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site.btaAmid Frequent Power Outages, Odesa Hosts Opening Event of 19th World Meeting of Bulgarian Media

Amid Frequent Power Outages, Odesa Hosts Opening Event of 19th World Meeting of Bulgarian Media
Amid Frequent Power Outages, Odesa Hosts Opening Event of 19th World Meeting of Bulgarian Media
The opening event of the 19th World Meeting of Bulgarian Media, Odesa, Ukraine, June 19, 2024 (BTA Photo/Milena Stoykova)

BTA's National Press Club in Odesa, Ukraine, hosted the opening event of the three-day 19th World Meeting of Bulgarian Media on Wednesday. It is an annual get-together of Bulgarian-language media outlets from all parts of the world, held since 2005 by the Bulgarian News Agency (BTA).

Repeated power outages during the opening session necessitated the use of a generator.

This year’s meeting is mottoed „Media and Community" and the opening was held in a hybrid format - on-site and via video conference. The forum will be on until June 21, with discussions taking place in Odesa, Bolhrad and Izmail, which are home to large Bulgarian communities.

A total of 23 journalists from 18 Bulgarian-language media in 14 countries, including Bulgaria, are taking part this year - in person and online.  

On the first day of the forum, BTA correspondent in Ukraine, Svetlana Dragneva, received a traditional award for her contributions in promoting Bulgarian culture abroad by a Bulgarian language media outlet. The award is provided by the 13 Centuries of Bulgaria National Endowment Fund and recognizes Dragneva's significant contribution in this field. 

To commemorate past achievements, on which Bulgaria’s future is built, to use the words of BTA Director General Kiril Valchev, the delegation for the 19th Meeting paid tribute to the memorials of Sts Cyril and Methodius, poet and revolutionary Hristo Botev, enlightner Vasil Aprilov, literary classics Ivan Vazov and Aleko Konstantinov

In his opening remarks, BTA Director General Kiril Valchev listed three messages that the event is getting across. The first message is that this is a sign that Bulgarians worldwide continue to be a resilient community with empathy for each other at hard times like these that Bulgarians in Ukraine experience during a war. The second message that the place of journalists is where the stories occur, even under the deadly threat of a raging war. The third message is continuity. This implies making sustained efforts and building on what the previous organizers did, including the initiator of the meetings, BTA's late long-serving Director General Maxim Minchev.

"Holding the meeting against the backdrop of air raids in Odesa, Bolhrad, Izmail and the village of Kamchik (now called Zoria) is an expression of support by Bulgarian media worldwide, including in Bulgaria, for the 150,000 Bulgarians who, according to the official census, live in the Odesa Region (about 50,000-60,000 Bulgarians in Odesa itself) and thousands more Bulgarians in other regions of Ukraine," Valchev said.

He said the meeting is “a sign of compassion not just for the Bulgarians in Ukraine but for every person who is experiencing the war here because we belong not only to the community of our Bulgarian people but also to the human race”. “And the air raid sirens that sounded shortly after we arrived in Odesa last night should not be a cause for fear for journalists but for professional reporting of the terrible news of the war," the BTA Director General noted, introducing the second message of the event.

"Specifically here in Odesa, in an effort to provide more information about the Bulgarians and opportunities for Bulgaria to communicate with them, especially during the days of war, BTA opened a national press club in the city centre in the spring of 2023." 

"Braving the air raids, Bulgaria's national news agency organized a number of events for Bessarabian Bulgarians: celebrations of the national day on March 3 and Bessarabian Bulgarians Day on October 29, presentations of books about the war in Ukraine by Bulgarian writers Teodora Dimova and Yordan Eftimov, an exhibition in the Union House of Jewish Culture, arranged by the Sts Cyril and Methodius National Library to mark the 80th anniversary of the rescue of Bulgarian Jews, and meetings with Bulgarian communities in settlements in the Odesa Region," Valchev reported.

He sees the World Meetings of Bulgarian Media as setting "a good example for Bulgaria's political leaders - that starting all over again with every new leader is not a good idea. This is a valuable reminded for the new National Assembly in Sofia on its first day. A good example, because it is with perseverance that Bulgarian media worldwide continue to collect, preserve and disseminate the knowledge of Bulgarians' language and identity," he added.

He appreciated the support for organizing the 19th World Meeting of the Bulgarian Consulate General in Odesa and personally of Consul General Svetoslav Ivanov and the Bulgarian Embassy in Kyiv and Charge d'Affaires German Vanchev, of the central- and local-government authorities in Odesa Region, of the Bulgarian communities in the regions, and of the sponsors from the business community in Bulgaria. 

Here is a takeaway from the remarks of the participating officials and journalists:

Bulgarian Vice President Iliana Iotova joined online the opening of the 19th Meeting, telling the participants that “wherever Bulgarians are in the world, they are connected by the very strong thread of identity and language”. “Together we have the responsibility to preserve and spread the Bulgarian language and cultural heritage”, Iotova said.

She praises the organizers and personally BTA Director General Kiril Valchev for the bold idea to bring together Bulgarian journalists from all over the world in Ukraine, “in the epicenter of the ugly, brutal and unacceptable war”.

Attending in person, the Consul General of Bulgaria in Odesa, Svetoslav Ivanov, said that the World Meeting is a good example of media diplomacy and an act of support from Bulgaria to Ukraine. “As I stand before you, I recall the first day of the war, when the first bombs dropped and explosions echoed early in the morning, and the evacuation started.  Bulgarian news media played a very important and decisive role in those days, because we managed to organize and evacuate over 500 Bulgarian citizens," he added.

He pointed out that Bulgaria is the only EU member state that has a bureau here and covers the war and the lives of Bulgarians in Bessarabia.

Odesa Deputy Mayor Pavel Vugelman said that bombing Odesa is equivalent to bombing a Bulgarian city, because a large Bulgarian community lives here. “The Bulgarian community in Odesa plays an important role in city’s activities”, said Vugelman. 

The Director of the Executive Agency for Bulgarians Abroad (EABA), Raina Mandzhukova, said in her remarks that "everything starts and ends with information". The Bulgarian government needs information to be able to implement and develop its policies, and the government needs to know what Bulgarians worldwide need, she added. “The very fact of coming to Odesa is an expression of empathy. Empathy is what all Bulgarians in Ukraine need," she said. Mandzhukova also said that Bulgaria is indebted to Bulgarian media abroad. “We will continue to work for the recognition of Bulgarian media abroad as part of Bulgarian journalism and to make sure that they are supported by the Bulgarian government. This is not a promise but a firm intention."

The Director General of the Ukrainian National News Agency Ukrinform, Serhiy Cherevaty, expressed gratitude for the solidarity of Bulgarian media people. He highlighted the significant Bulgarian community in Ukraine, emphasizing their crucial role in resisting the aggression that Ukraine faces. He also underscored the Ukrainian aspiration to join the EU and NATO and added that Russia has perpetuated the myth that NATO serves as an anti-Orthodox and anti-Slavic alliance. However, Bulgaria, a steadfast and complete member of both NATO and the European Union, effectively demonstrates the fallacy of this claim. Cherevaty emphasized the importance of truthful journalism and urged the visiting Bulgarian reporters to engage with the local population in Odesa and convey their stories accurately back to Bulgaria. He expressed gratitude for the support that Bulgaria and the Bulgarian government are providing to Ukraine.

Maria Popova, representative of the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman) in Odesa Region, said that Bulgarians do not reside only in Bulgaria. She wished the participants fruitful discussions and expressed hope that they would be safe.

According to BGlobal Media Ltd. Managing Director Maxim Meyer, the Bulgarian media dramatically under-report the success stories of Bulgarians worldwide. In his words, part of the media in Bulgaria avoid these topics as they have set themselves other priorities. They have determined that this content is insufficiently salable, he pointed out as he joined online the day’s only planel, "Bulgarians Around the World in the Media". He sees a niche for a broader presence of expat Bulgarians in the home country's media. He argued that setting up a content aggregator for Bulgarian media worldwide would be useful. He would work for this idea but believes that BTA is far more appropriate to implement it. 

bTV reporter Desislava Rizova said she would not agree that Bulgarians abroad are not present enough in the media. "When there is a story and when there is a real need, Bulgaria pays attention," she said. People in Ukraine, she said, have learned to live with war. Life goes on and these people are real heroes in that they learned to live in these conditions, she noted. The Bulgarian media has a sensitivity for what people in Ukraine are going through, Rizova said. 

The Chair of the Council for Electronic Media (CEM), Gabriela Naplatanova, who was present in person, emphasized the critical role of journalists in fostering open communication and bridging divides between people with opposing views, especially in an era dominated by social media. She noted that CEM has escalated its scrutiny of how Bulgarian media reports on Russia's conflict in Ukraine. 

Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) journalist Asya Pencheva said that BNR has supported Ukraine “from the very first minute”. She noted that expatriate Bulgarians revisit their homeland through BNR broadcasts. The national radio has several initiatives and series presenting the stories of Bulgarians worldwide. "We will continue to speak with Bulgarians and about Bulgarians, not to them, because the radio connects people, it does not preach."

Anna Terzivets, head of editorial office for national minorities and host of the Bulgarian-language program The Voice of Bulgarians in Odesa, spoke in favour of creating a platform to integrate news about Bulgarians around the world. She told the other participants about The Voice of Bulgarians and what its focus is.

Joining by video conference, the head of Bulgarian Hub Eindhoven in the Netherlands, Ivan Uzunov, said that what his media organization does is “try to give visibility to everything Bulgarian that is happening in the region”. In his words, since 2015, the Bulgarian diaspora has increased by more than 2,000 Bulgarians in Eindhoven only, and according to the latest data, by more than 53,000 in the Netherlands.

Svetlozar Momchilov, editor-in-chief of US-based newspaper Bulgaria Sega, said that if there was precise statistics about the Bulgarians living in Chicago, "Chicago would be the largest Bulgarian city, not the fourth largest”. He told the participants of the stories his organization has gathered about successful Bulgarians in Chicago over the past 23 years. "All we know is just the tip of the iceberg,” he added.  

Evgeni Veselinov, editor-in-chief of BulgariCA in California, emphasized the importance of journalists fulfilling their responsibilities by providing comprehensive coverage of the lives of Bulgarians abroad. Being the founder of the first Bulgarian media and school in the US, he complained of difficulties in establishing a connection with Bulgarian-based media. He highlighted the problem of Bulgarian media abroad showing disinterest in events related to the Bulgarian community and ordinary people, focusing instead on successful individuals, celebrities, or disasters. He also emphasized the importance of covering the war in Ukraine.

The event is taking place with the support of Aurubis Bulgaria, A1 Bulgaria, Glavbolgarstroy Holding AD, Euroins Insurance Group, Postbank, SOF Connect, and the 13 Centuries of Bulgaria National Endowment Fund. 

/NF/

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