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National Day Message by H. E. Mr. Alejandro Polanco, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Spain to the Republic of Bulgaria

On the celebration on October 12 of the National Day of Spain, I take this opportunity – thanks to Diplomatic Spectrum - to give you a quick overview of the bilateral relations between Spain and Bulgaria.

On May 8, 1910, Spain established diplomatic relations with the independent Kingdom of Bulgaria and in January 1911 the first Spanish diplomat accredited in Bulgaria presented his credentials to Tsar Ferdinand I.

110 years is a long period and our relations have crossed different stages. Approaching the most recent period, the 90s decade marked a strong progress. The first Treaty of Friendship between both countries was signed in 1993 and since 1997 the relations between Spain and Bulgaria found a fresh impetus with the negotiations for accession of Bulgaria into the EU.

Spain supported Bulgaria during its NATO and EU membership negotiations. After the EU membership, Spain applied very quickly a policy of free circulation of workers that helped strongly our relationship. Spain supports the entry of Bulgaria into the Schengen space and the Euro, as well as into the OCDE. Nowadays the bilateral relations between both countries are excellent and increasing. Frequent political contacts take place bilaterally and at the European level.

The bilateral economic bonds and commercial exchanges between Spain and Bulgaria have developed strongly from the beginning, more than 150 years ago, when the first Spanish Consulate was established in Varna to assist the Spanish merchants who had commercial connections with all of north-western Bulgaria.

Now Spain is among Bulgaria's main trading partners and investors. The COVID crisis has greatly affected the trade balance, but in 2019 Spain was the eight supplier and the ninth client for Bulgaria. Spain continues to be one of the main destinations for Bulgarian economic emigration.

The main sectors of bilateral interest are real estate, industrial production, services, renewable energies and more recently the defence area. There is potential for growth in sectors such as the railways infrastructure, where our country plays a leading role at international level.

Spain is also very active in the tourism sector, with major hotel companies and travel agencies in Bulgaria. Both countries share the strategic importance of the tourism sector for our economies: above 12% of our respective GDPs and a similar percentage in total employment. The tourist flows between the two countries are growing and relevant. This last year has been strongly affected by the pandemic, but the figures for the pre-covid situation - with an increase of 85% in 2019 of Bulgarian tourists over the previous year - show great potential for growth.

In the cultural area, the links are strong with many years of mutual history. The Embassy of Spain and the Institute Cervantes in Sofia develop every year, in cooperation with Bulgarian institutions, an intense program of cultural activities in all artistic disciplines. 

Despite the restrictions on public events, the Embassy of Spain has developed an intense cultural program to commemorate the 110th anniversary of bilateral relations. During 2020 we overcame the difficult situation with a boost to the communication of digital contents through the press and social networks on the 110th anniversary and in the current year we succeeded in organizing several activities thanks to the collaboration with Bulgarian institutions.

I would like to highlight some remarkable exhibitions: "Diplomacy trough the hearts of two peoples: 110 Years of diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and Spain", in collaboration with the State Archives Agency, was inaugurated in November 2020 in Sofia. During 2021, this exhibition has passed through Veliko Tarnovo, Plovdiv, Varna and Burgas. In this month of October, we are showing it in the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, thanks to the initiative of the State Institute of Culture.

Another exhibition marking this 110 anniversary is "Encounters. Spain, Bulgaria". Thanks to the cooperation with the Bulgarian News Agency and the Sofia City Council we organized this photo exhibition showing the human and cultural aspects of our relations. First shown in the Cristal Garden of Sofia in outdoors panels, in November 2020, it travelled during this year through Varna, Burgas and then again Sofia.

Both exhibitions are going to travel next December to Spain, where the European Studies Institute and the University of Valladolid organize a seminar dedicated to the history of the relations between Spain and Bulgaria, thus helping to spread this mutual knowledge in Spain as well.

As a notorious activity, we paid homage to Julio Palencia, Ambassador of Spain in Bulgaria between 1940 and 1943. In cooperation with the State Archives Agency and the "Colibri" Foundation, we have published a tourist guide for the city of Sofia marking the places linked to the history of the relations between our two countries, and especially those related to the figure of Palencia.

Also in the scientific area we are starting important activities. On October 28 we will organize with Sofia Security Forum a Webinar on Artificial Intelligence and in December, together with the Bulgarian Antarctic Institute, a Workshop to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty on Environmental Protection, known as the Madrid Protocol. In the field of research on Antarctica, the close collaboration and friendship that exists between the neighbouring Spanish and Bulgarian polar bases in the distant continent is well known and dates back 30 years.

Two more important events in this field have been the investiture as Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Sofía Saint Kliment Ohridski of Ángel López García-Molins, Professor of General Linguistics at the University of Valencia, and the investiture as Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Food Technologies in Plovdiv of Pau Roca Blasco, General Director of the International Organisation of Vine and Wine.

Regarding the promotion of Spanish cinema, and in an effort to adapt to current circumstances we have managed, together with the embassies of Argentina, Brazil and Portugal, to establish a collaboration with NOVA TV that has allowed the broadcast in KINO NOVA channel this past July of an Ibero-American Film Week. In addition, as every year, we collaborated with the CineLibri Festival  with the Spanish film Sentimental which will be broadcasted on October 19.

Finally, yet importantly, we enjoyed many important musical events throughout the year with Spanish musical interpreters and compositions, going through classical music, flamenco and jazz.

Cooperation between the Spanish and the Bulgarian Ministry of Education has been essential to achieve figures that speak for themselves. In 1992, the First Bilingual Section was created in a Bulgarian Institute, the Miguel de Cervantes in Sofia, and in 2003, the first Department of Education of the Spanish Embassy in all the South-eastern Europe was created in Sofia. Today we have 14 Bilingual Sections in different Bulgarian cities and 150 secondary schools across the country, where about 20,000 young people learn Spanish. Only during the last 5 years, the teaching of Spanish has steadily increased by 17%. Today it ranks fourth after English, Russian and German languages. In addition, for already 15 years, we have a Cervantes Institute in Sofia.

In 1961, the teaching of Spanish reached the bachelor's level in the University of Sofia and today six Universities have a Spanish Department. In this month of October, we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Department and Bachelor of Hispanic Philology in the Saint Kliment Ohridski University.

Because all of this, I would like to highlight the importance of the human side of our relations. The very similar idiosyncrasy between our peoples – the open character and the way of understanding life - is probably what makes the cultural exchanges so frutiful and rewarding. It also contributes to the deep foundation of the political and commercial relationship.

Together with the Bulgarian authorities and public administrations, Spain is willing to continue to strengthen our relations in all areas and approach the Bulgarian and Spanish societies for a better mutual knowledge.

Finally, on this National Day of Spain I want to congratulate and wish health and prosperity to the Spanish residents in Bulgaria and the many friends of Spain in Bulgaria.

The material was provided by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Spain in the Republic of Bulgaria. On the photo: H. E. Mr. Alejandro Polanco, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Spain to the Republic of Bulgaria