homepage_name! > Editions > Number 136 > Ambassador - Bulgaria

Bulgaria

Bulgaria is a country in Southeastern Europe. It borders with Romania to the north, Serbia and North Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, and the Black Sea to the east. With a territory of 110,994 square kilometers (42,855 sq. mi), Bulgaria is Europe's sixteenth-largest country. Bulgaria is situated in an important and busy corridor that connects Central Europe with Asia Minor and the Middle East through the valley of the Maritsa river. The Danube, a border river, used for the export of agricultural raw materials, also has a traffic significance, and is also important for obtaining energy. Bulgaria is a diverse area in terms of relief. Its backbone is the Maritsa with its valley (Thrace). The Upper Thracian Plain (also known as the Maritsa Plain) is situated around the Maritsa. The plain is bordered by the Rhodope mountains and the Balkans, and spans about 200 km in length and 40-70 km in width. There are also fertile arable areas where, thanks to the maritime climate influence from the Aegean Sea, different crops are successfully cultivated (tobacco, cotton, vegetables, rice, wines, and grains). This is also the most densely populated area in Bulgaria. According to the 2011 census, Bulgaria had 7,364,570 citizens.

H. E. Mr. Radko Vlajkov, Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria to the Republic of Serbia 1. Mr. Ambassador, how do you feel in Belgrade? Can you tell us what your impressions are of Serbia? I feel very good in Belgrade. I’ve felt the exceptional atmosphere of this city since the very beginning. People are the greatest asset of this city. Belgradians are proud people who have a sense of dignity; they are likeable people who think and act like Europeans. Of course, as a Bulgarian, I often remember that the name “Beograd” was given 12 centuries ago by the Bulgarian knyaz, Boris–Mihail. As a representative of a neighboring country and nation, my experience in Serbia as a whole is much easier compared to my colleagues from more distant countries. And it might be easier for me to get a grasp of the people’s and politicians’ aspiration to move forward. There isn’t a more natural future for Serbia than to become a member of the European Union. 2. How much time have you spent as the Ambassador in Serbia and what was your diplomatic career like before coming to Belgrade? I am a professional diplomat. My professional career is primarily related to public diplomacy. I used to be the spokesman for the Ministry for several years, director of the public relations directorate, national public diplomacy coordinator. In the regional aspect, my experience is primarily related to Central Europe and the Balkans. I’ve been the ambassador in Belgrade for four years. I am completely satisfied with things that have been done during this time. I am also satisfied with the evaluation from both the Serbian and the Bulgarian side, as well as the leadership of the two countries. During these years, we managed to leave the prejudice of the past behind us and build new trust together. 3. What is the current diplomatic and economic cooperation between our two countries like, and what was it like in the past? What should be changed in order for it to improve? You are asking me about the cooperation in the past. Unfortunately, during certain periods in the past, the traditional closeness between Bulgarians and Serbs became hostage to the interests of third countries. Today, thank God, as we say in both countries, times are perfectly different. Political relations between Bulgaria and Serbia have never been more dynamic and better. Economic relations are based on a pragmatic approach and mutual interest. The highlight in those relations is the implementation of large infrastructure traffic and energy projects, such as the completion of the eastern arm of Corridor 10 from Sofia to the border between the two countries, the construction of an intersystem gas connection Sofija – Caribrod – Nis, the expansion of the Bulgarian gas transport infrastructure from the Turkish-Bulgarian border to the Bulgarian-Serbian border, the electrification of the railway from Caribrod to Nis, etc. All these projects are of key importance not only for Bulgaria, but also for Serbia. They have beneficial strategic consequences for the region, and for Europe as a whole. Bulgaria’s membership in the European Union and Serbia’s active integration into the Union as well as the membership that will follow, are some of the most important factors for the development of economic relations in the future. 4. What have been the economic consequences of the pandemic in Bulgaria? The Bulgarian economy is strongly connected to European markets. This is why the slowdown of economies in the European Union, due to the spread of COVID-19, has put additional stress on Bulgaria. Reduced trade with EU countries has led to difficulties in industries such as mechanical engineering, the textile industry, electronics production, mining, furniture production, the chemical industry, repair activities, the automotive industry, construction, etc. During the period from January – May 2020, Bulgarian export recorded a drop of 8.1% annually, while imports were reduced by 12.7%. The crisis also had its socio-economic consequences. The Bulgarian Government introduced a “60% / 40%” measure. This meant that the state took over the payment of 60% of employees’ salaries and insurance in a company, while the employer paid 40%. Clear criteria was created for companies that can apply for the measure and it started being implemented right away. This saved thousands of small and medium sized companies. More than 300 thousand jobs were saved thanks to this measure. 5. Today, Serbia is a candidate country for negotiations with the EU that began in January 2014. In your opinion, where is Serbia now on its path towards the EU and what is going to be crucial for Serbia in order to become a member? If I’m supposed to answer formally and metaphorically – it is halfway through. I’m starting from the number of open chapters, which is a formal indicator. If I’m supposed to answer from the standpoint of the current political situation in the country – Serbia is stable and on its way towards the European Union. If I’m supposed to answer as the ambassador of the neighboring Bulgaria, which is a member country of the European Union, I will express clear hope and belief that not only politicians, but also the citizens of Serbia have an excellent understanding of the advantages of the future EU membership for the country. During all these four years of me being the ambassador of Bulgaria in Belgrade, on a daily basis I find reasons to convince myself of Serbia’s European future. Let me remind you that my country, Bulgaria, had the presidency of the Council of the EU during the first half of 2018. Before, during, and after the Presidency, we did everything we could to convince the institutions and EU member countries of the need to put the expansion to Serbia and other countries of the Western Balkans back on the Union’s agenda. And we did it. You are asking me what the key thing is in Serbia becoming a member of the EU? Serbia should continue with important reforms. Make the selected “European Union” direction an urgent goal and task! Let me repeat something I have become convinced of: throughout the centuries, Serbs have carried the European idea in their hearts. This idea, along with reforms, will make them a member of the European Union! 6. When speaking about investments, which Bulgarian investors are present on the Serbian market? How many Bulgarian companies are currently operating in Serbia and what are the most important companies that invest here? More than fifty companies with Bulgarian and mixed capital and 20 representative offices operate in Serbia. They are in the food industry, textile industry, pharmaceutical, construction, transport and IT sector, etc. The total scope of Bulgarian direct foreign investments in Serbia near the end of 2019 was 249.4 million euros. The largest Bulgarian companies that operate on the territory of Serbia are the “Trace Group” construction company and the “Sopharma Trading” pharmaceutical company. Both of them are a part of extremely respectable parent companies that operate successfully not only in Bulgaria, but also in many other countries. Even though people have contact with products from the pharmaceutical industry on a daily basis, I would like to highlight that, over the years, the “Trace Group” has successfully participated in the construction of infrastructure projects that have been very important to Serbia. They will always remain a part of the eastern and southern arm of highway 10. The company performs maintenance of hundreds of kilometers in southeastern Serbia on a daily basis. 7. How would you characterize the cooperation with the Government of Serbia and economic associations for the purpose of entrepreneurship development? An important factor of the good cooperation between our two countries is the Serbian-Bulgarian Intergovernmental Commission for Economic Cooperation that was formed in 2007, through the signed Agreement on Economic Cooperation between the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Bulgaria. During the latest, third meeting of the Serbian-Bulgarian Intergovernmental Commission for Economic Cooperation, options for deepening bilateral relations in the fields of trade and investment, energy, transport, tourism, agriculture and forestry, regional development and other areas of mutual interest were considered. 8. What is the foreign trade cooperation between our two countries like and what branches of the economy in Serbia have the highest potential? What does Serbia export to Bulgaria, and what does it import from Bulgaria? Bilateral trade during 2019 amounted to 1,214.5 million euros, which is a growth of 4.7% compared to 2018. Exports from the Republic of Bulgaria to the Republic of Serbia amounted to 585.5 million euros, with a growth of 10.7%, while imports from the Republic of Serbia to the Republic of Bulgaria reached 628.9 million euros – a decrease of 0.4%. The most common goods that are on the Bulgarian export list to the Republic of Serbia are copper ore and concentrates of copper, petroleum oils and oils of bituminous minerals, electricity, pharmaceutical products, propylene polymers, etc. Basic export goods from the Republic of Serbia to the Republic of Bulgaria are: products of stretched iron or non-alloy steel, electricity, refined copper and unprocessed copper alloys, petroleum oils and bituminous mineral oils, sugar made from sugar cane or sugar beet and chemically pure sucrose, water, including mineral and carbonated water, etc. 9. Can you tell us something about the relations between Serbia and Bulgaria in the fields of science, culture and education? In summary, to your question about cooperation in science, culture and education, I would like to highlight that we have been negotiating an actualization for a normative basis of cooperation between Bulgaria and Serbia in each of these fields for many years. When I say “many years”, I am referring to a period that is unacceptably long for two friendly countries. We achieved a seriously positive breakthrough in this field recently, and we have to finalize it. I am convinced that Serbia’s European path will continue and that it will be followed by the understanding and signing of appropriate documents. 10. How would you present your country as a tourist destination? Which characteristics and sights would you highlight? Bulgaria is a piece of heaven for tourists. During any season, any tourists can discover something that suits their interests. The Black Sea coast has great diversity. At «Sunny Beach» young people can find the most interesting day and night parties. For families, «Albena» offers the best conditions for parents and children. People who prefer aristocratic luxury will feel perfect in «Golden Sands». Old Sozopol and Old Nessebar are towns where UNESCO-protected monuments are in harmony with the charm of beautiful beaches. For camping fans – the southern part of the Black Sea is the best place. If you want yachts and sea adventures – the place is «Sveti Vlas». Bansko is the most popular Bulgarian winter resort among Serbian tourists. It is great! But I always suggest: also discover «Pamporovo» and «Borovets»! You will fall in love on day one when you visit them and step on their slopes. Cultural and historical tourism is also popular in our country. There is a long list of professional tourist products and services in Bulgaria – spas, spa centers, wellness centers, golf, green mountain tourism, hiking and biking tourism, wineries, gourmet tourism, extreme tourism and other types of tourism. All of those are available and appropriate for Serbian tourists.

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