140 years Bulgarian-Belgian Diplomatic Relations

Welcome to the House of Belgians! (In Bulgarian) Your Excellency, this year we celebrate an important anniversary – 140 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Bulgaria and the Kingdom of Belgium Belgium played a major role in the economic, trade and educational development of our country right after the Liberation in 1878. It is known that the Belgian constitution served as an example for the creation of the Tarnovo Constitution. Bulgaria also borrowed from Belgium
its national motto – „Unity makes strength“. Are there any other historical facts and figures, which are not so well known in the history of our bilateral relations? I think we can distinguish three big periods in the development of our diplomatic relations. The first, after the Liberation in 1878
until the First World War, was a really golden time. Belgium was still a young nation – it was founded in 1830. It had received a progressive democratic constitution and was the first industrial country in continental Europe, which extended outwards, including in Bulgaria. Belgium developed industry and infrastructure here –
this is the time of the first electric tram. Also in the academic field – one third of Bulgarian engineers received their education in Belgium. The second period is pretty dark. The two countries had joined hostile alliances
and bilateral relations were frozen. The third period marks a renewal – after World War II and especially after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the integration of Bulgaria into the European Union. The Belgian industry returned here, but in many more areas. In the textile and food industries,
in construction and infrastructure. But also in the services sector.
Today UBB is the third largest bank in Bulgaria. The exchange in the field of innovative technologies
is also developing. Our companies not only produce here, but also develop high technologies with the help of
wonderful Bulgarian engineers and mathematicians. Regarding the historical figures,
I would like to congratulate all those Bulgarian citizens – professors, employees, engineers, artists, who have contributed to the deepening of bilateral relations. The difference today is that our relations
are now developing within the EU. We share the same values ​​and principles and together we build rules and directives,
which we must observe. Also, due to the democratization in our relations,
citizens communicate easily and quickly and this fosters bilateral relations. Is that the biggest change in the spirit of our relationship? – Yes. How would you describe the current state of affairs and future prospects for development of our bilateral relations? Is there unused potential for their deepening and progress? I will use diplomatic wording – our relationships are at least excellent. But they can improve in different directions. First, in the area of ​​economy and investment –
Belgian companies have major development projects. But in order to be realized, two conditions are needed. First, there must be a more transparent
and secure legal and regulatory framework especially in public procurement. The second condition is skilled workforce. However, many young graduates emigrate. I urge the Bulgarian government to give more hope to young people to stay here by investing more in education and healthcare. The second direction of development is university exchange. I repeat – we are two nations with many engineers
and there is room for close cooperation between us. The third opportunity is about balancing trade relations. Today, Bulgaria is ahead of Belgium in export. Development is very good in the area of ​​investment. In the last two years Bulgaria made major investments in Belgium in the area of ​​electricity. If Belgium does not want to sink into the darkness, this is partly due to a Bulgarian company,
which invests in the Vilvoorde gas station. The next area is tourism, which is related to many people. You have an exceptional country offering
not only beaches, but also mineral springs. There is a need to develop this area, to develop SPA tourism. SPA is a Belgian word – coming from the name of a Belgian city, which has successfully developed health tourism,
as could be the case here. Your Excellency, during your diplomatic career you have worked in many parts of the world – from Seoul to New York. What were your expectations for the Bulgarian people
before the beginning of your posting to Sofia? Is there anything that surprised or impressed you
after your arrival here? I chose this posting for various reasons. The first is that in the diplomatic system of Belgium the posting in Sofia is regional. It’s with great jurisdiction spreading from Illyria to Istanbul and from the Danube to the Dardanelles. Most of the countries are from the Western Balkans. Four countries – the main one, of course, is Bulgaria, but also Albania, the Republic of North Macedonia and the Republic of Kosovo. These are four separate countries
at a different stage in EU integration. I found it very interesting. This is also a very important geostrategic area, influenced by the great powers, as well as regional ones such as Russia and Turkey. The stake for the European Union here is to direct these forces towards European interests. It was also interesting for me that Bulgaria had been an EU member for 10 years. I want to be present during the political and economic transition in the process of integration. I am undoubtedly impressed by the exceptional Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU. Bulgaria has shown courage and wisdom by focusing on an important political priority – the long-term perspective for the integration
of the Western Balkans into the EU. In doing so, Bulgaria offers a good future, a third path, different from anarchy or autocracy, with which the Balkans are often associated. Nowadays, Bulgarians associate Belgium with the excellent chocolate and beer, but also because it is in the heart of Europe, because of the headquarters of most of the
EU and NATO institutions in Brussels. Is there anything else that Bulgarians don’t know about your country yet? First of all, thank you for associating Belgium with more than chocolate, beer, fries, diamonds or movie animation. For example, now we are talking in French. But Belgium is a federal multicultural country with three national languages ​​– Dutch, French and German. Belgium was a battleground for all European powers. It developed a sense of realism and pragmatism,
but it also created surrealism in painting and poetry. All these elements – multiculturalism, the battlefield,
pragmatism and visioning, have made us kings of compromise. We have developed a structured way to prevent conflicts,
by patiently reaching consensus. This is Belgium’s motto at the UN Security Council: “Fostering consensus, acting for peace”. For this reason, Belgium was chosen as the seat of the EU and NATO. And that’s probably why it’s so often invited
to preside over the Council of the EU… Maybe another little known fact is That, besides being a country of engineers and intermediaries, we also have 11 Nobel Prize winners – five Peace Prizes, five in Natural Sciences – Medicine, Chemistry and Physics, and one in Literature. What Belgians still do not know about our country? Just as Belgium is more than a country of chocolate and beer, Bulgaria is more than a country of rakia, rose water or yogurt. In fact, it plays a significant role in a geostrategic area. This is where the evangelization of Western Europe began. Bulgarian is the Latin of Slavic languages. Belgians do not know that Bulgaria is also a country of engineers. I recently learned that a Bulgarian invented the airbag. Also, a Bulgarian engineer created the computer. А Belgian, on the other hand, contributed to the design of the web space. So we can imagine what the result would be from our collaboration in new technologies. Of course, Bulgaria also has wonderful personalities. In Philosophy – Tzvetan Todorov… In Psychoanalysis – Julia Kristeva… The world-famous artist Christo… Elias Canetti – winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, born in Rousse. Mr. Ambassador, would you please share with us what inspires and excites you beyond your diplomatic career? First of all, I am inspired by my wife, who has been following me in my career for 30 years, as well as my three children. For me, this is a priority and a source of inspiration.
Also philosophy, motorcycling, bicycles. Bulgaria is also a country of bicycles –
something else that can be further developed. Visiting Orthodox monasteries and Thracian tombs also inspires me. You mentioned your wife – I know she is an excellent cook. What is your favorite Bulgarian dish? Difficult question. Bulgarian cuisine seems a little close to me to Korean – from my wife’s home country. I love all kinds of dishes with cheese on the oven and large plates with different vegetables. In the Bansko area they are prepared especially well. What will you miss the most after the end of your posting here? It’s too early to talk about this because I haven’t left yet. I think I will miss them the most the nice faces and magnificent landscapes of Bulgaria. One last question: this year the Bulgarian Diplomatic Service celebrates its 140th anniversary. In your opinion, which is the most significant achievement of the Bulgarian diplomacy? As I pointed out, this is the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU. Bulgaria has played a leading role in this geopolitical region. It can continue doing so if the EU does not look at the region just as a field for the big players. Bulgaria needs to establish itself as a force,
to build a world that fits its vision – the development of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Bulgaria can play a role in building a stronger European Union. Thank you.

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