Bulgarian National Minority in Serbia, Bilateral Relations, EU Integration Top Serbian President Vucic'sAgenda in Sofia

Sofia, February 23 (BTA) - The Bulgarian national minority in Serbia was discussed during a meeting of Bulgarian President Rumen Radev and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic here on Friday. Vucic paid an official visit to Bulgaria at Radev's invitation.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his guest after the meeting, Radev said that Bulgaria appreciates recent amendments to Serbian legislation concerning national minorities and the overall activity at central government level, adding that more efforts are needed so that the progress achieved at the legislative level can reach the local level and produce tangible results there.

"We discussed the problems in the regions where the Bulgarian minority lives, including the lack of investments, low employment, poor access to health and social services, and education and mother-tongue media outlets," the host said.

He thanked Vucic for his commitment to address the problem with the lack of Bulgarian-language media outlets.

The Bulgarian head of State said that the sides have an ambition to renew an expired agreement on cooperation in education and science. "Most importantly, we are determined that we will deal with all matters concerning our national minority in the only right way: together, in cooperation between the two countries and the two governments," said Radev, adding that progress in this field will be among the criteria taken into consideration regarding Serbia's EU accession prospects.

Vucic said that the problems of Bulgarians in Serbia, especially in the municipalities of Dimitrovgrad and Bosilegrad, were discussed in great detail with Radev and they shared specific ideas for addressing these problems.

The guest said that 1,031 pupils study Bulgarian language at school and this number will hopefully rise.

"We are ready to be totally frank with you and speak openly about all the things that will enable the Bulgarian national minority to feel better and all opportunities to help them," he said. He added that his country is ready to spend more money on mother-tongue media outlets for the national minorities.

Vucic said that he supports Radev's idea to leave behind all that has happened in the past and look to the future "because we are brotherly peoples".

Radev said that when he pays an official visit to Serbia at Vucic's invitation, they would tour the areas where the Bulgarian minority lives to see what practical steps are being taken to improve their well-being.

Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue

Replying to a reporter's question, Radev said that Bulgaria assesses the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina in most positive terms. He added that peaceful solutions need to be found to all problems.

Vucic said that to them this is the biggest hurdle on the road to EU membership. "The dialogue with Pristina will take long, Serbia will seek compromise and will do its best to make sure both sides are satisfied after reaching a common solution - if that is possible," the Serbian President said. "If it is not possible, it won't be the end of the world but both sides, the Albanians and ourselves, will lose quite a lot. That is why I believe in compromise and hope we will reach one," said he.

He went on to say that "if somebody expects that the solution in the Balkans is for Serbia to lose everything and leave the gains to the others to make them happy while Serbia remains dissatisfied and humiliated, we don't think such a solution is possible".

He described Bulgaria as "a true friend" of his country.

Vucic further pointed to major progress in economic relations between Bulgaria and Serbia and stressed the need to ensure infrastructure connectivity. He mentioned the importance of completing the motorway to the Gradina Checkpoint on the border with Bulgaria and spoke of Serbia's determination to upgrade the Nis-Dimitrovgrad rail link at the cost of 270 million euro. "The Bulgaria-Serbia gas interconnector now goes under construction, as does the gas pipeline between Dimitrovgrad and Nis," he added.

The Serbian head of State said that his country wants to have as many Bulgarian business people as possible and that all Bulgarian investment in Serbia after 2010 have been "extremely successful".

Commenting on Serbia's EU prospects, the Bulgarian President said that 2025 is a feasible goal. "It calls for full mobilization for bold political, economic and social reforms. Bulgaria backs Serbia's efforts, appreciates all reforms it has undertaken and especially its readiness for, and openness to, dialogue with all countries in the region," he said, adding that goodneighbourliness is an important criterion for the EU accession prospects of all countries in the region.

The potential for the promotion of bilateral cooperation in the economy, tourism and infrastructure was also on the agenda of a meeting between Vucic and Bulgarian Parliament National Assembly Chair Tsveta Karayancheva.

Karayancheva said that tourism is a national priority for Bulgaria, and Vucic said that it is more than a source of revenue, as it offers people in the two countries an opportunity to get to know each other better. He also said that ever more Bulgarians are visiting Serbia and they are about to become the third most numerous foreign tourists in his country.

The National Assembly Chair said that the European perspective of the Western Balkans is among the key priorities of the Bulgarian EU Council Presidency, and that Bulgaria will do its best to make sure this issue stays on the EU agenda after that.

Source: Sofia