H.E. Dantcho Dobrinov Mitchev

“Returning to Prague after 10 years”

H.E. Mr. Dantcho Dobrinov Mitchev, Ambassador of Bulgaria

Text: Martina Hošková, M.Zisso; Photo: Archive

The current Ambassador of Bulgaria, H.E. Mr. Dantcho Dobrinov Mitchev, is no newcomer to Czechia.

This is already his third assignment in the Czech Republic, and his children grew up here, studied here, and now have their own “Czech” professional careers. No wonder he feels that his arrival was “more like a return from a long vacation”. Neither does it come as a surprise for the Czechs that he describes the bilateral relationship between our countries with one single word – excellent.

How did you become a diplomat?

I was born in 1960 in Sofia, where I attended a French-language high school and then studied history at the Sofia University of St. Clement of Ohrid. Until the democratic changes of 1989, I had been very enthusiastic about historical research, but the division of Czechoslovakia opened up an unexpected opportunity for me, and in early 1993 I found myself as a cultural attaché at the newly opened Bulgarian embassy in Bratislava. From that moment on, my professional life was divided between working at the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria and working in a number of representative offices abroad.

Which countries did you serve in before your current assignment to Prague?

I have to say right away that my current position at the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria in Prague is already my third official stay in the Czech Republic, and therefore my arrival on 20th February 2023 was more like a return from a long vacation for me and my wife. We were welcomed here by many old friends and colleagues, as well as our two children – a son and daughter – who grew up here, studied here, and have their own Czech careers. Just imagine how wonderful it was to be able to have our whole family together again, and not have to travel thousands of miles by airplane. Otherwise, my first impression after about a decade of absence in Prague was that everything is in its place, everything is running as it should, but life has not stopped – on the contrary, there is progress in all areas, and the Czech Republic has become an even better place for its citizens and guests to live in!

In addition to Slovakia, I have previously worked in France, twice at the Bulgarian Embassy in Prague, in the Republic of North Macedonia, and most recently in Georgia. I’m sure I’ve been lucky with people, but I have good friends and acquaintances in all these places, and, looking back, I can’t complain about my business contacts. By the way, I have always felt that if a diplomat does not know the language of the country in which he is working, his work is much more difficult, and is imperfect, to some extent. Of course, political life can be followed through translations of official announcements and information in the media, but tell me, how can a foreigner penetrate the Czech spirit if he does not understand what is being sung in a song played by a brass band in a country pub? Or when he can’t discuss anything with a guest at the U černého vola, and, when he comes back the next time, be known and welcomed with joy? In that sense, I feel somewhat privileged and in the right place.

What are your ambassadorial responsibilities and how do you feel in this role?

The position of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary is new to me, and I cannot say that it is easy to get used to. After all, an ambassador is the highest representative of his country in the receiving country, and every minute of his life and every action and utterance he makes is also, in a sense, official. But, in a friendly and allied environment, which is the situation in the Czech Republic, I believe my adaptation is already coming to an end. All the more so as over the years I have met and worked with many Bulgarian and foreign ambassadors, from whom I have mainly drawn good practice, but I think I have also learned from some mistakes that I try not to repeat.

In addition to his representative duties, the Ambassador’s duties include the trivial, but, in essence, rather difficult management, of a complex organism called the “Representative Office”. This includes human resource management – in our case also the administration and management of substantial real estate belonging to the Bulgarian State – and many other ‘managerial’ functions. All of this takes a lot of time and requires specific knowledge, but also a lot of tact and attention. Fortunately for me, the small number of staff at the Bulgarian Embassy in Prague are experienced, qualified, and have my complete confidence in our joint work.

What do you consider to be the most amazing moments of your career?

One of the incredible events of recent years for me was a several days-long visit to a deserted Caucasus valley (I won’t specify which one), on the border between Georgia and Russia, where only one extraordinary person lives – a Georgian hero from the wars with Russia in the Caucasus over the last 30 years. His great-grandfather died fighting for the liberation of Bulgaria in 1878. This place is unimaginably beautiful, and at the same time extremely dangerous to life… and I would like to go back there for a long time.

My most beautiful moments, apart from my family experiences, are connected more with the activities of the consul, which I have devoted many years to. Each case of successfully providing assistance has brought me both professional and personal satisfaction – whether it was the issuing of a simple administrative document, or the evacuation of Bulgarian citizens from natural disaster and conflict areas.

I have witnessed dozens, perhaps hundreds, of instances where my modest contribution has helped a Bulgarian or a foreign citizen during their time of distress. But the best I felt was when, in the then Republic of Macedonia, between 2011 and 2014, I handed out Bulgarian passports to local Bulgarians who finally dared to return to their roots. But that’s a big topic that I’d like to talk about more on another occasion.

There are situations in the lives of diplomats that bring along some weird experiences too. Do you recall some of those?

The strangest cases in my practice are also from the consular sphere, and one happened again in Georgia: a drug dealer came to the embassy and said that he was drunk, the drug shipment had left without him, and it would be better if he surrendered to the authorities because nothing good was waiting for him… No one believed him, but it turned out that he was telling the truth, and, as a result, the competent authorities of several countries unravelled a complex smuggling network.

Before 1989, Bulgaria was a great summer holiday destination for the Czech people. Is that still true today?

As you say, for over 60 years, Bulgaria has been a traditional holiday destination for Czech citizens, with the golden sandy beaches of the Black Sea always the preferred destination. There is hardly a Czech family that has not been to Bulgaria at least once in the last decades. After the opening of the borders in the 1990s, the decline in quantity occurred quite naturally, but gradually everything came together, and the loyal lovers of the Bulgarian sun, sea, and good food returned.

In recent years, Bulgaria’s winter resorts, with their many ski trails, have also become increasingly popular. I’m often surprised by the knowledge of the Bulgarian mountains among Czech tourists, many of whom have been to places I’ve only heard of. The promotion of the tourism sector is very important for attracting guests, and therefore the Ministry of Tourism devotes the necessary attention and resources to it. We use all the traditional and modern methods of public communication, but I admit we wish we had more. I can point to transport as the basic problem for increasing the number
of Czech tourists in Bulgaria.

The distance (1700-1800km from Prague to the Black Sea) is somewhat more than acceptable for individual car travel, and air transport relies mainly on charter flights.

What do you like to do in your free time?

As a high school and college student, I spent many years as an underwater archaeologist. Even though I’m no longer doing it as part of an exploratory expedition, I still like to delve into the world of silence whenever I get the chance. I hope my health will allow me to continue doing so. And on land, I like to practice the Czech national sport of mushroom hunting in the beautiful forests of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. Last season, however, did not seem to be very successful…

“Bilateral relations between the Czech Republic and the Republic of Bulgaria can be described in one word: excellent!”

How do you see Bulgaria within the European Union?

The Republic of Bulgaria has been a member of the EU for 17 years, and this is so natural and normal that it is difficult to explain to some of our young compatriots how the state functioned less than two decades ago. Today, we look to the EU as a stable field for equal partnership, guaranteed development, prosperity, and security of the Bulgarian state and nation.

It is for this reason that we are seeking to become part of the Euro area (it is planned that this will happen from 1st January, 2025), and to be finally recognised for the strict protection of the common European borders by fully joining the Schengen area. The so-called air and sea borders will be opened for Bulgaria and Romania in March this year, but we are insisting on a specific date for full accession to Schengen this year. The point is that more than 95% of our country’s trade flows across land borders, and the unfounded claims of a single member state of the Schengen Agreement are costing our economy billions and putting us at a disadvantage vis-à-vis our EU partners. We insist that all the binding technical criteria have long since been met, and that the imposition of new conditions and obstacles to our full membership violates the Union’s spirit of solidarity and mutual assistance.

What can you say about the current Czech-Bulgarian relationship?

Bilateral relations between the Czech Republic and the Republic of Bulgaria can be described in one word: excellent! Based on long-standing contacts and traditions, the two countries today maintain a super-standard relationship, where they are partners in all areas of public and economic life. Within the EU and the international organisations of which we are members, consultation on important issues and the reconciliation of views is a daily occurrence, and I do not recall any instance where our countries have disagreed or have had a difference of opinion. Economic cooperation and investments are of particular importance to Bulgaria, which is why we are constantly striving to create and improve conditions for our foreign partners. As a positive factor for Czech-Bulgarian relations, I cannot overlook the Bulgarian national minority in the Czech Republic, whose members include many prominent personalities in Czech culture, art, science, and business.

To conclude, please feel free to make a wish on the occasion of the National Holiday Bulgaria celebrates in March.

In the context of the upcoming celebration of the National Day of the Republic of Bulgaria on 3rd March, the Day of Liberation from Ottoman rule, I would like to recall the enormous merits of a number of great representatives of the Czech nation in the construction of the new Bulgaria. Experts in scientific and educational fields such as K. Jireček and the Škorpil brothers, industrialists like the Prošek brothers, and artists like J. Mrkvička invested a lot of resources, work, and enthusiasm in building a modern Bulgarian state over a hundred years ago. I wish for both nations to continue to have such visionaries, so that they can enjoy peace, creative atmosphere, and prosperity!