Cultural Diplomacy News (CDN)
Amb. Dr. Meglena Plugtschieva (Ambassador of Bulgaria to Germany)

11.07.2011 - Interview conducted by Velislava Petkova

Since November 16th, 2004, Dr. Meglena Plugtschieva has served as the Bulgarian Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany. During her term the EU membership negotiations came to an end and Bulgaria signed the Treaty of Accession on April 25th, 2005. Ambassador Dr. Plgutschieva’s diplomatic work has greatly contributed to the positive image of the Republic of Bulgaria in Germany, a founding EU member state whose recognition and friendship has traditionally been strongly desired. On December 14th, 2006, Ambassador Dr. Plugtschieva addressed both the German Bundestag in Berlin and the European Parliament in Brussels on the occasion of Bulgaria’s long awaited membership in the European Union. Along with Bulgaria’s official entrance into the European family on January 1st, 2007, German-Bulgarian bilateral relations reached another dimension - one that the Bulgarian government hopes will pave the way for deepening and widening cooperation with Germany in a variety of political, social, and cultural spheres. Ambassador Dr. Meglena Plugtschieva graciously spared an hour from her busy schedule to meet and discuss Bulgaria’s image in Germany before and after obtaining EU membership, offering me a glimpse into German-Bulgarian bilateral political and cultural relations. Ambassador Dr. Plutschieva entered the Bulgarian embassy, after attending an official meeting, dressed in an elegant black and white dress suit and beautiful pearl jewelry. As she led me to her office for the interview I observed her very determined and confident posture. The ambassador’s office was spacious and filled with green plants and flowers. Traditional Bulgarian Orthodox icons hung from the wall next to her desk, which is typical for many Bulgarian homes. In front of the Bulgarian and German flags were pictures to commemorate the day of Bulgaria’s acceptance to the EU. Her desk was stacked with papers indicating the amount of work on her shoulders.

Have you observed a change in the way Germany perceives Bulgaria since January 1st, 2007?
In order to answer this question, I first have to note the developments throughout 2006. The motto of the past year was Ratification. The demands and expectations of Bulgaria were extremely high. The critical points/criticism towards Bulgaria dominated during almost all of 2006. The German media’s knowledge about Bulgaria was rather limited and the articles published reflected the German reserve about Bulgaria’s accession to the EU; indeed, Germany was the last country to sign the ratification in 2006. There was a lot of concern and reserve from the side of both the Bundesrat, the second chamber of the German parliament, and the Bundestag. From January 1st, 2007, the political atmosphere and general situation clearly changed. Germany now perceives Bulgaria as a member of the European family. Germany expects Bulgaria to participate actively, responsibly, and constructively in European affairs and we have proven that we are willing to take on this role. We support and strongly believe that Europe will succeed only when united; this theme encourages Bulgaria to help solve the problems and challenges the EU faces rather than add to them. Bulgaria is especially involved in the following EU concerns and issues: the EU Constitution, the Neighborhood Policy, Emigration, Energy, and the Lisbon Agenda. The EU and Germany expects Bulgaria to be a stabilizing factor, arbitrator, and mediator in the Balkan countries, such as such as towards Serbia, Macedonia, and the city of Kosovo. Bulgaria has also taken responsibility to be a more active mediating and stabilizing agent in the Black Sea Area, addressing key issues such as trade/transportation and Danube energy.

Is there a long history of German-Bulgarian cultural exchanges? Has German interest in Bulgarian history and culture increased after becoming an official EU member state?
I have observed an increased German interest in Bulgarian culture (art, music, literature, and history). In conjunction with my colleagues, staff, and diplomatic counterparts, I have attempted to foster this growing interest by presenting and promoting Bulgarian art and history, especially by supporting and working with the Bulgarian Cultural Institute http://www. The three consulate circuits in Berlin, Bonn, and Munich also support and host rich cultural art and music programs. Germans have shown interest and admiration for Bulgarian art and history and we are striving to build and further cultivate this interest. For example, the Alexander von Battenberg Art exposition is a prime sample of the culture Germans and Bulgarians share. During this exposition Bulgaria presented the Cyrillic letters. There was also an event called Days of Bulgarian culture (in 2007) in Munich and other cities in Bavaria and an event in Stuttgart. All of these events on Bulgarian culture and traditions occur almost every year and aim to inform Germans, aiming to stimulate their interest in Bulgaria as a cultural center and as a beautiful tourist destination.

Are there established German-Bulgarian educational exchange programs? How do Germans perceive the presence of Bulgarian students in numerous German universities?
There are roughly 15,000 Bulgarian college and/or graduate students in Germany. They rank number two after the Chinese students in terms of academic performance. During my years as ambassador in Germany, I have received numerous letters from various German universities informing me about the excellent academic results of Bulgarian students, about their creativity, flexibility, motivation, and great professional potential. The Bulgarian embassy has programs that allow Bulgarian students in the field of international politics and economics to find internships in the Bundestag/German Parliament and the various international ministries, as well as within the Bulgarian embassy itself. We also support a networking program, which helps connect Bulgarian students graduating from German universities to find jobs at German firms in Germany and in Bulgaria.

What have been your most trying and most memorable experiences as the Bulgarian ambassador in Germany?
There have been many positive memories. Most of them involve my success at presenting Bulgaria successfully and professionally. The most memorable experience in my career was Bulgaria’s ratification and the realization of Bulgarian EU membership, which took place in the Bundestag. I was overwhelmed by joy that I got up and clapped, which I later learned was against the protocol. Those present forgave me for my mistake, because they could see and understand my joy as well as that of all Bulgarians. I will also never forget my meetings with chancellor Merkel and President Horst Köhler, who were and continue to be important strategic partners. Some of my hardest moments as ambassador have been the times when German society simply did not know and understand Bulgaria and its culture, or when the German media published rather pessimistic reports about Bulgaria’s development.

Previous to your service as Ambassador to Germany you worked in Bulgaria as the Minister of Agriculture, specifically on protecting the environment in Varna. Do you think that protection of the environment is one of the spheres in which Bulgaria and Germany can cooperate and work together in the near future?
First the law and administration in Bulgaria has to undergo a significant transformation, which would be facilitated and enforced by the EU. Secondly, children must be educated, both at home and at school, concerning the importance of protecting the environment and following the laws that ensure its preservation for future generations. At the present time we are in a process of borrowing resources from our environment without thinking of preserving them for our children and grandchildren. Bulgarians need to be responsible for protecting their land and general environment since it is now part of Europe. We can definitely learn from Germany and its leaders, such as Chancellor Merkel, who worked hard for the enforcement of a strict climate change agreement.

How would you compare the level of openness/restriction of Western to Bulgarian society, especially for women in political and diplomatic positions?
I believe that Bulgaria is much more advanced than the West in terms of its openness to women in the spheres of politics, business, and diplomacy. There are numerous Bulgarian women in leading positions in Parliament and within the world of business. I believe that we can only encourage more women to become active participants in politics and economics. Women are persistent, hard-working, and consistent in their field of work. The strong feeling of responsibility makes women work hard to perform their best and to get the best results. All of these positive attributes go along with the woman’s ability to balance her work, family, and children. I believe that allowing more women to enter leading political and economic position can only be a step towards progress.

What do you hope to accomplish in your last year as ambassador?
There are many tasks and goals to be accomplished. Even though Bulgarian EU membership is a fact, my task is to continue presenting a positive but realistic image of Bulgaria. Germany is in 4th or 5th place in terms of foreign investment in Bulgaria, which shows that there is still a lot of room for increasing economic cooperation through the deepening of bilateral relations.

This interview was conducted by Velislava Petkova, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy.