Shimon Peres with Bulgarian President Asenov Plevneliev 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Bulgarian President Rosen Asenov Plevneliev seeks strong hi-tech cooperation
between his country and Israel, he said during a visit to Jerusalem
Plevneliev, at a welcome reception at the official residence
of President Shimon Peres on Monday, said that he was delighted so early in his
presidency to be able to visit the Holy Land. He has been president since
January this year.
Peres pointedly welcomed him and Bulgarian Foreign
Minister Nickolay Mladenov to “Jerusalem, the capital of Israel and the ancient
capital of the Jewish people,” which he said was open to practitioners of all
Peres, 89, who places great store in young leaders, referred
several times to Plevneliev imbuing his country with fresh energy, precisely
because he is a young leader.
Peres told Plevneliev that his visit was
one that stirred great emotions in the hearts of Israelis who could never forget
that Bulgaria refused to surrender its Jews to the Nazis.
Prior to the
war, Jews had long enjoyed equality in Bulgaria, even though anti- Semitism had
begun to seep into the system from the second decade of the 20th
With the onset of World War II, the Bulgarian Government adopted
a more fascist attitude and became much more pro-German in its
policy. Yet even after it allied itself with Germany it refused to deport
its Jews, though it had no qualms about deporting Jews from other countries who
had sought shelter in Bulgaria.
In recent years there has been a need to
rewrite accepted history, because documents released by Germany testify to the
fact that there were numerous labor camps in Bulgaria, where Jews and others
were treated with extreme cruelty.
Moreover, there was a stage in which
Bulgaria, in accordance with a pact signed with Germany, was prepared to deport
its 50,000 Jews to Treblinka, one of the most notorious of death
In March 1943, the authorities began preparations for the mass
deportation but these plans were thwarted by a significant group of courageous
parliamentarians, intellectuals, clerics and resistance groups who succeeded in
getting the government to backtrack on its decision.
This more negative
aspect relating to Bulgarian Jews was not raised at the reception, but it will
be one of the key topics under discussion at an international conference to be
held on November 2 to 4 at Sofia University.
The conference on East
European and Soviet Jews during WWII and the Cold War has been organized by the
Dialogue Europe Center of Excellence at Sofia University, the Strochlitz
Institute for Holocaust Research at the University of Haifa, the Cold War
Studies Program and Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard
University, the Shalom Organization (an association for Bulgarian Jews), and
Emuni, Porto Roz (Slovenia) in partnership with the Bulgarian Commission on
Dossiers, the US Embassy in Sofia, the Israeli Embassy in Sofia, and other
The 70th anniversary of the actual rescue of Bulgarian
Jews will be commemorated in Sofia on March 10, 2013. Plevneliev invited Peres
to be the guest of honor at this latter event.
Bulgaria was among the
first countries to recognize the nascent state of Israel and established
diplomatic relations in December 1948.
Ties were severed in June 1967 in
the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War and restored in May 1990 after the
fall of Communist rule.
In his welcoming remarks Peres noted the
extraordinary change in the Balkans in general and Bulgaria in particular since
the start of the new era.
In the wake of revolutions, wars and ongoing
hostilities, it seemed as if it would be impossible to bring about change in the
Balkan country, and yet there has been change, he declared. Today, Bulgaria is a
young, vibrant, modern, developed country. He was also appreciative of the fact
that Bulgaria has on many issues sided with Israel in international forums. He
was particularly grateful for the assistance which Bulgaria had given to the
families of five Israeli tourists killed by a suicide bomber in a terrorist
attack at Sarafova Airport in Burgas, Bulgaria in July of this year, and noted
that Plevneliev had personally cooperated with Israel both in matters of
assistance and investigation.
Plevneliev acknowledged that his country
has gone through highly dramatic changes in recent years and has opted to
develop as a progressive democracy. Its relations with Israel are strong on many
levels, he said, but he was particularly keen for more intensive hi-tech
cooperation given that Israel has a reputation for being one of the most
advanced technology-oriented nations in the world.
With the wisdom
gleaned from past experience he said, Bulgaria realizes how much it benefits
from strategic alliances with Israel in tourism, culture and hi-tech and has
already signed many agreements in these and other fields with Israel.
was convinced that there was great potential for closer cooperation with Israel,
especially in innovative technologies and new industries.