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The first non-communist president in Bulgaria's post-war history visited Harvard yesterday, meeting with President Derek C. Bok to discuss ways the University might assist the East European nation's political and economic reforms.
Zhelyu Zhelev--who was elected Bulgaria's president this August--is the first East European head of state to visit Harvard since the fall of the region's socialist regimes last year. Following his late afternoon meeting with Bok, Zhelev addressed a small crowd at the Kennedy School of Government's new Taubman Center.
"We met and talked with Professor Bok, and discussed with him the various opportunities for closer cooperation between the two universities--the University of Sofia and Harvard University," Zhelev said with the aid of an interpreter. "We discussed the various forms of exchange of students or lectures or programs which can be used from such a cooperation."
According to a printed release, Zhelev came to Harvard to discuss his country's political and economic reforms with members of the academic community, while initiating the development of a "long-term relationship" with Harvard.
In an interview with The Crimson Zhelev said he welcomes the advice of American intellectuals in planning his country's transition to a market economy.
"American intellectuals helped us a great deal in the transition period," Zhelev said. "Bulgaria is open to every American of good will who is willing to help. Currently, the United States [is] a country that has an extremely high prestige in the minds of Bulgarians who look up to it for examples for democracy.
"Anyone who is willing to help from this country is welcome in Bulgaria," he added.
Ognyan Pishev, who is currently Zhelev's economic advisor, but will soon be named ambassador to the United States, said in an interview that the Bulgarian leader and Bok discussed specific ways in which the Harvard community might assist the East European nation.
"We discussed several good ideas about implementing prospects for cooperation, and President Bok mentioned Professor Shirley Williams who has a special interest in constitutional reform and reform in Eastern Europe," Pishev said. Williams is public service professor of electoral politics at the Kennedy School.
In recent months, many Harvard professors--mostnotably Stone Professor of International TradeJeffrey D. Sachs '76--have become activelyinvolved in managing Eastern Europe's economies.Pishev said that although Bulgaria will not abideby any one particular theory of reform, input fromHarvard professors would be helpful.
"The participation of people like ProfessorSachs will be of an immense importance, because inthis case, Bulgaria has the advantage of being alate comer," and learning from the mistakes ofother East European nations, he said.
"You need more practical help," Pishev said."The problem is not just to set up a specificprogram of how to change things. You need thesystemic approach. So we will need more practicalassistance when we come to some of the details ofeconomic reform," he added.
"So for us," Pishev concluded, "maybe it wouldbe more useful to put together a joint researchproject, a comparative study to assess theproblems caused by a temporary reform projects inEastern Europe."
Pishev said that in his role as ambassador, hewill be responsible for implementing any jointprojects with Harvard, although no specific plansare yet in the works. "So if something doesn'twork, you can blame me," he said.
In his speech to the invitation-only crowd of30 at the Kennedy School, Zhelev discussedprospects for economic reform in Bulgaria, whileattempting to explain his country's plight to thecrowd of academics.
Zhelev said that, after World War II, Europeannations were given the choice between "freedom andbread." "Some preferred freedom, others preferredbread," he explained.
"Those who preferred freedom had at the end ofthe day, both freedom and bread," Zhelev said."Those who preferred bread at the end of the dayhad nothing--neither freedom nor bread."
"I am afraid we are in the second category,"Zhelev said.
After Bulgaria's traditional communist regimefell last November, Bulgarians elected a reformedCommunist party to a parliamentary majority.Zhelev came to power this summer, but currentlyserves without a non-communist majority inparliament
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