The increasingly close cooperation between Greece and Bulgaria and the exploitation of the opportunities that arise, can only be to the benefit of both our countries and our two nations

H. E. Mr. Alexios Marios Liberopoulos graduated in Law at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, then specialized in International Public Law at University College London - LL.M and acquired a Master's degree in "European Organization and Diplomacy" at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. He continues his studies at the Diplomatic Academy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He began his professional career as a lawyer and editor on international affairs and continued as a diplomat in various positions, initially at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then as Second Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Greece to the United Nations in New York. In 2004, he headed the Consulate General of Greece in Istanbul, after which he left as First Counselor in the permanent delegation of Greece to the UN in Geneva. His diplomatic career continued as Deputy Head of the Embassy of Greece in Rome, Consul General at the Consulate General of Greece in Odessa. In 2019, he was promoted to the rank of Plenipotentiary Minister, after which he was appointed as the director of Directorate D2 "NATO, Euro-Atlantic Security and OSCE".

H. E. Mr. Alexios Marios Liberopoulos presents his credentials as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Greece to the Republic of Bulgaria to the President H. E. Mr. Rumen Radev on January 26, 2023.

He speaks English, French and Italian. He is married and has one daughter. 

- Your Excellensy, the 25th of March is the National Day of Greece, which is always a source of pride. What does this celebration mean to the Greeks?

- In Greece, March began with a tragic train accident. We are still mourning the 57 victims of this tragedy, most of them young people, students, and among the victims was also a Bulgarian citizen. We will not forget them.

The 25th of March is also a day of remembrance, but it is a day of remembrance for the birth of the modern Greek state. We always remember with pride the day when, 202 years ago, in 1821, the Greek struggle for liberation from the Ottoman yoke began.  A handful of people achieved what at the time seemed impossible. They laid the foundations, the difficult foundations, for the creation of modern Greece. And how did they achieve that? By uniting and with the help of the Church, which kept the Greek consciousness intact through nearly 400 years of slavery.

The contribution of the Greeks Abroad to the struggle of their homeland was very important. Let us not forget that the first organization that began a systematic preparation for the struggle for freedom was founded in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1814, the now famous "Society of Friends" (Φιλική Εταιρεία).

The Greeks Abroad and philhellenes contributed significantly to the building of Greece and to the preservation in perpetuity of the noble goals of democracy, the rule of law, peace, friendship between peoples and of the respect for people and human rights. 

Today, Greece belongs, of course, to a group of states that form very powerful associations such as the European Union and NATO, but at the same time we live in a world where things are changing rapidly and conflicts do not seem to be diminishing.  Let us not forget that a fierce war is still taking place in our neighborhood. The faith and unity of the Ukrainian people against Russia's invasion of their homeland, a year ago, is a painful reminder of the value of the faith we must have to the Struggle for freedom, democratic values and human rights.

Today we remember the Struggle for the liberation of our homeland, Greece, and we move forward united towards our future.

- You are the new Ambassador of Greece in Bulgaria. Have you already had some important meetings and what are the priority activities in your work as the Greek Ambassador?

- I arrived in Bulgaria and took office as the Ambassador of Greece in Sofia on the 20th of December 2022. In all my contacts - informal at the beginning and formal after presenting my Credentials to the President of the Republic of Bulgaria, H. E. Mr. Rumen Radev, on the 26th of January 2023, I felt a positive, friendly atmosphere from all my interlocutors, who welcomed me with hospitality and trust.

In this context, I have already held friendly, meaningful and constructive discussions with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Mr. Demerdzhiev, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Milkov, the Minister of Culture Mr. Todorov, the Minister of Justice Mr. Zarkov, the Minister of Environment and Water Ms. Karamfilova - Blagova, the Minister of Energy Mr. Hristov and the Deputy Minister of Defense Ms. Genchovska.

- How would you evaluate the current level of bilateral relations?

- There is a wide range of areas of cooperation that our two countries engage to and can develop further. This motivates me to work and gives me optimism for the future of our bilateral relations.

Our bilateral relations range from the political and defense cooperation to joint projects in the fields of energy, transport and inter-connectivity, as well as to cooperation for the fight against illegal immigration and organised crime. They also include tourism, trade and investment through the considerable presence of many important Greek companies in Bulgaria and extend to the cultural and educational cooperation between the two countries.

Our goal is to improve our cooperation in the frame of trilateral and other formats, as well as within the EU and other organisations such as NATO. We have common principles and values, our interests converge and our people are very close to each other. 

The increasingly close cooperation between Greece and Bulgaria and the exploitation of the opportunities that arise, can only be to the benefit of both our countries and our two nations.

- What are the trade and economic aspects between the two countries? What can we expect in bilateral cooperation in 2023?

- For Greece, Bulgaria is the most important economic and trade partner in the Balkan region and one of the most important partners worldwide. In absolute numbers, last year (2022) we set a new historical record in terms of bilateral trade volume. In 2022, Bulgaria rose to the second highest position in the list of Greece's most important trading partners, with Italy leading the way.

At the same time, investment cooperation between the two countries is flourishing, with bilateral foreign direct investment flows increasing steadily in recent years. In the overall ranking of foreign investors in Bulgaria, Greece was in fifth place at the end of 2021, with an investment stock of €2.8 billion (based on data from the National Bank of Bulgaria).

Our goal for 2023 is to further strengthen bilateral trade and economic cooperation between our two countries.

- Greece is a beloved destination for Bulgarians. Last month, a working meeting was held in Sofia with many hoteliers from Greece. What was the outcome of this meeting?

- In the last few months two tourism-related events have taken place in Sofia with the participation of hoteliers and representatives of the tourism departments of local authorities in Greece. The first event was dedicated to the Region of Epirus, a region of Greece which has recently started to penetrate the Bulgarian public and the second one was dedicated to the Region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, a region which has been a preferred destination of Bulgarian tourists for many years.

In the framework of these events, a large number of meetings were organized between tourism agents from Greece and Bulgaria, which resulted to the conclusion of an important number of tourism cooperation agreements between the two countries. Let us not forget the reciprocity that exists in tourist exchanges between the two countries, since, during the winter months, Greek tourists travel to Bulgarian winter resorts to enjoy skiing and other winter sports, while during the summer, Bulgarian tourists visit the Greek coast and islands to enjoy the sea.

Another outcome of those meetings was the agreement to organize hospitality trips for Bulgarian journalists to cities and islands in these regions, in order to promote the beauty and picturesque nature of Greece to the Bulgarian audience.

Through the cooperation of the Embassy of Greece in Sofia with journalists from Bulgarian media, in recent years, several high quality travel reportages have been produced. Through them, the Bulgarian citizens are inspired for their next travel destination in Greece, where they are always welcome!

- Many young Greeks study in Bulgaria and obtain their higher education here. What attracts them to the country and what is the current trend? Is there interest and opportunities for the reverse way?

- It is indeed a fact that the number of Greek students in Bulgarian universities is high. The geographical proximity of our countries, which, among other things, includes reduced costs and limited travel time, as well as the comparatively lower cost of living in Bulgaria, together with the purely academic parameters, are the most important criteria and factors that attract Greek students to Bulgarian universities.

On the other hand, Greece offers a large number of both undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral programs in English language which are aimed at foreign students. Through the Study in Greece platform, students and academics can choose the study program of their preference, combining studies of high academic level in various disciplines with the experience of living in Greece.

- We know that culture and traditions bring nations closer together. Are you planning any cultural events to promote Greek culture in Bulgaria this year?

- The planning of the Embassy of Greece in Sofia for 2023 contains actions that span, as expected, the whole spectrum of cooperation levels, including the cultural sector. 

As far as cultural events are concerned, let me mention that the Embassy of Greece in Sofia has placed under its auspices the exhibition "Raiment of the Soul", which is an initiative that highlights the excellent relations between Greece and Bulgaria in the field of culture, through the cooperation of the artistic duo consisting of the Greek photographer Vangelis Kyris and the Bulgarian embroidery artist Anatoli Georgiev. The artists present, through an exceptional and highly original way, photographs of authentic costumes and uniforms of past times, Greek and Bulgarian, worn by modern people. The photographs, printed on fabric, have embroidered details of the garments.

The Embassy of Greece in Sofia is also in close collaboration with cultural festivals organized in Bulgaria, in order to participate and present the Greek culture through them. For the coming summer, Greek culture will be present: at the international Francophone festival ''SOLEIL'' to be held in June, in the coastal town of Sozopol, at the ''Struma Stages Festival'' to be held in September in Sofia, in Kyustendil and in Asprovalta, near Thessaloniki, as well as at the Greek-Bulgarian cultural marathon ''Stone and Water'' which is traditionally held every September in Sofia.

At a European level, Greece is represented, through the Greek Embassy, in all EU initiatives taking place in Bulgaria, such as the celebration of Day of Europe, which this year will honor the poetry of the EU member states, the European Day of Languages, and other events in cooperation with other European Embassies.

- What are your first impressions of Bulgaria and the Bulgarians?

- They are very positive. As far as the country is concerned, what is impressive is on the one hand the strong presence of green spaces in the cities, especially the large parks, but also in the Bulgarian countryside, and on the other hand the imposing architecture, especially of public buildings in the centre of large cities, as well as the traditional architecture in smaller towns.

Furthermore, my first impressions from my contacts with both political and economic actors in the country as well as with the Bulgarian citizens, gives me the feeling of a unique cordiality, friendliness and acceptance, alongside with our prevailing understanding that the, already excellent, relations between our countries and people, still have room for further development and strengthening in all areas of cooperation.

Photo: Embassy of Greece in Bulgaria