There Is Something Like South Caucasus Character
19 January, 2012
There Is Something Like South Caucasus Character

Interview with the Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria to Georgia

Branimir Radev arrived in Georgia on 16 May 2008. It was just before the parliamentary elections. He had worked with the OSCE for 10 years and wanted to arrive on time to observe the elections in Georgia. It happened like this: he began to work in Georgia as an observer even before undertaking the mission of a Bulgarian diplomat. To our pleasant surprise, he turned out to be one

of the most experienced acting ambassadors for whom Georgia is the 8th host country. 

G.J: How was it decided that you were to become the ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria to Georgia?
B.R: When the position was offered to me in January 2007, I was informed that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria wanted a person for the post of a diplomat who would be experienced in the situation both in the region and in international organizations. I turned out to be the best candidate.
G.J.: How did your work in Georgia start?
B.R: Some things had been arranged already. I arrived on Friday, and on Monday I already met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia to whom I presented my credentials. I also met with the Dean of the diplomatic corps and the representative of the EU Presidency in Georgia.
G.J: What were your first impressions?
B.R: My impressions in fact date back to the year 2000. At that time I was stationed in Armenia with the OSCE mission. I had visited Georgia several times, be it was related to the administrative issues of the OSCE, or certain international events; for example, the seminars for journalists, organized by the press clubs of three South Caucasus countries.
G.J: Are you a journalist yourself?
B.R: A good question. I am from the family of journalists - my parents were journalists. So, for a long time I was thinking whether I could earn my bread with journalism. At a certain point in my professional life, I had a journalistic experience – I was the editor of international news at a news agency for some time. However, by that time, I already had two mandates abroad, and I realized that the profession of a diplomat, which I had chosen, was exactly what I needed and wanted. Anyway, now I know that I can be a journalist, too (he smiles). To go back to your question, there are two things that always come to my mind while remembering Georgia of 2000. We were traveling from Yerevan by car. I cannot tell you which villages we were passing, but at the end of some Georgian place several people were sitting asking for money – you had to pay a tax to move farther. And on the other side of the village there was other group of people asking for money - not us, not the international travellers, as the licence plate on our cars indicated that we were from OSCE. But I saw some Georgian cars that were stopped and were asked to pay money and only after that they let them go. And second thing: walking along Rustaveli, I heard the noise  of generators and saw the 2-3 meters-high smog, emitting from them. Tbilisi was without electricity when Yerevan had electricity but it had no water. Those were really hard times. 
G.J: So, you made rather difficult discoveries, did not you?
B.R: Well, that’s our profession. When I arrived in Moldova in 1992 right after the war, they had their hardships, too. Of course, I knew that Georgia had changed very much since 2000 and I would not say that I was greatly surprised by the changes. Previously I came as a visitor, spending a week or something. But when I moved here to work, I had one summer to get accustomed and accommodated. The first place that we discovered in Georgia was Borjomi because my daughter had said: I have to go there. I think she had tasted the water; it was not sold in Bulgaria in those days but surely it was available in Moldova which is the homeland of my wife.
G.J: What can you say about the Georgian culture?
B.R: I sing and I can play several instruments. My wife is a professional musician. So, music is our forte. Of course, I was familiar with Georgian music. Moreover, long ago, my mother went to Leningrad to study economy for two years. When she came back from the Soviet Union, she brought along songs from the Soviet Union. As my father used to tell me, she would sing to me those songs when I was a small boy. One of these songs was ‘Suliko’. So, I knew these things since long ago. If I have to name only one name, it is Sergo Zakariadze (one of the greatest Georgian actors). I have seen the majority of movies with him. ‘Don’t You Grieve!’ (‘Ar Daidardo’ in Georgian, ‘Ne Goriuy’ in Russian) is a monument to his artistic career. Of course, ‘Soldier’s Father’ is wonderful. If I have to mention more names, I would name Vakhtang Kikabidze. Once, I met him at the reception: I said: I know you, but you don’t know me. Then he sang two stanzas from a Bulgarian song. I said: well, it’s like that, and I sang back to him: Chito Gvrito’ (famous song from Mimino, starring Vakhtang Kikabidze). At that time when Mimino was released, I’ve been studying in Moscow and I attended its premiere at the cinema. Before coming here, I did not have much acquaintance with Georgian painters and architecture. I like very much small statues on Rustaveli Avenue, which adorn the sidewalk. You can see things like that in many cities – in Sofia we also have such statues; also in Moldova, Prague, etc. It’s very impressive and creates a very specific atmosphere, which fits this town. Tbilisi has an immortal  spirit and it’s good that this spirit is preserved. In spite of many difficulties it faces, it is a big country and coming to Georgia, one soon forgets about these difficulties and this country stays in one’s heart forever. I have a feeling that there is something like a South Caucasus character. You are different of course, you have different religion, national habits and many things that make Georgian a Georgian, Azeri an Azeri and Armenian an Armenian but there is something in common – spirit.
G.J: You are the most experienced ambassador to Georgia at present – Georgia being your 8th host country. What can you say about the Georgian cuisine compared to others?
B.R:  I can tell you that I like Shashlik very much. We also have it, but basically we make it of pork. Here, there is a nice turkey Shashlik as well. First I discovered Georgian cuisine in Yerevan - my overture was Ajarian Khachapuri. I like very much the herbs Georgians  use; especially, walnut and its sauces. As a matter of fact, I can cook myself. I think that there are many similarities between Bulgarian and Georgian cuisine – for instance, we also have Tolma, just as many other nations do; and of course it is a widely spread dish in the South Caucasus. The same goes for the sweets – we too have Pakhlava, Halva and other desserts. What differs, though, are spices; apparently, every country has its national herbs. This is of course connected with history – as these spices date back to centuries. I cook and eat everything, but sometimes I get spices from Bulgaria (an interesting kind of home-sickness).
G.J: What is your favourite pastime?   
B.R: If I am left alone, I gladly sit down and read. Now, with my family and especially my daughter who is 14, I have to find time and adjust it to their needs. Two years ago, we became “parents” to a dog. At that time, it was the first beagle to arrive to Georgia. Now he is already a champion of Georgia and of Armenia.
G.J: How different are your weekends from your weekdays?
B.R: My ordinary day starts early. Sometimes I drive my daughter to school myself. We start work at half past nine, but have to work until late due to the difference in time – the workday in Bulgaria ends at 8 o’clock in the evening local time. I read a lot and I never have enough time to read everything. Usually, if I am not coming to the office on Saturdays and Sundays, I take a lot of papers and read them at home. I read not only Georgian press, but some publications that are related to Georgia and to the region. We go for a walk with the family on Saturdays and Sundays, or take an opportunity to travel to some places of interest in the country; unfortunately, not as much as we would want. Christmas and New Year are remarkable holidays in my family, and we feel very comfortable celebrating them in Georgia. It is, probably, a family tradition – when my mother was alive, she would gather us all – me, my brother and sister together with our families – we have five children of ours. We had beautiful times.
G.J: What are your recommendations to the Georgian authorities?
B.R: I would not dare say I have recommendations. However, being from an agrarian country myself – I think that the agriculture in Georgia can, and must be developed. The country was well known for certain produce – but where have tea plantations gone? I think it was a very important source of living for the regions... The development of small and medium enterprise, of course, can be another important trend. To my understanding, to a great extent, these two trends would complement each other – not only from an economic, but also from a social point of view.
G.J: What can you say about the relations between our two countries?
B.R: This is my chief message: we don’t have any problem in our bilateral relations. On the contrary, we have identical or similar approaches to many international issues; moreover, being situated in one geo-political area, we are developing links in transportation. Bulgarian capital and industry is interested in investments in Georgia. For example, in hydro-power utilization and in the construction of small and medium enterprises of processing of agricultural produce for the market. There is potential, and our two countries deploy a consistent effort for its realization.
G.J: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!
B.R.: Thank you. Let me wish your readers happy holidays and the best of health, success and prosperity and love in the coming year. Let it bring peace to our hearts and minds, to our families and our countries.

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