Capitalism 2, Socialism 1 in tight Bulgarian showdown

It was a classic matchup.

On Monday the government of Bulgaria unveiled the Museum of Socialist Art, its first institution dedicated to the experience of 40 years under a planned economy. On Tuesday, Swedish furniture giant IKEA opened its first retail outlet here under Greek franchiser Fourlis Holdings.

But if you were expecting a clear, convincing win in this contest between left and right, think again.

Granted, Bulgarians have been IKEA-mad for some time now, to the point of taking shopping trips down to the nearest outlet in Thessaloniki in Greece while awaiting their chance to buy Swedish meatballs at home. And while today’s influx of shoppers didn’t exactly overflow the parking lot, they certainly beat yesterday’s turnout for socialist art.

But IKEA has itself taken a beating in the local media in recent weeks, after enterprising members of the Sofia press corps found disparities in the price of seemingly identical items in its Romanian, Greek, Bulgarian and other stores.

“IKEA makes fools of Bulgarians,” thundered the Standart News. “Sells at three times higher prices than in Romania.” The Novinite news service backed up the claim with numbers, saying they had found an over-inflated couch and a wardrobe priced at nearly twice its cost in Italy or the UK. IKEA officials, for their part, called the comparisons unfair and misleading since they don’t account for “all parameters” of production.

Bulgarians cannot, perhaps, be blamed for scrutinizing the bottom line. Few former Eastern Bloc countries have waited more patiently or experienced more economic disappointment since the fall of the Soviet Union.

So while there was plenty of curiosity on opening day — for the do-it-yourself furniture, the lingonberry sauce, the juggling clowns on stilts at the front door, and all those yellow and blue balloons — it must be said that the lines were fairly short at the cashier. For today, at least, Bulgarians seemed to be doing more looking than buying.


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