Dimitar Dimitrov at his wife’s cabin in the rural village of Silistra, four months after his self-immolation.
Wave of Immolation – Bulgarians Are Setting Themselves on Fire in Record Numbers
It’s not every day that you meet someone who has set himself on fire. One reason for this is because it’s pretty much the most awful and insane thing imaginable. Another reason is that people who light themselves ablaze usually die soon afterward. Surprisingly, it’s not always the burns that kill them. Often, flames will enter a self-immolator’s lungs through his mouth, causing him to asphyxiate.
On a recent trip to Bulgaria, I met not one but two people who had survived suicide attempts by fire. “Solving problems with gasoline has become the new trend,” Georgi Kostov told me in the burn-victim unit of St. George hospital in Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second-largest city. He was still in shock, so his wife, Donka, did most of the talking.
She explained how the couple were unemployed, in debt, and struggling to feed their children, when, two weeks before my visit, Georgi disappeared into his bedroom at their apartment in the industrial city of Dimitrovgrad. He came out doused in gasoline, convinced that the Mafia was outside his front door to collect on his debts and kill him. Standing in front of his family, he flicked on his lighter and burst into flames. Donka leapt onto him to put out the blaze while his sister threw water on him. They succeeded in saving Georgi, but his wife suffered third-degree burns all over her arms in the process. “He was so depressed,” she said. “He didn’t know how to make anyone notice our poverty. So he did this horrible thing.”
Fake Funerals in South Korea
Despite its booming economy, the people of South Korea have never been more unhappy. With an average of 43 suicides per day, it’s the suicide capital of the developed world and Asia’s unhappiest nation.
Unsurprisingly, this apparent paradox has provoked much soul-searching within South Korea. A result of this is the “Well Dying”—or “Near Death”—movement, which aims to give people a little taste of death to replenish their appetite for life.
Perhaps the most bizarre manifestation of this movement is the rise of “fake funeral” services, where participants are lectured by a philosophical guru and told to write their own eulogies, before spending 30 minutes meditating inside a coffin.
VICE Japan correspondent Yuka Uchida headed to Seoul to try to experience her own “death” at a fake funeral ceremony.
David Bowie Stole My Suicide Record, So I Ripped the Hubcaps Off His Limo – Please Kill Me
Above: Legs and Joey Ramone around the time this story takes place. Photo by Tom Hearn
[Editor’s Note: Hi, millennials! We’d like to interrupt whatever Vine you’re working on and introduce you to our friend Legs. Maybe you’ve heard of him—he’s responsible for a little book called Please Kill Me, which is the best book on punk rock ever written. Noisey was filming with him a few weeks ago, and we convinced him to do a little writing for us. Enjoy!]
In my ongoing attempt to rebuild my vinyl collection, I was recently perusing a Brooklyn hipster record store and came across the new David Bowie album, The Next Day. I’ve been enjoying quite a few lesser-known Bowie cuts lately, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and really get wild. I bought the record.
This is a real feat for me, as I’ve never bought a record on faith alone. I’d been hearing good things about the record, and I was curious to hear what an artist like Bowie had to say at the end of his career or—if the rumors are true about his having cancer—at the end of his life.
While I was paying for the record, I was reminded of Mick Jagger’s famous quote about Bowie: “Never wear a new pair of shoes in front of him.” Jagger’s implication was either that Bowie was a notorious thief (of ideas, trends, or the latest fashions), or that he’d run right out and get it in order to claim ultra-hipper-than-thou-trendsetting status.” Yeah, be the first one on the block with a new, red-rooster, unisex cut and ten-inch, sparkling, platform shoes!
Inside Anonymous’ Operation to Out Rehtaeh Parsons’ Alleged Rapists
The late Rehtaeh Parsons. via Facebook.
In the days following the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons—the teenage girl from Halifax who committed suicide after being gang raped, photographed, and harassed—the hacktivist group Anonymous is playing a game of chicken with the authorities in Nova Scotia. Anonymous says they have the names of four suspects, and are threatening to release that information if justice is not delivered. Those names have in fact been circulating in small online circles, but the information has been withheld from publication on Anonymous’s largest social media channels. All of this has caused a storm of negative feedback from those who view Anonymous’s actions as destructive “vigilantism” while Anonymous maintains they are only involved because “several crimes have been committed in Nova Scotia. A 17-year-old girl killed herself because the police failed to do their jobs.”
I spoke with a member of Anonymous who is directly involved with the operation to bring Rehtaeh’s rapists to justice, in order to get a better handle on their motivations.
VICE: How do you go about sourcing the information that has led to naming the four suspects?
Anonymous: The information we have gathered comes from a combination of internet research and informants. It’s a lot more like being a journalist than it is being a detective. We use advanced search techniques to comb the internet for statements, photos, videos, whatever we need. We can locate statements by suspects made years ago on accounts they may not even know still exist. We’ve also developed a level of trust with our online community and they feel comfortable speaking with us because they know we’ll protect their identities. We validate their information in the same way the police might, by cross referencing stories and doing background checks on the individuals who are providing the information. There’s also a psychological factor. It’s important to recognize the motives behind the person who is providing you the information. Some people just want to be involved so they’ll embellish their accounts or perhaps they want revenge. You can’t always count on a person’s memory either so it’s important to test them to discover if the story they are telling you has been compromised by time or their emotional state.
In this case, did your sources approach you?
Most of the sources approached us, but we tracked down quite a few of them by examining the online interactions of the victim and the suspects.
What have you learned about this case so far that you want people to know?
Only half of this case is about those four teenage boys and the alleged rape. The real guilty parties here are the adults that violated Rehtaeh. I would like to see those boys punished for what they did because I think it sets a terrible example for the other young men in Nova Scotia, but almost even more I would like to see the police and the school system pay for what they did to that girl. They had a responsibility to be there for her, to protect her, and to relieve her torment. They failed at every turn to help her. Now they’re all too busy blaming one another. The school claims they didn’t know. The police say they couldn’t find any evidence. They’re both guilty of incompetence.
Your Clothes Are Making Indian Cotton Farmers Commit Suicide
In the same month that 125 Bangladeshi fabric workers died in a factory fire, a film aiming to expose the tragedy of unrestricted globalized fashion called Dirty White Gold reached its Sponsume target of £18,000(about $27,000). The film begins by examining the hundreds of thousands of Indian cotton farmers who, saddled with economic hopelessness, have taken their own lives. It’s a jolly little piece.
A Center for Human Rights and Global Justice report describes the root of the problem: At the turn of the millennium, Indian farmers who had been given access to a wider range of products after India’s market liberalization started buying genetically modified Bollgard Bt cotton seeds from the Gates Foundation-backedMonsanto corporation. The seeds were able to resist and kill the common American Bollworm cotton pest, making them an instant hit, with 85 percent of cotton grown in India being Monsanto-controlled Bt cotton by 2009.
However, the seeds were expensive, and spiralling prices (coupled with planting restrictions from the multinationals selling the seeds) led to farmers approaching money lenders for hefty loans that eventually turned into unmanageable debt. Almost 300,000 cotton workers have committed suicide to date, some of them by drinking the same insecticides they were sold by multinationals. And those suicides also bring up wider questions about the ethics of the fashion industry as a whole, in that this cotton is used in the clothes that end up absolutely everywhere.
India’s embrace of the free market opened the floodgates for international money and, perhaps predictably, the corporatization of agriculture vanquished the need for the small-to-medium scale farmers who used to own and control the productive process. For roughly 100 rupees per day (about $1.80), these people are now contracted to spread toxic insecticides and fertilizers, often with little or no protective clothing. I called up the director ofDirty White Gold, London-based journalist Leah Borromeo, to see if the situation could possibly get any more depressing.
Leah Borromeo interviewing Hanuman, an indebted cotton farmer
VICE: Hi, Leah. How far along into the film are you at the moment?
Leah Borromeo: Some days I feel like I’m a quarter of the way done, and other days I feel like I’m only an eighth of the way done. It’s going to be out in 2014, toward the end of summer. I’ve got a deadline, so I’m trying to get everything done by then, but I can’t rush nature—quite literally, in this case.
What made you want to work on this topic in particular?
I was doing it as a straightforward magazine article, but I ended up bringing a camera with me and found so many stories within that surface story. Then I found there was a real, genuine chance to express globalization, capitalism, consumerism, and all the wider political and social arguments through the medium of this story.
Yeah, you could look at it as a single issue, but obviously the problem is vast, and arguably a consequence of global capitalism.
It embodies absolutely everything. Fashion is the one piece of art that people tend to consume either consciously or unconsciously. The two best foils for relating to consumerism are through food or fashion. Food is quite a niche thing, because not everybody eats meat, but everybody—for the most part—seems to wear clothes.
THE MYSTERIOUS AND DEPRESSING CASE OF PRISONER X
The grave of Ben Zygier, Israel’s “Prisoner X”
On Tuesday morning, the Australian news network ABC broadcast a story revealing the identity of the mysterious “Prisoner X,” who died in solitary confinement in an Israeli prison in 2010. In fact, “Prisoner X” was the subject of a case so secret that ABC claimed even the guards inside the Ayalon prison didn’t know his identity, and that he “lived hermetically sealed from the outside world.” His arrest and detention have been described as a “disappearance,” setting alarm bells ringing for bodies such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, who argued that the idea of individuals simply vanishing from society is not a characteristic of a democratic state.
If the case already sounded like a bizarre 21st century combination of a Cold War spy thriller and The Man in the Iron Mask, things only got murkier when it was revealed that Prisoner X was found hanged in a cell that was under 24-hour surveillance, yet his incarceration was not officially recognized by either the Israeli Prison Service or the government. The Sydney Morning Herald also revealed on Wednesday that he was being watched by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), and that he had traveled to Iran, Syria, and Lebanon—all places that bar entry to people who’ve visited “the Zionist entity.” Israel forbids its citizens from traveling to these places for “security reasons,” so it was reported that Zygier, along with at least two others, had used their Australian passports. It’s been suggested often before that Australians are favored for spy missions because they don’t attract suspicion.
One thing ABC was clear about from the start was his identity—he was an Australian national named Ben Zygier, who had moved to Israel ten years before his death and changed his name to Ben Alon, before marrying an Israeli woman with whom he had two children. It seems likely that Zygier spent time working as a spy for the infamous Israeli secret service agency the Mossad before being jailed without an open trial and dying in his cell. ABC stated that his body was flown to Melbourne in December 2010 for burial, but the Australian government wasn’t informed of his death. This constitutes a violation of fairly basic international law, something that Israel is admittedly no stranger to.
Ayalon prison, where Zygier was detained
This is where it all started to become a problem for the Israeli government. Israeli media outlets usually manage to bypass the military censor for high profile stories by quoting foreign media sources and, initially, the local Israeli press jumped on ABC’s revelation. However, it seems that the Prisoner X case is shrouded in even more secrecy than the strikes Israel recently carried out in Syria and the country’s incursion into Lebanese airspace. Ha’aretz later reported that:
“The Prime Minister’s Office called on Tuesday an emergency meeting of the Israeli Editors Committee, an informal forum comprised of the editors and owners of major Israeli media outlets, to ask its members to cooperate with the government and withhold publication of information pertaining to an incident that is very embarrassing to a certain government agency.”
- The U.S. Postal Service is asking Floridians to please stop crashing their cars into post offices, after 14 incidents so far this year.
- Former Broward County School Board member Jennifer Gottlieb had extramarital affairs with two high-ranking Citigroup bankers—while she was voting on business they were conducting with the school system. But she wasn’t indicted because there’s no “law forbidding voting on public matters involving intimate friends.”
- Marine scientists are asking Floridians to stop interrupting manatee orgies. Tempting though it may be.
- Casey Anthony (famous for being acquitted of murdering her daughter) has been offered $20,000 to fight Michelle “Bombshell” McGee (famous for breaking up Jesse James and Sandra Bullock’s marriage) in a “celebrity” boxing match in South Florida. I just hope this possible detour into boxing doesn’t delay Anthony’s inevitable porn debut.
- A Hollywood martial artists on trial for double homicide claims that he stabbed his wife 30 times and her 14-year-old son 51 times in self-defense.
A DATE WITH DEATH ON THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
San Francisco, August 7, 1937. A midsummer day like so many others—a blanket of fog above the bay, the air warming as the sun lazily filters through and burns it off, teasing brightness from the city’s glittering new symbol, the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a Saturday, a day off for most, to relax, see friends or family, maybe picnic in the park, or, as many would choose to do, indulge in a new and thrilling pastime—walk across the bridge and take in the magnificent view. From one side, the city rose against the bay. From the other, the horizon of the Pacific spread out as far as the eye could see. Much more than a remarkable feat of engineering and a source of great pride for the city and for the country, the bridge was a gateway, named for the strait which it spanned, and as imposing and graceful an embodiment of the promise of California and the golden West as had ever been seen.
While there are beautiful bridges all over the world, the Golden Gate looms in the collective imagination, a stunning structure set within an equally magnificent landscape. In America, New York and the Atlantic can be thought to look back, forever bound to the customs of England, Europe, and the past. San Francisco and the Pacific, however, represent a greater unknown and a sense of freedom, connected to nature and Eastern thought, to the cycle of life and eternity. Traveling the country from east to west, one might end up in a San Francisco park named Land’s End. Set high above a rocky coast, it offers an unparalleled view of the ocean and the Golden Gate from its wild, windswept cliffs. In 1937, against a backdrop of seismic world events—from murderous purges in the Soviet Union to the Spanish Civil War and Japan’s invasion of China—the bridge would also symbolize the heights to which humans could aspire. Built in the midst of the Great Depression—a convulsive period of economic crisis, increasingly nationalistic aggression, and lingering resentments from the First World War that served as the ominous prelude to the second—it is one of the lasting achievements of its time. Unhealed wounds, of course, are not only the burden of the vanquished but of the victor, and even among the victorious there are those who remain deeply traumatized, are resigned to emotional defeat and forgotten. Do we memorialize those who are haunted in this way, or are there only memorials by default?
On that summer day 75 years ago, a man named Harold Wobber was walking across the bridge. Along the way he encountered Dr. Louis Naylor, a college professor from Connecticut who had come to San Francisco on vacation. A conversation was struck up between the two men, and they continued on together. At about the midpoint of the bridge, Wobber came to a stop, took off his jacket and vest, and reportedly said, “This is where I get off.” As he hopped the railing, Naylor attempted to take hold of his belt, but Wobber was able to break free and leapt from the bridge, its first recorded suicide. This is the man’s claim to fame, such as it is, and though not much more is known about him, what little information is available is telling.