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Bulgaria a treasure combining Thracian, Byzantine, Roman culturesInterview with Ambassador Petar Andonov of Bulgaria in Seoul

The following are excerpts from an interview with Ambassador Petar Andonov of Bulgaria in Seoul conducted by The Korea Post media (publisher of 3 English and 2 Korean-language publications) on the occasion of the National Day of Bulgaria on March 3, 2018.—Ed.

Prime Minister Boyko Borissov of Bulgaria

Question: Congratulations on the National Day of your esteemed country. Please introduce in detail the National Day for our readers.

Answer: Bulgaria is currently member of the EU (since 2007) and NATO (since 2004), but it is one of the oldest states in Europe. Positioned on the crossroads between Europe and Asia, Bulgaria is a treasure that combines Thracian, Byzantine and Roman cultures. I would like to explain that March 3rd is the day of our liberation from Ottoman Empire’s rule and that is its main meaning. On our calendar we have also days for marking unification and independence of Bulgaria. On March 3rd 1878 or exactly 140 years ago, a peace treaty between Russia and the Ottoman Empire was signed to end the 1877-1878 Russian-Turkish War. This treaty restored the Bulgarian statehood after almost 500 years of Ottoman Empire rule. The Russian-Turkish war loomed after the atrocious suppression on April Uprising in Bulgaria in 1876, which provoked a huge response of solidarity with the Bulgarian people from Europe. After the peace treaty signed in the city of San Stefano, Bulgaria reappeared on the European map. On March 3rd we are not only paying respect to the sacrifices of Bulgarians participating in 1876 April Uprising, but also to the Russian soldiers and soldiers from Finland, Romania, Poland and other countries who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of Bulgaria from the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Reflecting on the historical background of our National Day I think there are at least three similarities between Republic of Bulgaria and Republic of Korea: historically in terms of experiencing the consequences of foreign invasions; culturally in terms of invention of unique alphabet (Cyrillic letters are now being used in 12 countries and Hangul) and conceptually in terms of sharing nowadays the common values of democracy, market economy and protection of human rights.

Q: On January 1st Bulgaria assumed the Presidency of the Council of the EU for the first half of 2018. What are the main priorities of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU?

A: The European Union is unique, because our diversity does not divide us, but brings our European family closer together. So unity is exactly what the Bulgarian Presidency will work for. “United We Stand Strong”. This is the motto for the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. This motto conveys the message that, in everything we do, we will seek to protect and strengthen European unity.

On January 1st 2018, after being member state of the EU for 11 years already, Bulgaria assumed for a first time the Presidency of the Council of the EU, one of the key institutions of the EU. It means that for the next 6 months Bulgaria will be the main and honest broker in the EU decision-making process. The Council of the EU plays the role of the voice of EU member-states’ governments in negotiating and adopting EU laws, together with the European Parliament and coordinating the EU policies. Bulgaria will seek a balance between different points of view and different interests of the EU member states for the benefit of all EU citizens. We will seek consensus, compromise and understanding among EU member states to take decisions and adopt legislation.

The three pillars of our Presidency program are stability, security and solidarity. We plan to achieve these goals by implementing three key principles: consensus, competitiveness and cohesion.

We will work on four main priorities:

Bulgaria will work for the future of Europe and its young people through economic growth and social cohesion. Under this heading, we will work on the policies that provide the foundations of the EU’s wellbeing and prosperity. To boost economic growth, the Bulgarian Presidency will work towards strengthening the Economic and Monetary Union. We will prepare the debate on the next Multiannual Financial Framework ahead of the European Commission's proposal in May 2018, gather ideas about the future cohesion policy post-2020, and steer the debate on how to modernize and simplify the common agricultural policy after 2020. Some of these topics have been discussed many times within the Council of EU. Young people should be at the center in the debate on the future of Europe. We should make efforts to fostering their digital, entrepreneurial and creative skills. And, not least, we mean harnessing culture as a unifying force in our societies and a strategic resource for a better EU future.

Bulgaria will work for security and stability in a strong and united Europe. It is important to focus on security policy and migration. The focus of our work in this area will be on the completion of the reform of the Common European Asylum System based on the principles of responsibility and true solidarity. In the area of security, it is a priority for us to improve the interoperability of the EU's information systems and databases in the area of security and fighting crime and terrorism as well as strengthening border control and procedures for security checks at the borders and inside the EU. Threats are becoming ever more complex and transnational. EU member states therefore need to work together and share information to ensure the safety and security of citizens across the European Union.

Bulgaria will work for delivering a tangible European perspective for all the countries from the Western Balkans and for their connectivity with the EU member states in terms of transport, energy, education and digital connectivity. From our point of view, this is the road to lasting peace, prosperity and security in this region. In this regard, we are organizing a summit 28+6 between the EU leaders and leaders of the Western Balkans’ countries in Sofia on May 17. The European Commission already published a Strategy for the Western Balkans countries in February 2018 and the Regular Enlargement Report will be released in April 2018. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria welcomed the Strategy for the Western Balkans. Countries in the region have a clear time perspective. The year of 2025 is an ambitious goal and its implementation requires mobilization for decisive reforms in key areas of political, economic and social life. We also welcome the European Commission's readiness to support the Western Balkan countries with six new initiatives to strengthen the rule of law, security and migration, socio-economic development, transport and energy connectivity, digital agenda, reconciliation and good neighborly relations.

Bulgaria will work for digital economy and skills needed for the future in terms of development of the Digital Single Market, access to innovation and link between education and requirements of the labor market. Bulgaria will also work to promote entrepreneurship based on digital technology and innovation. For the Bulgarian Presidency, the 'future of work' lies in identifying the right skills for the new jobs, and in improving the planning and interaction of policies in the area of education, training and employment, with an emphasis on the youth employment and the development of 21st century skills. We also want to make sure that our educational systems are good enough to provide young people with the skills that the labor market of tomorrow demands. For this, we will look into the future of the Erasmus+ program, discuss how to modernize European education and make sure that we are providing an environment conducive to lifelong learning.

Finally, I am very happy that the first Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU coincides with marking the 55th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between the EU and the Republic of Korea.

Q: What are the important developments scheduled between Korea and your country, including the possible visit of your Head of Government to Korea now that Korea has President Moon Jae-in as a relatively new President?

A: We maintain a very active political dialogue between Sofia and Seoul under the new administration of H.E. Moon Jae-in, President of the Republic of Korea. In August 2017 a parliamentary delegation led by the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria paid an official visit to the Republic of Korea. In October 2017, H.E.Lee Nak-yeon, Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea made an official visit to Republic of Bulgaria. We felt greatly honored by the fact that his first overseas visit in his new capacity as a Prime Minister of Republic of Korea was to Bulgaria. The talks between the Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria H.E.Boyko Borisov and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea H.E.Lee Nak-yeon opened a new chapter in our bilateral relations of comprehensive and future-oriented partnership. We expect Prime Minister Borisov to visit Republic of Korea later this year and we believe that such a visit will be linked to the launch of new investment projects of Korean companies in Bulgaria. We also hope that H.E.Moon Jae-in, President of the Republic of Korea will become the first President of your country to visit Bulgaria.

Q: What is the current volume of bilateral trade, its outlook in the next 12 months?

A: The current volume of the bilateral trade between Republic of Bulgaria and Republic of Korea is amounted to approximately 200 million USD. We are not satisfied with this amount. That is the reason why we are making efforts to increase the level of bilateral trade between our countries. The rose oil and the Bulgarian yoghurt are unique export products, already well-known to the Korean consumers. Bulgarian cosmetic products based on rose oil are gaining popularity on the Korean market. The same is also valid for Bulgarian wines and Bulgarian mineral water. The interest among Bulgarian companies for exporting milk and dairy products to Republic of Korea is growing. We are also currently focused on expanding our exports of organic foods, wheat, honey, raw tobacco, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, electronic components and other products fully utilizing the EU-ROK FTA. We also hope for speeding up the completion of the already started procedures that will give Bulgarian companies a chance to export meat products and live poultry, especially day-old ducklings and hatched eggs. In April 2017 the purchasing mission of Korea Importers Association (KOIMA) visited Bulgaria and met many potential trade partners. I believe we could expect soon first positive results of the meetings between Bulgarian and Korean potential business partners.

Q: What are the areas in your country where you want Korean companies to invest and what are the areas where you wish your businessmen to invest in Korea?

A: Bulgaria is emerging as a regional hub in the automotive industry, ICT sector and business process outsourcing, gaining momentum as innovation hub in Southeastern Europe. In this regard, I would like to underline once again the official visit of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea Mr.Lee Nak-yeon to Bulgaria in October 2017 and his talks with the Bulgarian Prime Minister Mr.Boyko Borisov on economic cooperation and business partnerships between companies from our two countries. I think with these talks our bilateral relations in the fields of investment and trade entered into a new stage. The Prime Minister of the Republic of Bugaria most effectively drew attention to Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea on the fact that the fastest growing industry in Bulgaria is the production of parts and components for automotive industry so we are ready to host an assembling plant for cars, including electric vehicles. The foreign investors in this sector have chosen Bulgaria for several reasons: competitive labor cost, political and macroeconomic stability, geographic proximity to the major markets in Western Europe in terms of producers and consumers, low cost of doing business, tax benefits (corporate tax rate of 10% and personal income tax of 10%), social security benefits and vocational training benefits.

Bulgaria and Korea have competitive edges in hardware and software of ICT respectively. The R&D activities and development of the segments of ICT market of Korean companies in the field of IT, computer software, business process outsourcing, technological start-ups, big data, cloud solutions, semantics technologies, mobile payments, bank software, business intelligence, shared services centers, e-health, mobile versions of enterprise applications, mobile security, software-based storage, software-designed storage at Sofia Tech Park as a first innovation ecosystem in Southeastern Europe could be accommodated in this technological park. On May 14, 2015 Samsung Electronics and Sofia Tech Park signed a memorandum of understanding. The capital of Bulgaria, Sofia, is one of the most attractive places in Europe for start-ups, . Bulgaria has a great potential to be a regional engine of the EU plan for digital single market with the great reputation of Bulgarian computer software engineers and developers. One of the best start-ups in Central & Eastern Europe, the Bulgarian Imagga Technologies as a platform of cloud-based application programming interface (API) for automated image recognition and video tagging finished as № 4 in K-Startup Grand Challenge 2016. Bulgaria has successfully positioned itself as a regional innovation hub for ICT-related R&D services in Southeastern Europe.

As a regional transportation and logistical center of Southeastern Europe, Bulgaria could assist the efforts of Korean companies for their exports to EU markets benefiting from the well-developed network of ports, airports and logistical centers as well as communication networks.

Q: Please introduce your Head of Government in detail, including major achievements.

A: Prime Minister Boyko Borisov was elected as a Head of the Bulgarian Government for a third term on May 4th 2017. He had previously held the post of the Prime Minister of Republic of Bulgaria two times: from July 2009 until February 2013 and from November 2014 until the end of January 2017. He is the most successful politician in the recent history of Bulgaria holding for three times the post of the Prime Minister. Mr.Borisov was also a Mayor of Sofia, capital of Bulgaria, from 2005 to 2009. Before that he was Secretary-General of the Ministry of Interior of Bulgaria. Prime Minister Borisov is also a President of the ruling center-right GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria) political party. His domestic policies are mostly aimed at modernization of the Bulgarian infrastructure, attracting foreign direct investment to the Bulgarian economy and fighting corruption. For his foreign policy initiatives Prime Minister Borisov is highly respected among his partners within EU and NATO member-states.

Q: What are the attractive tourist destinations of your country?

A: Bulgaria is a wonderful combination of nature, ancient culture, healing springs and warm sea. Bulgarian lands enjoy the magnificence of four different seasons: fragrant spring, hot summer, golden fruit-bearing autumn and snowy winter. Bulgaria’s rich cultural heritage, the legacy of different civilizations, along with the country’s natural attractions, is the reason why these lands are recognized and protected by UNESCO as part of the world’s cultural and natural heritage. Seven of Bulgaria’s monuments of culture are on the UNESCO list of world cultural heritage: the church at Boyana, old town of Nesebar, the Sveshtari and the Kazanlak Thracian tombs, the Ivanovo cliff churches, the Madara Horseman and the Rila Monastery. Two of Bulgaria’s natural attractions have also been recognized by UNESCO: Pirin National Park and Srebarna Lake for their biodiversity, rare flora and fauna, and their sheer beauty.

I would recommend your readers also to visit the magical Bulgarian Black Sea side, to play golf in our state-of-the-art golf courses and do hiking at the Bulgarian mountains. I would like to most kindly drew the attention of your readers also to the Bulgarian value tasty cuisine, delicious dishes, excellent wines and grape brandy. Bulgarian yoghurt, well-known in Korea with its uniqueness, has an extremely favorable effect on human health. It balances the micro-flora of the stomach, removes the harmful substances and strengthens the immune system of the human body. Its origin dates back to the Thracian times some 4000 years B.C. Last, but not least, Korean tourists should know that in terms of number of water springs, Bulgaria is ranked second following only Iceland. About 600 mineral springs have been discovered and examined till present. More than 80% of them have healing properties with the temperature of the water from 20 to 101 degrees Celsius. And if your readers visit Bulgaria to feel the miraculous power of its mineral water and the comfort of the new luxurious spa complexes they will find wonderful opportunities for relaxation and entertainment: ski and snowboard in the winter, long golden beaches in the summer, high mountains with astonishing views and fantastic ski resorts.

Q: Please introduce yourself in detail, including your career, family and hobbies.

A: I started my career as a journalist, working for Bulgarian National TV as a moderator of a talk show on economic and business affairs. I also worked as a Deputy Director of the U.S. Radio Free Europe-Sofia Bureau and as a moderator of review of the week talk show and producer of business news at the private TV Europe, a media network in Bulgaria, focused on news and current affairs programs. In 1991-1992 I was a Senior Economic Adviser to the Prime Minister of Bulgaria and in 1997-1998 I was Secretary of Economic Affairs to the President of Bulgaria. I was ambassador of Bulgaria to Japan from 1998-2003. In November 2012 I assumed the position of Bulgarian ambassador to Republic of Korea. I have Master of Economics degree from the University of National and World Economy in Bulgaria and Master of Business Administration degree from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia as well as Certificate of Achievement from Harvard Institute for International Development on Macroeconomic Policy in the USA under Prof. Jeffrey D. Sachs supervision. I am a great fan of the quality pop, rock and jazz music and I dedicate significant portion of my free time to listening to the songs of my favorite Bulgarian and international artists. I love also meeting with friends and travelling around Korea, which is a very beautiful country. I already visited many places in your country and I would like to thank the Korea Post for giving me this great chance in many cases in the last 5 years.

Kim Su-a  edt@koreapost.com

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