Maxim Behar and Alexander Hristov in the "Bulgaria in the Morning" at Bulgaria OnAir TV

Maxim Behar and Alexander Hristov in the "Bulgaria in the Morning" at Bulgaria OnAir TV

Host: The murder of businessman Alexei Petrov marked last week and raised many questions about the security of the country. Along with that, information has emerged about Bulgarians suspected of spying for Russia. Against this backdrop, there will be meat elections on 29 October. About Bulgaria's image in front of our European partners and how all this will affect the meat vote we will talk with PR experts Alexander Hristov and Maxim Behar. Good morning to you both. Tell us, how does the image of Bulgaria in front of Europe and our European partners look to you after the series of events?

Maxim: In my opinion, what has happened in recent weeks has not changed dramatically the image of Bulgaria abroad or to anyone, even to our Euro-Atlantic partners. What I think is more worrying is that nobody in Bulgaria has done anything in recent years to improve our image and to present our country as it is. Murders happen every day in all countries. Probably spies are caught here and there every week somewhere in the world or somewhere in Europe. But the inaction of a huge series of Bulgarian governments that have no desire to even show what Bulgaria is like outside the borders. Because Bulgaria has an awful lot of good things. It has great people, not to mention beaches and mountains and spa tourism. There are great people in Bulgaria, taxes are one of the lowest in Europe, and we have many opportunities for investment. All this, for years no one paid attention to him. I really hope this government can come out of this “mish-mash” that is here in the Bulgarian political PR landscape and say, "We have to do something now and show what Bulgaria is.". Because assassinations can really happen anywhere, every country has problems. The world is in crisis and a very big one. This crisis puts countries in strong competition, and we must be competitive to attract investments, to attract people who will look with a good eye on Bulgaria. It is not difficult, but it must be done.

Host: How do we explain the fact that after the murder of Alexei Petrov, there was talk of an umbrella by the state over him? How do we explain that?

Maxim: These are questions that politicians and criminologists should comment on. What I see in this projection is that there are really an awful lot of state institutions that should say, "Let's sit down and see what we can do to represent what Bulgaria is with all the good and not so good things.". On one hand, we are talking about Alexey Petrov and what happened to him, but on the other hand today there is the Women's Chess World Cup final.

Host: Something that should be emphasized.

Maxim: Life presents us with a different palette of events that happen every day. By the way, there are three sides to this process, one is the state institutions with a huge number of bureaucrats and people who are supposed to somehow drive this machine because they are part of the game after all. The second is us businesspeople, especially in the communications business, who still have at least a tiny understanding of this. And the third party is the people abroad, they are our best ambassadors. All these successful Bulgarians all over the world, even a taxi driver in Chicago or a waitress in Manhattan somewhere can turn many people's idea of Bulgaria upside down. I have had dozens of such cases with foreigners. We have about 2 000 000 Bulgarians abroad, many of them not the three people in London who were arrested. There are maybe a million or three who present Bulgaria in a very good light. If we come together, however, it must be with a strategy, a timetable, people who respond with a lot of creativity and we can present Bulgaria for what it is. And when a person watches TV, especially when he goes on social media to say, "But there are super smart people in Bulgaria, John Atanasov, Berbatov was Bulgarian, but Stoichkov. But this Ralitsa Vassileva from CNN, we thought she was Serbian, but she is Bulgarian". And we must introduce these people and say, "These are Bulgarians, come to Bulgaria and see them". I don't know a foreigner who has come to Bulgaria and then not suffered from the fact that they left, or there are a huge number of Americans that I know in Sofia who hang out in Irish pubs, unhappy that this or that is not happening, and at the same time they wish they were here.

Host: Here we were talking about the fact that after the high-profile murder of Alexei Petrov, there was talk that this would be a footprint or perhaps a closing of the door to Schengen. Mr. Behar, what do you think?

Maxim: There is a rule in journalism, good news is not news. And that's quite normal when there are murders, when there is something that is so connected to sensationalism, to something out of normal coincidence. Except that we have it internalized and we give more ear, and we are more interested in the negative or sensational news I would say. I also respect what the media does, that they cover things as they are in life and therefore there is more interest in those who are more sensational. We don't close any doors. I believe that Bulgaria will enter the Schengen agreement this year 2023. I am very pleasantly surprised by the messages that this Government is making, in the great hope that someone will remember. I saw that the Deputy Prime Minister, Maria Gabriel, had called a meeting on “Brand Bulgaria” or so to hear different opinions. However, I have attended many such meetings at various levels, and nothing has ever happened.

Host: And when it comes to something bigger like this, which is towards Europe, like Schengen, then we reopen the topic.

Maxim: We haven't opened the topic until now because the fact that someone has gathered and that someone is willing means nothing. You can have the desire to buy a car and go and look at it every year and still have the desire but still not buy it. Specific things must be done, and they are simple and clear. We should put out to tender a new logo for Bulgaria. Bulgaria has no logo. We have no slogan, no message. What is Bulgaria? If we have these things and from there to make a strategy how to show Bulgaria, in my opinion, clear and precise with the participation of the business and I would say with the very strong participation of the business. Then all this negative news, which unfortunately is happening and will happen in Bulgaria, will not matter so much.

Host: But unfortunately, we also have worse examples. You know from the last few weeks one action taken by the Ministry of Interior for stricter control of the roads. There have already been several celebrities caught, such as the singer Beloslava, and now in the last two days, Princess Kalina Saxkoburgotska, who was also caught after drinking alcohol and getting behind the wheel. In fact, with these examples, what signals are we sending?

Maxim: You talk about celebrities and those who are recognizable. Well, there are a huge number of unknown personalities who killed people. They killed our colleague Milen Tsvetkov. They killed two girls in front of Hemus, a Frenchman on the ring road and these are the incidents that we know. These things happen every day. We are afraid that the glass has indeed overflowed, and this has also been evident in the National Assembly over the last two weeks, new laws have been passed. The fact that celebrities who have been drinking and driving are being given publicity has its positive side. Because all the people are freaking out and saying, “Wait a minute, they caught so and so, I should be careful too.”.

Host: And they didn't get away with it.

Maxim: I can't comment on that because it's a judicial or investigative process.

Host: But that's probably what people say to themselves when they hear that there are accusations against this or that celebrity.

Maxim: But there should be strict control. It is not a problem whether the fine will be 3,000 leva or 5,000 leva. It's not a problem whether the potential jail term is 1 or 3 years. The problem is that there are no cameras. If this country was ringed with cameras to record speeding, to record what happens on the roads, everything would be solved in a week. Why they don't have them I don't know.

Host: Let's hope that this will really have a positive effect on our society.

Maxim: But these are two different topics. One topic is the representation of Bulgaria abroad and what we are all doing as a society, but there are specific people in government who are responsible like the Minister of Tourism, the Minister of Economy and Innovation. Which is to present Bulgaria's image abroad as it is. And the other thing is that we have the self-discipline and self-control to become a better society where we have absolutely all the prerequisites to do so.

Host: Thank you very much for this conversation.

You can see the whole interview here.