“Yours is a free generation, one that can make its own choices and choose its own destiny. That is a beautiful thing. Freedom is beautiful. Your parents and especially your grandparents and great-grandparents had nothing like that freedom. Cherish it, enjoy it, explore it, and benefit from it.… I do hope that many of you will come back to Bulgaria to help build your country. I am passionately positive about Bulgaria and I hope you will be too, after exploring all the horizons that lie open to you.”
US Ambassador Eric Rubin’s commencement address to the 2019 graduating class of the American College of Sofia was a timely reminder of how much Bulgaria has gained since the fall of the Berlin Wall thirty years ago. Today Bulgarians travel freely to many parts of the world, and there are no barriers to what Bulgaria’s youth can achieve. Bulgarian citizens have successfully negotiated the heights of global business, science, film, music, and technology.
Importantly, an ever-increasing number of them are bringing those gains back home.
In his address to the graduates, as elsewhere, Ambassador Rubin was optimistic about the country’s prospects, partially because of encouraging reports about return migration. More Bulgarians are coming back than ever in the previous three decades, and the number of returnees has doubled since 2016, according to the Bulgarian labor ministry.
Whether by connecting those returnees or by overseeing the embassy’s education, development, and job creation initiatives, Ambassador Rubin has been a great supporter of Bulgaria’s youth as well as a good friend to the entire country. His term, which lasted between February 2016 and July 2019, was marked by the completion of several major projects in education and cultural heritage and tourism.
As we bid goodbye to Ambassador Rubin, let’s take a look back at some of the highlights of his tenure in Bulgaria.
Ambassador Eric Rubin speaks in fluent Bulgarian in this video message from February 2016, in which he introduces himself and his family.
In the summer of 2016, the “America Is…” exhibition on the pedestrian bridge near the National Palace of Culture offered glimpses of life in the United States and highlighted American values such as democracy, freedom of speech, diversity, and equal rights.
On May 24, 2017, the Day of the Slavonic Script and Culture, Ambassador Rubin and US embassy employees recite the official anthem of Bulgarian education, “Forward, Revived People.”
Ambassador Rubin and ABF President Nancy Schiller try out the periscope in the submarine-themed waiting room of Pirogov Children’s Clinics, which were remodeled and transformed into more welcoming and attractive spaces for children and their caregivers in 2017 thanks to ABF’s Little Heroes initiative. A host of corporate donors threw their support behind the initiative, including IKEA, UniCredit Bulbank, HP, Walltopia, and Happy, as well as the US Embassy in Bulgaria, Muzeiko designer Lee Skolnick, and thousands of individual donors.
Ambassador Rubin on the Bulgarian National English Spelling Bee: “[It] is a truly inspiring program that both the embassy and ABF are proud to support. Thanks to the hard work of hundreds of educators, school administrators, and the CORPluS program, students across Bulgaria compete and make new friends through learning English. In 2018 alone, more than 6,600 students from 311 Bulgarian schools participated. Even though it is ultimately a competition, every spelling bee event is overflowing with a spirit of camaraderie and mutual support.”
“Jazz is a unifying force and a gift from America to the world.” Ambassador Rubin spoke at the opening of the 2018 edition of A to JazZ, Bulgaria’s largest jazz festival.
Bulgaria’s Sveshtari Thracian Tomb, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, will be restored with funding from the US Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation, Ambassador Rubin announced in October 2018. The US embassy’s total investment in Bulgarian cultural heritage over the past twenty years exceeds one million US dollars. The funding covered the restoration of the Saint John Aliturgetos Church in Nessebar; two fourth-century Christian tombs in Sofia; the fourth-century BC Thracian tomb of Kran II in the Valley of the Thracian Kings; the 17th-century Kurshum Mosque in Silistra; the third-century mosaic floors in the ancient provincial capital of Philippopolis; and the early-19th-century library and mosque of Osman Pazvantoglu in Vidin.
The beautiful 14th-century church of Saint John Aliturgetos is open to the public once again thanks to a restoration effort completed in November 2018. The restoration is the largest cultural heritage project the US embassy has supported to date.
At the third annual gathering of the ABF community in January 2019, Ambassador Rubin talked about the embassy’s partnership with ABF as well as about US-Bulgaria cooperation: “One of ABF’s main goals is to help develop a robust private sector in Bulgaria. The BASE program, which the US embassy also supports, connects aspiring entrepreneurs from small towns and villages with successful business owners. Together, they share practical knowledge, and this helps spur economic development in places like Mirkovo, Zlatitsa, and elsewhere. In fact, one program participant—a bakery owner from Chavdar—recently held an event called ‘The Day of the American Hamburger.’ The line of customers went down the street. That’s truly an American-Bulgarian partnership.”
“One of the most impressive of ABF’s partnerships is Muzeiko. Muzeiko is truly a marvel—an inspiring place that enriches the lives of Bulgarian children every day. Muzeiko nurtures children’s interest in science and technology, which is important as we aim to prepare the next generation for the challenges that await them,” Ambassador Rubin said at the opening of Muzeiko’s new makerspace in March 2019.
In March 2019, Ambassador Rubin spoke at the conference “NATO Membership—A Key to the European Union,” which marked the fifteenth anniversary of Bulgaria’s NATO membership. The conference was organized by the Atlantic Council of Bulgaria.
The US government donated $205,000 to renovate two playgrounds for children with special education needs in Varna. Since 2010, the US government has invested approximately $6 million in social and economic development projects in Bulgaria.
The governments of Bulgaria and the United States will increase funding for the Bulgarian Fulbright Commission, expanding opportunities for Bulgarians and Americans to participate in academic exchange programs. The Fulbright program in Bulgaria funds more than 60 grantees annually: American scholars, students, specialists, and English Teaching Assistants coming to Bulgaria as well as Bulgarian scholars and students going to the United States.
Bulgaria’s cultural heritage is one of the main draws for international tourists, which is why “US Embassy Sofia will continue to support tourism in Bulgaria, particularly as tourism contributes to sustainable Bulgarian economic growth. I am confident that this continued growth will, in turn, place Bulgaria as one of the best regional tourism destinations,” Ambassador Rubin said at the US-Bulgarian Tourism Forum in May 2019. Here: Bulgaria’s Kukeri (Mummers) tradition is one of the ambassador’s and his wife, Nicole’s favorite Bulgarian traditions.
“I first came to Bulgaria in 1992. It was grey, dark, smoky and grim. There was very little soap and there was very little food. People were pretty sad… During the past several years I have seen real progress in so many respects: job creation, a very slow shift in young people coming back. Think about this. Now everyone has the chance to travel and live in 27 other countries. Unlike the United States, where we have no low-cost airlines, people in Europe can now jump on a plane and go to Bologna for the weekend. And I don’t mean rich people—everyone can do it for 30 euros, and they take it for granted. Then we have this generation of young people who have been exposed to the world because they have had the opportunity to go and study abroad. Of course, that will leave a lot of sad grandparents wanting to have their grandchildren back, but still it is a very, very positive thing. It would have been unthinkable just 15-20 years ago,” the ambassador said in an interview for Vagabond magazine in May 2019.
On June 11, Eric Rubin joined fifteen other foreign ambassadors to Bulgaria in delivering a message of unity and respect at the site of the Bishop’s Basilica of Philippopolis. He recalled the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend.”
In June 2019, Ambassador Rubin received Bulgaria’s highest award, Stara Planina First Order, for his contribution to the development of bilateral relations. Bulgarian President Rumen Radev praised Ambassador Rubin’s work in Bulgaria, saying that the ambassador’s “undisputed ability to work and dedication have moved the relationship between our countries to a higher level.”
On July 1, Ambassador Rubin spoke at the opening of the week-long media bootcamp for high school students organized by the Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria and the Bulgarian Fulbright Commission with support from the US Embassy and the America for Bulgaria Foundation. Ambassador Rubin’s professional beginnings are in journalism: before he went into diplomacy, he spent two years at the copy desk of The New York Times in New York.
We at ABF are honored to have worked with Eric Rubin and proud to call him a friend. Our deepest gratitude goes out to both Ambassador Rubin and his wife, Nicole. Smooth sailing, and thank you for everything!