Home / News / News and Events / Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” Hosts Students’ Discussion on the Topic: “Bulgaria and Germany – Partners in Europe”

Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” Hosts Students’ Discussion on the Topic: “Bulgaria and Germany – Partners in Europe”

A students’ discussion on the topic “Bulgaria and Germany – Partners in Europe” was held with the Presidents of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Bulgaria, Joachim Gauck and Rosen Plevneliev, at the Aula magna of Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridskki”. The event was organized as part of the state visit of the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Joachim Gauck, to this country.

Professor Dr Habil Anastas Gerdzhikov, Rector of Sofia University, noted that it was an honor for him to open such a highly esteemed discussion with the participation of the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Joachim Gauck, in the Aula magna of the University. In his words, the visit of the Federal President came as an expression of the traditionally friendly relations between Bulgaria and Germany that dated back far beyond their common European road.

Professor Gerdzhikov went on to say that that reflected particularly clearly on the relations between the two countries in the spheres of high education, science and scientific research, and added that he hoped that Sofia University had also contributed to the strengthening of the relations with its bilateral agreements with German high academic institutions. The Rector pointed out the important role of the traditional DAAD lectureship, the Erasmus, Erasmus +, Erasmus Mundus European programs, and also the numerous distinguished German and German-speaking representatives of academia, scholars and public figures, holders of a Doctor honoris causa degrees of the most highly prestigious Bulgarian high academic institution.


“Esteemed Herr President, today I welcome you not only in your capacity as a President of a country with a strong economy and a venerable cultural tradition with which we are closely related with ties of long-term friendship. Today I welcome you as a personality who has contributed so much to the formation of Europe,” Professor Gerdzhikov said. He spoke of Joachim Gauck’s role in the civil rights movements that brought to the unification of Germany, his activities as a preacher both of the Word of God and of the rights and freedom of the people, and the values of civil society.

According to the Rector, the German President proved that it was impossible to establish the democratic process without looking at the past and deliberately avoiding the analysis of the horrible legacy of the latter. Professor Gerdzhikov turned to the topic of the discussion and said that it was highly relevant since the main participants in it are heads of two EU member-states. He was glad that the young people present in the Aula would have the opportunity to discuss the issue with two active adherents of the European idea.

As the Rector of Sofia University pointed out, in order to maintain the initial impetus of the accession of Bulgaria to the European Union, the issue of the profitability of common trade to the member-states should not be our only and top concern, neither should the joining of the Schengen area be our ultimate goal. We should grow rationally conscious of the fact that the European idea does not come as a result of the common market but rather as an offspring of our common history and the shared values we held.

“We need a new vision for the future that will imbue the young people with optimism for the future of Europe. We must show them that European integration brings with it not only welfare but also the supremacy of the law, an independent judiciary system, the determination to fight corruption and guaranteeing freedom,” Professor Gerdzhikov said and expressed his hope that today we were making a step forward on the road to the ideal. Finally, he wished the most interesting and inspiring discussion to all present.

Professor Alexander Kyosev, Director of the Cultural Center at Sofia University and moderator of the discussion, introduced the President of the Federal Republic of Germany. Joachim Gauck was born in 1940. He holds a degree in theology. During 1965-1990 he served as a pastor in the GDR. He took part in the dissident movement and was its spokesman. In the years preceding 1989 he led public prayers for peace and participated actively in the civil rights movement that ultimately brought to the democratic changes in Germany. During 1991- 2000 the Federal Government appointed him Federal Commissioner for the Stasi records in East Germany. In 2001 Joachim Gauck was elected chairman of the Union against the Oblivion of Democracy. On 18 March, 2012 Joachim Gauck was elected 11th President of the Federal Republic of Germany by the Bundestag. He has been decorated with many state distinctions and awards for his services.


President Joachim Gauck thanked the Rector of Sofia University for the detailed introduction to the topic of the discussion and the cordial reception. He started with the fact that the links between the Europeans and, more specifically, between the Bulgarian and the German peoples are various and illustrate the depth of our common history roots. According to him, the Bulgarian Revival, whose spiritual foundations Sofia University was laid on, bears the legacy of a number of notable personalities who graduated from German universities. He outlined the activities of Petur Beron, an enlightener, who played an outstanding role in the development of modern Bulgaria. Joachim Gauck stressed that even today the academic exchange stimulated the process of mutual understanding between Bulgarians and Germans.

The German President remarked that there was something special of holding a discussion about Europe on that day. At that moment the citizens of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland cast their votes as to whether Britain should stay within the European Union. Joachim Gauck underlined the fact that that was their sovereign decision; however, it was an act that concerned all Europeans. He went on to say that Great Britain was a symbol of a long-standing democratic tradition and liberal principles, a bastion of transatlantic cooperation, and its voice in the EU had been heeded for more than 40 years; its exit from the Union would be a loss for the whole of Europe.


According to Joachim Gauck the best thing about the so-called “Brexit” was the debate itself since it unplugged a discontent in the EU that had been more often than not kept suppressed. The debate provoked speculations on Europe and gave impulses for reforms, Gauck noted, and stressed that no matter what the result of today’s vote would be, we should not merely go on to the next item on the agenda; we should learn our lesson from the crisis and be open for discussion as to how we wanted to live together in Europe, on the basis of our shared values.

Gauck appealed for genuine discussion with those who did not share our Weltanschauung and whose arguments seemed unsubstantiated to us. In his opinion, we should heed each other rather than live in a sheltered environment, upholding stubbornly a received position. “Such a debate is important because in times of turmoil it can contribute to the consolidation of the process of self-appraisal”, the German President said and added that the military conflicts in Syria and Iraq, the conflict in Ukraine show time and again how fragile the peace cause was.

President Gauck touched also on the refugee crisis that came to show that Europe was not an island and that what happened in other parts of the globe affected us directly; it destabilized our security system, the welfare state, the political and social achievements we had gained. In his words, the refugee crisis illustrated how difficult it was to unite on the basis of a compromise of national interests, European solidarity and global responsibility. Isolation and exclusion could not be solutions at a time when the world was in a stage of continual convergence.


The European Union itself was facing serious challenges, Joachim Gauck remarked and added that after the financial and economic crisis the level of unemployment in some member-states was still very high. Many young people did not see their future career in their own countries. In this respect the EU should deliver on its promises of a welfare state, and added that in such a situation the problems of Europe should not be our sole concern; rather, we must be clear as to what we can expect from Europe and state openly what we can deny ourselves. “In its historical evolution the European project has always served as a source of inspiration. After the horrible bloodshed of World War II its strategists were imbued with the desire to set peace, democracy and welfare in Western Europe“, Joachim Gauck said.

He focused on the fact that after 1989 for the citizens of Central and Eastern Europe, who had lived behind the Iron Curtain, it was a life dream to have their countries part of a United Europe. Joachim Gauck added that to be a European, apart from everything else, meant also to be free to pursue your education anywhere in the Union. He was happy that there were German students in Bulgaria, and there were also many young Bulgarians who wanted to pursue their academic studies in Germany.

President Gauck said that when looking at Eastern and Central Europe he was left with the impression that many people had expected that the EU would quickly solve the most serious problems of their own countries. Now they can see for themselves that in Europe itself there are problems awaiting their solutions and that one should commit oneself to the cause of Europe, fight for Europe and make compromises for Europe.” We must be always on the alert to safeguard our rights and privileges, if we want to enjoy them,” Joachim Gauck observed.

For him, in Bulgaria it is still possible to feel the enthusiasm of the accession of the country to the EU in 2007: most of the Bulgarians trust the EU institutions and are aware of the fact how vitally important the support of their European partners was when they had to speed up the reforms in the country. At the same time, it is a positive sign that in Bulgaria the establishment of civil society has ceaselessly been taking place, Joachim Gauck noted and went on to say that it was more often than not the citizens themselves who should participate in supporting the processes of reform, if necessary by pushing them both within the sovereign state and the European Union.


The German President said that when he was young he dreamed of a free Europe without frontiers. Many years later, during the Peaceful Revolution in 1989 he dreamed to become part of a Europe of freedom and justice. Joachim Gauck mentioned how happy he was because he had seen his dreams come true.

In his words, the concepts of Europe of separate states and generations were different but he voiced his hope that he would come to know what the young Bulgarians had to say on that issue during the discussion, and what they rely on personally and nationally when they think of Europe and the EU. He urged the audience to do their best and take the point of view of the other and to continue defending what was of value to them in the future: democracy, freedom and the rights of man. Joachim Gauck affirmed his conviction that the young generation of Bulgaria can contribute significantly to the overall process.

During the meeting in which students, studying German from all types of schools and high academic institutions and from all parts of the country, had the opportunity to put their questions to Joachim Gauck and Rosen Plevneliev. The young people posed the question of the relationships between the national state and the European institutions and the extent to which the independence of the individual state should be given up.

Joachim Gauck recalled the experience of creating a common European constitution, a text that was never ratified by all member-states. The Federal President pointed out that, at that time there was the fear that the establishment of a common European central state would deprive the national states of their identity, independence and sovereignty.This was related to fiscal, defense and internal security policies, i.e. all those policies that national parliaments were in charge of. In his opinion, it was such issues that created problems for a common national policy. He remarked that the national governments had adopted the position that the citizens had at that moment and the message the latter conveyed to their national governments was “Don’t push the idea of a European state too far.” The President remarked that he was a stalwart supporter of the processes of United Europe and he would not like to see the destruction of what had already been built. “The idea of national identity should be united with a new kind of inspiration linked with the European idea,” the President said. According to him, the European Union would not fall apart since the benefits it offers to its citizens far outweigh the drawbacks.


During the discussion President Rosen Plevneliev appealed to the national governments to refrain from laying the blame for the failures solely on Brussels and attributing success only to the EU. The head of state was categorical that the process of European integration would not put the sovereignty of the member-states at stake. “The strength of the European Union is based on the national states. Not a single institution had abrogated the latter of any of their rights, neither had any intention to do it. The last word in the EU is left for the state leaders themselves,“ President Plevneliev pointed out. Thus, there was no contradiction between a strong European Union and strong European countries. Brussels should not be presented as a symbol of bureaucracy, the Bulgarian head of state said. “To make the successes of Europe visible, the politicians of the national states should be honest enough to stand up and admit the fact when the European Union helped them to achieve progress and cope with the crises of today,” Rosen Plevneliev added.

In answer to the question whether dual education was viable to be introduced in Bulgaria with German aid, President Joachim Gauck elaborated on the issue of the essence of professional dual education, which is different from university education, i.e. it lacks the academic standards of the latter. That is a 3-year course of professional education whereby the student is expected to attend classes both at school and at the work place acquiring practical skills. In the words of the German President the professions taught at professional schools were very well accepted and highly popular because they could serve as a promising starting point and provide the students with good qualifications for Germany. He pointed out that that was a very useful way of combating unemployment amongst the young in the individual countries. “We are also interested in having our experience shared and adopted by various countries. For example, this forms one of the activities of the chambers of commerce in Bulgaria, Romania and South America where our experience has been successfully implemented,” Joachim Gauck added.

When asked about the opening of German borders to the refugees, President Joachim Gauck stated that both the Austrian and the German governments had been caught unaware by the influx and a policy based on values of firmness and closure could not be of help in such a situation; rather it should be based on solidarity instead. According to the German head of state the politicians did not expect such a huge wave of immigrants and were shocked by its dimensions. “The wave will persevere in the future because of the sad plight in the individual countries of origin,“ President Gauck said and added that the bigger half of German society showed solidarity with the migrants’ misfortunes.

During the discussion with the young audience President Gauck reaffirmed his conviction that the disintegration of Europe was by no means imminent and that those who supported the latter were in a minority. He pointed out that the majority that viewed Europe positively should make their messages clearer so that the latter would boost the national self-confidence within the European context of their respective nationalities.

The Bulgarian head of state pointed out that the new European integration projects would make the European Union member-states stronger without abrogating their sovereignty or national identity. “No one will be a loser from the establishment of the European energy union. The member-states, and Bulgaria in particular, will become ever more competitive, fight successfully the monopolies in the energy sector and attract more investments. There will not be a single country that will lose from the setting up of a digital market“, the President made it clear by referring to the freedom of movement and the mobility of education as the main achievements of the European Union. Due to the full-fledged partnership within the framework of the EU and the modernization of the country many young people return from abroad to find their realization in Bulgaria, President Rosen Plevneliev mentioned.

President Plevneliev expressed his hope that an ever more growing number of Bulgarian universities would enjoy partnerships with German universities. “Today you are free when you have to choose where you have to pursue your university education. Let us cherish our freedom and let us use it in such a way that the freedom of the Bulgarians would make our country stronger”, President Plevneliev said. In his words we shall be stronger if we integrate, not if we isolate ourselves. “That’s for you to achieve; we’ll be there to help you. I am sure that wherever you are in this world you will remain genuine patriots and real big Bulgarians. Bulgaria is certainly on the right track,” the President concluded. He wished to the students to be free, to travel, to come to know the world and decide for themselves what kind of Bulgaria they would like to see, whereas the Bulgarian politicians should create the prerequisites for the realization of the process.