Bulgarian-German relations are blossoming once again. They are friendly and full of dynamism.

He has been Ambassador to Bulgaria for only one year, but the Bulgarians immediately accepted and welcomed him with open arms owing to his high level of professionalism and diplomatic experience, dignified behaviour and outgoing nature.

Born in Aachen, H. E. Herbert Salber studied French Philology in Toulouse and Russian Philology in Bonn. He then trained for senior diplomatic service, before joining the Federal Foreign Office in 1983, where he ascended the institution’s hierarchical ladder over the years, occupying a number of important positions.

Outside Germany, he has worked at the Embassy in Belgrade, Serbia, the Embassy in Managua, Nicaragua, at the Permanent Representation of the OSCE in Vienna, Austria, as Head of the OSCE Centre in Almaty, Kazakhstan, at the Embassy in Moscow, Russia, and as Director of the OSCE Conflict Prevention Centre in Vienna. In 2013, he was appointed as Deputy Permanent Representative to NATO in Brussels, and he became the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, again in the Belgian capital, in July 2017.

On 12 September 2017, he presented his credentials as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Federal Republic of Germany in the Republic of Bulgaria.

On the occasion of the Day of German Unity, we discussed our bilateral relations and Germany’s efforts to safeguard peace and security in the world today.

- Your Excellency, the Germans celebrated their national day, the Day of German Unity, on 3 October. What does this day mean to the people of Germany?

- Germany’s national day serves, above all, to remind us of the need to create unity, to unite the community and to strengthen it. It reminds us that we need to be together. During the years of division, Germany didn’t have such a national holiday. It was reborn with the reunification in 1990, and is therefore an important day in our recent history.

- Relations between Germany and Bulgaria have a thousand-year history. Which period do you think was the brightest?

- Relations between our countries are indeed long‑standing. Next year, we will celebrate the 140th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic relations. I find the fact that Bulgaria had very good relations with both German states after the Second World War remarkable. Clearly, relations with the GDR were very close, and Bulgaria was an ally. But the FRG and Bulgaria never lost sight of each other during that time. There was an intensive exchange in the fields of business, tourism and culture. After the events of 1990, things went back to, figuratively speaking, one common “river bed”; the “tributaries” were united, and Bulgarian-German relations blossomed once again in every respect. Political, cultural and economic exchanges greatly increased. Our relations are friendly and full of dynamism at all levels.

- As you said, our countries have enjoyed diplomatic relations for almost 140 years. They were established immediately after our liberation, in 1879. As a high‑level diplomat, what would you like to develop further?

- Relations in all the areas I mentioned can be further strengthened. As far as policy is concerned, greater dialogue is always appropriate and possible. I see this as one of my tasks. Whenever I host high-profile visits, such as for officials from the Federal Government, the governments of the Länder, the German Bundestag, I encourage the participants to seize this opportunity with both hands; I encourage them to invite our Bulgarian partners to Germany so that the diplomatic dialogue can become even more regular, more intensive.

- During the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council in 2018, our political contacts were particularly intensive. At the highest level, Chancellor Merkel visited our country twice, and our Prime Minister Boyko Borissov was in Germany on two important occasions. What can we expect in the future?

- There’s always something being planned. Even now, we have delegations in Sofia – both with representatives from the Bundestag and officials from other institutions. Just days ago, the Chief Prosecutor of the Free State of Bavaria was here at the invitation of the Chief Prosecutor of Bulgaria. This, in my opinion, was one of the visits that were especially important. These gentlemen engaged in a lengthy and intensive exchange of experiences and opinions. The Chief Prosecutor of the Free State of Bavaria had the opportunity to speak with representatives of all main institutions that are relevant to his sphere of activity. Thanks to such meetings, scope is created for exchanging experiences and opinions, which is very important and can be useful for both countries.

At the beginning of the summer, the Bavarian Minister of Economy also visited Bulgaria. Since then, a number of Members of the Bundestag  have been here, demonstrating the fact that the dialogue continues after the Bulgarian EU Council Presidency.

- At the beginning of your mandate, you said that judicial reform would be at the forefront of your work as Ambassador in Bulgaria. What steps are being taken in this direction?

- When I arrived here, in the first week after presenting my credentials, I had the honour of attending a meeting when the newly elected Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) took office. I will never forget the speech that was then delivered by a minister, a representative of the Government. She said that the SJC had a special responsibility because people in Bulgaria had lost confidence in the judiciary. Lost trust must be restored again. From what other leading politicians have said, I understand that much more work needs to be done in this area. Last but not least, the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism of the European Commission is still in place, reporting the results of monitoring of the judiciary reform. So as a recently arrived German Ambassador to Bulgaria, I don’t need to reinvent the wheel; it’s right here, and the questions it raises are painful and tangible. One thing is clear, which is that Bulgaria itself has to find a solution to the problems that need to be resolved. At the same time, however, there’s a definite need for exchanges of experience and advice. With this in mind, visits, meetings and conversations with leading German politicians are very important, and that’s why they are arranged. Like that of the Chief Prosecutor of the Free State of Bavaria, and shortly before him Federal Chief Prosecutor Dr Peter Frank.

- On 8 June 2018, Germany was elected as a non‑permanent member of the UN Security Council for the 2019‑20 term. What are its goals for this period?

- Germany will take office on 1 January 2019 as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Our main goal, of course, is to work for peace and stability in the world. Germany is one of the largest contributors to the UN general budget and to the peacekeeping initiatives budget. We would like to support this commitment with political initiatives while a non‑permanent member of the UN Security Council. We aim to achieve this as a partner in the efforts to resolve difficult conflicts and problems. Although there are currently trends in the opposite direction, Germany remains a supporter of the multilateral approach to finding solutions to current issues within these institutions. A central role is played in this regard by the respect for human rights, as well as the proper consideration of issues important to humankind, such as climate policy and access to education and resources, which are an important investment in world peace. This is the big picture, in the context of which we are endeavouring to shape our role as a member of the Security Council helping to solve these problems.

- An important part of German policy is the protection of human rights. How will this happen in the EU today when there is opposition to refugees, immigrants and other foreigners all over Europe, including in your country?

- You’re right. In recent months and years in Germany there were several incidents in which human rights were violated and they had to be protected. These were situations that no state should tolerate. The motives for these incidents were xenophobia, hatred for foreigners, hatred for people. I think that wherever there are such cases, the state must do its utmost to investigate them and help to achieve justice.

The state of affairs is very simple. In states based on justice, the rule of law is paramount. And anyone who violates this, be they citizens or foreigners, should be held accountable. It’s crucial in such incidents for the state to intervene and then find a solution.

- Germany has been one of the largest investors in Bulgaria for many years. Are new investments planned and, if so, in what spheres?

- I’m convinced that German companies’ involvement in Bulgaria will continue to grow. New German companies have commenced operations in recent months. I’ve already mentioned the visit to Bulgaria by the Bavarian Minister of Economy, who attended the opening of a new factory for the Bavarian company MULTIVAC in Bozhurishte. Last week saw the groundbreaking ceremony for a new German company in Pleven – Leoni. A few days ago, I was in Rousse, where I visited the assembly and development factory WITTE Automotive Bulgaria. This company plans to double its capacity. So dynamic development continues in the field of investment, and fortunately, there are no signs that this will be slowing down anytime soon.

- The tourist season on the Bulgarian coast has come to an end. Do you already have any figures for the number of German tourists on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast?

- We still don’t have any final numbers for this year, but we think that they will match last year’s levels. The number of German tourists on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast remains high. Germans are among the largest groups of tourists.

- Germany actively promotes its urban tourism, and more and more Bulgarians choose to visit your country during the holidays...

- I think this trend is based on something very simple. When people’s wellbeing improves in terms of increased wages and an improved economic situation, they will travel abroad more frequently. They will travel to all countries, including Germany. You said that urban tourism in Germany is attractive, and I would concur.

- Many of our compatriots visit your country also because their family members live and work there...

- In a few years, we will sense how things have changed with respect to tourism in both Germany and Bulgaria. Germans will also see that it’s worthwhile visiting not only the Black Sea, but also Sofia, which is an attractive city, as well as the Bulgarian mountains, where they can go skiing. The prospects for tourism are good.

- Our cooperation in the field of education and culture has been strong for a long time. What is the focus in this area today?

- I think university exchanges are most vibrant and well organised, but there’s always potential for them to be even more intensive. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and other institutions grant scholarships and work with Bulgarian students.

Our cooperation is very intensive in the field of language learning. The Goethe-Institut offers language courses that are of high quality and very popular. We’re also cooperating with schools and German language teachers. We welcome the fact that many high schools are specialised in teaching German. The German Embassy is trying to support their work, often with the help of representatives of various institutions such as the Central Agency for Schools Abroad.

- The deadline for the Bundestag’s International Parliamentary Scholarships (IPS) programme for 2018 has now passed. Are there many Bulgarian candidates?

- The IPS scholarship programme continues. And there are definitely enough Bulgarian candidates. A delegation will arrive in Bulgaria this month and will make the selection.

 - What aims do you have for your term in Bulgaria?

- My goals include projects that have fortunately already been completed. All of them can be united under one big heading, namely finding specific areas in which we can work together to continue to strengthen the cooperation between Germany and Bulgaria. I’ll tell you at the end of my term what I have and haven’t accomplished here.

- Do you feel at home in our country? Have you found your own personal niche here?

- From a human point of view, I like it very much here. People are open and very friendly. The country is beautiful and I travel a lot. What would I like to see again? The Bachkovo Monastery. For me, this is one of the most mystical places in Bulgaria. I’d go anywhere with mineral springs as well.

Photo: “Diplomatic Spectrum”