The Days of Bulgarian Culture event, which is dedicated to the 125th anniversary of the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman yoke and reestablishment of the national statehood, has started in Russia. After the opening ceremony at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, it will extend its reach to the ancient Russian cities of Vladimir and Yaroslavl. In March of 2003, the Days of the Russian Federation event was a resounding success in Bulgaria.
The Russian public has been eagerly awaiting this cultural event for a long time. No matter what differences we might have, both countries are closely connected by a 1,000-year history of brotherly relations. They have been linked by the similar Cyrillic writing ever since the middle of the 9th century. It was at that time when Saints Cyril and Methodius developed the Cyrillic alphabet, which was simultaneously adopted by both the Russian and Bulgarian nations.
Undoubtedly, there have been periods in the history of both nations when their relations were shadowed by mistrust and misunderstanding. The past decade was one of those periods. The separatist trends formed as a result of the collapse of the Socialist bloc and the break up of the Warsaw Pact played a major role in the cooling of relations between Moscow and Sofia.
"Today, we can say that the 10-year period of deterioration in the relationship between Russia and Bulgaria is over," stated Vladimir Putin during the opening ceremony of the Days of Bulgarian Culture in Russia. According to Mr. Putin, both countries are finding "new points of contact," and Bulgaria is a country "we all love and trust." The Russian president also underlined that "the friendship between Russia and Bulgaria has deep roots where the destinies of our peoples are closely inter-linked." "Linguistic and cultural similarity makes our relations unique - we have a lot to be proud of, and we have a lot to remember." The present Bulgarian leadership apparently shares the Russian point of view, and the fact that Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov came to Moscow on a one-day visit in order to participate in the opening ceremony of the Days testifies to this. During the opening ceremony, The Bulgarian leader said, "It is hard to find in European history examples of a spiritual relationship similar to that shared by Bulgaria and Russia, which has lasted for more than 1,000 years." The closeness between the two peoples is "strong and firm," and it "has survived the test of time." Georgi Purvanov called the Days of Bulgarian Culture in Russia "the solemn chord of 2003 - the year of the most fruitful and active dialogue between the two countries." By the way, the Bulgarian President had already visited Russia in September. On September 6, he met Vladimir Putin in Sochi. At the meeting, the presidents discussed, among other issues, humanitarian co-operation between the two countries. The Russian side pointed to lifting visa restrictions as a priority. Moscow welcomes Bulgaria's integration into the European Union, but at the same time, it expects that this process will not pose new obstacles for interaction between our peoples and the development of economic co-operation between our countries. After all, the revival of spiritual and cultural ties might be considered as an impetus for the development of business contacts between the two countries.
It is worth mentioning that in Sochi the presidents discussed the entire scope of bilateral co-operation, which includes, in the first place, partnership in the energy industry and key international problems, especially taking into account the fact that in 2004 Bulgaria will chair the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). As to economic co-operation between Russia and Bulgaria, business contacts in the energy sphere have been developing steadily. Fuel carriers account for more than 90 percent of Russia's exports to Bulgaria. In 2002, Russia supplied Bulgaria with 5.5 mln tonnes of crude oil, 3 billion cubic metres of natural gas, and met by almost 100 percent Bulgaria's demand for nuclear fuel. Russian gas is exported to Turkey, Greece and Macedonia through Bulgarian territory. The volume of mutual trade turnover was US $1.4 billion in 2002. This seems to be a large figure, but future growth is more important. Russian investments in the Bulgarian economy amount to about US $500 mln, and the major Russian investors are such companies as LUKoil and Gazprom. Moscow and Sofia are also involved in a number of promising joint projects in the sphere of engineering, light industry and transportation.
Boris Petrov, RIAN