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Fulbright International Seminar “Strategies for Strengthening Democracy”

“Strategies for Strengthening Democracy: 30 Years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall” was the topic of the Fulbright International Seminar that took place in Sofia, Sept. 24-30. It was sponsored by the State Department (ECA) and organized by the Bulgarian-American Fulbright Commission, with the support of the US Embassy in Bulgaria.
We hosted a stellar group of lecturers and diplomats and outstanding, motivated seminar participants from the following countries: the US, Bulgaria, the UK, Ukraine, Romania, Germany, Portugal, Canada, the Netherlands and Greece. Academics, policy makers, political scientists and representatives of the civil society and the religious denominations discussed the issues of “captured/facade” democracy, judicial reform, informational security, social cohesion and empathy. Brainstorming, learning and exchanging ideas, the participants formed a comprehensive view of the current challenges and solutions, facing democratic development of the region 30 years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

The opening day placed the post-communist transition into historical perspective with Dr. Damian Valdez (Cambridge University) and Prof. Evgeniy Dainov (NBU). Their outline of the historical tensions, underlying the appearance and decline of communist ideology, was followed by a walking tour, highlighting the marks of socialism lingering in Sofia.

Day two was devoted to “togetherness” and the 2019 cultural capital of EU, Plovdiv, was a good destination to visit. Plovdiv Historical Museum became the site of two lectures devoted to the situation of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church during communism and to current Orthodox communities’ revival through charity activities and pilgrimage.

Day three took us through the labyrinth of captured and facade democracy with the highly informative  lectures of Dr. Victor Andrusiv (CEO of the Ukraine Institute of the Future) and Prof. Emilia Zankina (AUBG). Dr. Reynaldo Ortiz (CUNY) guided the participants through the challenges to democracy in Latin America. The panel session featured two leading Bulgarian political scientists: Prof. Stoycho Stoychev (SU) and Prof. Lyubov Mincheva (SU) and two influential judges Judge Dragos Calin (Romania) and Judge Evgeny Georgiev (Bulgaria) who discussed the balance between the demands of public opinion and the rule of law requirements. The dimensions of the “criminalized state” were presented by Prof. Mincheva. Dr. Andrusiv (UA) completed the day with a thought-provoking workshop on the “Future of Democracy”.

The concept of Truth and the problem of disinformation were the focus of the next day’s discussions. Two renowned Bulgarian philosophers, Prof. Plamen Makariev (SU) and Prof. Dimitar Vatsov (NBU) introduced the topics of “unmanipulated communication” and propaganda strategies. The panel of journalists and informational specialists: Prof. Maria Neikova (SU), Prof. Velizar Shalamanov (BAS) and Ruslan Trad (De Re Militari) outlined contours of the current media-scape, the challenges to decision making at times of info-wars and the challenges to reporting from current conflict zones. The day concluded with Maria Kostova (Fulbright Commission) and Prof. Plamen Makariev (SU) demonstrating public opinion manipulation through social media (Troll Farms) and curated media debates (the Istanbul Convention).

Social cohesion and justice were the focus of day five. Prof. Yantsislav Yanakiev presented a highly professional, security-based approach to national and social resilience, while US diplomat John Beyrle shared memories of his service as ambassador to Bulgaria and Russia, while emphasizing the importance of consistency on the path of democracy. Attorney at law Fred Rooney, civil society activist and lawyer Lyubomir Avdjiiski and CEO of “Arete” Youth Foundation Radost Chaprazova offered fascinating views on concrete steps for inclusion and empowerment. Lena Borislavova and Alexandrina Dimitrova, two successful civil society leaders, presented a work-shop on fund-raising for charities.

The final day was dedicated to Empathy and Moral Education. Prof. Julia Stefanova (SU) introduced the concept of Empathy as a catalyst for social change, followed by Prof. Vladimir Levchev (AUBG), who traced the path of Bulgarian intelligentsia during the transition. The panel of religious and civil society leaders: Mr. Maxim Delchev (Shalom), Svetla Baeva (FineActs) and Pastor Evgeny Naydenov (BG Evangelical Church), offered the much-needed avenue of hope with which to conclude intellectual explorations. Prof. Maya Tcholakova put the final touch with her practical exercise on social inclusion and community building. Our illustrious participants offered their solution plans and policies in a contest of creativity, informed decision-making and genuine care.

The graduation ceremony was a celebration not only of newly acquired knowledge, but also of newly formed friendships.

We would like to thank all lecturers and participants, all attendees and supporters for their commitment!

 

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