the summertime; the only place."
Jeanne-Claude, who like her husband goes by one name, interjects: "They don't have a house in the Hamptons." She is perched at the edge of the herring-bone tweed sofa, which Christo leans against, preferring a seat on the floor.
They have yet to approach Mayor Bloomberg directly, though they were invited to his inauguration.
"I think that it is decent to let him do his very hard work first, because no mayor of New York City has ever had such problems," Jeanne-Claude says.
"Horrible, horrible," Christo says.
They are all too aware of the difficulties they face, including the fact that the 1979 cost estimate $8 million, and who knows how much now raises hackles, even though the couple finance all their projects themselves from sales of Christo's work. They do not accept donations; they do not take public money.
To do so would compromise their artistic control.
Last time around, there were irate letters to the editor and two negative editorials in The New York Times. One, in October 1980, appeared under the headline "A Philistine Shrug for a Droopy Idea."
"Central Park needs loving hands of restoration, not exploitation," the editorial said.
In rebuttal, the art historian Leo Steinberg wrote in The Times, "Those who have followed Christo's work know that every one of his projects, once realized, engendered joy and elation, and that every one of them is resisted initially with sanctimonious appeals to higher ideals, such as economy or the inviolability of nature and art."
It was to no avail. The next year, Gordon J. Davis, then Commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation, turned down "The Gates" in a 107-page document that he has called "a major statement of philosophy and principles governing stewardship of Central Park."
The turndown did not stop the Christos, as they are collectively called, although his family name is Javacheff. They turned their focus elsewhere; they are accustomed to projects that take time to mature. It took 24 years and the fall of the Soviet empire to get the permissions that led to the "Wrapped Reichstag" in 1995, when five million visitors went to view the emblem of Germany's cataclysmic history swathed in a million square feet of billowing silvery drapery.
"We used to say that we have to live with the consequences of the `Wrapped Reichstag' on our shoulders," Jeanne-Claude says. She pauses theatrically.
"People were telling us, `We do not want five million visitors here.' Now, I do not believe that the City of New York in the present situation does not want visitors, and a good influx of visitors."
Christo and Jeanne-Claude have lived and worked in a former industrial building a block north of Canal Street since 1968, the year they proposed wrapping the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum and No. 1 Times Square. None of those projects were realized. In fact, there has never been a Christo and Jeanne-Claude project in New York City, even though they like to say: "We don't live in America at all. We live in New York, Manhattan."
They were born on the same day, June 13, 1935; he, the son of the owner of a small chemical factory (later nationalized under communism) in Bulgaria; she, who became the step-daughter of a French general, in Morocco. She's the pedagogue, driving home sound bites with pointed fingers, repeating them in case you didn't get it the first time. He's the dreamer, the artist in the pre-Warhol sense, romantic and visionary, with fly-away hair. The new United States edition of their biography, "Christo and Jeanne-Claude," by Burt Chernow (St. Martin's Press), tells it all.
"People don't know us," Jeanne-Claude says. "We told Burt things as personal as if he had been sleeping with us." It is an authorized biography; the Christos provided the photographs from their archives and hold the rights.
After enduring the standard Socialist Realist art education, Christo smuggled himself out of Bulgaria in 1957 in a freight car. He met Jeanne-Claude de Guillebon the following year in Paris, where the penniless but hunky émigré bedded, impregnated (the result is their son, Cyril) and eventually wed her.
She knew nothing about art. He became her tutor. And then, as his art became more ambitious and environmental, as it expanded the themes of border crossings, fragility and transience that had marked both their lives, she became his collaborator.
In the old days, before feminism, Christo stood on lecture stages alone and signed the work alone on the theory that no one would permit a woman to work on the scale they did. In 1994, they went public and began to sign work together. Basically, if it's indoors and handmade, it's by Christo; if it's outdoors, it's by Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
Their Barnum & Bailey impulses to "borrow a space and create gentle disturbances for a few days," as Christo puts it, are not inexpensive. The "Wrapped Reichstag" cost the artists $13 million; "The Umbrellas," $26 million. To pay for their projects the Christos borrow from the bank through their C.V.J. Corporation and pay it back by selling art. Preliminary drawings for "The Gates," for example, go for up to $260,000 each. After the completion of each project, they mount a traveling exhibition of drawings, collages, engineering studies, fabric samples, scale models and photographs.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is trying to raise $7 million to acquire the 349- piece "Running Fence" exhibition (24 miles of nylon fencing the color of wave caps that marched across Northern California ranch land to the sea in 1976) for the museum's re- opening in 2005.
The Christos find it necessary to repeat endlessly that they pay for their projects themselves because they do them for themselves. They do them to see how it will look and feel. No photograph can suggest the experience of a Christo and Jeanne-Claude project in real time. Everything is present at once: landscape, weather, history, politics, emotion, quixotic human encounters and instantaneous changes in the quality of light, as if from inside an Impressionist painting.
For the 1969 "Wrapped Coast, Little Bay, One Million Feet, Australia," they swaddled the craggy coast in a sand-colored fabric that they call Erosion Control. For the 1972 "Valley Curtain, Grand Hogback, Rifle, Colorado," they hung an orange curtain that reached 365 feet high across a gap in the Grand Hogback Mountain Range. They garbed the Pont Neuf in Paris in 454,178 square feet of chic champagne-hued cloth and simultaneously dispersed 1,340 blue umbrellas across the rice paddies of Ibaraki, Japan, and 1,760 yellow umbrellas across the sere hills of Southern California.
"Our art has absolutely no purpose, except to be a work of art," says Jeanne- Claude. "We do not give messages."
"It is absolutely irrational," says Christo, whose formative experiences in Bulgaria left him with an aversion to anything bearing the least resemblance to agit-prop. There, for a time, it was his task to construct Potemkin Village situations along the railroad, hiding the misery of the collective countryside.
Now his projects have the opposite effect. They reveal the systems that govern their sites: the effect of Germany's past on its future at the Reichstag, environmental emergencies in Biscayne Bay.
The Christos are an act, and they take it on the road. They have perfected the long process through which they try, person by person, power group by power group, to get the permissions and money they need to complete their projects. They lecture (they will be at the Guggenheim Museum on May 7), wine and dine the influential, the suspicious and the sympathetic, meet with politicians, community boards, engineers and environmental groups. Their museum exhibitions are usually for a cause: to persuade people to do a project, to document it when it is over or to sell work.
The National Gallery show, through June 23, offers a rare opportunity to see "The Gates" in the context of all the Christos' projects. The show is a tribute to their friends of 30 years, the collectors Herbert and Dorothy Vogel, whose idea it was. In 1991, the museum acquired the Vogels' collection of more than 2,000 contemporary artworks, including many by the Christos.
For four years in the 1960's, Christo constructed miniature, and then larger, storefronts. Their windows were draped in fabric and often lighted from within, suggesting intimate mysteries and disengaging the work from the "commodifying" that many other artists also shunned at the time. Two of the little-known storefronts with which he made his solo debut at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1966 introduce the National Gallery show.
The wrapped packages in the exhibition including one from 1961 which preceded the Christos to the United States are touchingly pathetic, poetic and handmade, like the prized possessions of 20th-century refugees, with whom Christo and Jeanne- Claude still strongly identify.
The drawings, for all their insouciance, are working documents, conceptual in purpose, assembled with relevant engineering studies, contour maps, street plans. Among these are plans for their other current venture, "Over the River, Project for the Arkansas River, Colorado." For that, they propose to roof a 40-mile section of the river with intermittent segments of shimmering transparent panels, which will be experienced differently from cars passing above or from rafts below. "Over the River" is currently making its slow way through the environmental assessment stage. Thus far it has cost the Christos $1.75 million.
At home in Manhattan, drawings for "The Gates" fill the wall behind the sofa; drawings for "Over the River" face it. In a sense it is a race to determine which has the best possibility of getting the go-ahead first: Eastern or Western, urban or rural.
"At the start of a project we never know what it is," Christo says. "And this is so exciting, because the permitting process gives all the soul, all the energy to the work. It is not invented by us."
In the meantime they are setting about beguiling and converting the necessary "shakers and movers," as Christo calls them.
"As we get older and Christo's hair turns gray and mine turns red, and people know us a little better, it doesn't make things easier to show our previous work," says Jeanne-Claude. "They just express themselves differently. Now they say, 'What you do is marvelous, but please not here!'"