Challenges Create Opportunities
Interview with the Ambassador of Israel in Bulgaria – Her Excellency Mrs. Irit Lillian, Master of Egyptology and Classical History from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who after 30-year career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel, met with us to answer questions especially for the readers of “Cherga” magazine:
Your Excellency, you have been staying in Bulgaria for almost a year. What were your first impressions about our country? How do you feel in Bulgaria?
As from my first day in Bulgaria I feel at home – the same friendly, warm atmosphere that you can feel in Israel as well. It touched me immediately. In my former position in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs I had the opportunity to visit Bulgaria several times unfortunately, one of my visits took place immediately after the terrorist attack at Sarafovo. It made me understand how our two peoples share common history and common fate. The past year enriched me with more knowledge about the country, its landscapes and people as well as its complexity, challenges, problems and peculiarities such as the typical Bulgarian shake of the head, meaning “Yes”. There is still a lot to learn but every day I feel that I fall in love with this country.
Investment in the younger generation is an investment in the future of our two countries. Israelis will be forever grateful to the Bulgarian people, who saved them from the Holocaust. While preserving the memory is an important task it is more important to safeguard the values that led to this noble act and at the same time develop new horizons. We should speak the language of tomorrow: cooperation, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. Israel,the start-up nation, and Bulgaria complement each other. We can share experience not only in the field of high-tech or information technology but in all fields of life. Our goal is not only to attract more Israeli investments to Bulgaria or more Bulgarian investments to Israel but rather to benefit from mutual know-how. Israel can be partner to Bulgaria’s development in medicine, energy, water treatment, bio-technology, agriculture etc. Together, our two states can contribute to the regional to global development.
Speaking the language of tomorrow means to invest in education, welfare and to cultural exchange. We believe that it yet for the Bulgarian to discover that Israel is a cultural super power. Israel is rather familiar for its history and its contribution in classical music and visual arts, but it also plays a leading role in contemporary culture and that’s what we
would like to present. In September we will celebrate an “Israeli Cultural Autumn” in Sofia and elsewhere. The “Jewel in the crown” will be the concert of the world famous musician Idan Raichel, which will be played on September 17, on stage in the NU Boyana cinema studio, under the stars recreating an atmosphere similar to performances in the ancient theater “Caesarea” in Israel. This combination of tradition with modern pop and rock is a wonderful example of multiculturalism. Idan Raichel will be presented as part of “Tole-fest” – which includes also a run dedicated to tolerance organized by Quadrant-Pepsi “, M3 Communications and other partners.
From 9th to 21th of September, in the city park and in the National Museum of Nature the public will enjoy a photo exhibition by the Israeli photographer, Eyal Bartov: landscapes and moments of life in nature.
In the same month we will present the Bulgarian-Israeli new post stamp presenting a stork, a migrating bird sharing its life between our two countries. Ariel Doron and HaKaron puppet theaters will visit in Plovdiv and Sofia, letting children participate in the Israeli cultural season promoting understanding and friendship between our two states.
What are the challenges facing the bilateral relations between Sofia and Jerusalem?
Our Bilateral relations are excellent and solid. Both governments try to see regional and global challenges as window of opportunities that would play for the sake of bilateral and regional common interests. By confronting together terrorism, by exchanging knowledge on the challenge of migration, on cyber security , energy etc. we strengthen our bilateral ties. Israel and Bulgaria enjoy unique partnership and friendship, our mutual trust is rooted in the idea that each country is ready to strive for the benefit of the other.
What does, in your opinion, attract Israeli tourists in Bulgaria?
There are changes in the attitudes of the Israeli tourists in Bulgaria: a few years ago, they were attracted mainly by the summer sea holidays, looking for entertainment and nightlife. Nowadays, we see in the a flow of tourists who arrive to the ski slopes in winter , more are coming for hiking, some are interested in archaeological sites and Bulgarian culture,
in rural tourism and all year round they are willing to taste national cuisine and wines. We believe that the number of Israeli tourists will increase.
How does the common picture look concerning the preferences of Bulgarian visitors in your country, according to the purpose of their stay, the most desired destinations and sites?
The main preferences of Bulgarians visiting Israel is focused on religious tourism – pilgrimage to the sacred places for Christianity: Jerusalem, Sea of Galilee and Nazareth. I believe that we can expect new touristic trends: Tel Aviv – the cultural capital of the country, where the best contemporary art burst and nightlife is attractive; where innovation and technology meet each other; they will be attracted by the desert, with the special atmosphere of peace and the beautiful views of nature; to the city of Eilat – the southernmost point of Israel, where they can dive and discover the charm of the depths of the Red Sea; to the Dead Sea – the lowest point on Earth, 400 meters below sea level, with its numerous benefits for health attracting tourists from all over the world. Bulgarian tourists have yet to discover more of the beauty of Israel.
What are the main trends and prospects of cooperation between our countries for the development of tourism?
Practically, Israel and Bulgaria have a very promising potential in cooperating in this domain. Imagine joint tourist packages, including visits to both countries; those could be attractive for visitors from faraway countries. On one day they can climb the mountains in Bulgaria, and the next day – to dive in the Red Sea. The presence of regular flights to Israel from airports in Sofia, Varna and Burgas, the combination of winter tourism with the sunny Israel can propose an interesting cooperation.
Israel is a country with highly developed technologies for utilization of water resources. The interest of Bulgaria in these technologies was stated when our government delegation visited the international exhibition for water technology WATEC in October 2013. How do the Bulgarian-Israeli relations develop in this direction?
Management of water resources in our country is on a very high level. Israel suffers from lack of water, few rain falls. Necessity is the mother of invention. Israel is №1 in the world by recycling wastewater. 70% of it is used for irrigation in agriculture (Spain is second with 30% utilization). Even a country with such large water resources like Bulgaria, needs our
high technologies of water treatment for urban needs, for improvement of water quality in lakes and rivers via sewage treatment, improvement of the water supply network, etc. Israel has very good specialists in this area. An active exchange of knowledge and technical solutions at all levels runs – intergovernmental, regional and municipal, will be added value to the already existing ties in the field of environment and water.
What would you like the readers of “Cherga” magazine to learn about Israel?
Most importantly, the idea that Israel is more than a political situation. A whole world is gathered on a small piece of land. Objectively, iIt is the most exciting place in the world! I assume that other ambassadors would say the same thing about their countries, but I can prove it: Israel is the cradle of the three monotheistic religions. Economically, we are a country that started from scratch to become an international leader in the field of innovations and high technologies in many areas. We have 8 Nobel Prize laureates! From a we generate solutions to global problems. Israel is a “boiling pot” of creativity. As a result of ethnic and social diversity we are enriched with a mosaic of culture that can be found even in the smallest places. Thanks to leading musicians and bands, dancers, visual artists, writers and other talent covered with international fame Israel is frequently presented in the most prestigious cultural venues in the world. Books by Israeli authors are read all over the world, many were translated into Bulgarian language, others are yet expected to acquaint Bulgarian readers with Israeli life. We are interesting because we present an exceptional experience of an ancient people who was scattered around the world but returned to its homeland and restored its language and culture. Israel is under constant security challenges and yet we are in the leading position in the world ranking on the” Index of Happiness”. For all this, I would like your readers to visit us, to get acquainted, to discover the tastes of the Israeli cuisine and our wines. Bulgarian wine is wonderful, but I think if you should try ours too, raising a glass to say “Le Haim” (to Life).
An interview by MEng. Ginka Stoeva, PhD