In 20 years, we still need to be adequate and adaptive to the times, just as we have been so far. We should continue to introduce new topics and offer high-quality training on them

Last year the Diplomatic Institute of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria celebrated its 20th anniversary. Established on 23 September 2003 by Decree No 209 of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Bulgaria, it was the first Bulgarian academy for the training of the diplomatic service and state administration. To date, the Diplomatic Institute has conducted more than 150 training sessions for Bulgarian and foreign diplomats and more than 170 public lectures in the fields of regional security, energy diplomacy, economic diplomacy, environment and diplomatic protocol. It also maintains the Ministry of Foreign Affairs library - publicly accessible and partially digitised, it holds over 65,000 books in over 20 languages, some of which date back to the 18th century.

Since 2012, the Diplomatic Institute at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been headed by an experienced diplomat and at the same time an extremely charming woman - Ms. Tanya Mihailova. A lawyer by education, she holds the diplomatic rank of Counsellor. In addition to being the Director of the Institute, Ms. Tania Mihailova is the Bulgarian representative on the Steering Committee of the College for European Security and Defence Policy (Brussels) and on the Board of Directors of the European Union Institute for Security Studies (Paris). She is also a member of the International Forum for Diplomatic Education.

We met her to share with the Diplomatic Spectrum more about the journey undertaken, the achievements over the years, and the goals of the Diplomatic Institute for the next 20 years!

- Ms. Mihailova, last September the Diplomatic Institute celebrated its 20th anniversary. Until 2003, representatives of our state administration and diplomatic service were trained abroad. How important is it for a country to have its own institute for training future diplomats?

- It is of great importance for a country to have its own school, as diplomats are those who conduct its foreign policy, and of course they work for their own country. In other words, it is a sign of independence and an independent foreign policy. In a sense, we were even a little late in setting up such a diplomatic institute, but on the other hand, it was just in time because it coincided with the period of negotiations on our membership of NATO and the EU. At that time, the need for Bulgarian diplomats, as well as Bulgarian state servants and administration, to be prepared for the coming time of real membership was particularly clear, because the mission of the institute is precisely to prepare and share the high standards of diplomatic training. So it makes a huge difference for a country to have its own school. I believe that our institute, which was established 20 years ago, has so far fulfilled that mission of providing a really high standard in the training of diplomats, because foreign policy is one of the pillars of our national security and it matters a great deal in how we are able to articulate our interests and priorities in order to live in a better world.

- Since its establishment, the Institute has been led by prominent Bulgarian diplomats, including Assoc. Prof. Dr. Zdravko Popov and Prof. Milan Milanov. You are the first woman to head it, starting in 2010, and also the longest-serving director. What achievements are you most proud of?

- Because we work with the entire state administration, with related institutions worldwide, and with many universities. The first years after the establishment of the Diplomatic Institute were a time when Assoc. Prof. Zdravko Popov, as its founder, laid a very solid foundation, which Prof. Milanov built upon, and I essentially stepped onto it. Even some of the initiatives that were started from the very beginning continue to this day. I would say that I stepped onto a solid foundation, and without giving up on many of the achievements up to that point, I continued them. I believe in the continuity of the good deeds done before us. But we also created many new things. One of my most significant achievements is the exceptional team that was formed, and the fact that the Diplomatic Institute has become an indispensable factor in the training of the Bulgarian state administration.

- In 2008, the official logo of the Diplomatic Institute was created, and the Latin phrase "Docendo discimus" was chosen as its motto, translated as "By teaching, we learn". What have you learned over the years by teaching others?

- We have learned that we never know enough, that education is a two-way process requiring readiness from both sides, and that self-improvement continues throughout life. We live in a time with tremendous opportunities, and we should not miss the chance to become better at what we do. We chose the motto "By teaching, we learn" with a sense of humility because at that moment, we were too young to imagine that we could know everything. In the process, the Diplomatic Institute and its team learned how things are done because we started from scratch. There was no experience or practice in Bulgaria regarding the training of diplomats. Every step we took was a conscious effort to do things better and to seek the highest standard to apply.

- Your main activity is the training and development of diplomatic staff. How do you achieve this? Are you satisfied with the results?

- We manage to conduct our training consistently, delving into what Bulgarian diplomats need. Typically, the training aims to improve skills, as the knowledge, which is part of the competencies, remains the responsibility of the professional and can be accumulated by reading at home. Practising skills, especially in the diplomatic profession, requires a special approach. Our training programs vary in duration. Here, it is important to note that the diplomatic profession is a career for a lifetime, and it requires a different approach at each stage of its development and preparation. Initially, it was challenging for us to prepare for the different stages of this profession and to offer the corresponding training and skills improvement for our personnel. At this point, we can say that we are an exceptionally adequate institution in the field of training, as we compare ourselves to the best, namely, with worldwide and European schools with greater experience.

- You have collaborations with diplomatic schools worldwide. What are the best practices that the Bulgarian diplomatic service can transpose into its own activities and structure? And vice versa?

- Our activity started with methodological assistance from the Netherlands Institute of International Relations "Clingendael", which is now called the Clingendael Diplomatic Academy. It represents a very pragmatic school in the field of diplomatic training, and we learned a lot from it in the early stages. Since the Diplomatic Institute became part of the European Diplomatic Programme, twice a year, at meetings of diplomatic academies within the EU, we measure ourselves against them.

Since the inception of the Diplomatic Institute, we have also been participating in the International Forum for Diplomatic Training, a global annual meeting of diplomatic institute directors, and I just returned from the last one a few days ago. There, each of us shares our experiences, depending on the goals that each country has set itself - where it is, what its priorities are. I will just point out why we are very different. When we introduced the concept and practice of energy diplomacy 13 years ago, many here doubted its existence. Needless to say, we cannot talk about dynamics in modern relations or about resources today without it. To the extent that energy is very important to us as a country, there are other places in the world where they talk about water diplomacy because the resource that they need or are having problems with is water. We are taking what would be useful to us, especially as a training methodology, and I think what we have already done is a very flexible and interactive way of training diplomats. Long gone are the days when people listen to lectures from somebody. I would say that the Diplomatic Institute has introduced many new and innovative approaches in this respect, and our aspiration is to continue in this way. That means a lot of simulation exercises, the use of modern technology in the training of modern diplomats.

We have learned from where we could and reached a stage where we believe that our own experience can be shared with others. We supported the establishment of the Moldovan Diplomatic Institute. What we have been doing over the last few years is sharing all that we have learned in terms of methodology and practices with our colleagues in Moldova. I admit that other young schools, especially from our region, are seeking the same from us. We are surrounded by candidate EU member states or those in negotiation, so the experience gained during our negotiations is also valuable.

- The Diplomatic Institute also has research activities, part of which is the journal Diplomacy. In your opinion, what is the role of scientific diplomacy as a tool to promote international cooperation?

- I would make a distinction between science diplomacy and research, and in particular the activities of the diplomatic institute. We have research activities in the field of international relations, the results of which, relating to the policies of neighbouring countries, are published in the journal Diplomacy or in our Foreign Policy Studies series.

On the occasion of our 20th anniversary, we held a conference on science diplomacy, which is something different. This is the first time we are introducing this terminology in Bulgaria and we would like to engage both the diplomatic service and the scientific community in working much more closely together. At the moment, within the EU, we are working on making science diplomacy a Union policy. Diplomacy is a tool anyway, but in the field of science, especially in the times in which we are witnessing the explosion of technologies, it is very important how they are used and to what extent they help or hinder communication between us, the subjects of international relations. An example of scientific diplomacy is our participation in the Antarctic Treaty. Scientific research has been conducted at our base on Livingston Island within its framework for 30 years. There are also examples in many other areas: digital technology, cyberspace, artificial intelligence, everything to do with medicine. Bulgaria has exceptional potential in the field of science and scientific research in various areas, and it is good that Bulgarian diplomats everywhere in the world use this to be in sync with Bulgarian scientists who represent the country in many international forums. This is something new that we will continue to engage in, and I believe it is an exceptionally promising direction for both science and diplomacy, bridging the gap between them.

- During their training at the Diplomatic Institute, each class of diplomatic interns has a tradition of choosing their patron. This year's newly appointed diplomats selected the Bulgarian politician and public figure Nikola Mushanov. What is the symbolism of his choice on the eve of the institute's anniversary?

- I would not say that there is a direct link, as the choice of a patron is usually made from a large list of personalities who have contributed to the Bulgarian state and its foreign policy. Perhaps one reason Nikola Mushanov's choice prevailed is that he is a very prominent statesman, highly educated, with a challenging destiny, and a significant contribution to saving Bulgarian Jews. The selection of a patron is a way for the diplomatic interns to become acquainted with such remarkable figures up close and use them as examples to follow, a form of continuity.

- A few days ago the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced another competition for the recruitment of trainee attachés. How does the ministry try to attract Bulgarian students to the world of international relations and diplomacy?

- This upcoming class, which seems to be our 18th, is what we have been doing at the Diplomatic Institute for years through the 'Open Doors' program. Within this program, we invite students to visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, allowing them to get a close look at the work of diplomats and consider the profession as their own. Another practice is our internship program, through which many interns from various fields have gone through the Diplomatic Institute or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

On the occasion of our anniversary, I personally visited 6 cities and 6 universities to talk to young people specifically about the diplomatic profession. The goal is to give them the opportunity to become part of our ministry if they show interest. Recently, Minister Gabriel hosted 'Open Doors' exclusively for students, where hundreds of young people came to see the possibilities and the essence of working in the diplomatic service. I believe the event will continue in the coming years because it needs to be a targeted and continuous effort. Today, the diplomatic profession is not among the most attractive, not only in Bulgaria but worldwide. Diplomacy is a career for a lifetime, and in the world we live in, where everything is very mobile, few young people can imagine working in the same field throughout their lives.

Satisfaction from such a profession comes slowly and does not yield quick results. The patience required to dedicate oneself to this profession is different from the ordinary. On the other hand, to enhance the attractiveness of the diplomatic service, adequate compensation should also play a role; there is still work to be done in this regard. Because it is an exceptionally noble profession that will not disappear; on the contrary, in these complex and turbulent times, diplomats will work to establish peace.

- What are the main skills and qualities that a diplomat should have?

- Traditionally known skills are associated with the ability to negotiate, listen actively, and understand what the other party is saying. Alongside these, there are other classical skills such as presentation abilities and proficiency in protocol rules. In addition to these, we incorporate modern tools and requirements, including digital skills. Indeed, the number of skills a diplomat must possess is vast, turning them into a well-rounded individual capable of handling various tasks. Proficiency in foreign languages is also an integral part of the requirements. Today, artificial intelligence aids us in this area, but there is nothing more valuable than speaking the language of another country when you are there and bridging the gap. All contemporary expectations for what public diplomacy entails, mastering the tools of cultural diplomacy, are not necessarily new, but they are interpreted in new ways.

The diplomat's instrument is their personality, which must be continuously perfected. And for those who train them, this is indeed a significant challenge. Because it is a personality that will represent Bulgaria abroad. The diplomat has no resting hours. When in another country, throughout their mandate, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, they represent their country, and therefore, they must possess qualities that do not hinder the country's image and its good reputation.

- We have already talked about the achievements of the Institute. What is the goal or dream that you pursue and would like to achieve as the director of the Diplomatic Institute?

- Perhaps I am on the way to seeing a fulfilled dream, but in reality, one should always strive for new things. The word "dream" sounds like something unattainable; it's better to talk about goals that my team and I set for ourselves. Firstly, the Diplomatic Institute should become an indispensable factor in the preparation not only of diplomats but also of the state administration working in the international environment, such as trade attachés or representatives of cultural institutes abroad. The idea should be established that it is the place where one receives adequate training to step onto the international stage. There have been certain results so far, and I believe the mission will continue. Another goal is for the Diplomatic Institute to be a collaborator to all trusted partners and to be a part of Bulgaria's good name and positive reputation. It should be known that the Diplomatic Institute is a symbol of high standards.

- How do you see the Diplomatic Institute in 20 years?

- As a modern institution, because the dynamics of time are so significant, and state institutions are traditionally slow and bureaucratic. We need to be practical, fast, and flexible. Currently, precisely because we are a small institution, we manage to be flexible, but in 20 years, we must also be adequate and adaptive to the times. Just as we have done so far, we need to introduce new topics and provide quality training on them. In 20 years, the world will be unimaginably different. If we go back 20 years, we will remember that we couldn't even imagine discussing digital diplomacy, misinformation, hybrid threats, or the role of artificial intelligence in every sphere. But today, all of these impact the exchanges we have with other countries. What will be the agenda topics for humanity in 20 years? Many predict, and that's why we engage in areas such as energy and climate diplomacy, the battle for resources... and all of these will involve individuals leading the negotiations on these topics.

Photo: Diplomatic Institute at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On it: Mrs. Tanya Mihaylova, Director of the Institute