Journalist Momchil Indzhov: Brazil's Dilma Rousseff Is Well-Intentioned towards Bulgaria

Interview |Author: Ivan Dikov | October 4, 2010, Monday // 04:02|  views

Interview of (Sofia News Agency) with Momchil Indzhov, the first Bulgarian to interview Dilma Rousseff, and the journalist who made 2 out of her 3 interviews for Bulgarian media.

(This interview was originally published by (Sofia News Agency) on October 4, 2010.)

On October 3, 2010, Workers' Party candidate Dilma Rousseff won the first round of Brazil's 2010 Presidential Elections with over 46% of the votes, and will be facing a runoff on October 31.

Indzhov was the first to ever bring Dilma Rousseff to the attention of the Bulgarian public after she became Brazil's Minister of Energy in the first Cabinet of President Lula da Silva in 2003.

As a journalist of the Trud Daily, he interviewed Dilma Rousseff in 2004 over the phone, after first requesting the interview a year and a half earlier.

In 2006, in Dilma's second interview for a Bulgarian media was given to Kadrinka Kadrinova from the Tema Magazine.

In the midst of Dilma Rousseff's heated presidential campaign on September 25, 2010, Momchil Indzhov, now working for the 24 Chasa Daily, managed to interview Dilma Rousseff (her third interview for a Bulgarian media overall) after traveling to Porto Alegre in Brazil. Indzhov waited for his chance to speak to Dilma Rousseff for the second time, this time in person, a total of 20 months (the first request dated back to November 2008). (Sofia News Agency) first requested an interview with Dilma Rousseff in March 2009 that failed to materialize to date. (Sofia News Agency) interviewed Momchil Indzhov in his capacity as a Bulgarian journalist covering Latin American affairs and the Bulgarian who has had the closest contact with Brazil's Dilma Rousseff in the past few years.

Momchil Indzhov is also the author of the most comprehensive research of Dilma Rousseff's Bulgarian family and origins to date.

Detailed profile of Dilma Rousseff READ HERE

Detailed information about the Bulgarian origin and family of Dilma Rousseff based largely on Indzhov's research READ HERE

What has the political situation been like in Brazil amidst the presidential elections campaign of Dilma Rousseff, Jose Serra, and the other candidates?

What really impressed was how there were campaign banners of different parties right next to one another, and none of them was torn or scratched, unlike the usual picture in Bulgaria. There are definitely emotions but I think the Brazilian voters are more tolerant.

For example, they hardly ever ask each other and talk about who they are going to vote for. We should keep in mind that the democracy in Brazil is only five years older than the Bulgarian democracy. The military dictatorship was in power in Brazil from 1964 until 1985.

Is there a feeling that the outcome of the presidential elections is pre-determined, and President Lula's favorite Dilma Rousseff will win for sure?

Generally, yes. Everybody seem to think that Dilma Rousseff will win. Of course, let's say it explicitly that she gained her popularity thanks to President Lula. Everybody knows that, and she herself knows that. Inacio Lula is an extremely popular president – thanks primarily to the fact that the Brazilian economy has been developing very successfully during his eight years in office.

One important fact is that unlike other Latin American countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia, there are no nationalizations of companies going on in Brazil. There has been a package to support the poor. Despite the recent developments, there is still rampant poverty across Brazil, especially the Northeast. Each city has its own favelas, or slums.

But still, the unique thing about Brazil has been the growth of the middle class – a development little known elsewhere in Latin America.

You know, during my travels abroad, I judge about a city and nation's well-being by the parked cars. In Brussels, Paris, Madrid, Rome one sees new cars but of a middle price range, the cars of the middle class. If you see some luxury jeep in Western Europe, you know it belongs to some "New Russian" or some other Eastern European.

Today's Brazilian city are filled with cars of the average price range. In the past few years, Volkswagen, Chevrolet, Peugeot, Renault have been making many sales there. This indicates where Brazil is going. This indicates why Lula is so popular, and why Dilma will win as the candidate handpicked by him.

Now, the people in Sao Paulo, which is a stronghold of the Social-Democrats, and the press there have been talking increasingly about a second round of the presidential elections. The opposition paper Folha de Sao Paulo has been writing about a run-off.

This was made possible by the accusations of corruption of some of Dilma Rousseff's associates. Not against her, because hardly anybody can find something against her. There have been reports that as an energy secretary of the state of Rio Grande do Sul she favored certain contracts but nothing has been proven.

To summarize it, nobody has doubted that Dilma Rousseff will be Brazil's next President but for the Social-Democrats it is of extreme importance that she does not win in the first round but in the run-off.

From your observations, even though Dilma Rousseff has been anointed by Lula, has she started already to acquire an image, a stance of her own as a politician? What can be expected from her as President?

She said this explicitly that Brazil will not be changing Lula's way, and Brazil will be going on with Lula's way. And this is enough. But let's not forget that she is a woman. This is a big change. There have already been other women presidents in Latin America, but she is the first in Brazil.

The Brazilians respect her very much. Let's not forget her past. After all, she fought against the military junta. She went to jail, and was tortured by the military dictatorship.

It is interesting in Brazil how many of the leading members of both major parties today, Dilma's Workers' Party (PT) and the Social-Democratic Party fought against the junta as part of the communist party with illegal means.

Dilma's rival Jose Serra was not among them but at the time he was a political emigre outside Brazil. But everybody fought against the dictatorship and it is funny how the Social-Democrats would accuse the Workers' Party of being communists. Actually, this is kind-of like in Bulgaria, except that these accusations are among the politicians, not among the common people.

But Dilma Rousseff definitely has the ability to charm people. I was present at her rally in Porto Alegre, after which I managed to interview her. The people were enchanted by her. She enjoys their respect. She is a woman that will be governing the fifth largest country in the world.

Of course, she is yet to emerge from under Lula's shadow. Let's believe that she will manage to do that. Of course, Lula will be operating back stage even though he will be formally out of politics. But so far he has not made a single mistake. Let's not forget that at the beginning of 2010 Dilma was 20% behind her opponent Jose Serra, while today she got 20% ahead of him.

Brazil is a country with very powerful class of big business, large-scale capitalists. Does Dilma enjoy the support of this class much same way as Lula did?

Generally, yes, even though the Workers' Party is relying more on the votes of the poor and on the emerging middle class. The favelas are filled with Dilma's posters and banners, for example. But Dilma is getting mass support indeed, from all classes.

You were the first Bulgarian to interview Dilma Rousseff back in 2004, and made 2 of her 3 interviews for Bulgarian media. What is her attitude towards Bulgaria?

She is well-intentioned towards Bulgaria. After all, she owes much of her upbringing and education to her Bulgarian father. Let's not forget the kind of people in Bulgaria to whom she is related. Ran Bosilek, a wonderful author, every Bulgarian kid knows his stories. Her father Petar Rousseff was very close with renowned poetess Elisaveta Bragryana, who even visited their home in 1960.

Dilma herself says about her father, "I don't remember my father without a book. He read really a lot, he always had a book in hand." So she got this love for reading and knowledge from her Bulgarian father. She knew some words in Bulgarian but she forgot them after her father died when she was 15.

But she does have feelings for Bulgaria, she has been dreaming of visiting Bulgaria, something she told me in our first interview in 2004. Unfortunately, she did not manage to come and meet her brother Lyuben-Kamen who died in 2008.

Why do you think she hasn't been to Bulgaria yet? Even before 1989, under the communist regime, some Latin American leftists of Bulgarian origin visited Bulgaria and were welcomed as heros.

After all, she is a very busy person. She has been part of Lula's Cabinet for 8 years. After she became his Chief of Staff, the position was given a ministerial rank specially for her. In the 15 years before 2003, she occupied high-ranking positions in Rio Grande do Sul. She is one of the authors of the program to provide electricity to the 20 million Brazilians that don't have electricity.

Over the past years, 15 million new jobs were created in Brazil. So I guess she has just had more important things to do. In the last few months, her only international trip was a brief visit to Europe, where she visited the Brazilian communities in France, Spain, and Portugal.

But Dilma Rousseff does have good feelings for Bulgaria. She has met renowned Bulgarians, after all. Even the fact that she personally met with Elisaveta Bagryana is important enough.

In a nutshell, who are Dilma's Rousseff's Bulgarian relatives living today, according to your research?

Her most famous living Bulgarian relative, undoubtedly, is Ralitsa Negetsoeva, lawyer, and spokesperson of the Bulgarian Central Electoral Commission. She is Dilma's second cousin. Dilma's grandmother is sister with Negetsova's grandmother, the wife of writer Ran Bosilek.

Dilma is also niece of brothers Petar and Tsonyu Kornazhev. They are her uncles. Their father is also brother of Dilma's grandmother. You can see what kind of relatives she has. On the lateral branch of her family she is even related with Bulgaria's Interior Minister in 1943-44, Docho Hristov, as her first cousin is his daughter-in-law.

When we look at all these people, this family tree says something. Her uncle Tsonyu Kornazhev says he has more data, and he probably does but he will release it whenever he wants, it is his right.

It is interesting that Dilma's Bulgarian half-brother, Lyuben-Kamen Rusev, just like her, was persecuted by the regime. Both were persecuted but the political regimes in their respective countries. Both of them were leftists but she was persecuted by a rightist regime, while he was persecuted by a leftist, communist regime.

Lyuben-Kamen joined the youth organization of the Bulgarian Social-Democratic Party in 1947, right before it was banned by the Bulgarian Communist Party. This was like buying a factory the day before the Red Army coup of September 9, 1944, as the Bulgarian saying goes.

He did not go to prison after all, but the authorities wanted to expel him from the technical university, and only one of the professors managed to save him by saying Rusev was his best student.

Lyuben-Kamen did have a correspondence with his father Petar Rousseff in Brazil, he received money regularly, actually, banknotes hidden between postcards glued together. He did ask his father to find a way to get him to Brazil but never got a reply to this request.

Unfortunately, he was not allowed to leave Bulgaria until 1980 when was 50, and he briefly worked in Algeria and Morocco. He was a very talented engineer designing large dams across the country, and was twice put up for state medal but the medals were denied for no apparently reason, clearly because of his political past.

His life ended very sadly, he was 97% disabled, and with a weak heart and crutches.

Bulgaria usually pays little attention to countries outside of Europe and North America. Now, suddenly, there is a kind of a "Dilma" fever, and people in Bulgaria are starting to be "proud" that "a Bulgarian" is ruling Brazil. Do you think this attitude is justified? Do you think we Bulgarians have the right to be proud of Dilma Rousseff's win of the Brazilian Presidency?

Well, at least I don't think we have any grounds to be ashamed of that, to put it this way.

But there is something else. Dilma and Lula have been subjected to criticism that is not unfounded for being too close with people such as Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. This criticism is justified, especially in a country that experienced rule by a military junta.

Lula is also criticized for his close relations with Iran. He recently, together with Turkey, announced a deal about Iran's nuclear program.

Also, there has been this case of an Iranian woman sentenced to death, in which Lula suggested that she should just be taken to Brazil. The Iranians have declined so far but I personally suspect that this case might turn into the first international success of Dilma Rousseff, and that Lula is preparing it specially for her when she assumes the presidency.

Lula is extremely fond of Dilma Rousseff; he fired her successor as his Chief of Staff in order to make sure Dilma did not get negatives from the corruption claims.

Is it known where this close relationship between Lula and Dilma derives from?

Lula must have decided that she is the right personality, and has the right qualities. After all, Brazil is a presidential republic, where the president is the object of much criticism. Let's face it, the role of the president's chief of staff is to take upon themselves some of this fire.

What is Dilma Rousseff's election to the Brazilian Presidency going to mean for Bulgaria?

Well, unlike other European countries, we don't have the means to invest heavily in Brazil. In 2005, during President Georgi Parvanov's visit to Brazil, there was this idea to cooperate on the import of Brazilian beef to Europe.

But the economic ties should definitely be emphasized since Brazil has been the second fastest growing large economy after China's. And Lula's dream has been to make his country a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

But has Dilma's campaign and election made the people in Brazil more aware of Bulgaria?

This is very curious. Few people in Brazil know that she is of Bulgarian origin. They don't talk about this – but that is only natural since every Brazilian is of immigrant descent. Brazil's former Ambassador to Bulgaria said this loud. He said that we perceive her wrongly as "half Bulgarian." Under that logic, he should be described as half-Polish. He said Dilma is a Brazilian of Bulgarian origin, and that he is Brazilian of Polish origin.

Unfortunately, Bulgaria is little known in Brazil. Only when you mention Hristo Stoichkov, and the fact that he played together with Brazil's Romario in FC Barcelona do they think of Bulgaria.

We can only hope that with Dilma's election, there will be greater awareness about Bulgaria in Brazil and internationally.

Do you expect increased interest in Bulgaria towards Brazil as a result?

Well, why not?... But the problem is the following. I met with members of the Bulgarian community in Sao Paulo. There are about 10 000 Brazilians of Bulgarian origin, most are third-generation. It is hard to find out who arrived when. But at least 6 000 of these live in Sao Paulo.

The problem is that Bulgaria has a very weak diplomatic presence in Brazil. This is mind-boggling and surprising how in such a giant nation we have only one Bulgarian diplomat, who is temporarily in charge of our Embassy there. We still don't have a permanent Ambassador after the last one's term expired some time ago.

But this is in the capital Brasilia. What about Sao Paulo? Bulgaria is probably the only state without a consulate in Sao Paulo. We had a consulate, then downgraded it to commercial office, and then closed it down. I saw the building with pole where the Bulgarian flag used to be. We must have a consulate there not just because of the Bulgarians but because of the powerful economy of Brazil.

How strong is the Bulgarian immigrant community in Brazil compared to those in other Latin American nations?

The strongest Bulgarian immigrant community is in Argentina – 75 000 people. Also, in Uruguay. But most of these immigrated at the beginning of the 20th century.

Now, it is interesting that the Bulgarians in Brazil mostly came from Romania in the 1920s. They were originally from the Bessarabia region in Moldova. Their ancestors from Sliven and Yambol fled the Ottoman Turkish Empire in the 19th century to Bessarabia which was in the Russian Empire. Subsequently, Romania occupied Moldova after World War I, and these people emigrated to Brazil.

Unlike Dilma Rousseff's father, who came straight from Bulgaria and change his last name from "Rusev" to "Rousseff", these Bessarabian Bulgarians kept their "-v" endings because this is how they arrived to Brazil with their Romanian passports. It is a rather amazing story.

Some Western media wrote about Dilma Rousseff's past mentioning her involvement with "terrorism". Do you think such language is justified?

Well, I can mention a couple of examples – let's not forget that in 1972 the United States got together with Mao's China even though the brutal Chinese dictatorship took the lives of 80 million people; in the Middle East, the Americans are allied with Saudi Arabia, for example, a brutal dictatorial regime. As to Western Europe, it is amazing how the EU bowed to Libyan dictator Quaddafi because of Libya's oil.

This happened as our nurses were rotting in a Libyan jail. Of course, the EU helped a lot for their release, if it wasn't for the EU, they might have been executed. But this does not change the fact of bowing to Qaddafi. So I think the Western media should be careful before styling somebody as terrorist.

Dilma's past is well known in Brazil but it is not viewed negatively there at all, as both of today's major parties fought the military junta. The Brazilians are already used to democracy.

Lula has often been accused of attacking the press, and for a good reason. Some time ago he said that the media hostile to his party will be "beaten" as will be their opponents in the elections. Let's hope is not talking about "physical" acts of beating, and that Dilma will continue to uphold the media freedom in Brazil.

There was something very important which happened just recently while I was in Brazil. For the first time, she burst out again the media because of their publications about findings by the audit office in Rio Grande do Sul. She said she protested "furiously" against such "prejudiced coverage". Let's hope that there is no way to see another Chaves regime in Brazil, unlike in Venezuela.

You are pretty much the person who brought the fact of Dilma Rousseff's Bulgarian origin to the attention of the Bulgarian public. How did you first learn about Dilma Rousseff?

It was back in 2003; there was a brief announcement ran in the state news agency BTA that a minister of Bulgarian origin is part of the Brazilian Cabinet. It took me a year and eight months to manage to get an interview from her, which was the first for a Bulgarian media. Of course, that was a phone interview. This second one that I just did was in person.

Of course, it was very hard to get such an interview. From the international media, clearly publications such as The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Newsweek, The Economist, The Time, would have the advantage compared to a Bulgarian daily. The "Bulgarian descent" of Dilma did not help; rather, what matter was that she had promised me this interview earlier over the phone, and she kept her promise.

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Tags: Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, Lula, Presidential elections, Petar Rousseff


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