Greek-Bulgarian relations have thus reached an excellent level which serves as an example for the region

H. Е. Mr. Dimitrios Chronopoulos was born in 1957 in Athens. He studied law at the University of Athens and continued his studies in Basic Decision-Making and Persuasion Strategies at the Harvard Kennedy School.

After completing two years of military service, he became a member of the Athens Bar Association and began his career. Since 1993 he has held consecutive positions in the state administration at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Diplomatic Academy, the Diplomatic Bureau of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Greek Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Balkan States Directorate. Presidency of Greece and Deputy Head of the Diplomatic Bureau. Since 1994 until 1996 is a political adviser at the Greek Embassy in Washington, DC, USA. For the next four years he was deputy head of the diplomatic mission at the Greek Embassy in Bucharest. From 2000-2002 he was Deputy Director and Head of the US Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, North America Directorate, and from 2002 to 2007 he was Defense Adviser to the Permanent Mission of Greece to NATO. He worked for two years as Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Diplomatic Bureau of the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Economic and Energy Affairs, and from 2009 to 2012 was Director General for National Defense Policy and international relations at the Ministry of National Defense. For one year he held the position of Director of the OSCE and Council of Europe Directorate. From 2013 to 2015 he was Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Directorate of the United Nations and International Organizations, Terrorism, Disarmament and the Law of the Sea, after which he headed the Directorate for Relations with Turkey for one year. At the same time, he holds the position of negotiator on the demarcation of maritime areas. From 2016 to 2019, he was Ambassador to Romania and Permanent Representative to the UN International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and other international organizations based in The Hague.

In October 2019, H. E. Mr. Dimitrios Chronopoulos presented his credentials as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Hellenic Republic to the Republic of Bulgaria.

He speaks English, French and Spanish. Married, they have two sons.

- Greece's national holiday is celebrated on the 25th of March. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the struggle of the Greeks against the Ottoman oppression. What does this date mean for the Greeks and how will the day be celebrated during the pandemic situation?

- The bicentennial of the Greek War of Independence is a reminder of the numerous and successive struggles of the Greek people for freedom, pride and honour. This year has hence a particular significance for modern Greece. We pay tribute to all those who fought against the Ottoman rule and defended the ideals that shaped our today’s democratic society. The Greek Revolution was influenced by the principles and messages of the American and French Revolutions and laid the foundations for the 1st independent state in the Balkans which, as a matter of fact, inspired other nations in the region, including our Bulgarian friends, to seek their freedom and independence from the same foreign yoke. Rigas Feraios (Velestinlis), a great Greek intellectual and pioneer of freedom, more than two decades prior to the Greek War of Independence, dared to dream of a free and democratic future for all Balkan peoples. To that end, he used to say "He who thinks freely, thinks well". This is actually the essence of our modern values for rule of law, democracy and humanism.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic posed several restrictions in the celebrations of this anniversary in Greece and abroad, mainly as regards public attendance of the events. However, the Greek government spared no effort in the festivities organized in Athens and elsewhere. Likewise, a very successful public outreach of the message of the Greek bicentennial was achieved not only in Greece but also across the globe by using modern means of communication. Among other events and ceremonies, a great military parade took place in the Greek capital on the 25th of March. The parade was attended by distinguished foreign guests, namely Prince of Wales Charles and Duchess of Cornwall Camilla, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, French Defence Minister Florence Parly and President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades. The guests of honour from France, Russia and the UK were invited because of the role of the three Great Powers at the time of the Greek War of Independence in Greece’s liberation.

Last but not least, I would like to seize this opportunity to thank Bulgaria for its participation in the celebrations and the cordial messages by the President, the government and the parliament of Bulgaria. We feel particularly honoured. The façade of NDK was illuminated with the colours of the Greek flag on that day as well.

- Last year, 140 years were marked from the establishment of the diplomatic relations between the Hellenic Republic and the Republic of Bulgaria. How have they developed over the years?

- Indeed, last year we marked 140 years of meaningful Greek-Bulgarian diplomatic relations. In modern times, Greece and Bulgaria maintain a multi-faceted and manifold cooperation and constructive dialogue on bilateral, regional, European and international levels to the mutual benefit of our peoples and the entire region. Greek-Bulgarian relations have thus reached an excellent level which serves as an example for the region.  

- What is the current level of the bilateral relations?

- Bulgaria, as a neigbouring country, is a key partner to Greece. Both countries have formed a strategic partnership which constitutes a pillar of security and stability in our region and beyond. Besides, they share common foreign policy principles and European values. In that vein, our foreign policy abides by full respect to international law, international conduct, peaceful coexistence, good neighbourly relations, dialogue and regional cooperation.

- What are the trade and economic aspects between the two countries?

- Greece has been one of the largest foreign investors in Bulgaria, thus contributing by 5% to the Bulgarian GDP. At the same time, total foreign investments of companies of Greek interest create approximately 65.000 jobs in the Bulgarian economy. Despite the pandemic, our bilateral trade has not been drastically affected during 2020. According to preliminary estimates, Greek-Bulgarian trade exceeded 3 billion euros during that period which makes Greece one of Bulgaria’s main and oldest trade partners. The balance of this trade relationship is slightly positive for Bulgaria.

- What are the priority actions of your work as an ambassador in Bulgaria?

- The sole great challenge for me as ambassador of the Hellenic Republic to the Republic of Bulgaria is to render our strategic partnership even deeper. Greece remains committed to developing the full potential of the Greek-Bulgarian strategic relations. In this respect, we have been working closely together with our Bulgarian partners to speed up the implementation of projects of common bilateral and European interest such as the Gas Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB), which is expected to be completed by the end of 2021. Furthermore, priority is given to developing important infrastructure that strengthens interconnectivity in the region, inter alia, road interconnections (Pan-European Corridor IV, Rudozem-Xanthi border crossing etc.), and projects in the transport sector, including the "Thessaloniki – Kavala – Alexandroupolis – Bourgas – Varna – Russe" railway connection (Sea2Sea project) aiming at bringing closer Greek ports in the Northern Aegean Sea to Bulgarian ports in the Black Sea and the Danube. Moreover, expanding further bilateral trade between the two countries remains another clear objective. 

- How does the COVID-19 pandemic affect the Greek economy and what are the current measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in your country?

- The Covid-19 pandemic has definitely affected Greece as all over the world. Allow me to say, however, that the Greek economy has been proved quite resilient to deep crises in recent years and performed much better than expected during the current epidemiological crisis as well. Greece has delivered and the reforms of the last decade have started bringing tangible results. The Greek economy is like a compressed spring ready to eject, regain the lost ground and restore its dynamism. All the experts’ projections for the development of the Greek GDP in the next years are very promising, taking into account the elaboration of a thorough and well-prepared National Recovery and Resilience Plan with a view to alleviating the negative impact of the pandemic on the Greek economy.

The Greek government, very wisely, conceded a leading role to the task force of experts who have been mainly involved in the decision-making process so as to contain the spread of Covid-19 and handle its impact on the Greek National Health System (NHS). To do so, they have very often made strict recommendations that stretched the limits of the Greek society, which, nevertheless, predominantly complies with the measures adopted by the government. The 3rd wave of the pandemic is on the rise in Greece as well, putting further burden on the NHS. Therefore, the government is implementing a mix of measures, as appropriate, which include partial relaxation or the opposite, depending on developments on the ground. The positivity rate of Covid-19 in Greece is around 6% over roughly 65.000 daily tests. In parallel, self-test kits are available at pharmacies free of charge, as a supplementary weapon in our strategy. Additionally, the inoculation process has achieved a steady progress with more than 2.000.000 vaccinations, while over 700.000 of our fellow citizens have taken both jabs.

- Greece is a favourite destination for Bulgarians. Are your estimations for this summer season encouraging and will there be a relaxation of the measures for the Bulgarians to be able to travel freely?

- The Ministry of Tourism decided to open up the country to international tourism as of May 14th. Estimations for the upcoming tourist season are quite positive so far. Every year, indeed, Greece is a favourite destination for Bulgarians. In the year just before the pandemic, 1.461.000 Bulgarians spent their holidays in Greece, while 1.277.000 Greeks visited Bulgaria. Apparently, our Bulgarian friends are always most welcome in Greece. They simply have to fill in the Electronic Passenger Locator Form (PLF) which is available in the following link: Apart from that, they ought to present to the border authorities a negative PCR test result as this is the case today. But, in order to further facilitate traveling, the Greek government has been a staunch supporter in the EU Council of the issuance of a "Green Certificate" for those EU citizens who have already been vaccinated against Covid-19. If finally agreed, this is meant to be a document that will make travelling to Greece faster, cheaper and easier, without unneeded delays at border crossings or obligation of a potential quarantine.

- Many young Greek people study in Bulgaria and receive their higher education here. What attracts them to the country and what is the current trend? Is there interest and possibility for the opposite?

- Bulgaria has always been an attractive destination for studies abroad. At present, Greek students are among those nationalities that top the list of foreign students in Bulgarian Universities, especially in faculties of medicine. Of course, the geographical proximity with Greece and the affordable cost is a catalyst for this trend. At the same time, Bulgaria offers university studies of high quality. This fact is recognized and appreciated by the Greek students who continue in large numbers to choose Bulgarian Universities for their studies. On the other hand, there is a certain number of young Bulgarians who study in Greek Universities which comply with the highest European and international standards. This is why there is an increasing interest from young people in neigbouring countries to study in Greece and take advantage of the opportunities offered there.

- The pandemic thwarted many projects in the field of culture. Do you plan any cultural events this year and do you believe that art and culture have the power to bring people together?

- Definitely the power of art and culture can unite and bring people closer, given that these events mostly require physical presence. It comes as a great disappointment to me that the pandemic has not yet allowed for the organization of public events in this field. The pandemic still renders even planning for future activities difficult. I should mention, though, that in the course of February and March, by using social media and modern platforms of communication, the Greek Embassy organized two teleconferences devoted to two important representatives of contemporary Greek culture. The first one was about the renowned Greek author Antonis Samarakis whose work has been translated in more than 32 languages worldwide, including Bulgarian, while the second one was dedicated to the famous actress and politician Melina Mercouri and her legacy for the protection of world cultural heritage.

- You have been in Bulgaria since 2019. What are your impressions of our country and traditions? Do you have favourite places that you like visiting during your free time?

- The proximity of Bulgaria with Greece; the affinity of interpersonal relations, mentality, culture and music; the similar taste of food; but also, the stunning Bulgarian nature; have made me feel at home from the outset of my tenure here. I have already visited a number of picturesque places across Bulgaria such as the Rila Monastery, Vitosha Mountain, Haskovo, the city of Plovdiv etc. I have been astonished by the overwhelming beauty of the Bulgarian countryside, although there is still much to explore due to the restrictions posed by the pandemic. Definitely my next Bulgarian destination will be the coastal area in the Black Sea with the aim of discovering its beauties and its rich history.   

The  photos are provided by the Embassy of the Hellenic Republic in the Republic of Bulgaria.

Above: H. E. Mr. Dimitrios Chronopoulos, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Hellenic Republic to the Republic of Bulgaria

Below: H. E. Mr. Dimitrios Chronopoulos with the President of the Republic of Bulgaria Mr. Rumen Radev; with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mrs. Ekaterina Zaharieva; with the Chief Mufti of Bulgaria Dr. Mustafa Hadji; at a meeting organized by the Hellenic Business Council in Bulgaria.