We continue the series of interviews with heads of our representative offices around the world. This time, let’s move from faraway Argentina to Bulgaria which is geographically and historically quite close to Russia. Head of the Russian Cultural and Information Center in Sofia, Olga Shirokova, explores the current agenda of the Russian-Bulgarian cooperation on the youth track, including the implementation of the "New Generation" program.
This year, in 2020, the Russian Cultural and Information Center (RCIC) in Sofia celebrates its 45th anniversary. Yet, its history began much earlier. It was in 1957 when Bulgaria saw the opening of the National Committee of Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship and, in 1958, the Society of Soviet-Bulgarian Friendship was founded in Moscow.
Since then, the countries actively developed humanitarian and cultural ties and consequently decided to establish the so-called “House of Soviet Science and Culture” which opened on May 30, 1975 in Sofia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the House was renamed into the Russian Cultural and Information Center but remained a place of attraction for Russians living in Bulgaria and Bulgarians interested in Russia.
We are actively working with the younger generation. Starting 2019, we’ve been holding monthly educational programs for children where they can get acquainted with contemporary Russian animation, learn about Russian traditions and customs, Russian folk costumes and handicrafts, take part in quizzes dedicated to Russian fairy tales, or take the first steps in learning Russian. Over 3,000 children from Sofia and other Bulgarian cities attended these events.
Another popular project among the youth is the “Days of Space and Aviation” that we organize together with our Bulgarian partners - the Aviation and Space Forum and the technical “University for Children”. These events attract up to a thousand visitors to our Center.
We also have a cinema, which weekly screens Russian documentary and feature films, including Soviet classics and contemporary movies.
Do young Bulgarians learn Russian?
There is a strong interest in learning Russian among the local youth and this interest is only growing. Every semester, 400 people take part in our regular Russian courses and around a half of them are children from 5 to 16 years old. During the quarantine period, Russian language courses continued online. Plus, since 2019, we offer a new format of courses for bilingual children and Russian language summer camps.
In addition, twice a year, we hold a Russian language certification testing (together with the Pushkin State Russian Language Institute) and offer professional courses for Bulgarian Russian language teachers, in cooperation with Russian educational organizations.
Are Bulgarians interested in studying in Russia?
Unfortunately, over the past 20 years, young Bulgarians have been leaving the country to study and find jobs in other EU countries. Plus, the American Embassy has been very active in the country investing a lot in youth projects. At the same time, we are glad to see local schools opening Russian-language classes, in parallel to European ones. We’ve been helping them with educational and methodological literature. It’s a great sign for us which means that trends are beginning to change.
One of the functions of our representative office is to provide guidance and support to foreign candidates who’d like to study or get an internship in Russia. In 2019 and 2020, the Russian authorities offered 225 budget places for Bulgarians to study in our universities. Over the last several years, this number has been steadily growing, from only 50 in 2013 to 220 in 2018.
Who can join the Center and become a member of the "New Generation"?
Any young person can come or write to us and propose their ideas and initiatives. Our Expert Council will examine the suggestion and, if approved, the project will be implemented. Our Center works with a large number of both Bulgarian and Russian partners, so participating in our events gives young professionals an opportunity to expand their contacts and gives them an advantage in the “New Generation” selection process.
The program invites young Bulgarians, 25-35 years old, who have an active social, scientific or business position and a positive attitude towards Russia. In 2019, 23 Bulgarians took part in the program, including representatives of public organizations, journalists, young politicians, engineers and medical volunteers. I can say that all participants of the “New Generation” program actively support our projects and events.