The Fire-fighters - Bulgaria's Best Diplomats

Editorial |Author: Ivan Dikov | December 8, 2010, Wednesday // 23:40|  views

The courage and efforts of Bulgarian fire-fighters have made an international impact in the past few months, which is why I believe they are worth the explicit attention of the readers of (Sofia News Agency) from around the world.

A total of 92 brave Bulgarian firemen came back home on Wednesday after fighting raging wildfires near Israel's Haifa for a week. Apparently, they did their job well by providing badly needed help – together with other foreign fire-fighters – to the Israeli authorities since they have received much praise and thanks from regular citizens in the streets all the way to the state leaders of Israel, President Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

An Israeli TV commented in a report that Bulgaria had not sent ordinary men but "superhumans" to fight the fire, pointed out Bulgaria's Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitar Tsanchev, and former Bulgarian Ambassador to Israel, upon welcoming the firemen at Sofia Airport.

"I would like to thank the Bulgarian people for the help they handed to us, the people of Israel, at a difficult time. The fire fighters came to help and they did help. We feel solidarity and never forget the good and love to Bulgarian people," E. Cotzen, an Israeli reader of (Sofia News Agency), wrote to us in an email apparently seeking an outlet to express his gratitude for the Bulgarian firemen.

Earlier in 2010, in August, a total of 100 Bulgarians participated in another great fire-fighting effort abroad tackling the enormous conflagration in Russia's Moscow region, where they spend two weeks as part of the international fire-fighting forces sent to help – earning the ardent thanks of Russia and the Russians, and even the praise of the European Commission.

Of course, quite obviously, any kind of help, international solidarity, and compassion deserve recognition, since "a friend in need is a friend indeed," as the old saying goes.

But in Bulgaria's case the international missions of its courageous fire-fighters are especially important.

First, because the country does not have that many funds and means to provide international aid and assistance.

Second, because, being a favorite "Europe-backyard" scarecrow brandished by European media such as the British tabloids, it does not have all that many occasions and ways to generate truly good feelings for it on part of the citizens of foreign countries and to get positive international publicity.

And, third, because these instances of selfless efforts on part of the Bulgarian state and such an important professional group as the fire-fighters will hopefully help revamp and refurbish the importance of true moral values – such as courage, bravery, altruism, and compassion – that the Bulgarian society has been awfully short of in the past 20 years.

So Bulgaria does not have billions that it can pour into development aid, and it does not have the latest top-notch equipment. Actually, as far as fire-fighting and fire-safety is concerned, Bulgaria only recently started to acquire fire-fighting aircraft. But it does seem to have valiant men who are prepared to risk their lives in order to honor their duty no matter whether they will be fighting to save the lives, properties and nature in Bulgaria, Russia, Israel, or elsewhere.

The Bulgarian government suffered criticism over the Haiti earthquake at the beginning of the year since it did not react immediately, and Bulgaria sent whatever relief aid it could afford to a bit later than many others did. Since then, however, especially with respect to the cases of fighting the conflagrations in Russia and Israel, it has been on the right track in terms of providing international relief aid.

"Diplomacy would not be able to accomplish even in 20 years the contribution that these men made to the bilateral relations," Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said when welcoming home from Israel the Bulgarian firemen.

Obvious as this realization might be, for an array of reasons it is very important for a country such as Bulgaria that it be reached and stated explicitly, as these men of integrity have turned into a great asset for the Bulgarian diplomacy – and not just in verbose speeches made by polished diplomats in well-fitting suits – but on a people-to-people level. Just as Israeli citizens thanked the Bulgarian fire-fighters in the streets of Haifa, asking them how to say "thank you" in Bulgarian in order to be able to thank them in their own language.

Of course, the recent cases in Russia and Israel are by far not the only ones when Bulgaria has sent firemen or other relief and rescue teams abroad. But these last ones have been especially impressive. What is more, such efforts on part of Bulgaria are demonstrating a continuity with the work of its EU Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, who is in charge of EU's "international cooperation, humanitarian aid, and crisis response", and who was just declared "EU Commissioner of the Year" for 2010 by the readers of European Voice.

Many in Bulgaria deemed Georgieva's brand-new portfolio unworthy just less than a year ago – but with her vigor and professionalism she has made such critics wish they could erase any such questionable statements from their public records.

In addition to helping people in other countries tackle fire threats, and acting as Bulgaria's best diplomats, bringing some outrightly good international publicity for Bulgaria (finally!), Bulgarian fire-fighters might even help the hopelessly cynical Bulgarian society with their example. (Or at least one can hope or dream of that happening).

"It is our duty and obligation to help one another in such times of hardship. We got no right to step back or yield ground," said Tsvyatko Deshev, one of the Bulgarian firemen who came back from Israel, on the national channel bTV,

I have to say – it is very seldom that you hear such words spoken in public in Bulgaria that are honest and sincere, and that are not ironic, sarcastic, cynical, or derided in some way.

That brings to mind the fact that, for example, Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov is often mocked by his political opponents or those who just dislike him for having been a fireman. Borisov's qualities aside, one wonders how and why such a profession that involves selfless life risking could be turned into a way to mock somebody – even if they are your hated political enemy.

This is one thing that is wrong in Bulgaria where such professions and professional group that should be the pillars of society – from firemen and doctors – all the way to teachers, scientists, and engineers – are not held in high regard. This time, however, all of Bulgaria has much to thank them for.

If there is one thing that Bulgaria needs more than good international publicity and a good image abroad (that does not have to do with scandals, organized crime, corruption, communism, etc), it is the sincere example of such "everyday heroes" who stand firm and ready to fight for the cities and forests of people in other countries.

Perhaps such deeds will awaken a tradition of solidarity and compassion that has become dormant in Bulgaria for quite a while for many reasons. The same tradition that, for example, urged ordinary Bulgarians to stand up for their Jewish compatriots in 1943 when the government and the Bulgarian Nazi collaborators wanted to send the latter to Holocaust death camps.

We should pray to have fewer fires and other calamities here and around the world. But when those occur, other nations should rest assured that we have brave men and women, of course, who are ready to stand up and help them. Unlike many other things, that is one thing I certainly know would make me proud of being Bulgarian.

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Tags: firemen, fire fighters, wildfires, forest fires, Russia, Israel, Haifa, Dimitar Tsanchev, Kristalina Georgieva, relief aid, fire


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