110 years Bulgarian-Dutch Diplomatic Relations
Your Excellency, this year we celebrate 110 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and the Netherlands. In your opinion, which are the most outstanding historical moments and figures that contributed to the development of our bilateral relations? How has our relationship evolved throughout this period? It’s a very special year, a very special anniversary – 110 years. One does not celebrate this every day. I was very glad when I heard that this would take place during my term here. It started in 1908 and here we have copies of the letters of accreditation of H.E. Mr. Pieter van der Does de Villebois offered to your Tsar Ferdinand. These are handwritten drafts marking the beginning of his mission as plenipotentiary envoy to the Bulgarian court from his base in Istanbul. The Tsar was very glad to receive him. At this time, we had very good relations with Varna. A Black Sea harbor very important for us. Bulgaria was important because it was very fertile, and still is. There was a lot of agriculture, trade, furs, leather, many goods traded from Plovdiv. So there were many ties already and they continued up to the World War II. Then it was quiet for a while. After that, we picked it up again. In 1968, we exchanged ambassadors, so we got an ambassador here and a real embassy. Then it went further. It became very exciting after 1989 when Bulgaria, like the other Central and East European countries, once again threw off the yoke of a foreign power, which was no longer wanted, and you got freedom and our relations became much more intensive. We started to contribute a lot in terms of economic support, NGOs, civil society and the judiciary. In those times, everything was going very smooth and this is still the case. Our Queen visited with her husband Prince Claus in 1999. Then came the culmination – in 2007
Bulgaria became member of the EU. This has strengthened even further our relations because we became members of the same family. We were already before, but still divided. Now we are in one and the same family on the European continent. This creates many more opportunities, which we have been using and will use even more. In the context of this shared anniversary, on your own initiative, in April this year, an interesting mutual project was started between the Diplomatic Institute to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria and the Dutch Embassy. Would you tell us more about this initiative? This is a very special project and you are its product, Pavleta, and we are proud of this. This is a unique project and both our foreign ministers recognized it during the recent visit of my minister to Sofia. It is the first time we do such a thing – to let a diplomat from the host country work in our embassy. That came about because Bulgaria demonstrated openness by placing our diplomat in the MFA during the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council. This demonstrates our good relations and Bulgaria’s openness. It went very well and so I thought we should do something in return. How would you describe the current state of affairs and future prospects for development of our bilateral relations? Which are the areas where we could still see unused potential for their deepening? In many areas. Three are the most important. Firstly, trade, economy, investment. We export already about 1 billion EUR annually to Bulgaria in goods and services. Bulgaria exports to us a bit less, appr. 800 million. This could be more. There are big companies that already export but there are many SMEs which we would like to support to do business with Bulgaria. This is a very interesting market, not very big, 7 000 000 people, but with plenty of opportunities in agriculture, IT, services, tourism, organic agriculture. There we see a big potential. The second area is culture with which we are also very proud. We would like to do more in this area. Last year we had the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from Amsterdam to mark the end of the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council. It was a fantastic performance. Thirdly, our ministers agreed to hold political consultations on a number of topics, to begin with Russia, Turkey, Western Balkans and Africa. That shows we are interested to learn from each other – how we perceive these countries which are neighbours for you, and for us are a bit further away. Due to your work as a diplomat, you have managed to get familiar with lifestyle, traditions and culture of different countries around the world. What were your expectations for the Bulgarian people
before the beginning of your posting to Sofia? Were you surprised or impressed by something
unexpected once you arrived here? I was very curious, so was my husband.
He had already been here, but I had not. I knew all of Europe but not yet Bulgaria, so I really wanted to come. Bulgaria was number one in my list We fill in a list with our preferences when we are transferred, and I was very curious how it would be here. This is a country which is such a part of European history but is relatively unknown in the Netherlands. We only really know the Western Roman Empire but not the Eastern Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, with its capital Constantinople. And Bulgaria was an important part of this. I find this fascinating. You have such a rich history, so much archeology, so many excavations, so much nature that my husband and I are discovering on our motorbike. We are often out and about. We have been everywhere – to the Rhodopi, the Black Sea Coast. It is really beautiful. Many Dutch people do not know that yet. More tourists are coming already – for winter sports, for the beach. Naturally, I’d like to promote that because when you know each other, from holidays, this nurtures warm feelings and friendship. And I find that very important. For us Bulgarians, the Netherlands is а symbol of diligence and efficiency, and has been traditionally associated with tulips, windmills and bicycles. What do we still not know about the modern Netherlands? What do Dutch people still don’t know about Bulgaria? The tulips, the windmills and the bikes are still there. When you visit the Netherlands, you see them but they have a new, modern, innovative coat. Bikes are often electric and are a part of a larger plan to promote sustainable mobility. Windmills are there but are modern and are part of the plan to generate wind energy. As for the tulips, we have something special about tulips – they are cultivated in an organic way. This year we have a Bulgarian tulip – this one. Тhis is the official certificate that I want to show you. Our minister offered to minister Zaharieva the first Bulgarian tulip with it. It was created in the Netherlands under an official process. It is called Serdica. It symbolizes our relations. You see, it is white, green and red, which is, of course, also symbolic – the Bulgarian flag. This demonstrates that we continuously try to do new things with our traditional products and we find this important. I just said that Dutch people do not know much about Bulgaria. There is lots of room for improvement, also when it comes to reputation, because the unknown is unloved. It is very important that Dutch people know more about Bulgaria, and hear more good news since sometimes there are concerns. Sometimes these have to do with companies being faced with non-transparent procedures, bureaucracy, and unfair treatment. Sometimes they complain about such things
but in general, they are very satisfied. I want them to be fully satisfied
so that they no longer complain. Therefore, we talk about this with Bulgarians to show them that it pays off to have a good rule of law, that it is good for investment, for business. We also found this out in the Netherlands because we had not always had rule of law. It takes a long time but we want to continue working on this with Bulgaria. You have a solid expertise in economic and energy diplomacy, development cooperation and humanitarian aid,
human rights and democratic reforms. In which areas of multilateral cooperation, in your opinion, could our countries successfully collaborate? Three things come to my mind. The first is again economy because money makes things going. This is true for all countries in Europe when it comes to, e.g. strengthening the internal market. And Bulgaria shows interest in this. So that our products can circulate even easier in and outside Europe, by making good agreements and regulations. We will continue working on this together, also in the WTO, to which Bulgaria attaches great importance, and hopefully in the OECD, of which Bulgaria wants to become member. Those are important forums to promote international trade, which is important for both of us. The second is human rights. Bulgaria is member of the Human Rights Council since the beginning of this year. We left the Council in 2017 but we would like to come back, and we hope for Bulgaria’s support so we may return in 2020. Then we will be in the Council together for another two years. Thirdly, it is the climate. PM Borissov has confirmed in Brussels that climate change and countering its effects is very important for him. For us too. We would very much like to cooperate more on this to implement the Paris Agreement. I think we both have an interest there. If you have to describe our bilateral relations with a single word, which one would it be? There is a very nice slogan used by the city of Sofia. I do not remember it in Bulgarian but it is something like “growing yet remaining young”. I think that is very important for the two countries, just like those tulips. They are young every year and they grow. That is how I see our relations. One last question: this year the Bulgarian Diplomatic Service celebrates its 140th anniversary. In your opinion, which is the most significant achievement of Bulgarian diplomacy in its contemporary history? There are many. You have so much history since 1878. One can see in the museum how quickly Bulgaria and Sofia became modern. In our time the most important events were, of course, after the fall of the Berlin wall. Your wish to belong to Europe, which in 2007 materialized – a fantastic milestone, such an important step! It has its lasting effect. Although sometimes we see some skepticism in the European countries towards the EU, I think it has been a very important step, a good step. The second was your membership, earlier, in NATO – also a hugely important step forward to continue defending together our continent. Moreover, naturally, as a crown of your membership – the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU, which was very successful, and I was happy to be here. Your Excellency, thank you for this interview! It was a pleasure. Thank you Pavleta, your Dutch is excellent! Thank you!