Irish Times Editor: Bulgaria Seems Ready for EU

Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | May 25, 2006, Thursday // 00:00

Patrick Smyth is Foreign Editor of the Irish Times, and a former European and Washington Correspondent of the paper. He visited Bulgaria last week, and shared his impressions with the SNA.

Interview by Petya Bondokova

Q: How much time did you spend in Bulgaria, and which places did you visit?

A: I spent 9 days in Bulgaria, mainly in Sofia, but I also visited Rila monastery, Veliko Tornovo and Dryanovo.

Q: What were your expectations for the country, and were you surprised by anything?

I had travelled in the region before - in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Turkey - and so found many of the features of each of them in Bulgaria, as I had expected. Perhaps I had feared rather too much a quality of drabness or colourlessness that we had associated with the Soviet bloc. I am delighted to say I was profoundly wrong.

Q: What is your brightest impression?

A: The wondrous Rila monastery and the strength of the country's cultural vibrancy...I was astonished by the fact that a small town like Dryanovo could sustain such a fine museum as well as a gallery with an outstanding exhibition of local painters worthy of any European capital.

Q: Did you have time to get a taste of the nightlife?

A: Only the restaurants, which I was delighted by. And the wine.

Q: Does Bulgaria seem ready to join the EU community?

Yes - but, in reality, it is important not to see that as an end in itself. It is only the first step.

Ireland's experience of membership has been hugely positive but too many saw the EU as the solution to all our problems. In truth the EU was one, and only one, important ingredient in our economic success story, and only because of the correct policy mix which saw a huge emphasis on education and training of our young people. Bulgaria can succeed too if it understands that the economic challenge lies in such investment in the future.

Q: Do you think that other Irish would enjoy the country if they visited?

A: Yes, very much so. Many are already coming, but largely to the Black Sea coast where increasingly they are buying holiday homes. There is s much more to see and it is really good value.

Q: What would you change in the country if you could?

A: The roads. And the occasional habit of staff in shops and restaurants to treat customers as if they are doing you a favour...

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