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Ukraine’s “special academic mission” in Sofia

Ukrainian Ambassador to Bulgaria Mykola BALTAZHY: “We should not only study each other’s history, but also exchange experience”
20 June, 2018 - 16:14
Photo from The Day’s archives

On June 18-19, Sofia hosted the international scholarly conference “Bulgaria and Ukraine in the History of Europe” on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the UNR and Bulgaria.

Julian REVALSKI, President of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, who took part in the opening ceremony, emphasized that the institution he heads is proud of cooperating with Ukrainian academics and civic activists, the website of the General Directorate for Servicing Foreign Representatives reports. Meanwhile, Mykola BALTAZHY, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to Bulgaria, who also participated in the ceremony, welcomed the Ukrainian “special academic mission” and noted: “It is very important that the best academics from various countries are working on the 1917-24 events.” Daniel VACHKOV, Director of the Institute of Historical Studies of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, pointed out that “although Ukraine and Bulgaria maintain very active relations, they need to be further developed, which requires fresh historical research.”

Besides, as the conference was being opened, the Ukrainian Institute of History and the Bulgarian Institute of Historical Studies signed an agreement on scholarly research.

Here follows the text of The Day’s interview with Ambassador Baltazhy.


Mr. Ambassador, how did the idea of this conference come up?

“This conference is part of the comprehensive program of academic events within the framework of the project ‘Day of Ukraine in Europe’ on the occasion of an anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Bulgaria, Romania, and Greece, and the centenary of the Ukrainian diplomatic service. The conference had long been in the making on the initiative of the Academic Society for the History of Diplomacy and International Relations with support from and in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ukraine’s Embassy in Bulgaria, the General Directorate for Servicing Foreign Representations, a number of regional authorities, Ukrainian universities, and archives. The main Bulgarian partner is the Institute of Historical Studies of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and the sponsor is the Ministry of Education and Science.

“The event aroused keen interest among academic circles and the public. Suffice it to say that the President of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Julian Revalski, welcomed the participants. The event is interesting by both the theme and the list of participants which includes 20 Ukrainian high-ranking academics and former diplomats.

“The first day saw welcoming speeches, plenary reports, and stormy panel discussions. The conference is also receiving Bulgarian media coverage.

“Besides, this conference is part of the embassy’s package of events on the occasion of the centenary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the UNR and the Kingdom of Bulgaria. In particular, a similar conference was held in February at Bulgaria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And this debate attracted a wide circle of academics and experts. It is deeply symbolic that it coincided in time with the Bulgarian vote in the EU Council, which clearly reflects its name and European context. I think the conference is an important event which should be viewed through the prism of friendly Ukrainian-Bulgarian relations.”


To what extent is it important to spotlight the themes of Ukrainian history in Bulgaria and Bulgarian history in Ukraine?

“There are a lot of maxims, such as ‘whoever does not know his past does not deserve a future’ and ‘whoever does not know his history will have to re-live it again,’ and they are all still topical. But this conference is very important, as far as finding the truth about little-known events of those years is concerned, for there are very many attempts to falsify historical events and facts. Against the backdrop of a hybrid war on the part of Russia, the research of history without dogmas and stereotypes, an independent analysis and expert examination are the main instruments of defense from propaganda and manipulations that pose a real threat to democracy and security.

“Among those who stood at the origins of Ukrainian-Bulgarian relations in the early 20th century were such figures as Professor Oleksandr Shulhin, the UNR’s first Minister of Foreign Affairs and Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bulgaria, and Professor Ivan Shishmanov, a well-known representative of the then Bulgarian intellectual elite, the son-in-law of Mykhailo Drahomanov. These prominent diplomats and civic activists enjoyed high prestige in their countries which maintained high-level bilateral relations.

“The conference made an in-depth analysis of historical documents. The Ukrainian academics cited unique archival documents in their reports. They also staged a superb exhibition about the stormy events of the 1917-21 Ukrainian Revolution in the Grand Hall of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. What also aroused keen interest was a documentary film on signing the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty, which in fact meant international recognition of the UNR’s independence.

“Even after the UNR had ceased to exist, Ukraine had very good relations with Bulgaria in all fields. Besides, it is of paramount importance that the two friendly countries established relations not in 1918 – they date back to the olden times of Kyivan Rus’ and the First Bulgarian Kingdom or even to the period when the ancient Ruthenian and ancient Bulgarian ethnicities were being formed.

“There was also an exchange of opinions about the current stage of bilateral Ukrainian-Bulgarian relations. We can see a fruitful development of the political dialog, sectoral and interregional cooperation, and city twinning. From the very outset, Bulgaria has been supporting territorial integrity of Ukraine, sanctions against Russia, systemic reforms, the European and Euro-Atlantic integration of our state. It made strenuous efforts to grant Ukraine a visa waiver. We cooperate very well within the framework of international organizations. This was also the object of a two-day discussion. Therefore, it is beyond any doubt that the conference is of not only purely academic, but also of practical importance.

“In addition, in the course of the conference, the Ukrainian Institute of History and the Bulgarian Institute of Historical Studies signed an agreement on cooperation and resolved to form a Ukrainian-Bulgarian commission for historical research.”


The newspaper Den also took part in researching Ukraine’s relations with her “southern Orthodox and Slavic sister” Bulgaria in the publication My Sister Sofia. Den’s editor-in-chief Larysa Ivshyna notes in the preface to this book that “the history of Ukraine and Bulgaria is like a history of two sisters separated in early childhood.” And what similarities in the two countries’ history do you see?

“Ukrainians and Bulgarians are very close peoples. If you make a comparative analysis our states’ historical development, you will see, for example, that Kyivan Rus’ and the First Bulgarian Kingdom were boosting their might almost simultaneously in the 9th-10th centuries. But, undoubtedly, two great events played a special role in the interrelations between the two peoples – the creation of the Slavic script and the adoption of Christianity.

“Later, Ukraine lost its statehood for several centuries, while Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire for almost five centuries. We should also take into account that our peoples have always helped each other – the most illustrious example of this was participation of Ukrainian volunteers, medics, in the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman yoke. There are also many examples of Bulgarians helping the Ukrainian people in their liberation struggle – even in the era of Zaporozhian Sich.”

By Natalia PUSHKARUK, The Day