Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | December 25, 2001, Tuesday // 00:00

John-Dimitry Panitza is the chairman and founder of the Free and Democratic Bulgaria Foundation, of Junior Achievement–Bulgaria, among the founders of the American University in Bulgaria, honorary member of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, a recipient of AUBG’s honorary degree Doctor Honoris Causa, and of the highest Bulgarian state medal, Stara Planina First class, equivalent to the American medal of Freedom. Panitza’s experience at the Reader’s Digest lasted for 40 years. During this time, he reached the position of managing editor of the magazine, which, in addition to the American edition, was publishing editions in some 20 languages around the world, with a total monthly circulation of 30 million copies for more than 100 million readers.

John-Dimitry Panitza met the editors of and The News: Martina Iovcheva and Monique Geiss


Q: Mr. Panitza, foundation Free and Democratic Bulgaria Foundation that you founded and chair has been involved for ten years now in many noble programs. Which will be the most important projects that you will work on during 2002?

A: In 2001, we marked the tenth anniversary of our foundation. In the future we will continue on the path of the principles of the foundation: political pluralism, a free press, a market economy, tolerance, youth education and open dialogue. Among all the other projects in which the foundation is involved, in February, the foundation starts a program of education of parents and teachers concerning drug use by their children. That’s very important because it is not addressed to the children. It’s addressed to the parents and teachers.

Basically, it will be how to spot when the kids are on drugs and then what to do and how to handle it and how to help get the person off drugs. The program will include over 100 schools in Sofia and the region. A special booklet addressed to the children and parents will be published, which will be distributed freely to the participants. With all this we hope that we will provide some influence and help. After the start, we will look for some more funding from friends to spread the program to other parts of Bulgaria.

In Bulgaria, there are more than 100,000 and more drug addicts and 40,000 heroin addicts. This is becoming a huge problem especially in big cities. Addicts spent BGN 30 to BGN 60 a day on drugs, which means selling everything you have in the house, stealing your parents’ jewelry, grandfather’s pension in order to satisfy your needs. Yesterday, we had a session with 8-9 doctors and the stories I heard are just awful. It’s absolutely dramatic what’s happening in these families considering the modest conditions of Bulgarian families. Drug Mafia started with very low prices and they have been increasing. If a year ago the dose cost BGN 5 to BGN 15, now it’s BGN 30 to BGN 60. A lot of efforts have to be focused in that area: centers for disintoxication, which do not exist, should be established. Another big worry to me is AIDS.

I don’t think that enough is being done on the media; there’s hardly enough information or advice.

Q: These are huge problems and still, in your opinion, in which direction is Bulgaria heading – positive or negative?

A: Sure, it’s positive. We should inject more positive thinking. I’m sick and tired of this negativism. I like to see the glass half full and here too often people consider it to be half-empty. We have good qualified working force: look at the Bulgarian computer specialists. Bulgaria has a big potential in export also. Even now things are happening that most people are unaware of. For example if you buy a Hugo Boss in Vienna, the likelihood that it is made in Bulgaria is very big.

Bulgaria is a capacity. The means to get to the positive are not enough. Stronger mobilization of the public opinion is necessary. We don’t have enough public debate on fundamental issues in Bulgaria. That’s why we started a program on public debate in universities. Politically, I think that the Government has good chances to fulfill new policies, to modify others. The policies need to be explained to people and I find that the communication between the government and the public is very poor. People do not understand that the Government does good things. People must understand that Bulgaria is not just an island in the middle of no where. Bulgaria depends on the international economic situation. During the electoral campaign foreign investments were promised and the King made a big deal out of it. I’m sure he was totally genuine in that belief. In the meantime, Wall Street crashes, there’s a recession everywhere. Nobody expected that and it is natural that it will have influence here.

Q: Do you think that the international situation is the main reason why foreign investors do not come to Bulgaria?

A: That’s one of the reasons. Another reason are the wars on the Balkans. The wars in Kossovo and Yugoslavia had an influence.

Q: Young people leave Bulgaria. The Government stated as one of its top priorities bringing young people back. How can this be achieved?

A: I totally agree with the Bulgarian Prime Minister that this is one of the tragedies of Bulgaria. You can’t force people to stay. I certainly appeal to the patriotic feelings to their homeland. In that sense, I am filled with appreciation and admiration for those young people – the ministers - who came back now. They have given up good jobs abroad to come and give it a try. If there were more like them, things would have been much better. One of my efforts when I travel abroad and I go to campuses of prestigious universities is to talk to young Bulgarians. I say: Don’t forget your home country. Advertising jobs on the Internet, new blood is necessary is in the state enterprises, make jobs more attractive, give some incentives can be among the specific measures to be taken to attract young people.

Q: Will young people come back?

A: Sure they will. Talk to me – a person who has been in exile for 42 years. And I know no matter how tough being home is ten times nicer than being 10,000 miles away. Young people should go abroad, learn, come back and apply their skills for the good of their country. I don’t condemn those young people who go abroad, I just beg them when they acquire their knowledge to come back. The Government has to work to attract these people. Look at Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic countries: young people come back and that will happen here too. Young people to come back to Bulgaria is my biggest wish for the New Year.

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