We highly appreciate Bulgaria's support for Serbia's European integration

E. Mr. Vladimir Curgus was born in Belgrade. He graduated from the Faculty of Law of Belgrade University. He had extensive experience in diplomacy. Before coming as an Ambassador to Sofia /on July 29, 2013/, he was the Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Republic of Serbia. He was Ambassador in Turkey (2006-2011), also accredited for Azerbaijan, a Counselor at the Embassy of Serbia and Montenegro in Croatia. Over the years he has also served as head of the Security Service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as head of the Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Macedonia departments. His professional biography impresses with his work as a refugee assistant for the refugees in the Republic of Serbia; Chair of the UNICEF National Committee; Representative of the Federative Republic of Yugoslavia in the UNICEF Executive Committee; Adviser on International Humanitarian Affairs of Milan Panic, Prime Minister of the Federal Government, and the President of the Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, Dobrica Cosic and others.

- Your Excellency, a few months ago, the Serbian people chose a new president - Alexander Vucic. Since June, there has been a new Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic. In the modern history of Serbia, a new period is apparently coming. What to expect in the domestic politics and the economy of the country?

- Serbia seeks to reform and build itself as a modern European state, not only because of its path to EU membership but above all because of further European development, which will bring benefits to the whole society. It will reduce unemployment, increase the standard of living through new investments and growth in production. This will create new opportunities for younger generations. In the coming period, Serbia wants to return to the positions before the 1990s crisis on the Balkans. The reforms done now should make this goal achievable.

- And in foreign policy? Your state demonstrates that it seeks good relations with both Brussels, Russia and the United States. Is this achievable?

- In foreign policy, Serbia wants above all stability and strengthening the cooperation in the region, building good-neighborly relations that have been shaken with the collapse of Yugoslavia. Serbia is part of Europe and, of course, one of the objectives of its foreign policy is to enter the EU. But we also want to preserve the traditionally good relations with Russia, the US, China, and with other African and American countries.

- How will the Serbian-Bulgarian relations develop? The Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and the Serbian President Alexander Vucic have maintained friendly and business relations for a long time.

- We believe in further strengthening our bilateral relations that are good at this point. Yes, the relations between Borisov and Vucic are friendly, I would say even close, which of course is of great importance for the expansion of economic cooperation, especially in areas of mutual interest such as energy, transport, tourism and mutual presence in third markets. This is also important for resolving common problems in the region, such as the illegal migration, and for supporting Serbia's integration into the EU.

- How could Bulgaria be useful for Serbia in its EU membership negotiations?

- We highly appreciate Bulgaria's support for Serbia's European integration. Bulgaria‘s experience for us can be a huge help. We are especially grateful for your suggestion to share the negative experience of the Bulgarian process of European integration in order to avoid repeating some mistakes that may cost us a lot.

Sharing this experience has already begun with the useful advice of Bulgarian officials in order to prepare us well for the negotiation process and not to hurry in spite of pressure, especially when it comes to closing the negotiation chapters until we are sure that they are in full compliance of the interest of our country and the citizens. Our entry into the EU is in the interest of the whole region. And we are delighted that our closest neighbor who first introduced the Cyrillic alphabet as one of the official alphabets in the Union is a member of the EU and has the opportunity to support the voice and interests of the Balkan region in the EU. The support of Bulgaria, which will take over the presidency of the EU Council from January 2018, is of utmost importance to us.

- You often meet with representatives of the Bulgarian business. What are the new opportunities that will open to expanding economic ties?

- We have realized a very large number of contacts with businessmen from Bulgaria, interested in cooperation with Serbia and vice versa. A Mixed Bulgarian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce was also formed. This helps to improve the opportunities for direct contacts of business circles on both sides, especially at the level of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Other projects are being carried out, several bilateral business forums have been held. I met many people who are interested in business between Bulgaria and Serbia. The relations with the Bulgarian business circles are also on an extremely high level, especially with the BCCI and its chairman Tsvetan Simeonov. The fact that our embassy's economic adviser Aleksandar Milicevic is the holder of a BCCI diploma, as the most successful economic adviser in Bulgaria in 2015, speaks also of the intensity of the relations.

- Have you been working on important but not completed transport projects so far?

- There is construction on all parts of the highway from Nis to the border with Bulgaria after the problem with the bankruptcy of one of the main contractors. The Bulgarian Trace Group, which is involved in the construction of another motorway in Serbia, also operates there. The new section of the Pirot-Dimitrovgrad highway was recently opened. According to the promises of the Bulgarian government, we are also expecting the beginning of the construction works on corridor number 10 Sofia-Kalotina. The modernization of Sofia-Nis railway line is also advancing.

In spring we expect the start of the construction of the infrastructure of the future Salas-Novo Korito (Cadia Boaz) border checkpoint, for which the two governments signed an agreement nearly a decade ago.

- Will more attention be paid to the socio-economic status and cultural identity of the Bulgarian minority in Serbia?

- The Bulgarian national minority in Serbia is a natural bridge between the two countries and enjoys the highest level of minority rights and freedoms. Our bodies are dedicated to resolving the everyday or technical problems caused mainly due to financial reasons, in cooperation with the National Council of the Bulgarian National Minority in Serbia. With our Bulgarian partners, we have agreed to try, through proper consideration and implementation of concrete joint projects, to revitalize border regions and stimulate their development. We also plan joint projects to offer to the EU for the development these regions.

Ms. Iliyana Yotova and the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Valeri Simeonov, visited Serbia and Dimitrovgrad, they held talks with our official hosts and representatives of the Bulgarian minority. Both sides attach great importance to the socio-economic and cultural situation.

- The summer tourist season has passed. The majority of the Serbian tourists in Bulgaria seemed to have chosen the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast again. What destinations in Serbia would you recommend to Bulgarians, apart from the traditional Belgrade, Nis and Novi Sad?

- The season this year started a little earlier, but as in previous years, there were many Serbian citizens on the Black Sea. On the other hand, more and more Bulgarians come to Serbia to enjoy our natural beauties and gastronomic delights. I would recommend them to visit our beautiful Tara, Kopaonik or Zlatar mountains as well as the resorts of Vrnjacka Banja, Prolom Bania and other baths with healing characteristics.

- According to publications, the top destination for this summer was Zlatibor. What are the reasons for this?

- Zlatibor is a wonderful mountain destination. Besides the magnificent scenery, lakes, hiking trails, there are also many old churches and monasteries, as well as the ethno-village in Sirogojno. This destination is especially interesting for parents with young children. Interesting gastronomic specialties and alcoholic beverages contribute to the interest in Zlatibor. I believe that Bulgarian citizens, who spend part of their holiday in Serbia, will not be disappointed. For them it will be a new beginning of friendship with the hosts, and this is the most valuable thing.

- And you personally, how do you feel in Bulgaria?

- I came to your country for the first time in the distant 1963, and since then I have been returning quite often here. Many things connect our peoples such as the mentality, the openness and the heartiness, but also the weaknesses that cost us dearly. We love the same music; our culture has the same roots. Here one can also find Serbian grill and quince rakija. Then how else would I feel here than as being at home.

Professionally speaking, for me working in Bulgaria is a great challenge; as there is still much work that can be done between the good neighbors. This requires total dedication and true faith to what we do. I am delighted to work here, I have been accepted in the best way and I have excellent cooperation with the hosts! Now, after more than four years of residence in Sofia, I have to note that for me the greatest success is the rapprochement between the ordinary people who more often go to Serbia and come to Bulgaria, who do many things together, and create new friendships.

The material was provided by Standard newspaper - standartnews.com and updated by the Diplomatic Spectrum.

Photo: "Diplomatic Spectrum"