Even the German tourists in Bulgaria don’t realise it. When they convert their euro in Bulgarian currency, they obtain… Deutschmarks. Yes, the Bulgarian Lev has been pegged to the DM in July 1997, almost 10 years before Bulgaria became a EU member, and the exchange rate has never changed. Bulgaria’s Lev (BGN), valued at exactly 1 DM, continues to weigh exactly 1.95626 to the euro.
Лев is an old Bulgarian word for Лъв, meaning Lion. The plural is Leva.
But who and why pegged the Lev to the DM? Bulgaria went into a giant banking and financial crisis in 1996. A currency board was put in place by the IMF and hyperinflation disappeared as by magic. Ever since, it’s no longer possible for “print” money, everything is under scrutiny, and the Bulgarians no longer fear that their savings will disappear overnight. Well, almost, as the failure of the Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB, also known a
s Corpbank), the fourth largest in the country, almost destabilised the entire banking system.
Tzvetan Vassilev, the owner of CCB, has fled the country, and is at present under house arrest in Serbia. The authorities in Belgrade refuse his extradition.
Tourists may not be aware that the Lev is pegged to the DM, but they have noticed two things. First, the Bulgarian money resembles the euro, and it’s not difficult to confuse a 1 Lev coin with a euro coin, or a 5, 10, 20, 50 or 100-leva note with the respective euro notes. Better be careful!