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Building Bridges between Europe and Asia: Dr Kiril Avramov  

2017-10-12

The New Bulgarian University (NBU) is one of Bulgaria’s top-ranked universities at the heart of Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia. This month Global Editor for The Diplomatic Society, Srimal Fernando was pleased to interview Dr Kiril Avramov, Vice-Rector for International Relations and Research at the New Bulgarian University.

Photo: Dr Kiril Avramov, Vice-Rector for International Relations and Research at the New Bulgarian University 

Previously Dr Avramov was the Director of the international consultancy and research institute “Political Capital” in Bulgaria and later at their headquarters in Budapest, Hungary. He was a former Fulbright Senior Visiting Research Scholar at the The Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies (CREEES) at the University of Austin in Texas (U.S.). Dr Avramov’s main research interests are concentrated in the areas of political elites, political economy, political extremism, electoral systems and political communication. During the interview Dr Avramov shared his insights on a variety of topics.

 

Srimal Fernando (SF):  Let’s start with some background on yourself and your role at the New Bulgarian University?

Dr Kirill Avramov (KA):  I am and currently wearing “two hats„ simultaneously, namely an academic and an administrative one, as I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Department of Political Science at the New Bulgarian University and an acting Vice-Rector of New Bulgarian University for International Affairs and Research. In addition to these, I am an active teacher and a researcher with keen interest in political risk, risk management, political radicalization and populism, as well as national security and intelligence topics. Following these interests, I am also a member of the General Assembly of the “Risk Analysis and Management Center” and Lab that is associated with our University and is headed by the former Prime Minister of Bulgaria (1997-2001 period), Prof. Ivan Kostov. I had the rare privilege to be elected as probably one of the youngest serving Vice Rectors of the largest private university in Bulgaria. As per my educational and professional background, again I consider myself to be blessed with the rare opportunities to acquire my degrees in various countries and very different, varied, rich and supportive academic environments, such as the United States, Scotland, Hungary and Bulgaria. In terms of administrative and skills and expertise, I can rely on my practical experience gathered in the field of political consulting and analysis, as from 2006 to 2010 I was the Director of the international Consultancy and Research institute “Political Capital” branch in Bulgaria, while from 2010-2011 I was appointed as the Director for International Relations of the same consultancy and research institute at their HQ in Budapest, Hungary. Working in academia and in practical political and risk consulting simultaneously provides me with invaluable experience and most importantly opportunities to be always abreast with real-world developments in both worlds. Feeling “the pulse” of real life and applying academic approach works best for me.

SF:   What do you consider to be the main challenges facing the New Bulgarian University?

KA:  Private university and higher education in general globally is in a rather complex period of serous transformation and thus face multiple challenges. Some of these are connected to the demographic changes and migration in Southeastern Europe. Others are connected to enhancement of the competitive research profile and bridging the academia with real-life business. The main challenges that we are facing are also in relations with attraction of wider possible variety of new undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students, internalization of the educational profile of students attracted beyond Western and Eastern Europe, research quality upgrade, as well as offering even larger options to prospective students in terms of existing foreign language taught BA, MA and PhD programs that range from architecture and law to fine arts and music.     

SF:  What openings are there for the New Bulgarian University to operate on the global stage?

KA:  Well, the short answer to this complex question would be – multiple due to the fact that we can offer cost competitive educational environment in an EU and NATO member country, at a University with modern facilities that are located in a European capital of a country that will hold the incoming European Union’s Presidency in the first half of the 2018 year. We execute multiple projects with partner universities within and outside the European Union and have access to a number of academic and research networks supported by various institutions and industries. Our mission is to offer accessible and affordable opportunities for interdisciplinary and specialized education and research of high quality. It is also reflected in our motto in Latin – “Ne varietatem timeamus”, that would translate in English as “Let us not fear diversity”.

SF:  Describe your short stay in India? How do you view the potential vision of India’s redevelopment?

KA:  I would describe my short work visit to India as intense, interesting and very productive. My stay at O.P. Jindal Global University was an enriching research and teaching experience that has provided me with multiple opportunities to interact, exchange new ideas and plan future mutual projects with various faculty, students and researchers from various Asian countries. My impression of the University and the country in general is excellent, as I was really impressed with the ambition and vibrancy of the community, the very high academic and professional goals set for the future, and most importantly the human capital potential of India. Excellent and smart people with a vision for the XXI century that are on a path of accelerated development. Thus, I firmly believe that the future for the country’s development is definitely bright and very promising.

SF:  Bulgaria has undergone a significant transformation over the past three decades. A number of top political decision-makers have strived to transform Bulgaria with some radical economic decisions. What is your opinion  of them?

KA:  Bulgaria’s success lies with the fact that regardless that it is seen as a “successful laggard” in terms of socio-economic development within the EU and generally Western standards, it became a member of NATO and the EU – critical pillars of modern stability of Europe. Bulgaria’s triple peaceful transition– i.e. the transition to democracy, market economy and Europeanization was not a “smooth ride” at all, and some of the inherited problems of the past persist, such as the lower living standards compared to the rest of the EU-member countries, endemic corruption, relative institutional weakness and rather weak civic society. Despite that, I do have enormous respect for the political reformers that have put the country on the road to transformation and common Euro-Atlantic future. These include the former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, as the radical visionary reformer who steered the general political course of post-communist Bulgaria “back to Europe” in the turbulent years of 1996-1997 and the subsequent stabilization during his tenure from 1997 to 2001. We should also credit the subsequent top leadership, namely the former Prime Minister and ex-monarch of the country – Simeon II Saxe Coburg Gotha for his course towards solidifying Bulgaria’s strategic geopolitical orientation, as during his tenure as a Prime Minister. Bulgaria became a member of NATO in 2004 and ratified the Treaty of EU Accession of Bulgaria, that became full member of the Union in 2007.   

SF: What can be done to achieve greater cooperation and understanding between Bulgarians and South Asians?

KA: We definitely need to have more educational, information and cultural exchanges in order to foster greater understanding of our respective cultures and environments. The other avenue is to seek promotion of business opportunities. As mutual interests converge, people tend to cooperate more easily. But first and foremost, we need to know each other better and to promote information among our respective compatriots in academic, professional and business circles.

SF:  What’s your point of view on cooperation between Bulgaria and South Asian nations such as India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Nepal?

KA:  It is an avenue that absolutely needs to be explored further. I see a large untapped potential in terms of education, tourism, business and technology transfer. Investment and know-how exchange also are on the top of my list. There is a lot to be done and developed, explored and exploited further, as the benefits are mutual and could have long-term positive and lasting effects.

SF:  What do you expect for the future in historical, social and cultural bonding between Bulgaria and South Asia?

KA: Closer cooperation between various institutions, and I am not talking only on governmental or official level. Academia, cultural societies, business and investment clubs, as well as personal professional and even friendly contacts could serve, as drivers for improved bonding and forging new bonds. I firmly believe that individuals and their potential, regardless of nationality, race and religion, when working together in exchange of ideas and knowledge, are the real “engines” of social improvement and advance. It is up to individual people with their vision, energy and inspiration for the future that shape that very same common future.   


SF:  Apart from Diplomacy, what is the potential for Bulgaria to enhance tourism with destinations such as Maldives and Sri Lanka?

KA:  As the economic standard of living of Bulgarians rise, the opportunities for tourism rise accordingly. Bulgarians en mass prefer more traditional, from our point of view, tourist destinations. However, in recent years that trend slowly is on reverse. Thus, Sri Lanka and the Maldives currently are distant destinations that gain attention of even more Bulgarians as advertisements of their tourist offers showing the beauty and treasures of these are visible and commonplace. Certainly, it would be helpful if constant and concentrated advertisement campaigns are sustained and augmented by social and cultural events to share more information about the natural beauty and historic treasures of both countries more frequently.

SF:  How can Bulgaria help post conflict nations on the pathway to stability in terms of transition from reconciliation and coexistence in a democratic system?

KA:  Due to its rich and complex experience with transitions, Bulgaria has a lot to offer in terms of knowledge and expertise when it comes to reforms and avoiding obstacles on the road to liberal democracy, democratic consolidation, institution building and coexistence of different ethnic and religious groups in a peaceful and constructive manner with an outlook for a better future. We pride ourselves about our unique experience of peaceful transition to democracy and a working so-called “ethnic model” that allows for political and economic participation of various ethnic and religious groups in the political and social life of the country. We can help by sharing our knowledge, expertise and by providing support for democratic stability, rule of law and human rights safeguard. Our rich historical experience of centuries-long coexistence and tolerance between ethnicities and religions perhaps could be applied in other social and political contexts. It is very symbolic that in the very center of our capital Sofia, one will find an Orthodox church, a Mosque, a Synagogue and a Catholic church within walking distance of less than a mile and they are all situated next to our Council of Ministers and Presidency buildings. The academic and the professional in me tempts me to say that we should probably have more academic and political consulting exchanges and visits, as these provide for a first hand practical experience and valuable interactions and exchange of best practices.     

SF: What are your thoughts about the European Union (EU) and relations with South Asian nations?

KA: The European Union is striving to promote peace, democracy and prosperity globally, as being the largest “humanitarian superpower” and the largest donor of development finance. Thus, there are a number of spheres where the European Union and the respective South Asian countries have and need to strengthen their cooperation that range from promoting and projecting security and stability to fostering trade, supporting development and providing humanitarian support and aid. We definitely should work and support the process of reinforcing bilateral relations between the EU and the respective Asian countries.   

SF: Professor is there anything you’d like to say which you think is important?

KA:  In conclusion, I would like to add that after my visit to India, I became even more convinced that cooperation, mutual understanding, patience and cross-cultural exchange of knowledge and ideas are the future way forward in our globalized world, as we are destined in the XXI century to live in such one. And if we are destined to live in a world shaped by globalization, then surely we need to advance towards constant improvement of global human condition with unwavering persistence. Thus I always remind myself daily one of the most famous and inspiring Martin Luther King’s thoughts dedicated on persistency, fortitude and advance, namely “"if you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Nov/Dec 2017 Edition

 
 
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