After a winter of excellent snow cover and successful Olympics in Vancouver, it was good to hear that the Slovakian ambassador to Bulgaria has won the foreign ministers’ Ski Cup in Bansko against competition from several other top diplomats and politicians. Doubtless, Borissov will be challenging the diplomatic corps to football ahead of the 2010 World Cup.
We live in an unsettled world with many confused priorities. Bulgaria is a small country with great natural resources but considerable dependency on the rest of Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Asia and the US. We have some issues in common with other post-communist states that have joined the EU or may soon do so.
As an "adopted Bulgarian" who is passionately positive about our country’s prospects but has no illusions about the hurdles we have to overcome, I take comfort from a rather special group of people here who have our interests at heart. Almost 60 countries have ambassadors in Sofia. "Their Excellencies" are a diverse and experienced group of professionals of high calibre and commitment, and they are usually very well briefed. Is there a message for Bulgarians that the Swedish ambassador’s last posting was to North Korea?
I have been fortunate to have personal and business contact with the current, and in some cases several earlier, ambassadors in post from many of our trading partners and foreign investor countries. Each is deeply involved, yet able to stand back and view us with objectivity. They know our strengths, but even more to the point is their frank insight into our considerable portfolio of weaknesses.
Our Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet who make all sorts of top level visits abroad, and who invite their counterparts here, should be under no illusions that behind all the walkabouts, handshakes, press conferences and nice talk lies a blunt and objective briefing on what the problem areas really are and the very tough measures needed to resolve issues on which no Bulgarian government has yet been willing, or able, to bite the bullet.
Those briefings come from the very same ambassadors who exude the utmost charm and diplomacy, but who actually have a very practical insight into what’s going on here – warts and all.
One of my special NGO interests is the Bulgarian Business Leaders Forum (BBLF). Their recent annual award ceremony for corporate social responsibility saw the largest ever turnout of more than 300 guests, including many leading ambassadors who are highly supportive of our efforts to improve the business climate and raise standards of ethical conduct.
In another good initiative, the BBLF has periodical business breakfasts for its members to meet newly appointed ambassadors – including in the current months Germany, Finland, Cyprus, Romania, the Netherlands, Austria, Spain and the USA.
Among many initiatives raised at these meetings have been the strong support the embassies give their trade chambers here, the imperative for Bulgaria to improve its civil and criminal justice systems, a radical reduction in organised crime and corruption, and the drive to reduce time-wasting bureaucracy. Neighbour countries ambassadors want, rightly, to see improved cross-border co-operation, and more bilateral EU funded projects.
The US embassy breathed a sigh of relief when we joined the EU, allowing their AID office to be closed, but they have generally continued to be very supportive of Bulgaria. Their new ambassador has, however, made surprisingly public comments recently on arrests still subject to trial and on GMOs where very few well-informed Bulgarians would be tolerant of our following their irreversible development and use in the US.
A closing plea to all of their Excellencies in Sofia would be to speak up and be heard, to let it be better known how much they and their countries are doing to help Bulgaria move forward, and to continue giving us the benefit of their thoughtful and valuable advice and influence.