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Education ministers in Britain have been leaping over each other to defend classic authors such as Jane Austen, promising to make them untouchable elements of the curriculum.

Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, has even said that authors such as Mark Twain made him want to become a novelist as a child.

Three cheers, then, for Daniel Valchev, Bulgaria's education minister (right), who has a refreshingly different attitude.

He has admitted that he never read any of the classic literature required of him in school and that he wrote papers and passed exams on the books without ever even looking at them.

The minister, a former lecturer at the country's most prestigious university, said: "Everybody talks about having read the classics, but the truth is that most of us have not done so."

He added that he still had not read the books that were on the curriculum in Bulgaria.

He did claim to have read Tolstoy's War and Peace, but only after he had left school, and purely for "pleasure" rather than out of obligation.

Bulgarian secondary school pupils study classics of both Bulgarian and world literature, including works such as Homer's Iliad, Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls and the plays of William Shakespeare.

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