His excellency Stefano Benazzo – “The bulgarians should have more faith in themselves”
H.E. Ambassador Stefano Benazzo was born on 3rd June 1949. He started working in 1974 at the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He has been holding diplomatic positions in different countries around the world for long years. He was posted in Bonn, Washington, Moscow, and has held the position of Ambassador of Italy in Minsk.
Since 16th May 2008 he has been holding the position of Diplomat No. 1 of Italy in Bulgaria.
His wife is Romanian and he has two sons.
Your Excellency, You have been representing Italy in our country for nine months now. You have managed to develop quite active activity in different field for this short period of time.
What are Your priorities for 2009?
In 2009 the 130th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between our countries will be marked, as a number of events will be organized in connection on this occasion. First there will be the visit of the President of Bulgaria in Italy at the invitation of the President of Italy – Mr. Napolitano, in response to the visit of the Italian President to Bulgaria in 2005.
In addition, we also plan many cultural events, through which to put an emphasis on the extremely successful cooperation we keep developing up to the present.
As for my personal work, it is to have contacts with the Bulgarian reality, to travel as much as possible within the country, and to develop bilateral relations.
It is of great importance for a diplomat to ask himself the question: What are the new venues and new fields of activity to explore?
As for my personal priorities, I would firstly mention the opera. And this is no accident, for there are great traditions in Bulgaria with respect to the opera – many good voices, producers… Everybody knows Italy as well, when it comes to the opera. Thus, it is evident in this situation that I, in my capacity as an Italian Ambassador, could not stand outside this matter, and not assist for the development of the Bulgarian opera.
It was back in December when we supported the first representation after 50 years in Bulgaria of an Italian opera by Giacomo Puccini. UniCredit Bulbank offered a substantial contribution. This was also the very first one of a number of initiatives included in our plan for 2009 as well. In view of the above, I’d also like to use this opportunity to mention that it is a great honour for me and that I’m flattered to know in person Mrs. Raina Kabaivanska. I stand in admiration not only before her carrier, but also before her initiative spirit, the support she provides to the New Bulgarian University. I’m proud that this year I will be one of the people to support her master class at NBU.
Another initiative I do consider especially important is the support and promotion of Bulgarian cultural tourism. There are thousands of historical and archaeological landmarks in Bulgaria, which have not been duly protected and encouraged. Due to this, there is a lack of sufficient investments for their development, as tourists are also insufficient in number, and all the information /including the electronic information/ is not enough.
In this connection I started cooperation between Bulgarian and Italian cultural institutions. Italy has many years of experience with respect to this, and our belonging to Europe encourages us to disseminate that very experience.
A very important idea has been also to start intense work connected with one of the biggest problems of the century, namely: the fight against breast cancer. Thousands of women all over the world die from this insidious disease. That’s why we also took the decision to support the establishment of a Bulgarian institution for research about that disease with the cooperation of Italian specialized institutions. We already have support for this initiative from Bulgarian Authorities, from the Bulgarian First Lady, Mrs. Zorka Parvanova , from oncologists, as well as of a number of Bulgarian media.
Another important aspect I’m also interested in is the teaching and study of Italian language in the country. I’ve already visited all Italian language schools here and I’ve studies the possibilities for finding sponsors. We’ve received for free hundreds of books from Italian publishing houses, and we are also exploring at the moment the opportunities for the training of Bulgarian students in Italy. The Italian energy producing company ENEL is generously contributing to this initiative.
Bulgaria and Italy are both Southern European countries. Do You find any similaritybetween both peoples and how exactly is it expressed?
There are definitely some similarities. These are both countries with very ancient culture. Your history dates back to more than 26 centuries ago, as You’ve created an alphabet, You’ve given the orthodoxy to the world.
One of the similarities is probably that Bulgaria has suffered for centuries under a foreign domination, and Italy has been also independent for a relatively short period of time. I do know that the sympathy between the Bulgarians and the Italians is not a superficial one, and that surely influences positively politics, as well as on trade, culture, etc.
There are a few large Italian institutions in Bulgaria – the Institute of Culture, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Institute of Foreign Trade, which support Your work.
What is the direction of Your joint activity?
I strongly believe in collective work. The presence of the modern technologies and the Internet facilitate this work to a great extent. We constantly have joint activities in cooperation with these institutions. I would also add to them the Committee of Italian Entrepreneurs in Bulgaria, the agencies of a few Italian regions in Bulgaria, as well as the presence of a number of Italian teachers.
Our joint work consists in encouraging the Bulgarian Italian relationship in agriculture, trade, culture and everything we deem necessary.
I’m grateful to all Italian institutions we work together with and achieve joint progress.
Have You already managed to get to know Bulgaria? Have You found any new friends?
I’ve visited eight regions so far, and my wife and I had many travellings and excursions. Everywhere I’ve met people, with whom I’ve had useful conversations.
As for my impressions on the Bulgarian cities, I particularly liked Plovdiv – a very ancient and at the same time modern city. I’ve also visited the region of Kardzhali twice. For me it was interesting not only with respect to its economy, but also as a famous wine and tobacco producer. The archaeological excavations at Perperikon also amazed me.
Another extraordinary Bulgarian town, in my opinion, is Vidin – it is a bridge to Europe, which provides the opportunity for creating and strengthening the relations between the people from neighboring countries. I also want to mention Varna, Bourgas, Stara Zagora, Veliko Tarnovo… However, 9 months allow just to make the first visits.. I firmly intend to continue in the future.
Both Bulgaria and Italy are famous tourist destinations. Which are Your favourite respite places in Your native land and in Bulgaria?
What is Your opinion about the Bulgarian resorts?
Advertising Italy is a part of my duties, so I will gladly answer this question. The places that are remarkable and that should be visited in Italy are countless! Fortunately, many Bulgarians travel to Italy. Besides the big cities, which all know and which I will not mention here, I will propose to the attention of your readers towns and localities that are not so famous, but I recommend you to visit them. These include: Venice, the towns in the Region of Umbria – Spoleto, Todi and Perugia, the Region of Piemonte in Northern Italy /this is my homeland!/, as well as all Italian mountains, of course. You should not miss Sicily, which is extremely hospitable and full of historical landmarks.
What is Bulgaria famous for in Italy? What do its citizens know about us, the Bulgarians?
The Italians have a lot more to learn about Bulgaria and the Bulgarians. And more precisely – about the serious side of Bulgaria and about the unconditionality it joined the EU with. About the synchronization between Bulgaria and Italy in many political aspects and about the fact that the negative information being sometimes circulated about Bulgaria is not its most important characteristics. In connection with this, Bulgaria deserves a lot more, for it really has a lot to be proud of.
Would You tell us a few words about Your private life?
I am here with my wife, my sons are already adults. One of my sons works in Italy, but also has his business in Romania, and my other son is in New York.
My hobbies are various: One of them is sculpture – I work with wood, stone and bronze. I make wood models of ancient Orthodox churches, as I’ve been constructing models of ships, trains and cars all my life. I also used to be a professional photographer. I love model electrical trains. I practice origami.
And what about Your future plans?
I don’t like sharing my future plans, I prefer talking about the work already done. Fortunately, the contact with the Bulgarians gives me the opportunity of implementing more and more new ideas.
And would You say a few words in conclusion of our conversation?
I do hope that the Bulgarians and especially the young people will have increasing faith in the capacities of their country, and to make their voices heard.
I also do hope that the Bulgarian media will continue to do their job correctly, namely to make constructive proposals and to be more optimistic about the future of the country.
I do have a great deal of respect for the women from the former socialist countries. My life and work in these countries gave me the opportunity to understand their great responsibility for keeping and preserving the basic national values. I’m sure that this is so for the Bulgarian women as well.
I wish all the Bulgarians to have more faith in themselves and to keep working together in the future for the success and prosperity of their country!