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(DF) Presidents of Bulgaria, Serbia Meet in Caribrod

May 23 (BTA special correspondent Asen Boyadjiev) – Bulgarian President Rumen Radev met with his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic in Caribrod (Dimitrovgrad) on Sunday to open a monument to Ss. Cyril and Methodius and discuss bilateral relations. In Radev’s words, the two sides “today made important steps forward in a variety of fields: from infrastructure to investment, education, assistance.” Speaking to the press at a news conference he held jointly with his host, Radev said that for years the two leaders have had “good cooperation, open discussion of all issues and a clear vision of how to deepen cooperation and how to draw together our common European path”. “We continue to broaden cooperation in important areas and especially in connectivity,” he said. The two Presidents had a one-on-one meeting followed by plenary talks of official delegations of the two countries, and met with representatives of the Bulgarian minority in Serbia. “Today’s meeting was important and it showed that when the policy of two presidents in support of our national minority is persistent rather than incidental, they achieve good results”, said Radev. He recalled that during a meeting with representatives of the Bulgarian national minority in 2018, President Vucic promised that some emergency solutions would be sought. What Vucic promised was that women of the Bulgarian community in Serbia would be allowed to use the typical Bulgarian suffix for female family names (such as the most common -ova, -eva, -ska), that school-age children in the Bulgarian minority would have Bulgarian-language schoolbooks, and that hundreds of thousands of euro would be made available for Bulgarian-language media outlets. Radev said that funding for Bulgarian-language media has since increased dramatically and that Bulgaria will make arrangements for providing schoolbooks for children of the Bulgarian minority. He added that other important results were achieved as well. “We show with these meetings and with this openness that we are able to resolve the problems. And more than that, we are able to provide prospects so that Bulgarians in Serbia can feel free and cherish their national self-consciousness, identity, roots, language and spirituality while never forgetting that the condition for that is that they be loyal citizens of the country they live in, and respect its laws,” said Radev. The Bulgarian President expects to see greater perseverance, activity and unity in the National Council of the Bulgarian National Minority in Serbia. He noted that he was in the company of kind hosts. The sides decided that a Bulgarian Economy Ministry delegation will arrive in Caribrod shortly to meet with the Municipal Council and the local business community to negotiate for future development and Bulgarian investments in the area. Radev insisted that everything should be done at the administrative level to ensure that investors from Bulgaria feel protected in Caribrod. “I will be glad if more is done, if the Serbian state does and invests more in this area, but it should be noted that the things I heard today, the questions and the demands, are things which I also hear from every municipality back in Bulgaria,” he said. President Vucic said Caribrod is not the poorest area in Serbia, there are many poor places in the country, “and we know others in the EU who are not wealthier than us.” He likely implied that Bulgaria’s North-West has the EU’s lowest GDP per capita and the remaining non-capital regions of Bulgaria are also among the lowest ranking, according to EU data. Vucic pledged that investments will be made in Caribrod. The Serbian President also said: “We are trying, and we are doing our best. We could use help from Bulgaria if it is offered. We are ready to help Dimitrovgrad [Caribrod] and Bosilegrad in every way, to let the people choose their names, leave it up to them to organize their lives. If someone tries to foment tension over Serbia, you will get nothing but a friendly response because we regard you as brothers.” Vucic thanked Radev for the good relations with Serbia, which he expects to develop further. Radev said Bulgarian-Serbian relations are marked by “friendship, goodneighbourliness and resolute action for the well-being of our two peoples.” Stressing the importance of people-to-people contacts, he said that 500,000 Serbian tourists visit Bulgaria annually and even more Bulgarians travel to Serbia. He and Vucic discussed ways to improve two-way connectivity by expanding the capacity of existing border crossings and building more crossings so as to allow people to communicate much more freely, make investments and maintain economic cooperation. LN/VE