US Embassy Public Affairs Counselor Ken Moskowitz: Young Bulgarians Should Commit to Own Society

Bulgaria-US Survey » EDUCATION | Author: Ivan Dikov |December 10, 2010, Friday // 13:05
Bulgaria: US Embassy Public Affairs Counselor Ken Moskowitz: Young Bulgarians Should Commit to Own Society

Exclusive Interview with Ken Moskowitz, the Public Affairs Counselor at the US Embassy in Sofia, for the Bulgaria-US Survey of (Sofia News Agency)

What does the job of a Public Affairs Counselor at a US Embassy entail?

My position means I manage an office comprised of three sections – the Press Office, the Cultural Affairs Office, and the Information Resource Center.

The press office handles inquiries from the media, arranges media activities for US officials, and does training and programming with the media community.

The Cultural Affairs Office –but cultural affairs is an old-fashioned word. It does not mean only arts, which is about 10% of what a cultural attache does these days. Generally speaking, the Press Office advocates and explains American foreign and government policy, whereas the Cultural Office represents American society.

This office has specialists who present American civil society as well as the American arts. It also deals more broadly with a wide range of institutions, including the media, and when appropriate, the artistic community, educators, businessmen, NGO leaders, and government officials – the major groups that represent the broad spectrum of Bulgarian-American society and relations.

The Information Resource Center is a type of modern library that handles any sort of public inquiries about American policy or American society. It is also responsible for four American Corners in Bulgaria and 12 American shelfs, which are smaller collections of books and materials about the US.

Which are the Corners [called "corners" in English but "centers" in Bulgarian]?

The Corners are in Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, and Veliko Tarnovo. These are centers where we also do English teaching, testing for US exams, and advising about studying at American colleges.

How would you characterize the programs for rule of law of the US Embassy and their impact in Bulgaria?

Before I came to Bulgaria last year, I met a Bulgarian in Washington who said something interesting about what we call the brain drain: the reason young Bulgarians go to the US and stay there, or that older people don't have hopes about the future, is crime and corruption.

And we got the message that businesspeople and young people starting a career, if they are well-trained, want to have confidence there is a level-playing field, that they are going to live and work in a fair society with clear, transparent rules and fair competition.

Crime and corruption corrode that, and helping to cope with that has become our chief priority. We have a wide range of programs and funding to work on these issues in cooperation with Bulgarian partners.

For example, we brought the first of two judges, a Los Angeles Country Judge, Maureen Duffy- Lewis, to Bulgaria to teach at Sofia University, but also visit law schools around the country to talk about the American experience, especially in Los Angeles County, which had a history of corruption.

But the County realized they had this public image problem based and this internal situation, and they worked on it, and since they reformed the system, it has become a sort of model. We also hosted the retired Chief for LA Police Department to talk about reform of the County police.

Judge Duffy-Lewis was only here for about 4 months, but later on the Department of Justice funded a federal judge from Utah state, Judge Stuart Waldrip who was in Bulgaria a little bit longer, and recently came back for a shorter trip to do an update on progress.

He was based at the Bulgarian National Institute of Justice. He worked on court case management and certain techniques that judges in the US developed to move cases along, such as to try to prevent the accused in these cases from deliberately delaying the trials with forged medical documents claiming sickness.

Judge Waldrip worked with the Supreme Judicial Council in Sofia to do training with magistrates on ethics, crime and corruption, and the American experience. He also worked to create something called the Mediation Center.

It is based on US experience – this wonderful phrase that lawyers have – which is "Don't make a federal case out of it", i.e. try to solve problems at a lower, and less expensive and less complicated level, since mediation does that by trying to keep the litigation level down by settling disputes outside of court. This Mediation Center has been set up and is run by volunteer judges.

Crime and corruption, ethics, mediation, and case management have been the four main issues that US judges have worked on in Bulgaria.

What comes to mind is that there are probably some corrupt judges and prosecutors here in Bulgaria. What is expected to happen with them when they enter such US-sponsored training? Can they be transformed by that?

I would only say that all these programs and trainings are a long-term project. When you do a training you are hoping to get a critical mass of people who understand the ethics and the integrity of the entire system so that over time you can clear out the bad eggs, and improve the system. It is not something that you can expect overnight results from.

But in addition to work with magistrates, we have also done training with the Bulgarian police. Judge Waldrip estimated that he reached about 1000 judges in his training and activities in Bulgaria. In a separate activity, we directly trained about 100 policemen earlier this year with cooperation and guidance from the Ministry of the Interior. The goal was to professionalize the corps because we realize the police have a low public image and respect on the streets.

The very basic techniques were on how police act on the streets, and the best way to communicate with the public. These were also tips that we got from the Bulgarian police officials. The 100 policemen that we trained were not the target audience. These are people who came from all over the country to become trainers. Our specialists trained the trainers who then fanned out to train the local police in their departments.

We had two professional retired police officers – Dave and Betsy Smith – who did this training. We also had a retired LA County police chief who talked about esprit de corps, personal integrity, and leadership. He helped reform the department in LA by showing how a leader is more than just a manager or an administrator.

With respect to rule of law and in connection with Women's History Month, we did two programs. One of them was with a specialist talking via video conferencing on advocacy for women's rights in the media. For this, we worked in cooperation with NGOs and the government's anti-discrimination commission.

The last major rule of law program this past year was gender sensitivity training. We've read that the Bulgarian military has one of the highest percentages of women in the military among all EU countries, which is a good thing.

With this in mind, the US trainers held four sessions around Bulgaria talking about preventing gender discrimination in the military. We held them at the American Centers in Sofia, Varna, Plovdiv, and Veliko Tarnovo. There were 200 military trainers involved.

What has been the scope of the US Fulbright Program in Bulgaria?

Big picture - the Fulbright Commission has a bilateral charter under which it operates according to its own principles with the Bulgarian government. Bulgarians and Americans are equal partners. They both contribute financially to the system.

There is a bi-national board and a rotating chairmanship. I just finished my term as a chairman, and since October there has been a new, Bulgarian chairman. The board provides guidance, vision and basic policy.

What's important about the charter is that it is de-linked from policy, that its goal is mutual understanding. So this is clearly a cultural and educational program. The scholars chosen to participate are not chosen solely on academic work, but also on character and future leadership potential.

The Fulbright Program is widely advertised. The executive director has started a nationwide tour of Bulgarian universities to talk about the program and how it works. We try to get people to hear about it although, after so many years, it has pretty much become a brand in itself.

We try to make the exchange transparent. The applications are reviewed by experts in each field who make recommendations, and then the Fulbright board members read the recommendations and make their choices. Then it goes to Washington where the final approvals are made.

There are 20 American Fulbrighters in Bulgaria this year. Ten are English-teaching assistants, 6 are lecturers, and 4 are graduate students.

We usually have 2-3 English-teaching assistants. But this year we got 10 thanks to a big grant from the America for Bulgaria Foundation. They have been very generous.

The Fulbrighters' fields include journalism, law, art, history, mural painting, international relations, music, theology, and psychology. All of them are assigned to Bulgarian institutions that have interests in hosting such specialists.

The flip side is the Bulgarians going to the US. There are 16 grantees this year. Six are for senior scholars, five are graduate students, one is a MBA, and three are in non-degree programs. Some of their fields are literature, finance, sociology, and communications.

The Hubert Humphrey program is a worldwide Fulbright competition that doesn't have budget specifically for Bulgaria so Bulgarian applicants have to compete with people from around the world. We usually nominate two – one primary and one alternate. We got one Bulgarian law student into the US this year under that program.

Other programs funded through the Fulbright mechanism are the training of English teachers, which we do at the American corners and the Shelves, which are the smaller centers. We also do training for Bulgarian librarians.

What other major programs do you have in the education field?

The biggest program that we are doing and which we are very excited about is FISI – Fulbright International Summer Institute. It is a two-week seminar we've held in Veliko Tarnov, Tryavna, and Bansko.

We attract students from around the world to come to Bulgaria to do courses in fields such as business administration, literature, philosophy, Bulgarian history, film, conflict resolution, and international affairs.

American Fulbrighters are also invited, and with them the Bulgarian history, culture, and folklore courses are very popular. This past summer we had 100 students from 15 countries, including from the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America, so it's good PR both for Bulgaria and for the program.

We have professors at FISI who have been to Bulgaria before and really excited to be here, and those are also professors from really good American colleges.

The American interest in FISI is to promote or share our way of education. So it is not just the subject matter, it is the technique. The American classroom is interactive. It is not what I used to call when I was teaching, "the information dump."

That is counter to the European tradition in which the professor knows everything and the students are silent, so he walks in and delivers a lecture for an hour and leaves. The American system is to draw students into the conversation, so they have to be prepared to ask questions and participate.

FISI has 489 alumni from 35 countries. This was the 9th year. In 2011, it will be the tenth anniversary, and will be held in Bansko.

We had a Fulbright conference for Fulbright executive directors and public affairs officers in Berlin in March 2010, and there we won the first-ever European-wide Fulbright Innovator Award for FISI. It was recognized in Washington as an innovative program, and we take a lot of pride in it.

Your office has been supporting the Junior Achievement program in Bulgaria, which is a rather new approach for the country. How do you go about helping young Bulgarians boost their entrepreneurial spirit?

This was our response to the brain drain problem I mentioned earlier – that young people need to get excited about their futures here in Bulgaria, and need to make a commitment to their own society.

They have to see themselves as the future of Bulgaria, as part of the new Bulgaria where everything is possible. Americans have a can-do attitude that problems are not problems, but are challenges that need to be overcome.

I found a very good partner here in Junior Achievement, which has a dynamic leader, Milena Stoycheva. Last March we had the first two-day entrepreneurship conference for 500 high school and college students. It was called Smart Start, and we will probably call it Flying Start for the next edition.

We featured Deputy Prime Minister Simeon Djankov both for what he had to say but also as a role model of somebody who made a commitment to come back and help Bulgaria. Of course, we had Ambassador Warlick speak, we plan to have him again. We will again invite a motivational speaker from the US to get the young people energized.

The themes are entrepreneurship, public service, and wealth creation – how entrepreneurs create a wealthier society. We want to change attitudes towards business and self-promotion and marketing. People have to have confidence and not look at marketing and business as dirty words.

We talk about networking, personal connections, career opportunities and business opportunities, green business, public service careers – all to help people look at the positive side of how a business person can also be a responsible member of society.

We will also have workshop sessions on writing a resume, interview techniques, and writing a business plan. The conference includes a "manager for day" part, when young people get to shadow for a day a business person or a government official.

What is new this coming year will be affirmative action component. This is because we noticed that even though we advertised Smart Start through the Internet, we attracted a lot of young people from elite school and universities.

Affirmative action in the US involves a special effort to reach disadvantaged people, and if necessary, you do a little pre-training to build up their confidence so they know that we want them there too, just as much as anybody else. We will work with an NGO to help identify the marginalized groups, cultivate the relationships, and advertise the program.

The Roma integration issue attracted European-wide and global attention in the past few months. How do you view the situation in Bulgaria?

We have a history of inter-racial relations with the African-American and other minority communities in the US, so whenever we talk about diversity or inclusiveness, it is based on our experience.

I realize that Bulgarian history is different, since you don't have a history of immigration and slavery, for example.

But still, from Washington's point of view this is something we can talk about with a certain authority, and we can invite members of the African-American community or other experts to talk about how we have handled inclusiveness and diversity. For example, affirmative action is one government effort.

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