The Danube is no longer a border, it is a common river and we have a lot of ideas how to use it

Hon. Mr Anton Pakuretsu presented his credentials in the country in September 2009. His lovely Bulgarian language, however, is not only due to the years as ambassador but also because of his education: he graduated the philological faculty at the University of Bucharest with the specialty Bulgarian Philology. In 1989 he also finished a degree in law at the University "Titu Maiorescu". He has gradually risen in the diplomatic hierarchy: first an attaché then third, second and first secretary, an adviser and finally an ambassador. From 1997 until 2001 he worked at the Permanent Agency of Romania in Geneva. From 2002 to 2007 he was Deputy Representative and First Counsellor at the Permanent Representation of his country in Strasbourg. From 2008 until 2009, he was again in Geneva. He says Bulgaria resonates in a special way in him, probably that is the reason he builds bridges between our countries.

- Your Excellency, in 2014 we celebrated 135 years since the establishment of the diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and ten European countries, including Romania. What were the highlights in the celebration of this anniversary?
- We started events on this occasion back in January, when one of the most famous and big museums in Romania - the museum "Cotroceni", presented a collection of portraits of Queen Mary. The exhibition was in Sofia Art Gallery.
In March, during the meeting of our governments on the 5th of March in Rousse and in the presence of the prime ministers of the two countries we validated a post stamp dedicated on the 135th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic relations.
There were a number of other events. As guests of the International Francophone Festival "Soleil" in Sozopol we participated in two exhibitions. One was for the tourist attractions in Romania and was very successful. Another great success was the visit of  "Odeon" theatre of Bucharest to "Sofia" theatre. The National Theatre of Romania was also  invited to a show  in the National Theatre "Ivan Vazov". There is a long-time practice of joint events between those theatres of ours.
Only a few weeks ago in the lobby of the Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" was presented the book St. Demetrius Basarbovski - saint of the two nations by Radoslav Spasov and Simeon Hinkovski, which once again showed how Romanians and Bulgarians are strongly related. I recall another moment like that two years ago when we did an exhibition of the great Romanian painter Corneliu Baba. He loved Bulgaria a lot; and Bulgarians loved him very much. It turned out that many of his works are now part of  private collections of Bulgarian citizens.
I should also mention a conference - "The Museum as a European inheritance" where representatives of museums and the industry of tourism of the two countries exchanged experience in their fields.
- What are our relations today?
- I have been an ambassador in Bulgaria since 2009 and I have to tell you that there is a strong positive trend of deepening our relationship. Our relations have always been good, we have always been very good neighbours. But lately our interest in each other grew. From a political point of view in 2011 the first joint meeting of our two governments was held. The last one, as I mentioned, was on 5 March in Ruse. These meetings of our governments are significant as events because they signal that we are important to each other and that our relations are truly profound. From an economic point of view it has also been so - trade turnover has increased several times. Over the past three years, it reached three and a half billion euro. Romania consolidated its third place as a partner of Bulgaria among EU countries, after Germany and Italy. This again shows us the importance of each other. From a purely human point of view, you know, six years now the Romanians are the most numerous contingent of tourists in Bulgaria. This means that more than a million of my fellow citizens come to your country every year and get acquainted with the Bulgarian sights, no matter what they are: historical, cultural, gastronomic and others. And on the other hand, about 400,000 Bulgarians visit Romania annually. And if previously they only went to Bucharest now they visit Brasov, Sibiu, Iași.
- Shortly before the opening of the second Danube Bridge you said that to you it is ready and you are looking forward to the next...
- Indeed, the opening of the bridge Vidin-Calafat was an important moment. It is not only a direct connection between our countries, but also revitalizes the economy of the two regions. And we immediately started working on the third and fourth bridge. A month ago in Bucharest a memorandum of understanding was signed by the transport ministers of the two countries, which included the two bridges and the set points: one will be in Silistra-Calarasi, one at the Nikopol- Turnu Măgurele. Experts met and it is clear that from now on we are looking forward  to building these new bridges.
- What about the gas interconnector between Bulgaria and Romania?
- It is being built not far from the line Ruse-Giurgiu and is designed to connect the gas energy systems of both countries. This is an European project. The river is no longer a border, it is a common river and we have a lot of ideas how  to use it in many directions - from tourism to the rehabilitation of the ports. In the cultural field we have a lot of projects as well - the route "Roman emperors" has been opened,  linking Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria.
- There was an idea of creating a common vegetable market to assist farmers of both sides, how far has this initiative gone?
- It occurred during one of the meetings of our governments. The ministers of agriculture decided to consider the creation of a vegetable market. The project is currently in an expert phase- research is being made, beneficiaries are being informed. Things are moving. Bulgaria has good-quality production, which is interesting for the Romanian market.
- We are going to apply for European funding for common projects related to sports.
- A few days ago I met with the Minister of Sport. There were interesting ideas for intensifying our relations in this sphere. You know how many Bulgarian players are there in Romanian teams and how many Romanian players are there in Bulgarian teams? Sufficient are only two names - Sergiu Bus and Cosmin Moti who are the best known in Bulgaria, but how many more there are! It is a known fact that Bulgaria and Romania have good sports facilities. We discussed how to make sure that every athlete from our country can be able to use them both in order to develop to maximum his/her potential. We talked about the programs to which Bulgaria and Romania may apply for sport projects with European money. I gave as an example the cross-border cooperation program between our countries. How many events and activities were organized, for example, between schools in the Danube regions! Young people competed in many disciplines, including various water sports. I think we have a huge potential to deploy in the field of sport.
- What other regional projects are aimed for realization?
- The already mentioned program of cross-border cooperation between Bulgaria and Romania is very interesting. You know that for the years 2007-2013 it received funding of around 250 million euro. Now the new programming period 2014-2020 begins. This program is not for large infrastructure projects. It was created for small projects of tens or hundreds of thousands of euro and aims at connecting our two nations. There is an office in Calarasi and in Pleven. Experts and representatives of municipalities communicate with each other very often and do various activities: seminars, cultural events, albums, etc. Universities are also participants in such projects.
- It's been years since the establishment of the Bilateral Chamber of Commerce of Bulgaria-Romania. How is it developed?
- I am very glad that this year I had the pleasure of working with Romanian and Bulgarian young entrepreneurs who feel the need for a more efficient operation mechanism between the companies of both countries. The Bilateral Chamber of Commerce of Bulgaria - Romania was started with great enthusiasm that does not go away. Almost every month it organizes events in Bulgaria and Romania. Its president is Doru Dragomir, a Romanian businessman who came to Bulgaria with the idea of expanding business opportunities between our countries. I must say that one of the biggest Bulgarian investments abroad is right in Romania, near Bucharest named Monbat. It is one of the major players on the Romanian market for batteries and accumulators. And one more fact is that a year ago our "Dacia" was the best-selling new car in Bulgaria.
- In this variety of connections between us, where is the place of culture?
- Just days ago, the 42 nd Sofia International Book Fair which is one of the largest in our region and was held from 9 to 14 December in Sofia was closed. This year Romania was a special guest. The Bulgarian audience had the opportunity to get acquainted with the new wave of Romanian literature. Several big names were present here: the poet Mircea Dinescu, writers like Mircea Cărtărescu, Matei Visniec, Lucian Boia and Gabriela Adamesteanu.
Recently, the number of Romanian books published in Bulgarian increased a lot. At the embassy we have a practice to present new works translated into Bulgarian every year in fall or on the Day of the Romanian culture - January 15. We Romanians are proud of the fact that two years ago our compatriot Herta Müller received the Nobel Prize for Literature.
I would say that there is a revival of Romanian culture. I should mention the rise of Romanian cinema. In recent years a lot of our films won international awards: "Golden Palm" in Cannes, "The Golden Bear" in Berlin, etc. Conversely, Bulgarian TV series "Glass House" is currently one of the most commercial shows in Romania and a great success. We also have a boom in music. In Bulgarian channels many Romanian songs are heard. Andrea Banica, Ina, Smiley are names already are well known in Bulgaria. And we can see how many musical groups, theatres, artists exchange visits each year.
- In Sofia is your first term as ambassador, but before that you were in diplomatic work in Geneva, Strasbourg...
- Diplomatic life has one feature - when we go to a country, we have some key aims. But this does not mean that as soon as these aims are achieved the work is done. There is always more and more and more to be done. And it's nice. We are always looking forward for new projects.
- How do you feel at home as ambassador? What made you complete a Bulgarian Philology degree?
- I have been a diplomat for over 20 years. But when Bulgaria is mentioned it resonates in me in a special way. I feel it not only as an ambassador, but as a person as well. I began my studies in the Faculty of Philology of the University of Bucharest, then I chose Bulgarian philology. That was before the changes when many Romanians used to watch Bulgarian television, at least those from the southern part of the country. I think there is no one in the country who does not know the broadcasts "Good night, kids", "Melody of the Year," "Studio X". We watched all the matches on Bulgarian TV. We knew what the words "yellow card", "penalty", "breach", etc. mean.
There is more. Bulgaria has a very interesting and really remarkable story. The names of Cyril and Methodius are known not only to us, they are very important to the European culture in general. During the Renaissance Levski, Botev, Rakovski, Karavelov, Beron and other prominent Bulgarians lived in Romania, this is a very strong relationship between our countries. In Bulgaria there are monuments of Romanian soldiers who died for the liberation. And vice versa- in Bucharest, one of the biggest boulevards is called "Pleven" and another one is called "Grivitsa".
- How are  you going to welcome Christmas? Will you wish something to our readers for the holiday?
- Romanians and Bulgarians celebrate Christmas the same way. Our churches are Orthodox and our rituals are almost identical. Our meals are almost the same. The peculiarity of Christmas is to be done in the family. And this year I will take the advantage to celebrate with my family here in Bulgaria. I want to wish the best to the Bulgarians; to be healthy and optimistic about the fate of Bulgaria.

Photos provided by the Embassy of Romania