On February 9, 1918, the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UPR) signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, making peace with the countries of the Quadruple Alliance – Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria, as well as providing for the urgent establishment of diplomatic and consular relations with the young Ukrainian state. Thereupon, the Kingdom of Bulgaria made a significant contribution to the international recognition of the UPR, which appeared on the political map of Europe on the ruins of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires.
In today’s diplomatic language, it can be said that a hundred years ago, the relations between Ukraine and Bulgaria assumed the character of a special partnership. A compelling argument for that assertion was offered, above all, by the appointment of Professor Oleksandr Shulhin, the first minister of foreign affairs of the UPR, as its ambassador to Bulgaria, and the appointment of famous statesman and scholar Professor Ivan Shishmanov as ambassador of the Kingdom of Bulgaria to Ukraine. We gratefully remember these prominent politicians and public figures today, whose efforts wrote a landmark page of our common history. After all, they persistently and purposefully worked to establish our states as genuinely independent and build a friendly relationship between them.
It is also pleasing to state that even before the establishment of diplomatic relations, the collective consciousness of Ukrainians and Bulgarians held memories of the participation of Ukrainian soldiers in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. Still, the roots of mutual friendship reach even deeper, to the time of Kyivan Rus’ and the First Bulgarian Kingdom, due to close cultural, educational, and religious ties in that period.
However, the three-year experience of the existence of the UPR and the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Bulgaria was not in vain. After all, one must be aware that without the proclamation of independence and the establishment of statehood in the early 20th century, the restoration of an independent Ukrainian state in 1991 would have been a much more complicated task. In the same light, the experience and traditions of the Ukrainian-Bulgarian intergovernmental relations are the basis and the key to the development and expansion of the present bilateral relations between our friendly countries and peoples.
Therefore, the historical truth about our common past must take a worthy place in the minds of Ukrainians and Bulgarians. The study of history which is free from dogmas, stereotypes, distortion, and speculation, independent analysis on the basis of archival material – these are the main tools of defense against deliberate manipulation and propaganda, which are a serious challenge to democracy and security.
Meanwhile, we proceed from the assumption that as many Ukrainians and Bulgarians as possible have the right to be made aware of real historical events and facts, which enables people to understand each other better. Therefore, in cooperation with our Bulgarian partners, the embassy is preparing a great variety of public diplomacy scholarly, cultural, and educational events for 2018, including conferences, roundtables, publications, exhibitions, and concerts.
When analyzing the achievements of the Ukrainian-Bulgarian relations in the modern period, we can confidently assert that Ukraine and Bulgaria have something to be proud of despite the complexities of the post-communist transformation, because our political dialog and practical cooperation are marked by dynamic rates of development.
It is pleasing to note that Ukraine has been lucky to have a reliable friend and ally in a friendly Bulgaria. However, an independent, democratic, European Ukraine is also an important stable and predictable partner for Bulgaria. We are united by common goals, we share the common European values. This is the key to a common understanding of the issues and challenges facing both countries, first and foremost, in pursuing reforms aimed at improving people’s well-being and ensuring our progress on the European development path which has no alternative.
“A friend in need is a friend indeed” – this folk saying accurately reflects the essence of Bulgaria’s assistance to Ukraine after the victory of the Revolution of Dignity. The Bulgarian state supports the territorial integrity, state sovereignty, and European integration ambitions of our state and has been consistent in its support for the strict observance of the norms of international law and sanctions against the Russian Federation.
Bulgaria co-sponsored and supported a number of UN General Assembly resolutions on the territorial integrity of Ukraine and human rights in occupied Crimea as well as other important decisions on these issues in key international venues. It was the fourth EU country to ratify the Association Agreement. From the outset, we felt political and practical Bulgarian support for visa-free travel for Ukrainian citizens and the introduction of a free trade area with the EU.
Cooperation between Ukraine and Bulgaria within the framework of NATO is successfully developing as well. We highly appreciate the latter’s initiative to head and lead the NATO Trust Fund for the Medical Rehabilitation of Ukrainian Soldiers and look forward to it starting its activities. At the same time, we should mention the practical help from Bulgarian friends, first of all, the honorary consuls of Ukraine in Plovdiv, Ruse, and Burgas and doctors of the Military Medical Academy, who contributed to the rehabilitation of 75 wounded Ukrainian soldiers.
No less important is the project involving medically rehabilitating children of dead and wounded Ukrainian soldiers and internally displaced persons in Bulgaria. Over recent years, hundreds of Ukrainian children have been medically rehabilitated in the Black Sea resorts and elsewhere. We consider this as an expression of real solidarity with the Ukrainian people and a good investment in the future of Ukrainian-Bulgarian relations.
We count on Bulgaria supporting our proposals on the short-term priorities of Ukraine-EU cooperation and the Eastern Partnership Initiative during the Bulgarian presidency of the EU Council. In a broader context, we rely on the Bulgarian presidency, as well as other EU member states, to promote the effective implementation of priorities across the entire spectrum of mutually beneficial cooperation – from the field of political dialog through trade and economic cooperation, the digital economy, financial assistance, justice, freedom and security, energy and transport fields up to the field of research, innovation, and education.
The friendly and partner-like character of Ukrainian-Bulgarian relations is confirmed during contacts at the highest and high levels. It is pleasing to note that over the past few years, there has been a tendency towards an increase in political dialog, which is a kind of engine of sectoral cooperation. Therefore, we have a mutual understanding on almost all issues of the international agenda.
During the official visit of President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko to Bulgaria (June 2016), the negotiators determined the priorities and tasks for the development of bilateral relations in the medium-term perspective as well as specific joint ventures in the fields of economy, infrastructure, and energy that are of mutual benefit and interest. One of them is the reconstruction of the Odesa-Bolhrad-Reni highway with its extension to Tulcea (Romania) and then into Bulgaria, which is likely to make a significant contribution to the development of the economy of southern Ukraine, which hosts the most numerous and concentrated ethnic Bulgarian community outside Bulgaria. This project is in line with the high level of mutual understanding reached between our countries in the field of ensuring the rights of ethnic minorities.
The Ukrainian minority in Bulgaria and the Bulgarian community in Ukraine have served for centuries as a reliable bridge, which will continue to keep our countries and peoples closely aligned. The reform of the education system in accordance with European standards, accompanied by the strengthening of the Ukrainian language as the national language, will in no way violate the language rights and identity of the Bulgarian community in Ukraine. State guarantees will be outlined in a bilateral document that is being prepared for signing as well.
The inter-parliamentary dialog on a bilateral level and constructive interaction within the framework of international parliamentary organizations are fruitfully developing. We must preserve and enhance this potential by maintaining constant contact through committees, commissions, and friendship groups. We also count on the support of the Bulgarian parliament in recognizing the Holodomor as genocide of the Ukrainian people, which has affected millions of Ukrainians and tens of thousands of ethnic Bulgarians.
Bulgaria is one of the key trade and economic partners of Ukraine in the region of South-Eastern Europe. Although the existing level of mutual trade (it stood at 638 million dollars in 2016, and we expect growth of 5 to 7 percent regarding the results of 2017) is far too low for our potential, we have good reason to hope, with the beginning of the implementation of the Deep and Comprehensive FTA, for a qualitatively new stage of cooperation and concrete results from contacts between industrialists, businesspeople, investors. Equally important is the fact that Ukraine is among the 10 key tourist partners of Bulgaria (almost 300,000 Ukrainian tourists visited Bulgaria in 2017), and the two nations sharing a maritime border obliges us to deepen cooperation within the framework of regional Black Sea initiatives in the fields of security, economy, and environmental protection. Additional opportunities for the development of tourism and interpersonal contacts come from a direct air connection existing between Sofia and Kyiv and the recently opened Sofia-Odesa air route.
In keeping with tradition, the energy sector remains one of the most promising directions of bilateral cooperation. Ukrainian companies are successfully fulfilling orders issued by the Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant in the field of nuclear safety. The direction of modernization of the energy sectors of the two states seems to be promising as well, as it is aimed at introducing the latest technologies and increasing the efficiency of existing assets. Significant potential for further cooperation is found in the areas of solar energy and other renewables, energy conservation, increased supply of Ukrainian biofuels to the Bulgarian market, as well as in the field of modern technologies and telecommunications.
This retrospective view and the accumulated experience of Ukrainian-Bulgarian relations during the past 100 years prove that from the very beginning, they have been an example of friendship and partnership that have stood the test of time. This has happened due to the wisdom of the two peoples and the desire to live and work in an atmosphere of trust, which is the key to successful cooperation in the united Europe of the 21st century.
Mykola Baltazhy is Ambassador of Ukraine to the Republic of Bulgaria