European integration is a national priority of the Republic of Moldova and therefore this question is posed by the Moldovan diplomacy at the center of its relations with Bulgaria

E. Mr. Stefan Gorda was accredited as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Moldova to the Republic of Bulgaria on the 24th of February 2016, at the same time he is an ambassador of his country to the Republic of Albania and the Republic of Macedonia.

He was born on the 11th of January 1960 in the area Chernautsi, today's Ukraine. In 1983, he graduated from the History Faculty of the State University of Moldova. He also has a Diploma in Management from the Moscow Petroleum Institute and a Diploma in International Relations from the International Institute of Public Administration in Paris. He has worked as a researcher at the Academy of Sciences of Moldova. In 1990 he was invited to become an adviser to the then Prime Minister and later to the President of the Republic of Moldova. Then he worked in the sector of the economy, occupying positions in the management of an oil company.

His diplomatic activity is associated with holding important positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in missions abroad - Tashkent, Paris, Prague, Rome and Sofia. From 2010 to 2015 he was the Ambassador of the Republic of Moldova to the Czech Republic, at the same time he is the ambassador to the Holy See.

E. Mr. Stefan Gorda is a polyglot - besides Romanian, he is fluent in French, English and Russian, he speaks Ukrainian, Czech and Bulgarian. Married since 1987, he is the father of two great kids.

- Your Excellency, it is on the eve of the national holiday of Bulgaria – the 3rd of March, when we Bulgarians inevitably think about the profound historical ties with our fellow nations. Including that of Moldova...

- Moldovans and Bulgarians are connected by their roots coming from the ancient Thracians. We have fought together for freedom and as it is also well known at the entrance of the most important cathedral for the Bulgarian nation - "St. Alexander Nevski" in Sofia and that of the museum in Pleven and other sacred Bulgarians places- the contribution of the Moldovans for the Liberation of Bulgaria is marked. The great Bulgarian fighters like Vasil Levski and Hristo Botev had repeatedly found asylum on our territory, and the memory of this is still alive. During the communist regime, Moldova and Bulgaria were again close through their common destiny.

- Later, on the 5th of February 1992, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of Moldova signed a protocol on establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries. How was this moment reached?

- I think the fact that Bulgaria has repeatedly passed through the same problems as us and understands our problems better than others played a role for this. Let us recall that there was a period of disintegration of the USSR and of establishment of new state formations. Since the independence on the 27th of August 1991 the Republic of Moldova focused on the process of recognition by other states and Bulgaria was the third country in Central and Southeastern Europe after Romania and Hungary to establish diplomatic relations with it. At the time this act was essential. The Bulgarian Embassy in Chisinau was opened in December 1992 and our embassy in Sofia has been operating since 1994.

- What has been the development of our diplomatic relations since then?

- The European integration is a national priority of the Republic of Moldova and therefore this question is posed by the Moldovan diplomacy at the center of the relations with Bulgaria. Back in 2006 our countries signed a "Memorandum on cooperation in the field of European integration of the two countries" and in 2011 the joint statement of the foreign ministers of both countries for cooperation in the field of European integration was endorsed.

Bulgaria has already been a member of the EU for the last 10 years. Its experience - we strive to avoid the negative – serves as a benchmark for the Republic of Moldova, which implements the Association Agreement with the EU. Therefore, our embassy here aims to create favorable conditions for more frequent contacts between the officials of the two countries, mainly on a high level. For example, our presidents met twice in 2016, both in Sofia and Chisinau. Our Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Andrei Galbur did not miss the opportunity to talk with his Bulgarian counterpart during the meeting of the Ministers of the Council of Europe on the 18th of May 2016 in Sofia and  the event of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) in Sochi last summer.

-  You as an ambassador help for that as well.

- I have various meetings here and I would like to thank the colleagues from the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Presidency, the government, the parliament, the local government authorities - for their openness and friendly cooperation.

Last year in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs we discussed the organization of a visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and holding political consultations in Chisinau, the plans should be implemented after the elections in March.

Furthermore, we want to strengthen the inter-parliamentary cooperation, to develop the contacts that were created in 2016 between the constitutional courts, the ministries of economy, agriculture, technology, transport, health, and the central structures in other areas.

- How are the rights and national identity of the Moldovan Bulgarians guaranteed?

- Given that all legislation since 1991 has been created under the monitoring of the Council of Europe, one can say with certainty that the Republic of Moldova has one of the most advanced laws on the continent in this area. It has signed and ratified almost 100 contracts and conventions of the Council of Europe, including the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The ethnic Bulgarians in Moldova have the status of a national minority and thus - under commitments - have literature, libraries, cultural institutions, groups of artists, poets and writers, radio programs, including National Radio, Bulgarian events and celebrations, but above all - kindergartens, schools and even a Bulgarian University "Gregory Tsamblak", where there are lecturers from the historical home of the Moldovan Bulgarians. This is the world's only Bulgarian university outside Bulgaria! We agreed with the authorities in Sofia to make it a branch of the University of Rousse and to grant European diplomas.

It was decided to open a Consulate of the Republic of Bulgaria in Taraklia. Already in 2015 the Bulgarian statistics showed that about 30,000 Moldovan citizens have passports from the Republic of Bulgaria.

- Are there any problems with them?

- Although 30 000 ethnic Bulgarians from Moldova are EU citizens, and the fact that Bulgaria has opened an European Information Center in Taraklia, part of the southern region of the country, populated mainly by Bulgarians and Gagauz, still believes that the Eurasian Union would be beneficial, although it does not exist in reality; that is nothing more but propaganda smoke away from the national interest of the Republic of Moldova. We rely on better informing the public, including through Sofia, so that the desire for European integration gains broad support among the Bulgarian minority.

- The Transnistrian conflict is one of the largest in your country. Does diplomacy have options to solve it?

- There have never been prerequisites in Moldova, nor conditions for ethnic conflicts; we are tolerant and the population that speaks languages ​​other than Romanian, is perfectly integrated in our society. This conflict from the very beginning has been political and geopolitical with the aim to slow down the progress of our country towards true independence. It now has the same purpose. Not surprisingly, the armed clashes started a day before the 2nd of March 1992, when Moldova became a full member of the UN. I hope that the problem will be solved with a proposal for a European perspective for the Republic of Moldova, so that the population of the left bank will feel the benefits of EU integration.

The key element of our approach to this question is - preserving the independence, the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Moldova, and identifying a special status for the region as an integral part of the unified Republic of Moldova.

- Today Moldovans are divided in their attitude towards Romania and Russia but they aspire to the EU. You signed an Association Agreement, but where do you go after that?

- The Association Agreement is being executed; it is a difficult daily work and is a really strategic task of our domestic and foreign policy. The transformations that are taking place, the legislative and institutional accordance with the basic norms and rules of the EU are absolutely necessary. There is no alternative to this course of convergence and further integration of Moldova into the EU. The preparations for this process is the essence of the activities of the government and the parliament, this is the main message of our foreign policy.

As for the "disunion", huge resources have been spent outside the country to ensure that any process initiated by the authorities, will turn into disunion, leading to organized chaos managed by external forces. Don’t you in Bulgaria have the feeling that these things happen not only in Moldova?

- The first official visit of the new president of Moldova Igor Dodon, however, was in Moscow in January this year. At his meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin, he pointed out that the Agreement did not provide results for Moldova and urged his country to be accepted as an observer in the Eurasian Economic Union. How would you comment this?

- I respect the presidential institution and will not comment the statements. I am of the same opinion as my Minister Andrei Galbur that we must orient ourselves strictly to the letter of the Constitution, which clearly establishes the authorities of the head of the state as well as the authorities of the parliament and the executive power. And he very precisely points out that the task of the parliament is to establish the guidelines in the domestic and foreign policy, and the government is empowered to realize these guidelines. I think this is enough to understand the nature of power in Chisinau. The action of the government continues to be focused on our agenda of association with the European Union; we have very clear commitments set out in the Association Agreement.

- In this regard, what was the year 2016 like?

- It was important for achieving macroeconomic stability, signing an agreement with the IMF, unblocking the external financing, increasing exports to the EU and creating conditions for attracting investments. 65 per cent of our exports go to the EU market. We do not need scientific debate, but a profound modernization of all aspects of social life, infrastructure, industry, services. Everything is done and will be done following the European model. I personally think that the attempt to oppose good relations with the EU to the relations with Russia are counterproductive. All modern and effective even in Russia bears the prefix euro, like for example the Euro-level of service in tourism, Euro-recovery or Euro-standard.

- How can the feeble economic relations between Bulgaria and Moldova today be revived? What opportunities does your country offer to Bulgarian companies, willing to trade and invest in it eventually?

- 2016 was fruitful for our exports to Bulgaria; the Moldovan exports increased 2.7 times compared to 2015. This is due to the businessmen, the Joint Commission for Economic Cooperation, the meeting which took place in Sofia in March last year. If we now export goods worth over $ 70 million to the Bulgarian market, I believe we can significantly increase this amount in the coming years, exploiting fully the opportunities that have been opened after the signing of the Association Agreement and FTA with the EU.

- Moldova is landlocked. Do you have information on the number of tourists from your country who choose to spend their holidays on the Black Sea? And vice versa - which of your tourist destinations are preferred by Bulgarians?

- About 200,000 Moldovan tourists visit Bulgaria annually, appreciating the beauty of the country, the hospitality of the Bulgarian people, the quality of service in the mountains and along the Black Sea coast. In return Moldova also has something to offer to your tourists. We have better and better infrastructure, tourist roads for the connoisseurs of cultural values, especially monasteries with rare beauty, paths for people who know how to appreciate our excellent wines. Ethnographers from Sofia say the Bulgarians from Moldova Budjak keep the true spirit of the nation that no longer can be found even in their homeland in Bulgaria. Whether this is true or not, I really do not know, come and see for yourself how the descendants of displaced families have preserved the customs two centuries later. As for the lack of coastline in Moldova I will clarify that we have the port Giurgiuleşti at mouth of the Danube from which courses to both Varna and Silistra as well as towards the direction to Vienna could be made. We hope to find supporters of this idea.

- What are the opportunities for expansion of the cultural exchanges between the two countries? What would you like to promote in Bulgaria as a cultural heritage of your country in 2017?

- We look forward to the end of the period of repositioning the authorities after the elections in March in Bulgaria, in order to organize visits of ministers, MPs and other officials from both sides. Also, we are open to direct cooperation between theaters, cultural institutions, creative teams.

As a Head of Mission in Sofia, together with the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Moldova in Plovdiv - Mr. Veselin Chipev we have planned activities for the inclusion of Moldovan cultural figures in activities related to the election of the European Capital of Culture for 2019. I such a way we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Moldovan-Bulgarian diplomatic relations.

In 2017 we expect some groups from Moldova to participate in the folk festivals and other international events that take place during the summer season on the Black Sea. Traditionally Bulgarian organizers invite children groups there, thus achieving two goals: children accumulate international experience in competitions and have a relaxing vacation as well.

- What is our cooperation in the field of education? Is there interest in Moldovan youth to receive higher education in our country?

- There is solid experience and mechanisms of interaction between Moldova and Bulgaria in the field of education that has been developing for a long time. Every year Bulgaria provides 130 scholarships for their universities for ethnic Bulgarians, to which 6 places are added for Moldovan youth. To emphasize their quality I will only mention that the consul at the embassy that ​​I manage, Irina Kozhokaru, is a graduate from the University of Veliko Tarnovo.

There is interest in young people to study in Bulgaria. The problem is that once you leave Taraklia, they do not return home and find their place in Europe using Bulgaria as a way to escape. So far, the measures taken have not changed the situation.

- I think the loss of young people is a phenomenon that currently affects all countries of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Did you have the opportunity to visit the neighboring countries?

- In the first half of March I will present my credentials in Skopje, Macedonia, and since the middle of last year I have been accredited in Tirana, Albania. These are countries which as the Republic of Moldova are in different stages of EU integration. This gives us common ground of interest, cooperation and mutual assistance.

- You have been an ambassador for only one year here, but the Bulgarians welcomed you with open hearts and they appreciate you and respect you a lot. And how do you accept Bulgarians, how do you feel in our country?

- Thank you for your evaluation. I came to Bulgaria as to a friendly country that has historical ties with Moldova in many areas. We have similar folklore and cuisine, identical perceptions of human values ​​and many other things in common. I get convinced in this by getting acquainted with the wonderful people and places - Melnik and VelikoTarnovo, Plovdiv and Ruse, Varna and Blagoevgrad, Pleven and Velingrad, and of course, Sofia. It is difficult to convey the spiritual warmth of the new friends that I found in these cities, these are people of culture or politics, businessmen or from the civil society who like Moldova. I continue to plan how to further develop our friendship. This fuels my belief and gives me strength to develop the Bulgarian-Moldovan cooperation in the interest of the two people.

And you are a good friend of the embassy, Ms. Pavlova, and I want to thank you personally and the team of "Diplomatic Spectrum" for your interest and your attention to the political, economic and social life of the Republic of Moldova, as well as for the coverage of the events organized by the Embassy and the Moldovan diaspora in Bulgaria.

Photo: personal archive