Every year about 400,000 Poles visit your country, which makes Poland one of the most important tourist markets for Bulgaria

    The total value of government aid in Poland in the fight against COVID-19 is PLN 320 billion

   We need joint initiatives in the framework of the European Green Deal

   The Bulgarian market enjoys growing popularity among Polish companies

   Bulgarian-Polish diplomatic relations have over a hundred years of history, but the close contacts between our peoples date back to 1444.

   The Polish Institute in Sofia is one of the oldest Polish institutes in the world, which has been operating without interruption for 70 years.

E. Mr. Maciej Szymański is a diplomat with 28 years of extensive professional experience. In the diplomatic service, he went through all the steps of his career, starting as a senior expert and reaching the highest level - ambassador. He has held senior positions in many directorates of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the period 1998-2002 he took the post of Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to the Republic of Slovenia, and from 1998 to 2001 he was accredited for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since 2005 he has been Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro, and since 2006 Ambassador to the Republic of Serbia. He then became director of the Directorate for Cooperation with the Polish Diaspora at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From January 2013 to 2017, he was his country's ambassador to the Republic of Croatia. After his return to Warsaw, he was deputy director of the Diplomatic Academy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then became its director. Since February 2018, he has been the General Director of the Diplomatic Service.

Maciej Szymański graduated in Slavic Philology from the University of Silesia in 1981 and holds a doctorate in Humanities. He is married and has five children.

On June 20th 2019, the diplomat presented his credentials as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Poland to the Republic of Bulgaria to President Rumen Radev. "I love and respect Bulgaria and the Bulgarians, so I can and I do feel extremely well", he told the Standard newspaper.

- Your Excellency, your ambassadorial mandate in Bulgaria began almost a year ago. How do you feel in Bulgaria?

- I will start as standard, but extremely sincerely. Bulgaria is a country that is close to me, whose culture and inhabitants I got to know thirty years ago, working at the Institute of Slavonic Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences. I love and respect Bulgaria and the Bulgarians, therefore I feel extremely well in your country. When I go back to this first and still unfinished year, I have to divide it into three stages. The first is the very beginning - the first months. I tried to use this time to meet as many people as possible and learn as much as possible about Bulgaria. This was a stage of very intensive work. By a happy coincidence, I love what I do, so I felt great. The second stage is the use of the "fruits" of the first, ie. expanding acquaintances, deepening knowledge and building on these foundations even better relations between Poland and Bulgaria. This is not easy in a situation where our bilateral contacts are well developed. When we start from scratch, one success is 100% more than at the start. When we start from a high level, each new success is just another modest added value. This is a difficult task for any diplomat, but because I love challenges, I also felt good at this stage. Finally came the unexpected third stage - the outbreak of the epidemic. Probably everyone's self-esteem is a little worse now, but we're trying to function normally. In the conditions set by the epidemic, new areas are opening up in which we can cooperate. Poland has well-developed solutions in telemedicine and perhaps now is the best time to share them with Bulgaria.

- Yes. This would be very useful. Now all countries are fighting COVID-19. Our economies are in a difficult situation. We are entering a period of global deconjuncture. How exactly does the Polish government deal with this new and difficult situation?

- The government has adopted a number of decisions that are a package to help businesses. It is envisaged to reduce the mandatory financial burden on workers and employers. The main goal of the package is to ensure the financial liquidity of the companies and to keep as many jobs as possible. It is estimated that between 2 and 5 million jobs will be saved thanks to the proposed solutions. For this purpose, 100 billion Polish zlotys will be allocated. The total value of government aid in the fight against COVID-19 is 320 billion zlotys. We are also working on new versions of the package, which provide for a gradual expansion of support for companies.

- At the beginning of your term, you proposed to create a Club of Bulgarian-speaking ambassadors. How was this interesting idea born? Maybe because you are a Slavic scholar?

- The answer is very simple. The club was created on the familiar know-how principle. In Poland, the Club of Polish-speaking Ambassadors has been operating for many years and provides many benefits to both club members and guests. The members of the club use it as an additional platform for communication with Polish politicians and business representatives, scientists and cultural figures. Thanks to their knowledge of Polish, they can significantly deepen their conversations. An additional plus is better learning of the Polish language, therefore better functioning in Poland. For Poles, this is an opportunity to reach diplomats not through translators or foreign languages. In this way, the Polish position can be presented much more precisely and with all the nuances that only the native language allows. I have participated in several meetings of this club and decided to use its experience in Bulgaria.

- The question about hobbies is usually asked at the end of the interviews. But I am tempted to ask you at the beginning of the conversation, because in the first months of your activity here you made an impressive exhibition with your photographs. Obviously photography is your hobby.

- Photography is really my hobby. In fact, the exhibition on the Bridge of Lovers was entitled "Colors of the Mist", and the photos represented the fog. I mostly shoot birds. I watched them for almost 30 years and only then I started shooting them. My many years of experience as an observer helps me a lot because I know the habits of birds and I know what to do to photograph them without hurting or harming them. And when there are no birds, I take pictures of other things, including the fog. I am an amateur photographer, and the difference between an amateur and a professional in this field is very simple. The professional earns from what he does, and the amateur pays for his hobby.

- If from photography we turn our attention to the diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and Poland, which are almost 102 years old, we can not fail to note that the friendship of the two peoples is centuries old. What is it based on and how is it developing in the present?

- It is true that the Bulgarian-Polish diplomatic relations have a hundred-year history, but the close contacts between our peoples have a centuries-old history, dating back to 1444. Then in the battle near Varna the Polish King Władysław Warneńczyk gave his life in the name of freedom, the Christian people, including the Bulgarian people. In addition, over the centuries, the fates of Poland and Bulgaria have coincided in a similar way. Both in Poland and in Bulgaria, periods of prosperity alternated with times of oppression. This common destiny favors the strengthening of mutual sympathy between Poles and Bulgarians. Since their liberation, Poland and Bulgaria have come a long and difficult way to become members of the EU and NATO.

Today, we have similar positions on a number of European issues, such as the Common Agricultural Policy or the European perspective of the countries of the Western Balkans. In the case of Brexit, we are connected by the efforts to ensure the rights of Polish and Bulgarian citizens. This similarity of positions is and will be one of the determining factors of our ever closer cooperation. But the agenda for our contacts is not limited to EU issues. Bulgaria, like Poland, attaches great importance to regional cooperation. Your country is an active partner of the Visegrad Group. I am also pleased with the announced active participation of Bulgaria in another key initiative - "Three Seas". Our contacts in defense are also promising. Of course, I can't miss tourism. Every year about 400,000 Poles visit your country, which makes Poland one of the most important tourist markets for Bulgaria.

- At the beginning of the political changes at the end of the last century, Poland became an example for Bulgaria in the efforts for economic reforms and accession to EU standards and values. Now, in the context of the "Green Deal" that is being prepared in Brussels, what is the opportunity for cooperation and exchange of ideas for the transformation of the energy of the two countries, closely related to thermal power plants that pollute the environment with their hydrocarbons?

- The "European Green Deal" was supported by all countries except Poland. Warsaw opposed some of the texts, mainly those concerning the abandonment of coal in energy. Undoubtedly, this endeavor is a huge challenge for the whole EU. In practice, the transition will affect all economic sectors. Therefore, it is envisaged to establish a Fair Transition Fund to support countries, including Poland and Bulgaria, which are dependent on fossil fuels. In order to facilitate this process, it is planned to allocate 100 billion euros. The Ministry of Energy has estimated the costs of Polish energy under the "Green Deal" at a minimum of 100 billion euros. Certainly the funds from the Fund will not compensate for this. It is unofficially said that Poland will receive 20-30 billion euros from it.

We must also be aware of the opportunity costs that both countries will incur if they remain on coal-based energy. It is therefore justified to take joint initiatives to reach agreements that allow the transition to take place safely. An example is the Joint Declaration of the Ministers of Agriculture of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. It estimates that to the extent that the "green deal" in agriculture means greater protection of soil, water and air, the new standards will require greater resources and investment in technology - in general, this will lead to higher costs. An immediate discussion on how to finance the Green Deal is urgent.

- Yes, obviously. If you had to describe bilateral economic relations in a few words, what would you say about trade and investment?

- The Bulgarian market enjoys growing popularity among Polish companies. It has great potential for growth, which creates excellent conditions for Polish entrepreneurs. Over the last thirty years, the country has undergone a significant economic transition, which creates the preconditions for companies to find a niche for themselves and reach a wider range of recipients. Additionally, our products turn out to be attractive as a price for the Bulgarian partners, and the ease and speed of deliveries is another advantage. That is why Poland is an important trade partner for Bulgaria. In 2017, we ranked 10th among the largest exporters, right after China. Polish companies have signed many contracts, for example the manufacturer of railcars "PESA" from Bydgoszcz for several years successfully manufactures by order and sends trams to Bulgaria.

- Tourism is a very important sector for the economies of both Bulgaria and Poland. Poles traditionally have an interest in our Black Sea coast. What do you think your compatriots would like to feel even better in Bulgarian resorts?

- Our conversation is during a pandemic, from which tourism is one of the most affected industries. Over the last decade, Poles have spent their holidays abroad en masse, although there is no shortage of attractions in Poland to satisfy the tastes of every tourist. We are already very sad about the opportunity to visit Bulgaria, which until recently was easy and obvious. You have a beautiful country, which is still a popular destination among Polish tourists. On the one hand, this is the result of an ever-expanding tourist offer, and on the other hand, the situation in the world, in which countries that have become traditional holiday destinations are raising concerns about personal security. The tourist potential of Bulgaria is huge. Everyone will find something for themselves here. Poles feel great in Bulgaria, as evidenced by the growing number of our tourists with each passing year. In 2018, their number increased by 11.8% and reached a level of 475,000. Travels from Bulgaria to Poland in recent years are formed at a level of about 105,000 per year. As you can see, the number of trips to Bulgaria is many times higher than the trips to Poland, although we also have something to boast about. Our country is increasingly appearing in international rankings as a destination that must be chosen when planning a vacation.

- In the cultural field of our bilateral relations the activity of the Polish Cultural Center in Sofia is very interesting and useful. In what direction are its efforts now aimed at developing our cultural ties? What are the highlights?

- The Polish Institute in Sofia is one of the oldest Polish institutes in the world. He has been working without interruption for 70 years. In 2019, this anniversary was marked by numerous events. In 2020 we celebrate 210 years since the birth of the prominent Polish composer and pianist Frédéric Chopin. The institute's program will include a series of concerts and other events related to the anniversary. At the end of 2019, the cycle of concerts of the famous Bulgarian pianist Lyudmil Angelov began. At the beginning of this year, the world-famous Polish conductor Anthony Witt visited Bulgaria, and on March 1st, the concert of the National Philharmonic Orchestra in Warsaw was broadcasted live at the Polish Institute. In addition, the works of the Polish composer will be present in the program of the institute during the traditional Chopin concerts, organized jointly with the Chopin Society in Bulgaria.

- Did the state of emergency imposed by the coronavirus pandemic hinder you?

- It forced the institute to transfer its activities to the Internet. Due to the forced quarantine for many Bulgarians, the institute has launched a "Stay Home and Read" campaign, which aims to remind readers of Polish titles translated into Bulgarian. A total of 15 titles will be presented, including two books by Nobel Laureate Olga Tokarchuk. The embassy and the institute implemented another interesting initiative. Polish diplomats recorded a video thanking doctors in Bulgaria and around the world for their great efforts in the fight against Covid-19. The video also included Polish doctors who live and work in Bulgaria.

In Poland, 2020  the year of Pope John Paul II has been declared. On the occasion of the centenary of his birth, the institute will present an exhibition and will shoot short videos with verses from the volume of poetry of the "Pope of Freedom" - "Selected Poetry. Roman Triptych", performed by well-known and beloved Bulgarian actors.

The next edition of the Polish Film Festival in Bulgaria - "Kinoteka" is planned in the autumn, as well as the project "Poetry in the Metro", which the Polish Institute is implementing together with EUNIC Bulgaria (network of embassies and cultural institutes of EU countries). There, Polish films will also be shown at the 24th Sofia Film Fest. Agnieszka Holland has been invited as a special guest, who will present her latest film "Charlatan" and will be awarded a special prize. The presence of Polish literature on the Bulgarian market is another major priority of the institute. That is why it supports the contacts between the Polish and Bulgarian publishing houses, artists and translators. Several Polish books are to be published in Bulgarian, including by Olga Tokarchuk.

- Your first statement after your accreditation as ambassador to Bulgaria was that you will work for closer political, economic and cultural relations between the two countries. Bulgarian-Polish relations are developed in many respects. What exactly would you like your contribution to be?

- As an ambassador, I play the role of a kind of mediator between Poland and Bulgaria, which stimulates the exchange of mutual ideas and thoughts of bilateral cooperation. I want to always find a common language with Bulgaria. That is why I plan to be the initiator of forums and conferences to help us find it. We will have an excellent opportunity to do so very soon. In the middle of the year, Poland takes over the chairmanship of the Visegrad Group. I want this period to become a time of intensified cooperation between our countries. In addition, as a philologist and a man of science, I take literally the phrase "finding a common language". That is why, as I have already mentioned, I have created the Club of Bulgarian-speaking Ambassadors, which will hold regular meetings with Bulgarian politicians. We have already talked with the President and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria.

- Looking ahead in time, what major events can we expect in bilateral cooperation in 2020?

- The first such events are already behind us. In January, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov visited Poland to take part in celebrations marking the anniversary of the liberation of the German Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. The Minister of Tourism of Bulgaria was also in Poland. This was the second international visit of Minister Nikolina Angelkova this year, which shows the importance of the Polish tourist market for Bulgaria. The next important event will be the summit of the Berlin Process, chaired this year by Bulgaria along with Northern Macedonia. I expect that the Polish Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs will visit Sofia. Poland and Bulgaria are among the main supporters of EU enlargement. That is why I am convinced that the summit will be an opportunity for Polish-Bulgarian bilateral meetings of the highest political level.

Above: H. E. Mr. Maciej Szymański, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Poland to the Republic of Bulgaria

First row: H. E. Mr. Maciej Szymański at the presentation of the credentials of President Rumen Radev, June 20th 2019; at a meeting with our Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva; with his wife

Second row: H. E. Mr. Maciej Szymański at the opening of his solo photo exhibition - "Colors of the Mist", in Sofia; one of his beautiful photographs included in it; a bird caught by his lens; an impressive photo of Bulgarian nature.

The material is provided by the "Standart" newspaper - www.standartnews.com.

Translation: "Diplomatic Spectrum"