ASTANA – Relations between Kazakhstan and Bulgaria haven’t been as active as they could be in recent years, according to the Chargé d’Affaires of the Republic of Bulgaria to the Republic of Kazakhstan Ivan Dimitrov. In the past year, the two countries have made quite a few steps towards achieving new levels of cooperation.
Dimitrov has only served one year as Bulgaria’s envoy in Astana. He became chief of mission in August 2013, but a lot has happened at the embassy in that short period of time.
“In the grand scheme of things, a year is not much time, but nonetheless, for our embassy, it was a very effective year, as our relations have grown, because this country has a good potential and so does Bulgaria,” he said during an interview with The Astana Times.
According to Dimitrov, he decided that establishing goals for his term was a key priority.
“Since my arrival, through my constant contact with the Kazakh Foreign Ministry, in particular with Deputy Minister Alexey Volkov and his colleagues, we have outlined a plan to further promote bilateral ties between Kazakhstan and Bulgaria called Road Map 2014,” he said.
“The plan includes a few projects that would strengthen relations between the two nations to a point we all find satisfactory. Road map 2014 includes a step-by-step plan for the development of relations such as continuing to support our intergovernmental commission for economic cooperation, which we have benefitted from for over a decade. Both sides agreed that such a commission was needed for quite some time. A political consultation was also held between deputy minister’s. The last one was held about six years ago. We have discussed the possibility of a visit by Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan Erlan Idrissov to Bulgaria in depth. I am glad that this visit is scheduled to take place in the fall of this year, I should emphasise that this is a historic visit, as this is the first time a Kazakh minister of foreign affairs will visit Bulgaria.”
Dimitrov mentioned that the last time aBulgarian Foreign Minister visited Kazakhstan was in 2007 and said “considering the dynamics of modern times, this is a long period of time.”
Within Road Map 2014, the Bulgarian prime minister also has been invited to visit Kazakhstan in the beginning of 2015, the Bulgarian head of mission stated.
“We now have inter-parliamentary contacts and the Kazakh Speaker of the Senate has officially invited the Bulgarian [parliamentary] delegation. We have also established friendship groups in both countries’ parliaments, all of these steps build up to the presidential visit that will perhaps take place at the end of next year.”
“We have also appointed the first honorary consul of the Republic of Bulgaria to the Republic of Kazakhstan in Karaganda, Anvar Osin, who is an activist, member of Nur Otan party and is well respected among the populace.
Kazakhstan’s and Bulgaria’s scientific academies have signed an agreement on cooperation during the May 22-23Astana Economic Forum.
“These were a few steps that gave impetus to the relations between the two countries and I would like to proudly say I am very pleased with my year here; my counterparts in Kazakhstan’s government are also pleased,” he said.
Deputy Minister Volkov awarded Dimitrova Certificate of Honour on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan. “I must say [everything] worked out, because both Bulgaria and Kazakhstan are willing to further develop relations based on what we have achieved so far and based on the historical connection between the countries,” Dimitrov added, “I recently met with the Chairman of the Science Academy of Kazakhstan [Marat Zhurinov] and he told me an interesting theory that still needs to be confirmed. He mentioned that there is a river in Kazakhstan called Aspar, the founder of the First Bulgarian Empire was Khan Asparukh – ruler of Bulgars. He lived in the second half of the seventh century. The chairman said that the cherished historical roots connecting the two countries are currently being explored.”
Dimitrov hopes that the two sides will increase dialogue on economic cooperation as well.
According to the National Statistics Institute of Bulgaria, trade between Bulgaria and Kazakhstan totaled $104 million, including Bulgarian exports worth $44.8 million and imports totaling $59.6 million. Bulgarian exports comprised of medicines (20.3 percent,) electrical transformers (14.2 percent) and power generating units (13.5 percent,) while imports were mostly of oil gas (86.9 percent,)refined and unrefined copper (11.3 percent) and chemical fertilizers (1.2 percent).
Bulgaria was always known to people in Kazakhstan and in recent years, it has become a preferred tourist destination. “In the past year, we have also managed to open a direct chartered flight from Astana to Burgas [the fourth largest Bulgarian city, a resort town in the south east of the country along the Black Sea.] There used to be a flight only from Almaty, but now we have two.
“Last year, more than 7,000 Kazakhstan citizens visited Bulgaria as tourists, the majority of them traveled to the Black Sea for vacation. This year, the number has picked up 40 percent. Kazakhs are rediscovering Bulgaria, its nature, climate and the similarities between the Russian [that most Kazakhs speak] and Bulgarian as well as similarities in mentality. Bulgaria’s low prices are also appealing to visitors from Kazakhstan.”
Bulgaria also introduced a facilitated visa regime for Kazakhstan’s citizens by issuing a one year visa for Kazakhstan nationals that have already been issued a Bulgarian visa in the past and have not violated the terms of stay. Kazakhstan citizens who own property in Bulgaria may be issued a three year visa; a small Bulgarian real estate boom is being seen in Kazakhstan today.
Dimitrov, who studied at Moscow’s Diplomatic Academy and is completely fluent in Russian, German and English, said he has enjoyed his brief stay in Kazakhstan.
“I was warned about the harsh winters in Astana before coming here and I must say surprisingly, it wasn’t as cold as I expected. I live on the Yessil River embankment and I with my family would often go down to the frozen river for walks, we really enjoyed them, especially in the sun, when there was no wind.”
The envoy’s diplomatic career has taken him to Germany and Denmark, yet he seemed to especially enjoy talking about his impressions of Astana and Kazakhstan.
“What struck me most about Kazakhstan are the close family ties that people have woven and cherish. I admire that and find it [fascinating] that family members help each other and spend so much time together. I am also fond of Kazakhstan’s national dances. Bulgarian dances are more dynamic, while Kazakh ones are more gracious.
“Before [moving] to Astana, I read a lot about [Kazakhstan], ’but what you read and what you see can be two completely opposite things. What I’ve seen [here] amazes me. I was amazed by the city [Astana,] the idea of building a city designed by world-class architects in 17 years truly impresses me. I am also amazed by the foresight of the [Kazakh] government. The country has [planned] everything and knows what needs to be done to move forward. I am sure that the Strategy 2050, Kazakhstan’s plan to propel itself onto the list of the 30 most-developed countries by 2050will be realised if the country maintains its current mindset and trajectory.”