Bulgarian president seeks hi-tech cooperation with Israel

President Peres hails growing relationship between Sofia and Jerusalem in meeting with visiting leader.

Shimon Peres with Bulgarian President Asenov Plevneliev 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
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 yesterday.
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 faiths.
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 century.
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 camps.
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 organizations.
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.
He was convinced that there was great potential for closer cooperation with Israel, especially in innovative technologies and new industries.